Tag Archives: college

Rural triangle: School, community, economy

Curved arrows labeled Education, Economy, and Community chase one another in front of a green triangle.In November, 2015 I began posting a list of resources for folks who want to improve the relationship between rural schools and their communities for their mutual benefit.

It’s time to revisit the topic.

It’s still true that, as I wrote in 2015:

In rural communities, schools cannot be considered separate from economic development and community development. The vitality and policies of any one of the three impacts the other two.

And the 2015 description of rural brain drain still is largely accurate.

But rural America’s problems are getting more attention these days, most notably from rural Americans themselves who are stepping up try to reverse the decline of the rural American economy and prevent the loss of their communities and community schools.

I’ve shortened descriptions of resources I posted in 2015 and added dates for the resources so readers can quickly get a feel for the changes.

What’s happening in rural America?

(2009) The brightest students are leaving rural communities; job options for those who remain are diminishing.

(2012) The rural student population is getting larger, more diverse, and poorer.

(2013) Net migration isn’t offsetting the effects of brain drain.

Who is to blame for rural brain drain?

(2009) Schools and their communities each contribute to rural brain drain, setting the course for both to die. “Teachers, parents, and other influential adults cherry-pick the young people destined to leave and ignore the ones most likely to stay or return.”

(2017) Rural schools are failing their communities. A college degree in rural America is now synonymous with leaving and having no way to sustainably come back. Rural schools must work with their communities, rather than seeing themselves as separate from the cycle of economic decline.

How could rural schools aid in community development?

(2011) Schools could address community problems around medical care, food access, etc. by acting as self-sustaining revenue facilities.

How could rural schools aid in economic development?

(2011) A class of high school students in the poorest county in North Carolina designed and built a much-needed farmer’s market pavilion for the area.

(2012) Add skill applications to high school courses.

(2012) Greenville, NY, High School created what was, in effect, a small business incubator within its facility, offering a business rent in exchange for hands-on work experience for its high school students.

(2012) Encourage entrepreneurship by showing students online training resources they can access, and (2014) teach students to look for problems that require solutions.

(2013) Place-based, scholarly research by rural students can have direct, positive impact on local economic development.

(2013) Students in Cody NE, population 154, built a a 3,300-sq. ft. straw-bale building to use as grocery store and run it themselves. Inside, lettering on the wall above the produce cooler reads “It’s more than a store. It’s our future.”

(2014)  Capture the imagination of students who don’t see college as a path for themselves by school programs that target local economic problems.

(2015) Pell Grant experiment needs needs rural  scrutiny to make sure its rules won’t keep some rural students out of courses that fit their needs and interests.

(2017) Offer students a combination of coursework, internships, and job shadowing experiences to enable them to make informed choices about higher education, work, and place of residence. Preparing students for a continuously changing mainstream economy can give them the opportunity to return home as entrepreneurs or participants in the online space.

(2017) Schools can support project-based learning on authentic local problems that challenge students. For example, in Ness City, KS, an industrial arts class elected to design and build a tiny house. Other classes helped with interior design and marketing, and a special education class is documenting the project in a book. The classes plan to market the home across the country.

(2017) A SCORE chapter in Massachusetts collaborated with PTOs to deliver a six week, after-school program to train students in grades 4 through 8 to run their own businesses. The 72 participants in the initial program launched 52 new businesses, some of which were partnerships complete with partnership agreements.

How can rural schools and communities collaborate?

(2017) Public charters may offer rural communities a way to retain local schools.

(2011) Help teens get ready for the world of work with good attitudes and good skills.

(2012) Let teens work alongside adults to contribute to their communities and to develop and apply real skills.

(2012) Require students to apply classroom knowledge to real world writing situations and offer hands-on learning of salable skills.

(2012) Schools can grow their future teachers who will also be their communities’ future leaders.

(2014) Offer teens after-school programs that do more than distract.

(2014) Integrate non-academic services to students, their families, and even the wider community into the academic program.

(2016) Communities and schools need to work collaboratively to generate educational opportunities and economic prosperity in places where the number of voters without a child in school is a majority. Downloadable PDF from Battelle for Kids.

(2016)  School personnel and community members need to change the mindset that every kid needs to go to college. Today’s career and technical education, or CTE, can lead to a decent-paying job, particularly in those fields where employers say they are trying to cope with a serious “skills gap.”

(2017) Rural schools and their communities need to work together to turn around neighborhoods and schools long before those schools—and all the significance and services they bring with them—disappear.

What about the “no college for me” kids?

(2013) Give Career and Technical Education (CTE) students the same degree of academic support given their college-bound counterparts so they can take advantage of educational opportunities they need for their careers.

(2012) Six ideas for businesses serving the business market that require no post-high school training.

(2015) The internet allows someone with determination to learn skills for a good-paying job without the expenses of a college degree.

