Self-Sufficient, With a Hand From the Government

While I consider myself a liberal, true political discourse is beneficial when you can hear multiple sides of the same debate and make meaning out of the differences in opinions and perspectives. With that said, Gov. Chris Christie shared some interesting words about education access that call to question the debate between Republicans and Democrats regarding government support for education. While this is a state-by-state issue in some respects, there is a national interest in the success of our education system and federal government programs have been successful at providing access and funding for Americans to experience higher education.

The following article was written by Scott Carlson with the Chronicle of Higher Education on August 29, 2012. Take a look for yourselves…


The pull-oneself-up-by-the-bootstraps narrative is popular in politics of all kinds, but it’s a natural choice for the Republican Party, given its emphasis on personal responsibility and success against the odds.

That narrative was on display in theopening speeches on Tuesday of the Republican National Convention—especially concerning the fathers of the politicos. Ted Cruz, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat from Texas, lauded his father, an ex-revolutionary who fled Cuba with $100 sewn into his underwear. Rick Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and presidential candidate this year, played up his status as a first-generation American, given that his father’s family came over on a boat called Providence when he was 7.

But Gov. Chris Christie’s family story stood out for mentioning higher education as a key to the American dream. “Dad grew up in poverty,” the New Jersey governor said. “After returning from Army service, he worked at the Breyers ice-cream plant in the 1950s. With that job and the GI Bill, he put himself through Rutgers University at night to become the first in his family to earn a college degree. Our first family picture was on his graduation day, with Mom beaming next to him, six months pregnant with me.”

It’s an inspiring picture of achievement, no doubt. But there was a striking dissonance between what Governor Christie was saying and what the Republican platform says about public investment and higher education generally. In a speech criticizing the Obama administration as an advocate of “big government,” the governor—one of the rising stars of the Republican Party—talked about the opportunity afforded to his family by a prestigious state university and by one of the biggest federal programs in recent history.

The irony wasn’t lost on liberals. Paul Begala, the Democratic strategist and consultant, jumped all over the remarks on his Twitter feed on Tuesday night: “Christie: Dad went to Rutgers on the GI Bill. Dems built that.” (Incidentally, the Christie patriarch is not the only GOP beneficiary. