No One is Coming to Save Us

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Dr. Carey Yazeed

It’s amazing how individuals in administrative positions can easily turn a blind eye to a disaster waiting to happen. Since the infamous photo-op in the Oval Office and with many alumni screaming, “What were you thinking?” we sat back and watched as the presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) continued to stand their ground and appear hopeful that the Trump administration would show mercy to their institutions by providing financial support; assistance that is desperately needed to maintain the upkeep and repair of buildings, in addition to funding to continue their operations as places of higher learning. But on May 5, 2017, Trump confirmed what the rest of us already knew, that the education of minorities was not a priority for him or his administration. So now what? Reality is starting to set in and in no unspoken terms the leaders of HBCUs now clearly see that no one is coming to save them.

So how do HBCUs begin to tackle the pink elephant in the room? You know, the recurring issue of inadequate funding. Black institutions can take several active steps that could possibly resuscitate them from the catastrophic photo-op and their ongoing financial crisis:

  • Start by developing a team, one that will be transparent and honest with administration, to carefully review all of the institutions financial records. Identify where the financial gaps are when it comes to funding, donations, grants and tuition.
  • Secondly, based on the data retrieved from financial audits, devise a strategic action plan that outlines clear steps regarding what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and a deadline for each task to be completed. Actions may include allowing tenured faculty to retire and bringing in young, vibrant professors and administrative staff at lower salaries, increasing marketing efforts to non-Black and non-traditional students and fully utilizing online learning that will allow students to receive an education from a distance, regardless where they reside in the world.
  • Third, generate a cash flow immediately. Sure, they can increase tuition, but many HBCUs do not utilize their Office of Development or Institutional Advancement, which focuses on fundraising efforts specifically for the institution. Instead, Black institutions will channel fundraising efforts through their alumni affairs offices, which only focuses on one particular sector of donors, while missing corporate sponsors and major grant opportunities.
  • Lastly, HBCUs need to take an honest look at their leadership. Effective leadership entails looking at the university as an academic enterprise, an institution that is in the business of educating others. HBCU leaders must focus their efforts on generating and managing money and stop waiting on the federal government to come in and rescue them.

Yes, HBCUs have obstacles to overcome, with the biggest being limited financial resources. But insanity is doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results. It is time for the HBCU leaders to wake up and realize that the rules of the game have evolved and will continue to change. And if they intend to survive, they cannot continue to do business as it has been done in the past. They must stop waiting around for a hand out from the federal government that will never come.

Dr. Carey Yazeed is a Career Strategist and the author of Worth Fighting For: Revitalization of Social Work Education at Black Colleges.

Effective STEM Education Programs: Cultivating Success Among Underrepresented Minority Students

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Quintana M. Clark

Effective characteristics of STEM education programs for underrepresented minorities (URMs) lie at the intersection of student-centeredness, community building, and collaborative partnerships, all of which help URM STEM graduate students navigate through roadblocks to degree persistence. STEM education programs have been around since the 1970s. These programs have emerged on many college campuses in a concerted effort to address the historical underrepresentation of minority students in the STEM disciplines at predominantly white institutions (PWIs). STEM education program initiatives range from living learning communities, summer research programs, pre-college programs, bridge/transition programs, visitation programs, and first-year experience programs. Notably, a few successful programs include Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), McNair Program, and Meyerhoff Scholars Program. Typically, such programs offer a variety of contextualized support including mentoring, tutoring, academic advising, research opportunities, professional development, networking opportunities, research grants, travel grants, and more.

The structure of STEM education programs can mean the difference between degree persistence or attrition. This is especially true for African American students who are completing an undergraduate degree and are considering transitioning into a STEM graduate program. However, STEM education programs are not all equal. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Step-Up Program conducted several studies that examined the design, implementation, and impact of STEM education programs. One of its recent studies found that more than 50 administrators of STEM education programs indicated that the success of their program to recruit and retain URMs was largely due to three themes: student-centeredness (building relationships with students both academically and personally), community building (building academic and social support communities on- and off-campus), and collaborative partnerships (cross-campus-departments, institutions, and industry).

One example of a STEM education program that has effectively integrated these three themes is the Mentoring@Purdue Program. M@P program components are aligned with the tenets of student-centeredness, community building, and collaborative partnerships. The M@P program was designed to increase persistence of women and URMs pursuing agricultural life science STEM-based post-baccalaureate degrees in the College of Agriculture at Purdue University. A major goal of M@P is to cultivate an inclusive and diverse culture and climate of academic and social integration, knowledge and skill development, academic achievement and motivation, and advisement activities through its on- and off-campus program components. The on-campus component provides monthly seminars, workshops, peer-to-peer mentoring, and mentoring resources. The M@P quarterly newsletter contains information on mentoring resources, applying to and attending graduate school, highlights the accomplishments of STEM scholars, and connects both STEM students and STEM faculty members. The M@P Summer Scholars Program (SSP) provides students with a scholarship to visit Purdue’s campus for a three-day real-world immersion experience. Through mutually beneficial collaborative partnerships between Purdue and industry organizations, such as John Deere, CHS, and DuPont Pioneer, students have an opportunity to engage with faculty and professionals, explore research opportunities, and attend interactive workshops. M@P is also an official partner of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

In addition to strengthening the agriculture STEM pipeline between Purdue University and HBCUs, M@P impacts the Purdue community at-large through its workshops, seminars, and programs for students, faculty, and staff. Since its inception, M@P has engaged over 500 students, faculty, and staff at Purdue and more than 1,100 faculty, staff, and students on HBCU partner campuses. The program has conducted more than 26 workshops on issues of diversity and mentoring. It presented research findings at several national conferences, producing more than 30 scholarly products. Through its Annual Invited Lecture Series, M@P has hosted five national mentoring experts including Dr. Renetta Tull, Dr. Angela Byars-Winston, and Dr. Erika Camacho, whose workshops have provided research insights on how to best serve minority students.

