Monthly Archives: October 2014

Accessibility (and Efficiency)

Continuing my series of posts on President Barron’s discussion topics, I want to consider his comments on accessibility.

Dr. Barron notes the pressure student debt and the cost of education is placing on accessibility at universities.  The trend of lowering state support for higher education has made it more and more difficult to provide access at reasonable costs. More and more universities are placing a priority on attracting students with funds to pay (out-of-state and international students, for example) to be able to generate revenue. While Penn State has generally maintained its land grant commitment to low income and first generation students, there is no doubt the struggle to do that has become tougher.

President Barron links his thoughts on accessibility to efficiency, stressing that the University’s only reaction to declining state support cannot be to ask students and families for more in tuition each time. Penn State and other universities need to look for efficiency and cost savings.  Over the past few decades, universities have seen their administrative costs skyrocket. Much of that increase is in student services–gyms, athletics, entertainment, health, dorms–as the number of faculty and related instructional expenses were flat or even declined. Of course, students and parents like many of those additional services.  But, if they come at a cost of a reduced emphasis on putting great teachers in the classroom with students, do we need to question the choices we are making?

President Barron writes that “students are customers”. If the customers want more entertainment and less education, should universities respond to that market demand? Is that in the best interest of students and the larger public that Penn State is supposed to serve?

I’ve always believed that the “student=customer” equation is only part of the truth. It devalues what education should be, because students are much more than customers.  Students are my colleagues in a community effort to learn. Students are my proteges, and I have a responsibility to mentor them, not simply provide customer service.  Students are my teachers, as their new perspectives keep me looking at the world of health care in new and different ways.

So how do we better balance accessibility and efficiency, while retaining that core focus on education? What should Penn State and Health and Human Development be doing to make sure that tuition is kept at a reasonable level AND that the right amount of those dollars goes to teaching and learning? What do you think?  Share your comments.

Student Career Success

In my last post, I discussed and asked for student feedback on President Barron’s comments on student engagement and how the College of Health and Human Development could improve its effort for students.  Today, I want to continue to highlight President Barron’s six topics by focusing on “Student Career Success and Economic Development”.  If you haven’t read President Barron’s full comments on the topic, check those out at the link.

President Barron begins by focusing on the national conversation on whether college prepares students well for employment in their field.  This conversation is filled with conflicting and confusing information.  Some argue that a huge “skills gap” exists, that students simply don’t have the abilities that employers need. Others argue that the problem is quite different, noting the large drop in on-the-job training that employers used to provide to workers. Some cite high unemployment and underemployment rates among recent college graduates as evidence that the tuition students pay is not worth the return in salary. Other note that the economic returns to college education have remained very high.

Students in Health and Human Development face diverse challenges in this area. Our majors are clearly employment oriented. Our internships, clinicals, and other courses provide a mix of classroom and experiential education to prepare students for their careers. We have an active alumni base who provide mentoring and other professional development opportunities for students. The services sector, where many HHD students seek jobs, is growing rapidly and represents an estimated 90 percent of all jobs that will be created in the United States over the next decade.

Some of our fields, however, are quite cyclical.  Job opportunities can shrink rapidly in recessionary periods in hospitality, recreation, and tourism, as families trim their entertainment budgets. Jobs in the service sector generally pay less than jobs in manufacturing, energy, and financial fields. The opportunity to find jobs here on campus through Career Services is limited, as employers who come to campus seem to focus on STEM fields. Overall, while HHD has strengths in employment, we still have much room for improvement in helping students find career success.

What do you think? How can the College of Health and Human Development improve in how it helps students find career success? How should our classes, internships, student services, advising and other activities change to help our students?


Driving the Health and Human Development Sports Car

As some of you may know, our new President, Eric Barron, has outlined 6 topics for discussion by the University community.  I’d like to take some time over the next several weeks to ask students for their comments on those topics and how the College of Health and Human Development should respond.  Dr. Barron’s initial remarks on this can be found in this article. Briefly, the six topics are:

  • Excellence
  • Student engagement
  • Diversity and Demographics
  • Student career success and economic development
  • Accessibility
  • Technology

I’d like to start with student engagement. Here are President Barron’s comments:

“Student engagement
I like to share an analogy that I heard at a convocation ceremony, and apply it to Penn State: “When students decided to come to Penn State and pay their tuition, they purchased a sports car, but too many of them will only drive it 20 miles per hour.” In other words, many students simply go to class and leave, and don’t take full advantage of the rich opportunities that a college campus offers. There are plenty of data to show that students who are engaged in worthwhile activities (one-on-one research or creative activity with faculty, leadership, internships, international experiences, service, or even a part-time job), even for just 10 hours a week, have a much-improved college experience.

Engaged students have to manage their time and have fewer opportunities to engage in unhealthy behavior; they are happier because their peers and friends also are involved in worthwhile activities; and they receive markedly better grades, all while building a strong résumé that will help them succeed in their careers. After they graduate, engaged students also tend to become engaged alumni.  With such positive outcomes, how can we better promote student engagement?”

In my first year as Associate Dean, I’ve looked at HHD in several of these areas, and on some I think we do well.  In others, I think we just don’t know how we do.  And in others, I think we clearly need to improve.

For example, I think HHD is among Penn State’s leaders in internships, clinicals, and other experiential parts of education.  Each of our majors either requires or encouraged experiential components, provide academic credit for the experience, have dedicated faculty leading internship programs, etc. As a result, more than 70 percent of our students graduate having completed some type of experience like this.

Of course, that’s not to say that everything is perfect. Even if this is an area of strength, we always want to improve. What do HHD students think? How can we improve internships and other experiences for students?

Research is an area where I think we just don’t know.  We know we have students working with faculty.  However, we don’t have a good way of tracking how many are doing that or the value of that experience to students.  What do HHD students think? Are you aware of research experiences? Are we providing enough opportunities? How can we improve opportunities to engage students through research with faculty?

Study Abroad is an area where I think we need to improve.  Last year, only a little more than 100 students in Health and Human Development completed a study abroad experience. That’s less than 3 percent of our students.  At my last Associate Dean’s Advisory Board meeting, I heard from students about the challenges they face in trying to complete study abroad.  The combination of finding your HHD major, trying to complete an internship, trying to get all the courses needed for a major or for graduate school plans, and more seems to limit how many students can take advantage of the opportunities. I’d like to hear more about this problem and your ideas for solutions. What do HHD student think? How can we help students complete a study abroad experience?  What changes do we need to make?

On these topics, as well as leadership, service, co-curricular events like speakers, field trips, and more, share your thoughts in the comments on how HHD can become a leader in student engagement and help students drive this blue and white sports car to its maximum.