David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Fairytale of My Work

December 23, 2016

I really do want to want to embrace the happiness and love that is bound to the Christmas/New Year's season.  I hate that as I get older, I get more curmudgeon-like, more Scrooge as the holidays roll around.

But, it's really, really hard.  Just have to tell ya.

Take the past 24 hours. I go in to work for the last day of a short week yesterday, feeling pretty good about getting things done.  What could possibly derail my energy and enthusiasm?

Well . . .

1) I find an email from Marketing first thing in the morning yesterday, asking me to confirm a quote that is going out to the local news.  The quote has "bachelor's degree" and "associate degree" written out exactly as I do here.  Given how frustrated I can get by the inconsistency of writing out such degrees, whether it be with capitalization or apostrophe usage, I request that we at least say "associate's degree."  I was told that for AP style, "associate degree" is correct, and that if we write it that way, the local news organization is likely to change it back.

Temperature rising (global warming may be affecting more than my physical environment, which by the way should hit 54 on the day after Christmas), I do a quick Google search to confirm (not that I don't trust my marketing department, just that I wanted to see how AP might justify this logic). Almost immediately, I discover the Agonist Learning Center (still haven't figured out what the hell that is) who, in answering the question about whether the apostrophe is necessary for associate's degree, says "It's [the associate] is not a college degree anyway. A graduation ceremony doesn't make it one either."

Thank God a small portion of the educated snobbery maintain standards.  One might have been able to say years ago that an "associate" is not a "university degree," but heck even universities now are deigning themselves to offer associate degrees.  No wonder those of us in the community college world have to fight an overwhelming amount of misconceptions among potential students and their parents to get them to consider us as reasonable alternatives to the monolithic state or private universities down the street.

However, I am a flexible man.  I decide this is one windmill not to tilt and try to move on with other work.  Especially on the day before holiday closings, there is a lot one can do when given an uninterrupted hour.

2) Unless you need to define that hour.  We have been trying to decide if our full hour given for each credit hour of a course is a detriment to scheduling.  Other universities and colleges use federally and local accredited-approved definitions of a credit hour equaling something less than an hour.  (This is hardly news; I blogged about it almost 5 years ago with "The Freewheelin' Credit Hour.")  Anyway, for the purposes of this conversation, recognize that I was trying to compile a list of what all 28 Michigan community colleges use in terms of "standard unit of time for the credit hour," the number of weeks in a semester, and whether they schedule a separate finals week, as an additional set of days.  Some of these questions have gone out through an academic officers' listserv, but I had incomplete information.  I was going to have to go to each institution's website to complete the information need.

I would rather have spent two hours trying to find out what happened to Charles Rocket's career.

First off, some of these CC websites cannot be navigated.  If it takes me 20 minutes to find a class schedule, how the hell do any of my colleagues get or keep any students?  I guess 1/3 of their credit hours is accounted for with the finding of class registration information.

On top of that, we have credit hours being calculated, as far as I can tell, in the following ways: 50 minutes, 52 minutes, 53.33 minutes (I kid you not), 55 minutes, 55.33 minutes (would I kid you twice?), 58 minutes and 60 minutes. It was equally impossible at times to ascertain if final exams were embedded in the regular semester or separated at the end.  In at least two cases (I won't call out my colleagues) I couldn't even easily find the length of the semester.

Maybe the most troubling thing: what I saw on the websites sometimes didn't correspond with what that school's academic officer had answered through the listserve.

Technically, all of us are "right." And it's not just community colleges.  A cursory look at the four-year institutions in my area showed the same chaotic approach to the central part of education -- the teaching unit.  The Higher Learning Commission only  expects institutions to have clearly established policies on these kinds of things.  It won't tell you what your credit hour must be or how long your semester must be.

I ended that research project more agitated than I have been in months.  As I came home for the day, I fretted that individual colleges and universities are not serving the Higher Learning Commission well when federal and state legislators come after us for a perceived weak product.

3) And then this morning I hear on National Public Radio that the Higher Learning Commission has granted Indiana a 5-year extension for getting high school teachers credentialed to teach dual enrollment classes (college credit granted in the high schools).  As with the credit hour, I have blogged about this many times before, the first time almost 6 years ago with "So, Which Is It?"

Three years ago, the Higher Learning Commission first started drawing lines in the sand about expected faculty credentials (Master's level in the specific content of the course being taught).  They moved the line in the sand a little based upon initial push-back just from the colleges, but remained steadfast in saying that for dual enrollment, this standard was a given. For SMC, we have been working with the Michigan high schools for several years, trying to find ways to still accommodate their students through this policy. We are just starting to turn our attention to Indiana schools (given that we are only about 15 miles from the Indiana border).

Now the HLC has gone and capitulated, but just to one state!  You know the line is forming as I speak for almost every other state to seek the same.  Today, I fret that the Higher Learning Commission is not serving colleges and universities well when federal and state legislators come after us for a perceived weak product.

And now you know why I can't help but be Scrooge or Grinch-like for the holidays.  It's a reminder why The Pogues "Fairytale of New York" may still be my favorite "Christmas" song ever:

"Happy Christmas, your arse!"