Suggested Language for Revisions of the Goals and Directions Statements 
Developed by the Strategic Planning and Accountability Committee

 

David Braunschweig; Brett Fulkerson-Smith; Judy Kulchawik; Alina Pajtek;

Kris Piepenburg; Stephany Rimland; Andrew Wilson

 May 3, 2014

Preface

            Once the final versions of these Direction and Goals statements are agreed upon, it is imperative that the Strategic Planning and Accountability Committee design a process or subcommittee structure that allows the faculty to share meaningfully in the design and execution of the action steps that will shape these directions and meet these goals.     As this strategic plan is nearly entirely focused on curriculum and instruction, it is expected that the faculty will participate, in substantial numbers, in the development, exchange, and critique of ideas that advance this plan, to build an even stronger Harper College, for our students, in the spirit of meaningful inclusion that the plan espouses.           

Directions Statements

1.    Inclusion

Post-conference Wording:  Develop an environment of inclusion that values individual experiences and multiple perspectives

Suggested re-wording:  Develop an environment of inclusion that honors individual identities, experiences, and abilities, values multiple perspectives, and promotes cultural competence  

Comment: As originally written, this statement about inclusion is not in agreement with the process that led to the design of this strategic plan, and some of the plan’s features are not in agreement, at all, with the idea of valuing individual experiences or multiple perspectives.   The administrative-faculty collaboration that has led to the original draft of this plan was not nearly inclusive enough of the faculty, at a substantive level, and other recent administrative decision processes affecting curriculum,  which should have involved faculty input, have been made exclusive of inclusion.   With regard to students, the proposed changes to the student experience and curriculum in this plan, focusing on a common foundational experience and prescribed curricular pathways, do not reflect a valuing of individual experiences or multiple perspectives.  However, proposed changes to the goals statements about the common foundational experience and prescribed pathways will make a statement about inclusion valid and acceptable.

The rewrite provides necessary expansions of “individual experiences” and “multiple perspectives,” and adds on something important—cultural competence, or multicultural awareness—a mention of which was surprisingly (and shockingly) completely absent from this plan.   

 

2.    Engagement

Post-conference Wording: Ensure the College community fosters the engagement of all students throughout their academic experience

Suggested re-wording:  Ensure that the College community fosters and supports the engagement of all students throughout their academic experience     

Comment:  Here, in this statement, is the first occurrence of the language of absolutes  that characterizes some of these directions and goals statements, specifically, the words “all” and “throughout.”   During our first editing of these statements, we saw these absolutes as one of this plan’s major linguistic flaws, as we felt that it is impossible to guarantee engagement of all students throughout their entire academic experience,  consistently, across the board, in an institution with thousands of different students and employees. However, we see the value of the word “all,” as it refers to students of all types: traditional, non-traditional, disabled, and with other types of concerns and challenges, and we see that this builds on the theme of inclusiveness.  We also see the value of consistent efforts to stay connected and engaged with all students.  It is difficult to ensure that all students are engaged throughout their academic experience; we can, though, honor this as a goal to aspire to, with the proper support.  The minor rewrite addresses this.  

 

3.    Achievement

Post-conference Wording: Improve academic success for all students while facilitating equality of (or “equity of”-- it appears this way in a PowerPoint slide) achievement

Suggested re-wording 1: Foster a campus culture of high expectation, mentoring, and academic support to facilitate increased achievement for students of all demographic groups

Or, re-wording 2: Enhance and support the academic environment in ways that lead to increased academic achievement, overall, and that facilitate greater equity of student success across demographic groups  

Comment 1: This statement, as originally written, has multiple problems.  First of all, the meaning of the phrase “equality of achievement” or “equity of achievement” is not clear to the layperson.  Consultation with faculty who attended the strategic planning conference clarified the meaning of “equity of achievement” or “equality of achievement,” as attempting to increase student success for demographic groups with substantially lower success and completion rates.  Still, the word “equity” and “equality” caused quite a bit of confusion for the many faculty who responded to this statement in the faculty review of our first attempt at revising these statements.   These are controversial terms, depending on how they are interpreted, and the use of “equity,” especially, seems to constantly need explaining.  These statements should not be muddy, or have to be explained with the phrase,“well, we know what it means, so it is alright.”  We believe that re-wording choice 1 now reflects the intended meaning of “equity” or “equality,” and that it is clearest for all, but we have included a second rewording including “equity” to highlight the difference.