With a foundation of student-centeredness, community building, and collaborative partnerships, STEM education programs such as M@P play a significant role in the success of URM undergraduate and graduate students. Not only do programs such as M@P provide quality research and mentoring experiences for minority students, they also expose students to strategies on how to navigate the barriers they will face on PWI campuses. Simply, STEM education programs are critical to help foster a sustained commitment to inclusion and diversity, encourage collaboration between HBCUs and PWIs, and increase the number of URMs pursuing advanced STEM education degrees.

Quintana M. Clark is a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education at Purdue University. Under the advisement of Dr. Levon T. Esters, she currently serves as a Graduate Research Assistant for a National Science Foundation project entitled Modeling Agri-Life Sciences through STEM-Integration, Graduate Research Assistant for the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), an initiative used to significantly increase the number of underrepresented minority students persisting to the professoriate; and she serves as the Coordinator of Research Initiatives for Mentoring@Purdue, an initiative aimed at enhancing the quality of graduate education for underrepresented minority students through fostering mentoring relationships between faculty, and underrepresented minority students pursuing graduate degrees in the Purdue University, College of Agriculture.

Marcus Johnson, Blues Alley and Education

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Karen Gross

Recently, I went to hear the remarkable musician Marcus Johnson at DC’s oldest jazz and supper Club, Blues Alley. To be sure, I went to listen to this prolific and well-known musician and to enjoy the club’s warm and welcoming atmosphere. So far, so good.

But, to my surprise, the highlight of the evening had everything to do with education — one of the many poignant and powerful stories Marcus shared with the audience. This particular recounted story is still haunting me – days later.

Marcus described visiting a professor’s office as an undergraduate student (at an HBCU) and mentioning that he wanted to go to law school; the professor responded tartly, “Where are you going? Cracker Jack Law School?” The Blues Alley audience gasped loudly. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, in describing the same incident in his recent book, For the Love of Flo, Marcus asserts that the professor refers to the hypothetical law school as “Captain Crunch” university, not exactly an improvement given that that term is used to described debasing sexual acts and drugs.

As an educator (including ironically 30 plus years combined as a law school professor and a college president at an institution that served almost 70% first generation students), the story stunned me. What professor on this planet would actually think that, let alone say it? Where have I been living – in some fake civility bubble? And, what professor would be so crass as to use the multi-meaning and often deemed offensive and racist word “crackerjack?” And, how could this have happened at an HBCU, a grouping of institutions dedicated to supporting minority students and fostering and facilitating their success in the workplace?

What happened next in the story was Marcus’ stunning response to the professor. Marcus went off to Georgetown Law School (he got an MBA too) and had a business card made while still a student, which he dropped off at the offending professor’s office. In addition to identifying Marcus as a law student, Marcus wrote something to this effect to the professor on the card’s back: “Don’t ever treat a student that way again. You never know which student you teach today will be a leader tomorrow, following his or her dreams. Who are you to quash dreams?

With the audience listening as raptly as they would to his music (well, this story and the others are a sort of musical poetry), Marcus then said: “Professors shouldn’t do this kind of thing to students. They are the keepers of the future and that carries with it an enormous obligation. As a professor myself now, I know that.” And, then Marcus composed an album after this whole incident titled perfectly: Poetically Justified. He played a piece right then from the album.

This isn’t, sadly, an isolated incident, right? This isn’t the only undergraduate professor who demeans students. If we add K-12 teachers into the discussion and graduate school professors, the number of offenses increases exponentially. I still remember the viral video of the teacher who sent a first grader to the corner for making a small math error – demeaning and embarrassing her before her classmates. That incident received lots of public attention, and I wrote about the fact that it was the teacher, not the student, who needed to be sent into the corner for a prolonged time out.

That these incidents happen is bad enough. That they happen to vulnerable students makes it feel worse for me as the comments can not only be taken to heart but worse, they oft-times cannot be dispelled at home or in one’s community.

The harder question is what can we do to address and curb these instances. Surely we must have some workable strategies beyond public humiliation of the instructor through social media. And by the by, these occurrences are not infrequent; I am pretty sure many of them roll under the radar screen, internalized by students but never brought to the attention of principals, deans or college/university presidents.

Yes, Marcus has responded in three remarkable and highly unusual ways. He went back to the professor and “dissed” him royally. And, he shared and continues to share the story with audiences as a sort of shock therapy for those of us who get complacent about the power and possibility of education. And he composed art in response.

But, while both impressive and important, these responses are not enough. I remember asking the faculty at the institution I led, “Would you send your own child here to this college (assuming the fit was right)? Are all the professors ones from whom you would want your children to learn? And, if the answer is not yes, find ways to make the institution and those within it better. Change institutional culture – no small task for sure.

More recently, I have been reflecting on the distinction between teaching and teachers. There is a growing literature suggesting that the focus on teachers is misplaced and lacking in utility if we are seeking wide scale educational improvement. Instead, we need to pay attention to the process of teaching to achieve systemic reform. Perhaps but that excuses behavior like that just described.

Bottom line: the “crackerjack”/ “Captain Crunch” comment is likely not unique; stopping it is difficult if not impossible, and we live in a world in which teachers/professors — the launchers of the future — quash hope and belief in self.

It’s a rare student – who is also a rare musician – who can fight back with such conviction and commitment to self. In the absence of a more doable and realistic solution, my answer to this problem (with only a touch of sarcasm) is that Marcus Johnson needs to be cloned — literally and figuratively.

Note: Another thank-you to MW — who helps me see new things and enables me to grow and flourish every day we are together. What’s better than that when you are not a kid any more and there’s less ahead than behind in terms of time?

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

HBCU Schools of Education: at the Forefront of Teacher Education for a Diverse Teacher Workforce

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Rann Miller

With the changing demographics of America’s student population, the teaching demographic in America’s schools must change with it. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, non-White teachers represent only 19% of the teaching workforce; Blacks make up 6.8% and Latinos only 7.8%. There is scholarship that articulates the critical need for more teachers of color in America’s classrooms. For example, a recent study examined the long-term impact of students taught by teachers of the same race. The study found that when a low-income Black student is taught by at least one Black teacher in elementary school, their chances for high school graduation significantly increases and for low-income Black males, the likelihood of them dropping out of school decreases.

There has been a recent push for urban and inner-city school districts to hire more Black teachers; in some locations, the push has been for more Black male teachers. In Philadelphia, The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice has a goal and a plan to facilitate the hiring of 1000 Black male teachers in the city by 2025. However once in the classroom, many Black teachers are confronted with challenges that lead to their burnout and departure from the profession. A 2016 report by the Education Trust revealed that Black teachers are frustrated that they are considered primarily to be disciplinarians of Black students and not strong classroom managers or content leaders. Black teachers are expected to “fix” what ails underperforming schools with high populations of Black students. They are expected to dispense “tough love” and tap cultural connections with their students to get them to (1) comply with the rules, (2) conform to Eurocentric norms of schooling, and (3) perform proficiently on standardized tests. However, it is not the job of Black teachers to “fix” the systemic racism found in the institution of the American public school. It is not up to Black teachers to counteract the inherit biases and racist anxieties of White educators that contribute to zero-tolerance policies, the criminalization of Black students, failure to hire more Black educators and continued misdiagnosing of Black students. To maintain this expectation of Black teachers is to continue the reality of their exodus from America’s classroom.

Much of the conversation on the need for Black teachers has focused on recruiting them. Equal focus must center on retaining them. To retain them, Black teachers must be supported. Supporting teachers is not exclusive to the work place. Supporting teachers includes preparing them for the challenges and opportunities they’ll approach on day one. Supporting teachers also means providing them with a network of peers and mentors that extend beyond where they teach. For prospective Black teachers, schools of education (SOEs) at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) do offer the support mechanisms to prevent their exodus of from the classroom. HBCUs support and prepare graduates for their professional and personal lives.[i] These institutions consistently strive to meet the needs of prospective Black educators; both undergrads and career changers. SOEs at HBCUs have met the challenges of revising their curricula and programs for the new millennium with initiatives that include advanced technology, innovative recruitment strategies, alternative routes to teaching, and national certification for experienced teachers of color.

For example, Howard University SOE responded to the challenge of producing highly qualified teachers of color by creating both a math, science and literacy rich bachelor’s degree program in elementary education and its Ready to Teach program for recent graduates and mid-career changers. For graduates of its SOE degree and alternate route programs, Howard University created the Community of Practice program; a virtual mentorship community, where graduates can remain connected with faculty to gain advice and manage the challenges they encounter in their first few years of teaching to prevent them from departing the profession. While PWIs do educate Black teacher candidates, they are not always best positioned to recruit, train and support Black teacher candidates. A strong body of research indicates that Black students at predominately White institutions (PWIs) experience alienation, adjustment issues, academic difficulty, and a lack of faculty relationships, while research also shows that HBCUs foster an environment that provides a positive experience for African Americans. SOEs at HBCUs may be one of many choices afforded to prospective Black teachers, however these Black institutions can offer a distinct and tailor-made program with the academic theory, applied practice and real-world supports to prevent them from leaving the teaching profession. In keeping with their historic mission, SOEs at HBCUs have a have a proven track record of producing new Black male educators. A 2013 study revealed that a greater percent of HBCU graduates were prepared for a teaching career and employed in a teaching field. The focus of the Black teacher conversation should be on how to position SOEs at HBCUs to the forefront of teacher education for a highly qualified and diverse workforce to meet the changing racial demographic needs of American public schools.

Rann Miller is director of the 21st Century Program; a federally funded after-school program for the Woodbury City Public Schools. He is a former classroom teacher of 6 years in charter schools located in Camden, New Jersey. He is the author of the Urban Education Mixtape Blog (http://urbanedmixtape.com). He can be followed on twitter at @UrbanEdDJ

[i] “A 2015 Gallop study revealed that Black graduates of HBCU’s are more likely than Black graduates of other institutions to be thriving – strong, consistent and progressing – in a number of areas of their lives, particularly in their financial and purpose well-being.” A 2017 Education Trust report revealed that HBCUs graduate more poor Black students than do predominately White institutions (PWIs).

Educating the Incarcerated Learner: How HBCUs Can Help

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Erin S. Corbett

Minority Serving Institutions, for the most part, were founded for the purpose of providing a postsecondary education to historically excluded populations. In particular, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have a long history of service to their respective communities with missions focusing on individual and collective uplift and traditions steeped in social justice activism. These schools served as the primary institutions of higher learning for their African-American students relegated to living and learning within the context of segregation. Today, HBCUs enroll approximately 3% of the nation’s postsecondary population and, despite representing such a small portion of the overall college-going population, graduate 20% of the nation’s African-American college students. As such, the histories, missions, and trajectories of these institutions have consistently demonstrated a commitment to underserved citizens as part of the larger quest for equal educational access.

The success of HBCUs has occurred against the backdrop of our nation’s crisis of mass incarceration. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimate that 2.2 million persons were in the physical custody of either a state or federal correctional facility. The incarceration rate of the United States, according to Marie Gottschalk’s Caught, is approximately 730 people per 100,000. This rate dwarfs the incarceration rates of all other nations; the next highest incarceration rate is in Russia, at 568 per 100,000, followed by Georgia, at 547 people per 100,000.

The mass incarceration conversation is incomplete without addressing the ways in which race figures prominently in the composition of incarcerated persons. Indeed, as Gottschalk notes, African-Americans are overrepresented in national incarceration rates, being jailed at a rate of 2,285 per 100,000 people; in comparison, Whites are jailed at 400 per 100,000 people. To contextualize an egregiously high overall incarceration rate, she argues that even if African-Americans and Whites were jailed at the rates of Whites, the United States would still have an incarceration problem; this is an accurate assessment. However, the reality is that African-Americans continue to be incarcerated at rates that exceed not only their percentage of the total population but the rates of every other ethnic group. Even further, some research, done by Todd Clear and Devah Pager, suggests that post-release outcomes, like employment and recidivism, vary by race/ethnicity, influenced by the ways in which institutionalized racism manifests itself within communities.

