Commencement Speeches

It is that time of year when thousands of students are graduating from both high school and college and the blogsphere, twittersphere, etc. is crowded with posting of inspirational, comical, and even mundane mentions of graduation speeches. I have had an occasion or two that it has been my honor, either by virtue of my position at a college or by invitation to speak at a commencement ceremony. For those that are in the education business commencement is the greatest single event among the many that are conducted each year on a campus, as the success of its students is truly the most important measure of an institution’s success. This single event is a time of celebration, not only for those graduating, but for all of those persons; faculty, staff, parents, friends, and others, who played a role in assisting the graduates in their success.

As a student of eduction, I look forward to reading, and now with the proliferation of internet video, watching different commencement speeches. I think that a good speech should contain three basic elements; be entertaining, have relevance to the speaker, and most importantly, have a message.

Be Entertaining – Most graduates, and those that are at the ceremony to support them, won’t remember in year or two what the commencement speech was about or who delivered it, as they are there to hear a name and watch that person walk across the stage. So focus on being entertaining, tell an interesting story or joke to provide the audience a few minutes of entertainment before the procession begins.

Make your speech Internally Relevant – If the audience does not feel like you can relate to what you are saying it will not have a significant impact. This can often be achieved by telling a personal story that helps illustrate the point that you are making in the speech.

Have a Message – This can range from a number of things that are sometimes seen as traditional or obscure, but having a message and telling a story around that message is what everyone is truly looking for. This message should be one that comes from the heart, and is presented in such a way that the audience feels that within it is a true since of sincerity.

And one last point, as a few wise teachers have told me, say what you are going to say, say it, and then say what you said, and always keep in mind “less is more”.

The Best Commencement Speeches Ever – NPR
High School Graduation Speeches
What We Learned From The Best Commencement Speeches Ever
University of Texas at Austin 2014 Commencement Address


States with Performance Based Funding

“Twenty-five states—Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington—have a funding formula in place that allocates some amount of funding based on performance indicators such as course completion, time to degree, transfer rates, the number of degrees awarded, or the number of low-income and minority graduates.  Five states—Colorado, Georgia, Montana, South Dakota and Virginia—are currently transitioning to some type of performance funding, meaning the Legislature or governing board has approved a performance funding program and the details are currently being worked out.” – NCSL 3/5/14

National Conference of State Legislatures

Performance Based Funding

President Obama announced his budget proposal a few weeks ago with over $11 billion in incentives for colleges and states to drive performance in higher education. This is a continuation of the desire by many to improve student outcomes in higher education. In 2013 no fewer than 27 states used performance as a factor in their appropriations formula, a concept that originated in Tennessee, and that is growing into other states across the nation. On the surface this is a concept that is very much supported by both boards of trustees and college administrators, but when those groups look deeper into the idea of performance based funding institutional challenges become apparent. The challenge arises in the understanding of how performance should be measured and defined. Most of the appropriation formulas from the states and the incentives from the federal government define performance as completion and reward institutions with additional appropriations and grants based on the number of certificates and degrees awarded. Again this is a general concept that is widely accepted, but what about those institutions that, by virtue of their mission, do not equate performance or success with completion. According to the Higher Learning Commission, one of the regional higher education accrediting agencies, among the Core Criteria for Accreditation is “The institution’s mission is clear and articulated publicly; it guides the institution’s operations”. This criteria requires colleges and universities  to develop and use their mission as a guiding force in the operation of their institution, but what if, by the nature of their mission the institution’s operational objectives are counterproductive to the appropriation agencies definition of performance. There are many educational institutions, such as community and technical colleges, who focus on workforce development, dual credit for high school students, adult and continuing education, and correctional education (just to name a few areas), that are all under- or non-funded in a purely performance based model when performance is measured by degree completion. Without these focus areas of educational delivery communities and society as a whole will not realize the full potential of improvement through education, and without a mechanism for colleges to fund these forms of education their viability will come into question. It is time for our nation’s higher education institutions to find ways to improve outcomes, and performance based funding is a very viable vehicle to address these challenges, but we can’t be to quick to establishing a one-size fits all approach to defining performance, because if we do the unintended consequences of that definition will be counterproductive to our purpose.


Performance Funding Underperformance

Higher Education Legislation for 2013

Last year I put together a post in regards to the important legislation that impacted Higher Education during 2012. While working on the post for 2013 I came across the National Conference of Sate Legislatures site, and found that their list is far more comprehensive than any that I could put together. So I thank them for their work in gathering this information and making it available. Enjoy.