(2016) For years, there’s been almost no assistance for CTE students seeking post-secondary training. Three recent developments suggest the tide may be turning: An experimental program to give  in financial aid to those in nontraditional programs (such as coding boot camps), a MOOC with a graded-paper option, and the introduction of a federal law to expand concurrent enrollment opportunities for CTE students.

Who is working on the three-pronged rural problem?

SaveYour.Town Two small-town Iowans offer webinars, toolkits, and online communities to help people learn, grow and take action to revitalize their communities.

The Rural School and Community Trust (ruraledu.org) has many resources, including Tools to fight rural school consolidation.

The Center for Rural Affairs (cfra.org) developed a series of articles on why rural schools need to be kept alive. The articles are available as a 6-page pdf document.

The Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by collective, collaborative activities focusing on their unique strengths.


Have I missed items that should be here? Give me a shout in the comments or @LindaAragoni on Twitter

Updated June 23, 2017; March 27, 2017.

© 2017 Linda G. Aragoni

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The skills–grades gap

We’ve all heard gripes about grade inflation.

We’ve all heard gripes about college students’ lack of basic skills and study habits.

How is it that those two conditions co-exist?

Letter A made from a balloon illustrates article on grade inflation

That’s the question Donald Hurwitz, senior executive in residence at Emerson College, explores in an opinion piece in The Boston Globe this week.

I don’t think many people in education have stopped to ask that question.

If you read Mary Alice McCarthy’s recent  influential piece in The Atlantic about America’s love affair with the bachelor’s degree, you might have noted the anecdote about her nephew who  couldn’t march with his college class because he was three credits short.

His adviser pointed out that he had taken the same economics course twice—one year apart. My nephew hadn’t noticed. When his exasperated parents demanded an explanation, all he could offer up was that the class had been taught by a different professor, and held in a different room. He got a B both times around.

That anecdote illustrates the problem.

Both times the nephew took the economics course he got a B, but he didn’t learn enough to recognize the material the second time around.

The B for not learning is what appalls Hurwitz.  He says:

Undifferentiated grades suggest a failure to engage with students, to acknowledge differences. Very high, undifferentiated grades make it easy not to ask, why? If the fault lies with students’ attitudes or abilities, shame on teachers; in not demonstrating how discerning judgment is exercised, they fail to equip students to determine how seriously to take their schooling and themselves, to wonder what in the situation they are responsible for. They are deprived of the means and reasons to ask: Did I work hard enough? How much should I care? Does this subject matter to me?

In the end, the solution comes down to teachers.

Hurwitz concludes:

Failure to engage, to acknowledge differences, to own up to discerning judgments of others, permits students to do likewise, and it undermines the very idea of a community of learning.

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Policy won’t lead change; teachers must

Seen from above, graduate's black mortarboards.

A piece by Mary Alice McCarthy in The Atlantic last week has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention. McCarthy’s thesis is in her title: “America Needs to Get Over its Reverence for the Bachelor’s Degree.”

She uses the experiences of her two nephews to show two equally unacceptable options for students who don’t want to move from the high school classroom to the college classroom.

One of her nephews went into a culinary arts training program at at technical college. Then he went to New York City restaurants where he did well and got great experience.

All his training and experience afforded him no credit toward the college degree he’d need to work in management, where he’d earn more and which could lead to operating his own restaurant.

The other nephew went, reluctantly, to college, eventually graduated, but without having developed any true college-level skills. He’s unemployed, unqualified for white collar jobs, and untrained for blue-collar ones.

McCarthy points out that, unlike America, many other developed countries have career pathways that start with impressive vocational training programs.  She writes:

The issue isn’t that a career that starts with technical training can’t lead to more advanced learning and skills. It is that our higher-education policies simply don’t allow for it—and that’s just a failure of imagination.

I agree with McCarthy that America’s love affair with the bachelor’s degree is absurd.

I entirely agree with her that the traditional BA program makes no sense for millions of students who need experience to ground their academic study. I’ve had hundreds of them in my freshman composition classes.

I also can see how the “upside down” bachelor’s degree, which has the career training component  before the general education courses, would work for some students who are not classroom oriented.

I just don’t see it working for sufficient numbers of students.

I think there are just too many students for whom traditional general education courses remain unconnected to their vocational interests. The bulk of students I’ve had wouldn’t see any more value in college composition after completing two years of vocational training than they would have seen their first semester of college.

I don’t disagree with McCarthy’s point that American education policy is out of whack; however, I don’t believe policy changes alone are the answer.

Policy changes don’t necessarily result in practice changes necessary for successful implementation of the policies. The whole Common Core debacle is testimony to that.

No matter where the academic  gen ed courses fall in students’ post-secondary training, if post-secondary teachers are not equipped to teach the masses of students who need a college degree solely for the financial reasons McCarthy describes, conditions are not going to improve any time soon.

