Don’t Stop Believing (in Education and Student Success)

I’m cynical. Sarcastic. A naysayer. Whatever your choice of word, I have a tendency to lean toward the dark side. I think it’s practical to consider everything that could go or is going wrong, but sunshine Sally happy people tell me I’m just a negative Nancy. And yet I remain hopelessly optimistic when it comes to education and students.
 
Every day, my idealism comes up against newsletters, listservs, and daily roundups often filled with stories of academic failure. Students aren’t prepared for college, aren’t feeling safe on campus, aren’t able to find jobs. They’re drowning in debt and they’re not making it to graduation day. Breaking news: Students aren’t succeeding. It takes a lot of positivity to not to be jaded and wallow in despair or give up hope (tough for anyone, but a particular challenge for dark siders).
 
So any news of students overcoming adversity and persisting through challenges, of students getting the support they need, makes my cold heart melt. These stories make me cheer and make me think that it’s worth it to be on the bright side in the education arena. Here’s what had me cheering this week:
 

 
Do yourself a favor and make sure you hunt for at least one happy story weekly. Maybe with enough readers and click-throughs, success factors will becomes more newsworthy, and we’ll read more of what students and institutions are doing well. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

101 (Not Remedial) Football Camp

With Brian writing about collegiate football earlier this week, I decided to make this an athletics themed week on the TVP Comms blog and tell a story appropriate for a Friday.

 

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A friend of mine has worked for the University of Colorado at Boulder athletics department for years and invited me to attend an athletic department-sponsored football camp for women. I accepted the opportunity to hear from the coaches, meet some of the student-athletes and run drills on the field. Who wouldn’t?

 

Living in Boulder, I wasn’t surprised when the Daily Camera reported that a handful of female alumni were upset about the women only football camp. They expected the content would be watered down and insult the intellect of the attendees. In other words, they anticipated we would be treated to remedial programming. Thankfully, they were wrong.

 

I’d done my homework and read up on similar programs around the country including one profiled by Sara Lipka for The Chronicle of Higher Education. I anticipated the program would live up to its Football 101 name—those attending would have an interest and aptitude for the sport and wouldn’t need basic training.

 

There are many women who didn’t get the opportunity to play football as kids but that doesn’t preclude us from wanting to know more, today, about the sport. We are intelligent, have questions and have dollars to donate. And smart athletics departments are meeting us where we want to be met.

 

I attended last week and was delighted my fellow attendees were as engaged as I anticipated. I was also pleased with the respectful way we were treated by the coaches, trainers and staff. The event was a successful fundraiser for the department and at the end of the day the Buffs had a few more fans both on and off the field. If anything, some of the academic and administrative departments across academia could use a little remedial training on donor relations from their peers.

 

If you want to see a bit more (including footage of yours truly, my daughter and couple of my friends), feel free to watch this recap video.

 

And… Go Buffs!

College Football: Anticipation Builds While Gap Widens

This week marks the unofficial start to the 2014 college football season, and many Division I athletic conferences, including the Big 12, ACC, Pac-12, Sun Belt and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, are holding their pre-season media sessions. The Southeastern Conference got a jump on the action last week and the remaining conferences have similar sessions scheduled later this month.

 

Believe it or not, the 2014 college football season kickoff is less than five weeks away. Anticipation is high, but behind the scenes, the issue of the widening gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” continues to simmer.

 

Just last week, Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of 21st Century Fox made an $80 million bid to acquire Time Warner. The deal was rejected, though it’s likely Mr. Murdoch will return with an even higher bid. The reason, according to the New York Times, is because of the “opportunity to acquire more sports rights and bolster [Murdoch’s] fledging Fox Sports 1 network, which made its debut last summer.”

 

What does this mean for college athletics? Well, that depends on how badly Fox and ESPN, Fox’s primary competitor, want to add more live sports to their inventory.

 

We all remember the major NCAA conference realignment of 2010-13, which was triggered in part by conference and TV networks’ desire to expand their geographic footprints and generate additional revenue. It was a major shift that impacted more than 19 athletic conferences in all three NCAA divisions.