Higher Education Legislation for 2013

College Graduation and Earnings

A recent article published online by CNNMoney recently noted that nearly 30% of Americans with associate’s degrees now make more money than those with bachelor’s degrees. In Tennessee the difference is more than $1,300  and in Virginia those with an associate’s make almost $2,500 more than those with a bachelor’s. This is interesting, as the average cost of a bachelor’s degree at a four-year, private residential university is over $158,000 and an associate’s can be obtained for just over $6,000.  While research still shows that lifetime earnings for bachelor’s degrees still outpace those of an associates, this notion that a two-year degree is a better short-term return on investment should make us look differently at the value of an associate’s degree. The general understanding of why community college graduates are earning higher salaries immediately after graduation is because these degrees lead to more vocational or technical positions that are currently in high demand, such as radiation therapist $76k, dental hygienists $70k, and registered nurses $65k. So for those seeking this type of career they are well served by a two-year degree, but why not make this very affordable degree an even more accepted path to a bachelor’s degree or professional degree.


Community college grads out-earn bachelor’s degree holders- CNNMoney – Link

Opening Up a Path to Four-Year Degrees Link

Higher Education Legislation, Court Cases, and Departmental Rules in 2012

2012 was a year that brought a number of diverse legislative changes to Higher Education. The following is a quick look at Legislative changes by State:

Alaska – Alaska reacted to the shortage of health care services in the state and passed House Bill 78, establishing a loan repayment and employment incentive program for certain health care professions who stay and work in Alaska.

Colorado – The Colorado legislature was very active in 2012 passing a number of bills that impacted the state’s institutions of higher education. In reaction to workforce needs the state passed House Bill 12-1061 requiring state agencies to create an annual report that will project the workforce need in the state and identify public and private colleges that can meet those needs. In reaction to increased need to address remedial education the state passed Senate Bill 12-047 and House Bill 1155. These two bills provides public funding for high schools to administer a placement test to be used by community colleges in order to provide support in order to avoid remediation and increase college readiness, and allows postsecondary institutions to use other measures other than testing for course placement and allow students to take college level courses during remediation. The state also passed Senate Bill 12-045 that created the ability for students to use reverse transfer agreements in order to combine community college and four-year institution credits to earn an associate degree. The state also moved on House Bill 12-1072 that requires public institutions to develop a policy for awarding prior learning through work experience, military service, community service, or independent study.

Connecticut – In regards to remedial education the state passed Senate Bill 40 that prohibits public institutions from offering more than one semester of remedial courses per student after the Fall of 2014. Colleges will be required to offer an intensive readiness course and embedding remediation into entry-level courses for those students who need additional remediation.

Florida – In regards to prior learning the state passed House Bill 347 that requires the State Boards to develop rules and regulations for awarding credits for education and training received during military service.

Georgia – The governor created a needs-based scholarship program called REACH (Realizing Education Achievement Can Happen) for middle school students who can receive a yearly $2,500 scholarship for meeting certain criteria.

Hawaii – House Bill 2639 requires the University of Hawaii to award college credit for service in the United State Military.

Idaho – House Bill 426 provides high school students with the ability to earn up to two years of college credit while in high school through online and summer courses, a portion of which will be paid for by the state. Senate Bill 1299 allows colleges and licensing boards to award credits for military service.

Illinois – Ended a program, with House Bill 3810, that gave legislatures the ability to award college scholarships to their constituents.

Indiana – The state aligned the number of credit hours required for graduation to 60 credits for associate and 120 credits for bachelor degrees with House Bill 1220. Senate Bill 182 also aligned core transfer courses through common course numbering and made them seamlessly transfer. The state also passed House Bill 1116 to allow colleges to award credits for military service and considers military training for occupational permits in the state.

Iowa – House Bill 2458 aid in loan repayment for medical students who agree to practice in rural areas of the state.

Kansas – State funding for remedial classes will only be allowed in cases of courses being provided for students in the military, students over 21, or international students who need English remediation through House Bill 2435.

Michigan – The state was one of only a few that passed a budget, House Bill 5372, that increased funding for public universities by 3%. The new funding formula is based on a number of performance measures.

Mississippi – The state now allows dual enrollment for high risk students, Senate Bill 2792 allows for student to earn a High School diploma from a community college while participating in job-training programs. House Bill 1042 requires public institutions to create a common core for in-state transfer and allows for seamless transfer. Mississippi will also be able to waive out-of-state tuition for students from neighboring states through House Bill 1095.