Education is one solution that has been found to decrease recidivism rates and increase employment rates of ex-offenders. Data suggest, much in line with similar data for non-incarcerated citizens and learners, that the more education an incarcerated learner can amass pre-release, the better the likelihood of securing employment and ultimately making the decision to not reoffend. Unfortunately, due to amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965 made as a result of the Violent Crimes Act of 1994, federal funding for prison postsecondary education programs was eliminated and the number of programs, as well as enrollment in the remaining programs, decreased. As a result, incarcerated persons were then, and remain now, largely unable to pursue postsecondary study; consequently, the educational attainment gap between incarcerated and non-incarcerated citizens continues to grow.

Given the histories and missions of HBCUs, it stands to reason that they could prove instrumental when thinking about the creation of “inside” programming. Prisons, at both the state and federal level, contain the population to which HBCUs remain committed; correctional facilities are filled, primarily, with under-resourced and disenfranchised African-Americans. But HBCUs do not serve solely African-American students; many have increased their enrollment of non African-American students, illustrating that while the empowerment of the African-American community is perhaps the most visible objective, educational opportunity for all is the driving factor. HBCUs could serve the educational needs of the non African-American individuals as well, providing a comprehensive educational experience that is fully mission aligned and transformative.

In many ways, the potential for HBCU programming for incarcerated learners represents a convergence of two populations often overlooked in traditional higher education discussions. HBCUs often find themselves having to justify their relevance and existence, at times amid accusations that they are racist and/or discriminatory in their admission practices. Incarcerated learners are simply invisible in all education conversations. Incarcerated learners enrolled in GED programming are never counted in secondary program enrollment numbers; they are routinely excluded from the higher education enrollment data upon which researchers rely to thoughtfully discuss policy. If HBCUs decided to extend their commitment to educate the community to one of the most vulnerable populations in our country, the possibilities of prison education reform could be endless and HBCUs could, once again, be at the forefront of educational activism, empowering those most in need of justice.

Erin S. Corbett is Chief Executive Officer at Second Chance Educational Alliance, Inc., a leading nonprofit that provides academic refresher workshops to incarcerated learners in the state of Connecticut; she writes about her experiences teaching inside here. Corbett earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Education from Swarthmore, an MBA from Post University, and a doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania.

From HBCU to PWI: Embracing my career trajectory and story

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Kaleb L. Briscoe

Recently, I attended the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) National Convention in Baltimore, Maryland. In a session focused on providing support to African American and Hispanic students at Predominately White Institutions (PWIs), the presenter and students of color began to bash Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Rhetoric such as MSIs are not competitive enough, PWIs offer more experiences, students of color only attend MSIs because they are unable to meet the acceptance criteria at other institutions, or the graduates of MSIs struggle with getting into graduate school at PWIs were common themes throughout the discussion. I began to reflect on my own personal experiences as a HBCU graduate and how these experiences played an influential role in my life.

As a second generation college student and graduate of Albany State University (ASU), I understand the importance of lifting MSIs. My mother, a graduate of Paine College and my father, a graduate of Morehouse College, attended HBCUs during a period when acceptance to PWIs was rare for African Americans in the South. Although there have been changes, we are reminded of the importance of MSIs when situations surrounding sociopolitical and campus racial climate arise. One of the most talked about occurrences this year has been is Education Secretary DeVos’s statement on HBCUs:

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

When misrepresentation of HBCUs happen in Washington, there is no surprise of the rhetoric presented at National Conferences such as NACA. It is clear that DeVos and students at NACA missed the opportunity to speak to the factual history of African American Education in America. HBCUs are not the result of the system not working. They are robust responses to an educational system that was not created for minority students. HBCUs continue to focus on educating minority students because PWI’s offer minimal support for this population. Further, MSIs teach students dual citizenship and democracy; while not compromising cultural identity.

My experiences at ASU in organizations such as Student Government Association (SGA) and Student Activities Advisory Board (SAAB) sparked my interest in Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA). Further, my interactions with faculty in the classrooms and at internships gave me practical experience and soft skills. My college experience empowered me to work at a technical college, small PWI, and Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). Using ASU as a catalyst, I quickly learned the importance of working with minorities. Minority students are often eager and motivated to create change. These students approach issues with creativity and use their experiences to build institutional traditions.

Listening to the above-mentioned views made me wonder why these students felt obstinately about MSIs. Had they heard disparaging stereotypes come from the media? Had they heard of a bad experience? What was driving these thoughts? Was it simply a lack of historical understanding? All institutions of higher learning face issues; therefore, we know that controversy knows no color.

My counter narrative to the aforementioned views of MSIs is grounded in my experience. MSIs reaffirm cultural identity and provide a supportive learning environment. Being challenged academically and socially, they prepare students for professional experiences while enriching their personal development. They welcome diverse populations and provide a fertile learning experience for all students that should never be mistaken for a second class education. Most graduates of MSIs build lifelong friendships, mentors and colleagues. What is most important to graduates of MSIs is the part they play in the legacy of their institution.

My connection with MSIs prepared me for my current doctoral studies at the University of Nebraska. As we seek to prepare students to be global educators, we should include MSIs in our conversations. Those who have attended an MSI understand the heritage and passion that graduates have for their institution. Students who choose other educational options should visit to create an unbiased and authentic opinion. MSIs have thrived on smaller budgets, minor resources and less staff yet produce an equal amount of successful minority graduates.

The question is what can you do to support these institutions? Share your talent and time with these schools. Encourage students to visit MSIs. Consider working with faculty of MSIs on academic projects. Extend opportunities to students at MSIs for mentoring, internship programs, scholarships, and research. There are so many opportunities to build bridges and enhance the educational landscape through partnerships and collaboration. By simply sharing your story with students, you will make a difference.

Kaleb L. Briscoe is a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership and Higher Education program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). She serves as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Department of Educational Administration. Prior to pursing her Ph.D., Kaleb served as the Associate Director of Student Life at the University of Houston-Victoria.

It’s No Wonder We Can’t Fix Higher Education

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Karen Gross

A recent article in the New York Times by Ron Lieber focuses on how private colleges are reaching “back” to students they accepted after the traditional May 1 deposit deadline to lure these students into enrolling by sweetening financial aid packages. OK, at first blush, this article appears to be yet another piece on the enrollment strains in higher education, acutely felt among smaller private institutions. Higher ed, the piece suggests, is changing.

I agree with the latter statement but not for the reasons provided. Sadly, the article reveals something vastly more and vastly different than what appears on the surface. Let me quote the first paragraph of this piece in its entirety so it can then be deconstructed and examined for its deeper and more devastating meaning. My blood is boiling.

The piece begins:

“In the minds of parents and teenagers going through the college application process, May 1 is the magic date. At that point, you’ve sent in a deposit, bought a sticker for your car window and posted your choice on social media.”  

Start with this, college is not on the minds of many parents, particularly the parents of first generation, low-income students. Sadly, and it is embarrassing for our nation, many low-income, first generation, minority students have not even applied to college. And if they did apply (and complete the Free Federal Financial Aid form), they often did it without parental involvement. Add in students from deeply entrenched white poverty to that group. And, if they applied, they often did not apply to America’s elite ranked private institutions; indeed, these institutions were not on their radar screen – the well-described issue of undermatching. Parents did not visit campuses with them; parents did not get them executive coaches to work on application preparation including college essay writing; parents did not know about deadlines for notification.

So, my first suggested edit: delete the words “parents” or add the modifier, “some percentage of….”

Next, there is an assumption, suggested above, that the May 1 deposit deadline is well known – as in common knowledge. Really? Among what population? For starters, it is not the deadline for many colleges with rolling admissions. Many less selective colleges have long ago abandoned the May 1 deadline. A host of colleges – many of which offer quality two or four year degrees – admit students right up to the day classes begin. Really. And, of course, for those in the know, there is early decision, which has a date for committing way before May 1. And, for the record, many students do not apply to 5 or 10 colleges, given the cost of applying (in time and money); they are not advised – assuming they are well advised at all – to apply to ranges of schools. Many low-income students apply to one or two schools. Period. Full stop.

So, my second suggested edit: delete the May 1 date.

Proceeding onward, the paragraph notes that students have sent in their full deposit by May 1. Well, in truth, many students today cannot afford the deposit. Some send in their acceptance but not the deposit and wait for the college to do something. Some ask for a deposit waiver (risky for institutions on several levels) or pay their deposits in installments. Yes, that happens. And, sometimes those installments are small — $50 at a time.

So, my third suggested edit: qualify the deposit statement by adding “for those able to deposit…”

Moving right along, the first paragraph provides that parents and deposited children then get a car bumper sticker. Another really? This assumes that parents and/or children have cars. For many inner city youth, they not only do not have cars, they do not have a license. Indeed, they have not taken drivers ed. Forget affording a car; they cannot afford insurance.

Indeed, one of the initiatives I considered but never got to launch when I was a college president at a non-selective rural institution was to provide drivers’ education to our many inner city kids – so they get a license which could serve not only to enable them to drive but to have a suitable piece of identification. Forget addressing the issue of parental car ownership among low-income families in urban environs.

Oh, and where exactly does one buy that bumper sticker? It is not in a corner bodega. To get one (unless the college sends it to you), you would get it from the campus store (which means you are ON campus) or through the web (assuming one knows to go there to get a bumper sticker – something that may not be self evident).

My fourth suggested edit: delete the whole discussion of bumper stickers.

Finally, the paragraph ends with a reference to posting choices for college on social media. Yet another really? Doesn’t that depend on whether going to college is seen as a plus and whether one wants to share one’s choice if many of one’s friends have not applied to college, are not interested in college or think you have lost your mind because you are going to college? Yes, a subgroup of students will post where they are going but hosts and hosts of students will not – first generation, low income, minority or ethnically diverse students.

My fifth suggested edit: delete the references to social media.

With all of these edits, one is left with little in that opening paragraph and for good reason. That paragraph applies to a very limited group of graduating high school seniors — those applying to and accepted at America’s more elite private colleges and universities. The paragraph and the article that follows it do not apply to the vast and growing number of first generation, low income, minority students who are or will be attending post-secondary education — many of whom apply to non-selective two and four year institutions. And, many of these students are non-trads (actually more traditional than ever before), returners, transfer students, veterans, parents of all ages. Many do not travel far from home to attend post-secondary education. Many plan on using public transportation (that’s why the Dallas Community College system provides free public transport). Many are working over the summer to see if they can even afford one or two classes in the fall.

This Ron Lieber article and its first paragraph ignores Minority Serving Institutions, such as Hispanic Servicing Institutions, HBCUs, in addition to non-selective public and private two and four year institutions. Add to that, the article ignores certificate and technical training programs. Basically, more is ignored than covered.

Let’s be very clear here. Most first generation, low income, minority, ethnically diverse high school graduates and white students who are the product of deeply entrenched white intergenerational poverty are not going to the institutions listed in the article in the New York Times. Sure, a few are. But, the number of Pell eligible students attending America’s elite colleges numbers is in the hundreds of thousands (being generous). More than 7 million “others” go to college and there is nothing in the first paragraph of this article or the article as a whole that applies to them. Full stop.

So, if our focus on higher educational reform is on the limited audience to which the Lieber article applies – and it is emblematic of many – we are working to fix a wee piece of the higher education pie. Might we be wiser –we would be wiser– to pay attention to broader issues that involves way more students – the students who will be enrolling today and into the future? Might we actually write about how to improve education for at risk students – regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, geographic locale?