Post-secondary teachers in America are split between “vocational types” and “academic types.”  Both types would need experiences to enable them—collaboratively, if not individually—to craft assignments that guide students to discover connections between general education and their careers.

When such assignments are given today, it’s mainly by accident.

Unless academic faculty are encouraged (encouraged is the politically correct term for required) to build assignments for the career and technical education students, those assignments won’t be created.

Unless vocational faculty collaborate with them, the academics will make a mess of the assignments.

And if all faculty don’t create assignments that encourage (that PC term!) students to figure out how the career courses and the gen ed courses complement each other, students won’t see any connection between the two.

Even without policy changes, an imaginative faculty could begin the process of collaborating on new assignments that give career oriented students a basis on which to learn more advanced skills and develop new interest areas in the future.

Such collaborative experience might even spark  significant changes for students, faculty, and their institutions.

Photo Credit, David Niblack, Imagebase.net.

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Guidelines help students analyze literature

screencapture from top of Guidelines for Reading and Analyzing LiteratureA useful literature resource  is Guidelines for Reading and Analyzing Literature compiled by Dr. Tina L. Hanlon, associate professor of English at Ferrum College in Virginia.

Hanlon breaks the process down into five steps, which she presents on a single web page:

  • First Impression
  • Types of Literature
  • Literary Techniques
  • Themes
  • Evaluation and Review

Hanlon uses lists and bullets to guide someone unfamiliar with literary analysis through the process.

The resource is appropriate for:

  • AP English Literature and Composition classes
  • IB programs
  • Concurrent enrollment (high school + college credit)  programs
  • College students

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Is College Worthwhile? Was It Ever?

The Plastic Age, a 1924 novel by Percy Marks which became a bestseller, takes a close-up look inside a men’s college in the days of  prohibition, jazz, and bootleg whiskey. it finds “The college is made up of men who worship mediocrity; that is their ideal except in athletics.”

As they near the end of their college careers, the men reflect on what they’ve learned and find themselves wanting. One says, “Here I am sporting a Phi Bete key, an honor student if you please, and all that I really know as a result of my college ‘education’ is the fine points of football and how to play poker. I don’t really know one damn thing about anything.”

The men take their questions about the value of college to one of the college’s few good teachers. He says, in part:

The average college graduate is a pretty poor specimen, but all in all he is just about the best we have. Please remember that I am talking in averages. I know perfectly well that a great many brilliant men do not come to college and that a great many stupid men do come, but the colleges get a very fair percentage of the intelligent ones and a comparatively small percentage of the stupid ones.

Some day, perhaps…our administrative officers will be true educators; some day perhaps our faculties will be wise men really fitted to teach; some day perhaps our students will be really students, eager to learn, honest searchers after beauty and truth. That day will be the millennium.  I look for the undergraduates to lead us to it.

Has anything really changed in 90 years?

Will anything really change in the next 90?

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Add skill applications to high school courses

David Brooks writes in today’s New York Times about the two different economies in the United States. The manufacturing economy is prospering because it has learned to use technology to reduce people costs, boost productivity, and increase profits in the face of global competition. By contrast the economic sectors that don’t face global competition—notably government, healthcare, and education—are not prospering.

One of the down-stream effects of this economic rift is the rise of the entrepreneurial information worker who sells his/her skills on a job-by-job basis.  The education community at large has not come to grips with the significance of this economic trend.When educators talk about entrepreneurs, most of the time what they have in mind is a Steve Jobs-type figure creating a vast corporate empire. The reality is likely to be a single-owner business with at most a couple of employees.

If most students from the middle and lower class are going to have any chance of surviving without a college degree—which many of them won’t be able to afford—schools need to make “what you can do with this skill” a part of coursework across the curriculum so students graduate high school with entrepreneurial skills. That doesn’t require a special program.  It does require doing some digging to see what skills are needed in the local community that students could master within existing courses.

Picture TIFF file iconFor example, right now I could use someone with skills to prepare e-book covers. Designing book covers doesn’t require a college degree, or even a high school diploma. It requires computer skills, math skills, art skills, plus the ability to read and follow directions and to copy text accurately. There’s no reason the required skills couldn’t be taught in a high school art program. Eric Azcuy does it in his art classes at Urban Assembly school for Applied Math and Science even with sixth graders.

There are hundreds of e-book producers like me across the country, and they all need book covers.  Put “e-book cover design” into your search box and look at what designers charge. Even design services that use templates pull in several hundred dollars a cover.

JPG picture file iconExisting small businesses like mine are willing to pay someone to do something they could do but don’t have time to do without taking time from their main focus. Those small businesses are places where Josh and Caitlin, even at age 15, can get paid for doing something they enjoy. In the process, Josh and Caitlin might even decide they need to learn something else from their school classes.

We can always hope.

Photo credit: pic file icons, uploaded by ilco. Property releases  photo #980850, photo #999032 photo ##1063691

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