Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Achieving the Dream: A North American Development Project

I have been wanting to write a blog post on this whole "Achieving the Dream" initiative for a long time. Its a huge topic and it keeps getting bigger. Unfortunately, although I have been tracking this initiative for several years now, I can't quite figure our what is up with it. It all sounds really nice but the creep factor is pretty high for me: little hairs go up on the back of my neck when I read between the lines. Almost everything about it from the intent to the results on the ground reads as a top-down development project, you know the stuff we anthropologists like to critique the hell out of.

I am trying to condense, here. In essence, the Sallie Mae people ended up making so much money from repaid student loans that the were left with a pile of money to do stuff with. This money started the Lumina Foundation which underwrites the Achieving the Dream movement. (And, yes, the Gates Foundation has jumped aboard.)

Check out this passage from the Lumina Foundation web site under the "Our Work" tab:

Education is the foundation for individual opportunity, economic vitality and social stability. Lumina Foundation's goal is to raise the proportion of the U.S. adult population who earn high-quality college degrees to 60 percent by the year 2025, an increase of 23 million graduates above current rates.

This is the benchmark we must achieve to compete with top performing countries. To accomplish this goal, the United States will need to graduate nearly 800,000 more students each year from now through 2025. Raising college-attainment levels is crucial to maintaining an educated workforce, especially because America's most-educated population faces retirement age. According to data prepared for the Making Opportunity Affordable initiative PDF, the United States is likely to face an unprecedented shortage of college-educated workers by 2025.

To achieve this ambitious goal of increasing postsecondary degree attainment, Lumina Foundation, in partnership with other stakeholders, is focusing on three main milestones of progress:

■Student preparedness. K-12 education systems must prepare students for college success by ensuring that students: academically prepared, have knowledge about the going-to-college process and have access to financial aid information.
■Student success. Student success depends on a high-quality learning environment where programs, policies and practices improve the likelihood that students will attain their educational goals with the skills and credentials for the needs of an evolving workforce.
■College productivity. Postsecondary institutions must embrace a college productivity agenda, thereby changing the structure and delivery of higher education so that they are better equipped to increase the number of students through the educational pipeline.

You will notice that the rhetoric is being parroted by Obama, down to the dotted i's and crossed to-a-t's.

In 2004 the Lumina Foundation gave birth to the Achieving the Dream movement. Now, we are going to drop down to my level. At my college, this has meant we apply for money to fund initiatives to improve "student success". From what I have seen the money only lasts for a start-up period and then the college assumes the cost for continuing the project/program. The big caveat is the "Culture of Evidence" angle. All initiatives must be quantifiable in the world of education statistics--and, yes, I am going to say it. Those educational people have no idea how to collect social science date, let alone analyze it. But they do know how to increase bureaucracy, create their own jobs, and spend money.

Right now, for example, we have a mandatory orientation being tested. All neww students must come onto campus to watch a 40 minute Powerpoint, take a tour, and attend a "resource fair" (a bunch of table set up by the various campus offices). Some how this is supposed to improve student retention by making connections. I suppose the selection bias will weed out the less committed and, in that, it might work in a twisted kind of way. Maybe we can then have a special initiative to seek out and recruit those students who fled because of a low tolerance for bullshit.

In order to show success, we have to meet and exceed expectations for recruitment and retention. And what do you think that means for us faculty?

I have a couple thousand critiques of this stuff. Too much for one post. For now, I will confine myself to giving a shout out to the scope of all this. Go Google "Achieving the Dream" and look at the pages and pages of schools on-board. And while you are at it, try to find one piece of obective analysis and critique of these goals and methods. Just one. Try it.

So, who is making money off this stuff? Because I would bet my windowed office that somebody is.

Corporate imperialism?


coyotelibrarian said...

Who's making money? From the Lumina Foundation's website

Donors Trust (Alexandria)—$261,300 for the Center on College Affordability and Productivity to examine three areas of higher education: the potential of for-profit, higher-education institutions; 25 ways colleges can spend money more cost-effectively, and the use and misuse of institutional accreditation.

coyotelibrarian said...

Also from the Lumina site:

"Lifelong Lessons | Propelled by the Profit Motive" an inspirational account of the University of Phoenix' success story.

Pamthropologist said...

Hadn't thought of that angle. I was thinking educational statistics software and consultants of all types. I need to think bigger, huh?

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