Here is one thing I can assure you: the parents of low SES children are not helicoptering for the most part; May 1 is a fake deadline; there is no car to which to affix a bumper sticker and no social media hoopla and certainly for some, there is not even an application let alone a deposit. This Lieber article is why higher ed is not improving; we are not focused on the audience for whom it needs to be improved. That’s an indictment if ever there was one: we are focused on the wrong group of students.

Can we collectively say: Yipes?

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

“You Are My Other Me”: Reflections on AERA 2017

Ginsberg

Alice E. Ginsberg

The American Education Research Association’s (AERA) annual meeting was noticeably different for me this year. After watching our country start rolling back civil rights at an alarming rate, and seeing so much unabashed racism drive our national dialogue, I went to AERA with hopes of feeling empowered. The conference did not disappoint me.

Today began bright and early at 8:15 a.m. at a panel discussion “College Curriculum at the Crossroads: Women of Color Reflect and Resist.”  According to the description: “With increased interest in issues of equity and access, there remains a dearth of scholarship focused on the complexities of women of color’s experiences.” The seven panelists were diverse in race, age, academic credentials, and surprisingly, gender too. (One panelist was an African American male, who spoke poignantly about being an advocate and ally across race and gender.) Although they taught at colleges and universities as geographically diverse as Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, and Georgia, it was significant that none of the panelists were from Minority Serving Institutions.

The panelists each spoke about how difficult it was to be a woman of color in primarily white institutions as they navigated dissertations, teaching evaluations, publishing, and facing tenure review.   With remarkable honesty, they talked about what it was like to center issues of racism while standing in front of a classroom and staring into the eyes of a majority of young white faces.   When they left the classroom, they stared into the faces of white male colleagues who didn’t take them seriously as academics. As one panelist, Ebony Pope from the University of Oklahoma, declared: “As Black women walk into white classrooms, we are subjected to the terms and expectations of operating in whiteness – and to the judgment of whiteness. This includes teaching and learning in the right white ways that seek to invalidate our existence and disrupt the acknowledgement of one another’s existence.”

Panelist Marelsie Velazquez, also from The University of Oklahoma, likewise noted: “To teach in Predominantly White Institutions is to contemplate and internalize feelings of isolation, not only in the halls of academia and faculty meetings, but in the lack of curriculum interventions that would place us, our ideas, and histories, within larger curriculum meetings. Who we are and what we teach in always in question.”

Bridget Turner Kelly, from Loyola University in Chicago, agreed that: “Isolation often compounds essentialism as female faculty of color, often the only people of color in their program, department or college, are asked to teach the diversity ‘add-on’ that is perceived as not core to the academic mission.” Perhaps it was not surprising then, when the next panelist, Altheria Caldera, from Texas A&M – Commerce reflected before she began her prepared talk: “It’s just a powerful experience being surrounded by other academic women of color. That in itself doesn’t happen very often.”

Although I knew that sexism and racism have not been totally eliminated at Minority Serving Institutions, I was acutely aware that my experience working at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions affords me the privilege of listening to, learning from, and being immersed in the lives of academic women of color on a daily basis. Over the last three years I have been able to travel to and meet faculty and students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and Asian American and Pacific Islanders Institutions (AANAPISIs) across the country and one of the most profound parts of these experiences has been seeing women of color at the center rather than the margins. I was happy for the panelists that — even for this brief ninety- minute session – they were surrounded by allies.

At the same time, however, there was an elephant in the room. The panelists were told that the session would be a roundtable. Instead, they sat in a straight line, behind a row of desks, while a mere eight audience members sat awkwardly in stray chairs in front of them. While I was very honored to be there I was also reminded why academic conferences are often not very powerful sites of social activism. Yes, AERA is a huge conference, with a phone-book size program of concurrent events, but still: Why did only eight people choose this session? Why weren’t we sitting in a roundtable? Forget the roundtable, why weren’t we even sitting next to each other? Why weren’t we looking each other in the eye?

The next panel I went to, immediately afterwards, was as different as night and day. The discussion was titled: “Linking Knowledge to Action Through Youth Participatory Action Research to Reduce Latino/a Educational Disparities.” While the discussants at this session were also from a PWI (The University of Arizona), their work was intricately “linked” to a marginalized and minoritized community. Their commitment to using youth participatory action research (YPAR) as the cornerstone of their own academic research mirrored many of the same methodologies that I have witnessed at MSIs. The community and the college worked together to produce new knowledge, and advocate for social justice, in a genuine partnership.

Indeed, the very organization of the session reflected the ethos of re-centering the voices of people of color.   While it was only slightly larger than the previous session I attended – there were about 12 attendees –the organizers immediately asked everyone to put their chairs in an intimate circle. One of the organizers then began by reminding us that we were sitting on Indigenous Land. [The conference took place in San Antonio, Texas]. Next, she then led us all in a common reading of “In Lak’ech: You Are My Other Me,” a Mayan law and greeting:

In Lak’ech

Tú eres mi otro yo.
You are my other me.
Si te hago daño a ti,
If I do harm to you,
Me hago daño a mi mismo.
I do harm to myself.
Si te amo y respeto,
If I love and respect you,
Me amo y respeto yo.
I love and respect myself.

This was an unusual and very emotionally moving experience for an academic conference, that was followed by an even more unlikely event. We went around the circle and shared our first names only, and what we felt we were each “bringing” to the discussion. To be clear: this was not about listing our qualifications and expertise. This was about a common interest in being challenged, in collaboration, and scaling good ideas. This was about honoring the coming together of the group, and making sure that everyone was listening and felt represented. I was reminded of my visit to Stone Child College, a TCU in Montana, where we began our “business” meeting with the college President listening to stories from a Tribal elder.

Although the larger discussion at this panel was about research methodology, typically dry descriptions of theory and numbers were grounded in beautiful illustrations of students’ community maps.   The presenters explained that they worked with Mexican American youth living in poverty to help them design and create their own maps of their neighborhoods, including places that symbolized college-going resources and college-going barriers. Resources, for example, included out-of-school time youth centers, library and schools, while barriers included high density of graffiti, vendors of alcohol, tobacco, and drug paraphernalia in their community.