 

Now that the dust has settled, it’s logical to wonder whether the realignment has reached a lull or if we’re just in the eye of the storm. While the future is unclear, Fox and ESPN’s aggressive pursuit of content, along with the growth of dedicated conference TV networks, portend an even more competitive and expensive round of negotiations when athletic conference television contracts are up for renewal.

 

Meanwhile, the NCAA’s Division 1 board of directors is planning a vote on a new governance model, which would give more control to the “big five” athletic conferences (the Big 12, Pac-12, Big 10, ACC and SEC) and could lead to some significant rule changes, including so-called “full cost of attendance” scholarships.

 

This all seemingly points to greater flexibility and bigger paydays down the road, particularly for members of the big five (which already collect a combined $1.1 billion annually from their television contracts), but in fact, only a small percentage of Division I athletic departments generate enough money to cover expenses on their own.

 

Higher education organizations, such as the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, have done an excellent job analyzing the “destabilizing influence” of big-time college athletics. Even Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has expressed doubts about many institutions’ ability to keep up with the rising cost of all of these changes.

 

Nevertheless, despite the well-documented challenges, recent news suggests that the disparities in college athletics will only grow.

 

Meanwhile, public interest in college football is poised to be at an all-time high this season due to the new four-team playoff, which promises a definitive answer to the question of which team is the champion come January.

 

If only figuring out the thorny issues surrounding college athletics were so easy.

In Defense of the “Worst” Majors

I get some serious nerd rage when I come across a news story (here and here, too—though let’s be honest, it’s the same information) suggesting that English belongs on a list of “worst college majors.” I see the data, I understand that the lists are using unemployment rates and income information, and from that angle, I begrudgingly see the argument. But at the same time, my blood boils, I get huffy and indignant, and maybe mutter some not-so-niceties under my breath.
 
Why isn’t it the worst? Because people keep writing new things and thinking of new ways to look at old things. Because students keep studying it. Because it’s important. The passion versus paycheck is not a new debate by any means, but it matters for current and future students. I think of parents, counselors, mentors, and employers using these data points and lists as fuel for an argument to dissuade students from one track or another. I see students choosing what seems to be practical, only to struggle with or hate what they’re learning. It’s a no-brainer to me: people are more productive when they’re happy (though it helps to have studies to back your claims), and that includes liking what you study.
 
I’m a practical person. I love budgets, contribute regularly to my retirement account, and pay extra on my student loan principal balance (yes, even with my English major apparently holding me back). I floss nightly and wear wellington boots when it’s raining. I know that people need to take science classes to be in the health fields and economics classes to be in business fields. I know that the world needs doctors and lawyers and engineers. But it needs poets and artists and sociologists, too. And don’t even get me started on how much it needs teachers. I don’t know about you, but I want a doctor who did well in school and likes what he or she does now, not one who chose that because of societal pressures.
 
I will stand by my major forever and defend it to the death. In college, I was giddy when I got my syllabi, so excited to buy books that I still go back to read today. I was engaged in my classes, passionate when I was doing my homework. I worked hard and rarely skipped classes (if you don’t count studying abroad and that one time that pancakes were desperately needed after two midterms) because I loved what I was learning. I love reading and writing, and I’m so grateful that I had an opportunity (and support) to study what I love. And I think I’m a better person (and employee, I like to think) because of it.
 
Really, does any major belong on a “worst” list if people are passionate and continue to study it? National unemployment rates and recent graduate unemployment rates are all within spitting distance, anyway. I walked away from my “worst” major with real skills, even if they’re mostly soft skills: critical thinking, ability to work independently and on teams, creativity, empathy, and problem solving. I was employed by the end of January of my senior year of college and luckily have continued to be gainfully employed by some awesome organizations and companies. So take that, world!
 
And here’s what I say to you, dear students of now and of the future: haters gonna hate. (And oh my god, here comes a sports reference.) Be like Kevin Garnett and hear what you want to hear. Or rather, read what you want to read, study what you want to study. I hope that you future generations of literature lovers will listen to your hearts and play to your strengths instead of heeding these reports. Make the most of your passions. And don’t Hulk smash people when you try to patiently explain for the 100th time that yes, you chose a major on the “worst” list and are doing just fine, thank you very much.

ECJ Ruling: Whose Rights Have Really Been Forgotten?

A lot has been reported these past few weeks on the “right to be forgotten” ruling originating from a European Court of Justice earlier this year. Previously unthinkable, the ruling essentially erases journalistic history from Internet searches—i.e. unGoogling—at the request of people who want to clean up their online image. (Not surprisingly, online reputation management companies are all over this, which makes the situation all the more distasteful, in my opinion.)

 

Google received more than 70,000 requests (impacting 250,000 web pages) to remove links to “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” personal information since May, and its compliance has resulted in the un-indexing of links to major European news coverage from local search results.

 

Those on both sides of this matter are taking heat. The ECJ, for its apparent disregard for free speech and freedom of the press, as well as its lack of regulation guidelines for handling link removal requests; Google for what some perceive as an overzealous approach to taking down links, perhaps a passive aggressive attempt at making a point.

 

The issues are complicated, for sure. But this ruling—which goes against the ethos of the Internet and significantly challenges the rights of news organizations—scares me. I’m not a journalist, but have deep respect for their rights and the service their work provides others. And it’s hard for me to come to grips with the fact they are being silenced in this way—in Europe!

 

In the U.S., there is widespread recognition that “[t]he Wild West of the digital age is ending,” as Anne Beznacon, founder and president of the tech company Placecast, wrote in a particularly thoughtful column on this issue for Forbes. I am a strong believer that this country should have more personal privacy regulations in place—and soon. But, let’s hope we learn something from Europe’s approach and not forget about the place of journalism in our society during the process.

Meet the Newest TVP-er!

If you were keeping an eye on Twitter this week, you might have figured out that we have a new member of the amazing TVP Communications team, whom we welcomed at an agency retreat in Colorado.

 

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Brian Wachur brings great experience across K-12 and higher education, both in agency settings and, most recently, as associate director of marketing at the American Council on Education. That’s where I had the opportunity to call him a colleague and a friend.

 

We’re all so excited to bring Brian’s experience developing and honing messages, building digital and social media campaigns, and applying a great set of instincts to the biggest issues in higher education.

 

As soon as we hired Brian, I begged for (read: demanded) the opportunity to do the traditional TVP Comms Q&A with him. I’m so delighted to have yet another colleague on our team whom I truly consider a friend. Spend five minutes with him and you’ll surely understand why.

 

What was your first job?

 

Boarman’s Market in Highland, MD. I worked there through high school and did everything from bagging groceries to stocking shelves. It sounds trite, but I learned a LOT of lessons there that I’ve applied to every job I’ve had since.

 

Which college and professional sports teams do you follow?

 

First and foremost, as a West Virginia University grad, I am a diehard Mountaineers fan. Beyond that, having grown up in central Maryland, I also root for the Redskins and the Orioles.

 

What three albums are on your desert island list?

 

Tough one. If I had to pick three, I think I’d go with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” Van Morrison’s “It’s Too Late to Stop Now,” and the Hold Steady’s “Boys and Girls in America.” Ask me again in five minutes and I’ll probably have three completely different choices.

 

Is it true that Santa Claus came to your wedding?

 

It’s true! My lovely wife and I got married in December and Santa was the surprise guest at the reception. Did you know there is an official guild of Santa impersonators?

 

Are you a morning person or a night owl?

 

Morning person. Ten years ago, my answer would have been night owl for sure. But these days, I couldn’t sleep past 7:00 AM if I tried. And even if I could, my black lab Charlie would have none of it. She likes her breakfast served promptly.

 

What did you do on your summer vacation?

 

Besides starting a sweet new job with TVP Communications, most of my summer has been focused on moving. My wife and I relocated from the Washington, DC area to Richmond, VA in June. The dust has mostly settled and we were able to squeeze in a trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks in early July.

