Is Too Much News Good News?

Ann M. Pearson

New articles pop up daily in email and in the few print sources we still receive to keep up with what’s in the news about higher education. At San Jacinto College, we do our best to stay informed and respond to the news. Currently, much of that coverage is about completion. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on all facets of postsecondary education, and focuses heavily on completion and the data surrounding it. The Chronicle’s site called, appropriately, College Completion: Who Graduates from College, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, gathers, analyzes, and posts graduation data from the National Center for Education Statistics’s Integrated Postsecondary Education System (IPEDS). It truly is fascinating data, and an unsuspecting person could lose several hours digging into it. Likewise, the nonprofit Complete College America has an even more colorful website filled with relevant, timely information about completion and what colleges can do to foster it. Most schools now have dedicated research departments to aggregate and analyze data for individual colleges, programs, and even separate courses.

The United States Department of Education (USDOE) provides a 30-page report, the College Completion Took Kit, to help states understand how to establish realistic goals and use data effectively in the war against non-completion. Then there are the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) publications, the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society’s Community College Completion Corps challenge, and the many discussion points initiated by the League for Innovation in the Community College. All of it informative, accurate, and critical. And we do need to be thinking about this data.

The challenge for faculty members then certainly isn’t a lack of source material. Rather, it’s a matter of focus and time. As in—where do you focus your attention? And—who has time to process all this information?

I have never met a faculty member who wasn’t concerned with the college completion agenda in a global sense—we’re teachers for heaven’s sake! Even more importantly, all the faculty I know and with whom I work care deeply about completion for their own students and the rest of our college student body. Genuine concern isn’t the problem. What to do with all the information, though, is a challenge. Not making this task easier is the fact that articles on college completion go hand-in-hand with news regarding underprepared students, declining ACT/SAT scores, and violence on campus, as well as the perennial news coverage of financial cuts for education.

Faculty could so justifiably ignore the headlines and retreat into an already packed schedule of teaching, grading, and advising bookended by service to the college and professional development to keep up with their own discipline. Fortunately for our students, faculty don’t retreat from challenges. And maybe that’s where informed activism collides with concerned reality. Faculty attack the problems of low college completion, inadequately prepared students, and financial struggles daily every time they provide honest but kind feedback on homework, every time they engage students in serious, respectful debate in a class discussion, and every time they encourage instead of ridicule a novice’s mistake. These constant efforts multiplied across all disciplines keep students engaged and trying. Keeping abreast of national higher ed news while focusing less on “all the news fit to print” and more on the students on today’s roster may be a good remedy to data overload.

Originally published as a Faculty Voices Project blog post on February 9, 2017.