Missouri – The Governor created a scholarship fund to develop an accelerated track towards graduation through a program called “Innovation Campus Grants“, while the legislature directed the state Coordinating Board to identify best practices and eliminate ineffective practices in remediation, House Bill 1042.

New Mexico – Tribal Colleges can now participate in the state’s dual credit program that offsets tuition and fees, Senate Bill 256.

New York – The State Assembly directed SUNY and CUNY to conduct a study on remediation and readiness, Assembly Bill 9057.

Oregon – Established a scholarship program for STEM studies, House Bill 4056, and passed House Bill 4141 that encourages workforce development.

South Dakota – Senate Bill 177 incentives students who graduate and practice in a medical field in rural parts of the state, and House Bill 1234 does the same for graduates pursing a teacher career. The state also developed funding incentives that will award institutions for producing graduates in high-priority fields.

Tennessee – The legislature encouraged community colleges and universities to enter into reverse transfer agreements with House Bill 2827.

Utah – The legislature moved towards increasing IT curriculum and online delivery, House Bill 514, created a career planning program Senate Bill 290, called Utah Futures. The legislature also passed a bill that allowed for in-state tuition for current and former member of the United States military.

Virginia – With House Bill 195 Virginia students can get educational credits for military experience.

2012 also saw a number of court cases that directly impact higher education. The following is a quick look at a few of the cases:

Fisher v. The University of Texas – This case deals with the idea of race as a determining factor in College and University admissions.

Kirtsaeng v. Wiley and Sons – This case deals with copyright and first sale issues.

The United States Department of Education also had a great impact on Higher Education in 2012 from Direct Student Lending, to the Dream Act, and Gainful Employment Rules. Many of these initiatives are summed up well in a recent Article from Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

Sources/Additional Information:

National Conference of State Legislatures
Georgia REACH Scholarship
Missouri Grant Program
Utah Futures
Higher Education Court Cases
Fisher v. The University of Texas
Kirtsaeng v. Wiley and Sons
2012: A Year in Review

What Does Higher Education Mean to Democracy?

As we enter the first phase of the American process of selecting the person that will lead our country for the next four-years, with the Republican Primary season, I wonder what does higher education mean to democracy?

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be,” Thomas Jefferson.

The causality of higher levels of education leading to democracy is a point of contention by many, while most agree that democracy, at least in its early stages is fueled by a more educated society, many argue that as democracy matures education can then lead to progression of socialism within the democracy and actual depletion of individual freedoms because of increased levels of education. Higher levels of education in some historical societies have led to the democratic restriction of freedoms as those societies become more collectivist. European societies with high levels of education tend to come from this tradition of collectivism and are arguable welfare-istic democracies.

But what about the importance of education in fledgling democracies. Egypt is in the midst of democratic change and is arguably the most educated country in the region. Egypt has the largest overall education system in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and it has grown rapidly since the early 1990s. In recent years the Government of Egypt has accorded even greater priority in improving the education system (Wikipedia). The change in Egypt was fueled by social media and avenues of communication among people that were introduced to the population as a result of increased education. As democratic governments are trying to take hold in Iraq and Afghanistan it will be interesting to see what, if any, role education, or lack of, will play in the formation of a new rule of law in these countries.

John Dewey believed that education should “[empower] students to make decisions regarding their educational experience, by enabling them to grow at their own rate in an atmosphere of dynamic interchange”. Dewey hypothesized that ignorance is the enemy of democracy. Unlike autocratic societies, a democratic political order requires a stable of an informed citizenry, capable of freely making intellectual choices, reared in tolerance for the viewpoints of others. Without such a culture, democracy will eventually collapse. The most important social force contributing to such a stable political culture is education.

Recently established theories stress the relevance of education and human capital and within them of cognitive ability to increasing tolerance, rationality, political literacy and participation. Two effects of education and cognitive ability are distinguished: a cognitive effect (competence to make rational choices, better information processing) and an ethical effect (support of democratic values, freedom, human rights etc.), which itself depends on intelligence (cognitive development being a prerequisite for moral development; Glaeser et al., 2007; Deary et al., 2008; Rindermann, 2008).

If this is true and there is a cause and effect relationship between higher levels of education among the population and a population’s ability to successfully achieve a democratic state, then what is the cause and effect of the lack of improving education as a strategy in building democracy?

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