 

What’s your guilty pleasure?

 

Just one? I am a big fan of “Bar Rescue” on Spike TV, I have a strong affection for Subway and an even stronger affection for Skittles. Do those all count?

 

[Note: Yup. Just don't ever ask me to eat Subway with you.]

A Reporter’s Playbook

I have two lingering habits from my time working as press secretary for a member of the House of Representatives. The first—waking in the middle of the night to check my email—only manifests itself during times of stress. The second is a deeply engrained daily routine that happens when Mike Allen’s POLITICO Playbook hits my email inbox.

 

As a Hill staffer, Playbook was the perfect stage setter for my day – what’s hot and not, who’s up or down, what op-ed or speech is everyone going to be talking about today?

 

While I don’t track legislation and policy the way I used to, I’m still a political junkie living in Washington, DC, and Playbook is still required reading. So imagine my delight at stumbling upon something directly relevant to my higher ed world in Monday’s Playbook!

 

From Allen:

 

MUST-READ FOR ANY REPORTER — “Investigating Powerful Institutions: Inside and Out” – 2-page handout by NYT reporter Matt Apuzzo (who shared a Pulitzer at AP for revealing NYPD surveillance of Muslims), from the annual Investigative Reporters and Editors conference, this weekend in San Francisco: “You need to think about the organization as a network of people who have some stake in the company. [Their] lawyers, inside and outside. Worker bees and midlevel managers. Retirees. Shippers. Contractors. Union organizers. Analysts. Politicians. Economic development officials. Whistleblowers. Competitors. Suppliers. Regulators. Lobbyists.” http://goo.gl/NMdhjA

 

This handout is focused primarily on providing tips for reporters covering corporate entities, but it’s easy to swap colleges and universities, presidents, faculty, students and trustees in the appropriate spots for a playbook of how reporters are approaching their stories about our institutions—particularly when writing about perceived “scandals.”

 

I highly recommend you read the document and use it to think about your institution’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Share it with your team and your senior leadership. Incorporate it into crisis planning and tabletop exercises. This kind of insight is incredibly valuable—I know our team is thinking about how to incorporate it into our work with client partners.

When Humor Isn’t Funny Or Appropriate

I’m in DC for the CIC/AASCU College Media Conference and was doing some work and catching up on social media postings last night when Erin IMed me:

 

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And there it was. THE FAFSA tweet that then became an online conversation among a number of higher education colleagues. Some of us were unsure if it was legit. Some of us were upset, some thought it was funny.

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I’ve had a night to think about the tweet and why my reaction was and still is so visceral and, well, personal. I’m well past the age of those FAFSA is targeting through social media, but I’m approaching the point where I become a member of its secondary audience—parents of prospective students. And I personally found the tweet offensive. Professionally, I was less than impressed with the tweet for two reasons- 1) it wasn’t appropriate as a tweet from a government agency and 2) even something funny can hit a personal nerve.

 

If you have responsibility for posting on behalf of an institutional account, I would never recommend posting anything that disenfranchises or makes even a portion of your intended audience less receptive to your message. The Department of Education and White House are focused on completion initiatives. These efforts fit well with the intent of FAFSA, which states online “[w]e are proud to sponsor millions of American minds pursuing their educational dreams.” FAFSA should never belittle those dreams or the people behind the dreams, even if their intent was to be funny.

 

Social media posts can be personal (if it resonates we are drawn in), but negatively personal should be off limits. Poverty isn’t funny, but it really isn’t funny for anyone who has lived it. And, there is a very fine line on social media between funny and offensive. There are very, very few who are able to walk that line well. If you aren’t sure if you’ve been able to do so, then assume you weren’t successful and try again. I’d rather pre-empt something that might be funny to a few than post it and have it be offensive to many.

 

I’m not suggesting stifling voices or cutting off fun, but I know there are consequences (good, bad and ugly) for what we post. If you don’t have the leverage or ability to be funny or edgy, then build relationships the old fashioned way—through consistent and repeated interactions. It’s not sexy, it’s not quick, but it still works.