 Second, the reference to “all” students is an absolute, which carries with it some problems, which are explained in the comment about Engagement.  Third, in the post-conference version, to say that we, as an institution, are going to improve academic success for all students, is too bluntly stated, and it is worded in such a way that says we are going to DO IT, leaving out the fact that we as an institution are only one third of the equation of doing it: the other two-thirds are 1) the students who play a major role in creating their own success and 2) the experience that we collectively construct, in the learning space, in whatever sort of learning environment it happens to be. We as an institution can’t be the sole agent that will “improve academic success for all students,” which this seems to be saying, in the way that it is worded.  The rewrites address this problem and focus on the type of environment that should lead to increased academic success, generally, and an improved balance of academic achievement, across demographic groups of students.     

 

Goals Statements

1.    Student Experience

Post-conference wording:  Provide a common foundational experience aligned with student needs

Suggested re-wording :  Emphasize campus-wide responsiveness to the common challenges and opportunities of the first-year student experience  

Comment 1: This statement, as originally written, is too vague, and without knowing the context from which it springs, it sounds like it is attempting to provide a simple solution to an undefined problem.  What a “common foundational experience” is, and the “student needs” that the experience addresses, are not defined.   The context has to be found in one of the PowerPoint slides:  The needs are “inadequate levels of student engagement,” “student achievement gaps,” “stagnant student persistence rates,” and “response to district demographic changes.” 

This statement begins the focus on College curriculum (through a common first-year experience or curriculum of some kind), in this strategic plan, as the one “manageable” variable for having an effect on the issues of engagement, achievement gaps, and persistence.   This excludes consideration of other very serious factors affecting these issues, such as the following:

·      Poor and undemanding K - 12 preparation, creating unreadiness for college, and subsequent remediation

·      Student disinterest in or lack of time for engagement and persistence

·      Financial need

·      Lack of sufficient counseling and support services

·      Wide variance in capabilities with English   

·      Multi-faceted, complicated student lives including work, family responsibilities, and personal issues

That being said, it is clear that we do not have much control over some of these factors, so curriculum, methods, and counseling seem to be areas where there is a bridge between our students and their lives.   However, most faculty are not in favor of a rigid common foundational experience that all students must complete, as a required part of the curriculum; probably a third of our future transfer students are well-prepared enough that they do not need a first-year experience seminar.

The faculty is not in favor, either, of the creation of oversimplified curriculum pathways for students.  A reduced and simplified curriculum is not in agreement with Directions Statement 1, focused on “developing an environment of inclusion that values individual experiences and multiple perspectives.” Also, a curriculum with fewer choices (“Pathways”) is being presented in this strategic plan as addressing students’ needs, when really, this “curriculum management” is attempting to address the college’s needs, for increased completion rates, and it is a risky step, involving a large-scale restructuring and reduction of curriculum, a labor- and time-intensive “disruptive innovation” that guarantees no gains for the College or students but does guarantee losses. Reducing and oversimplifying the curriculum is guaranteed to leave students with unmet needs and will eliminate students’ discovery of needs or interests they did not know they have; it will also erode the high-quality, comprehensive college education that Harper provides to this community, built up and relied upon for nearly a half-century.   Further problems with the Pathways Goals statement are addressed where that statement appears.

For this Goals statement, the rewrite moves beyond a “foundational experience” or first-year seminar for students. It allows for the development of a campus culture that is extra-sensitive to students beginning their Harper experience, through interpersonal means such as improved orientation and counseling, and overall improved communication efforts with students, from the first click on our website; to a student’s first campus visit; in their first attempt to choose courses; in the first classes they attend; when transitioning into the second semester; and beyond.    

Comment 2: The PowerPoint slide for this Goal Theme refers to “The Harper Way” as a defining statement for a common foundational experience.  This phrase is really unoriginal and limiting, not in agreement with Directions Statement 1.  The phrase seems to describe a homogeneous experience and is not reflective of the excellence available in a Harper College education.  Also, a phrase like this reduces the dignity of the College experience and the workplace; just doing what we do and doing it well without giving it a catchy name would be more dignified for employees and students.