As we talked about the maps, terms such as “homelessness” were redefined as “houselessness.” In other words, not having a house does not necessarily prevent someone from having a family, a community, and a lineage. Breaking from a deficit perspective, the presenters honored the fact that the young people they worked with – though poor, Latino/a and perhaps undocumented – had dignity, agency, and precious knowledge. At the end of their mapping, youth created new spaces in their communities, literally opening new avenues of access to college.

Thinking of mapping, after these two AERA sessions, I went to explore San Antonio. I visited the Alamo and visited a Mexican marketplace. I marveled at foods I had never tasted, and watched as families settled in to watch the upcoming Fiesta parade.  Aside from being very humid, it was a near perfect experience. A mingling of cultures combined with a strong sense of ethnic pride permeated the city.

I wish I could end this here. But something else happened today. I got back to my hotel room, turned on the television and saw Donald Trump speaking at a rally in Pennsylvania (my home state) to mark his first 100 days as president.   Every word out his mouth was one of hatred and divisiveness. As he talked about securing the border, and keeping all the “bad people” out, he outdid his own record of fear mongering warning that people who cross the border illegally will be in direct danger of being deported “back where they belong,” or put in jail.

Trump then read a poem called “The Snake” by Al Wilson, wherein a woman shows compassion for a hurt snake, bringing him into her home and giving him sustenance, only to be bitten mercilessly and mocked by the snake for being so gullible:

“I saved you,” cried that woman
“And you’ve bit me even, why?
You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die”
“Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin
“You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

The moral of the story being that certain people will always be bad to the core, that we shouldn’t try to help other people, and that if we do, we have only ourselves to blame for being so stupid. Trump told the story with great relish, savoring the anticipation of the moment when the snake is once again vilified and the old lady humiliated.

As I tearfully watched his supporters stand, cheer, and chant “build the wall,” I was reminded that I began the day reciting In Lak’ech with a group of total strangers at an academic conference.   If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself. If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself. What would our future look like if all Americans could say these words with the same conviction that Trump and his supporters brag about eradicating the enemy by any means necessary?

I didn’t leave AERA with the answer, but, as I’d hoped, I did leave feeling more empowered to keep fighting for social justice – inside the academy and out. I also left feeling more grateful than ever to be representing the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, where I do not have to travel to a national conference to gain wisdom from, and hear about the first-hand experiences of academics of color.

Alice E. Ginsberg is Assistant Director for Research at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. She also teaches urban education and teacher research in Penn’s Teach for America masters program.

Shaping Teacher Education to Meet our Distinct Needs

Danielle Lansing headshot

Danielle Lansing

This is the third post in a three-part MSIs Unplugged series on teacher education at federally-designated Minority Serving Institutions from the contributors to Teacher Education across Minority Serving Institutions: Programs Policies, and Social Justice, edited by Emery Petchauer and Lynnette Mawhinney. Authors will draw from their chapter to illustrate some of the important work happening in MSI teacher education programs. We hope this series helps move MSI teacher education into the view of both education scholars and the general public.

Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU) across the United States were founded to specifically meet the needs of tribal communities through access to higher education and capacity building. More than half of TCUs include teacher education as part of their academic programming. At many TCUs, teacher education programs tend to have the highest student enrollment compared to other offerings. This is due to the motivation of tribal community members who seek to improve the education systems that directly serve their children.

In the past, tribal nations have been excluded from determining how their children might best be served. Generations of American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) families have experienced assimilationist curriculums that necessitated the exclusion of parents to be effective. Consequently, parents and community members have been left out of the equation and were expected to trust in the schools they sent their children too. As a result, many AIAN communities have felt the negative impact of unresponsive educational systems.

I remember the stories my mother told me when I was a child. These stories included being sent away to school as early as third grade. My mother left home to attend off-reservation schools hundreds of miles away from home. She was only allowed to come home during the summers. Much of what she learned was incongruent with the teachings of our family as she was expected to leave her culture at home. As a result, her home life and schooling were very disconnected. Unfortunately, her story is not an isolated one. I often wondered how much potential was lost as future community members experienced an education that could not be translated back into their communities.

Tribal communities continue to grapple with the loss of language and culture as well as the pervasive achievement gap. For many school systems that serve AIAN children, their focus continues to rely heavily on mainstream curriculum and remediation. Teachers trained in mainstream teacher education programs often learn very little about how to shape their curriculum to meet the unique needs of AIAN students. In order for a change to take place, a new cadre of teachers and leaders need to be developed. One that is ready to provide effective educational programs that support the unique needs of AIAN communities.

Part of why I was drawn to become part of the Tribal College Movement, was to participate in developing a foundation for educational sovereignty to emerge in tribal communities. It begins by partnering with tribal communities and including them in determining how educational programs, schools, early childhood centers, and teachers can be instrumental in solving the complex problems that impact student success. For many communities, this necessitates striking a balance with mainstream curriculum and culturally relevant curriculum. In order to develop teacher education programs that can train teachers to maintain a curriculum balanced with AIAN community needs, tribal voices will have to be heard.

As a TCU faculty member, I consider myself privileged to participate in a community of practice that includes AIAN students who represent the distinct needs of their communities. In the safe spaces of our classrooms, we are able to learn mainstream early childhood education concepts but also develop a discourse of how these concepts may or may not support the distinct traditional learning systems already present in our communities. We think critically about how mainstream educational concepts can be enhanced and modified to better address the issues in AIAN communities. These deep discussions come from a shared history that we bring to the classroom. I believe that it is within this focused discourse lies the beginnings of educational sovereignty and solutions to the complex issues that continue to challenge our nations.

We continue to learn that tribal communities are very unique. Generalizations can seldom be made across tribal nations. For teachers to be effective in AIAN communities, understanding these realities is of utmost importance. As a teacher myself, I remember going through a period of relearning each time I entered a tribal community. As a teacher who was trained in a mainstream institution, I don’t ever remember being taught how to enter a community through a learning perspective. I must admit, I felt that I knew what had to be taught. However, as I entered each of the four tribal communities I served, I learned that I was expected to support a great deal more than the academic needs of students. Luckily, I learned quickly that including parents and community members to “school me” on what they felt was important would serve me well. In retrospect, I would have been better off initially if I had entered the field with the expectation that, in addition to the delivery of curriculum, each tribal community also had its own needs that needed to be considered.

For tribal colleges, our missions explicitly necessitate partnerships with tribal communities. Our hope is to continue to work towards striking a balance between the mainstream curriculum and what is culturally relevant. In this way, our teacher education program continues to be informed by the AIAN communities we serve. Our hope is that we are always moving towards building our own systems. We are on that journey now.

Danielle Lansing is a faculty member in Early Childhood Education at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI). She is a scholar and practitioner who has spent the majority of her career teaching the primary grades in Bureau of Indian Education and tribal contract schools in various tribal communities. Dr. Lansing’s research interests include Participatory Action Research in American Indian and Alaskan Native communities as well as Indigenous research methodologies. She is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and credits her family history as shaping her motivation to improve Indian education.

Teacher Certification Exams as Barriers to the Diversification of the Teacher Workforce

This is the second in a three-part MSIs Unplugged series on teacher education at federally-designated Minority Serving Institutions from the contributors to Teacher Education across Minority Serving Institutions: Programs Policies, and Social Justice, edited by Emery Petchauer and Lynnette Mawhinney. Authors will draw from their chapter to illustrate some of the important work happening in MSI teacher education programs. We hope this series helps move MSI teacher education into the view of both education scholars and the general public.

This is the time of year when the emails and phone calls from worried teacher candidates start to ratchet up at our minority serving institutions. Candidates are concerned about the possibility they will not pass all of the exams or be certified in time to take a full-time teaching job come the fall. Last year, a teacher candidate, Maria, approached us about her persistent failure on one of the state-required content exams for teacher certification. It was her third time taking it and despite the time she spent studying and reviewing, a few points on the exam continued to elude her. Is this an indicator that this teacher candidate is not going be effective in the classroom?

Teacher certification exams are designed, in theory, to prevent ill-equipped teachers from entering our public school classrooms. The research suggests, however, that most certification exams are poor measures of a teacher’s ability to effectively teach the diversity of children in classrooms or of a teacher’s readiness to teach. Performance assessments, like the edTPA, are theoretically better indicators of these capacities, but the research is still emerging. Maria is a creative and purposeful teacher, with deep content knowledge, who is invested in working in urban schools and teaching all students effectively. She knows her students and we can attest that her lessons were consistently designed with each and every one of them in mind. It is possible that these paper-and-pencil exams might keep her from the classroom. Moreover, while she was less concerned about the edTPA, Maria mentioned to us that she faced the choice between paying her electricity bill and paying the $300 required to submit her edTPA.

As faculty at minority serving institutions, who are invested in the diversification of the teacher workforce, we consider supporting our teacher candidates through the hurdles of teacher certification exams as critical to our work. Our teacher candidate populations speak a variety of languages other than English; identify with different racial, ethnic, and religious groups that are highly underrepresented in the teacher workforce; and describe themselves as low- or working-class. Cost is a huge barrier to certification for many of these candidates who, like Maria, find the approximately $800 fee to complete all of the required exams daunting and, sometimes, impossible.

Our institutions have worked to find vouchers to support initial costs, and also to create zero-cost, faculty-led workshops designed to prepare candidates for the content and structure of the exams to reduce the need for retakes. Many of our candidates’ K-12 educations poorly prepared them for college-level work and few received strong feedback on their reading and writing. Moreover, most teacher certification exams are no longer pencil-and-paper tests, creating a need for candidates—whose K-12 educations integrated little technology—to practice reading and writing responses on a computer.Thus, within these workshops, candidates are supported in increasing their efficiency as readers and writers; familiarity with a wide variety of genres and content;and knowledge of techniques for taking computer-based exams.

Our teacher candidates often describe extreme fear and anxiety of the unknown at testing centers where they will take these computer-based exams. Rarely are they aware of the ways in which these actual testing situations, beliefs about self-efficacy, and their mindset about test-taking, shape their success. We have found that providing some familiarity with the situation within courses and the workshops (e.g., what identification will be required; the process for getting a new whiteboard on which to write; going to use the restroom) alleviates much of this anxiety. For the edTPA, we have found that it is also important that candidates feel they have permission to request the necessary time and assistance to complete the lesson sequence in classrooms. Mobilizing faculty members and university supervisors to work with candidates on the language and approach for these discussions with their cooperating teachers has made a significant difference in their confidence to advocate for themselves.

These exams are daunting for many of our candidates, but we have seen them thrive with targeted preparation that addresses gaps in their skills, knowledge, familiarity, and concerns. Finding avenues to seek out vouchers, ensuring candidates are well-prepared for the exams, and preparing them for the realities of testing centers, can help qualified and talented individuals from being kept out of the profession. However, supporting teacher candidates’ success on these exams does not diminish the responsibilities we, as teacher educators, have to be guardians of the profession. Our commitments to access, excellence, and the diversification of the teacher workforce drive our work, and this includes being mindful that not all individuals are appropriate for the profession despite their ability to pass certification exams.

Joni Kolman is an Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning in the School of Education at California State University San Marcos; from 2013-2016 she served as an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at City College of New York, CUNY. Her research and teaching focuses on teacher quality and is situated at the intersection of teacher education in/for high-need schools, K-12 inclusive classroom practice, and education policy.

Laura M. Gellert is Associate Professor of Mathematics Education/Childhood Education at City College (CUNY), where she also is the director of the childhood education program. Her work focuses on such topics as in-service teacher mentorship, inclusive education with mathematics education and integrated STEM education that meets the needs of underrepresented minority populations.