2.    Curriculum and Instruction      Suggested Re-wording: 2.  Curricula and Instruction

Post-conference wording: Adopt faculty-directed changes to curriculum and instruction that are responsive to evolving student needs

Suggested re-wording:  Ensure careful investigation, evaluation, and adoption of new curricula and instructional delivery methods, in response to evolving student needs, strengths, interests, and goals

Comments: Again, the “evolving student needs” cannot be discerned in this statement, as originally written, unless the context PowerPoint slide is examined.  The “issues addressed” are again “stagnant student persistence rates,” “inadequate levels of student engagement,” and “student achievement gaps,” plus “alternative methods for earning college credit.”  Again, we see some of these “student needs” as actually the “college need” to increase completion rates.  And again, curricula and instruction are seen as the only variables that can be managed to address the problems of persistence, engagement, and learning gaps.  The limitations of this perspective have been outlined on pages 4 and 5.

The suggested re-wording leaves open the possibility for changes to curricula, to which a dynamic institution such as Harper College has always been open, and in which the faculty have always rightfully had a prominent role.   However, the explicit assignment of this task to faculty, in the original wording, implies administrative disinterest in faculty input about the other directions and goals. Also, this statement and Goal statement 5, about Pathways, as originally written, were not parallel with the rest of the goals statements, as these were the only two that assigned a specific task to a specific group:  the faculty.  This deliberate inclusion and assignment of responsibilities seems like overcompensating, and perhaps this overcompensation is understandable, in light of recent developments on campus,   involving the expansion of dual credit opportunities and the drive to re-shuffle or reduce special electives—two initiatives affecting curriculum that have been anything but faculty-driven.

From the faculty perspective, the removal of “faculty-driven” seems risky, in the climate of serious mistrust that has developed in the past year.  However, in creating a plan that has some uniformity of expression, it seems that this should be removed.  The rest of the statements just state a direction or goal, not how it will be accomplished or who will be (or who will not be) responsible.  It should be assumed that the design and execution of the action steps of all of the directions and goals will be shared  meaningfully among  employee groups, anyway, as the College supports an environment of inclusion, as stated in Direction Statement 1.

 

3.    Stewardship

Post-conference wording: Allocate resources to sustainable student success practices

Suggested re-wording:   Dedicate College resources, both financial and human, to optimizing student success, while remaining responsive to external trends and issues that have documented effects on the College

Comments: As originally written, there is vagueness of context and meaning: what “resources” are being discussed?  Strictly financial?  Or human labor?  What does “sustainable” mean with regard to student success practices?  Doing what we can afford?  “Allocate resources” is also very weak wording…this is done everywhere, with regard to everything, on campus…literally, this statement could be paraphrased as “Give money to the Writing Center.” The issues addressed, in the context PowerPoint slide, though, are much weightier: “educational funding,” “response to district demographic changes,“ and “pension liability.”  These contexts are really not evident in the original wording.  Overall, this is one of the weakest of the Goals statements, in terms of clarity.  The suggested re-wording tries to make the context of the statement clear and also defines what resources are being referred to.


4.    Align Employee Skills with Strategic Initiatives    Re-word: Employee Skills

Post-conference wording: Enhance employee skills through professional development opportunities that align with strategic plan goals

Suggested re-wording: Supplement ongoing professional development opportunities with offerings that enhance employee skills with respect to student inclusion, engagement, academic success, and completion   

Comments: The only difficulty with this statement, as originally written, is the implication that acceptable professional development opportunities will be limited to those that align with the goals of the strategic plan, which is an impingement on academic freedom, for the faculty.  Most likely, no one objects to some professional development opportunities aligning with strategic plan goals being made available on campus, or to faculty being encouraged to pursue professional development that aligns with the plan’s Goals statements.  However, other forms of scholarship and professional development for faculty and other employee groups should not be unacknowledged, diminished, or disregarded, as they all contribute to the enrichment of the curriculum and, ultimately, to Harper students’ academic experiences.  The rewrite attempts to address the acknowledgement of all forms of meaningful professional development, while also defining the strategic plan goals that some of the professional development opportunities are supposed to address.

 The PowerPoint slide for this Goal Theme also refers to professional development in “The Harper way” being made available.  We hope, that if an effort is made to provide uniformity of training and information for support staff, to help guide students, that this phrase is dropped.  It is really unoriginal. As an institution, we should do better in crafting something unique.  Creating a “top ten” list of answers, for all employees, to the common questions students ask is a great idea; calling it “The Harper Way,” though, as stated earlier, removes some of the dignity from the academic workplace and the student experience.

 

5.    Pathways                 Suggested re-wording:   5.  Student Progress

Post-conference wording: Provide faculty-designed pathways that guide all students toward achieving their goals

Suggested re-wording:  Ensure that the College curricula remain diverse and enriching, allowing for a process of discovery, multidisciplinary breadth, and articulation with student-generated educational goals      

Comments: As originally written, this statement contains an absolute—“all”—which is problematic.  Having all students find their way through college is an aspiration we should maintain, but it is unrealistic to assume that all will do so, on the strength of our efforts alone or with assistance from an oversimplified curriculum pathway.  Also in this statement, in the original wording, the assignment of an agent (faculty) to a task is not in line with the other Directions and Goals statements.  As stated in the Comment about the Student Experience Goal Statement, this task being assigned to the faculty seems like it is an overcompensation, and it suggests that faculty input is not welcome with respect to meeting other Goals and Directions.  It should be assumed that the design and execution of the action steps of all of the directions and goals will be shared meaningfully among employee groups, anyway, as the College supports an environment of inclusion, as stated in Direction Statement 1.

            In the Goal Theme PowerPoint slide for this statement, it is stated that there will be a “paradigm shift from many choices to guided pathways to students’ goals,” and the “Guided Pathways Definition” PowerPoint slide explains that “default curricula” will be designed for “students without clear program or career goals.”  The Context PowerPoint slide states that the issues addressed by this goal are “stagnant student persistence rates,” “inadequate levels of student achievement,” and “student achievement gaps.”  Again, we see the belief that curriculum and instruction are the only variables that can have an effect on these very real problems for students, when so many other variables exist, listed here again:

·      Poor and undemanding K - 12 preparation, leading to unreadiness for college, and subsequent remediation

·      Student disinterest in or lack of time for engagement and persistence

·      Financial need

·      Lack of sufficient counseling and support services

·      Wide variance in capabilities with English

·      Multi-faceted, complicated student lives including work, family responsibilities, and personal issues

This strategic plan focuses heavily on curriculum and instruction as the solution to every issue related to student engagement, success, and completion, when the picture is clearly more complicated.  Students at Harper begin college at different entry points and with different capabilities, in so many ways, and have very different needs, strengths, and goals, and these facts, combined with the above list of variables, point to serious flaws in the idea that simplified and reduced curriculum choices will somehow be the “magic answer” in improving students’ progress toward their goals.  This strategic plan should not eliminate the pure intention, the comprehensiveness, of this superior community college, through the unexamined belief that fewer student choices will increase student success.  Many of our students will move on to four-year institutions and graduate school, where learning to navigate through the requirements for a degree and how to make choices will be required.  Furthermore, learning how to make intelligent choices from a multitude of opportunities is a part of becoming a mature, critically thinking adult, not only in consulting a College catalog, but in making all sorts of choices throughout life.   

As mentioned above, Harper College is a superior community college.  The strong curricular and extracurricular range and high quality of education available to the residents of this community through Harper College have been established over nearly half a century of shared work.  A reduction of this range and quality, as courses are deemed unessential and expendable, through narrow definitions of how an academic or career-oriented pathway might be defined, in the desperate and misguided belief that somehow more graduates would be the result, would be a tragedy for this community.  As educators who are part of the fabric of this college, we all value what the Goal statement about Pathways is attempting to hone in on, anyway: the importance of helping students discover and establish their academic and career goals, and in helping guide them toward meeting those goals.  We already help them with their “pathways.”  We also value the maintenance and enhancement of a diverse and academically rich curriculum, not only with the interest of better addressing students’ academic and professional needs and interests, but to continue to allow students more opportunities to discover more about themselves and the world in which they live.  The revision of this Goal Statement expresses this duality, and it is in line with Direction Statement 1, which addresses “the development of an environment of inclusion that values individual experiences and multiple perspectives.”

This plan should be focused on maintaining and enhancing our current College curriculum, rather than simplifying it and reducing it, to maintain the superior quality of college education available to residents of this community.   Also, this plan should include more focus on greater support in addressing the other serious issues students face, enumerated again on pages 9 and 10, if it is somehow going to lead to greater student success, in terms of numbers of students finishing career or transfer programs.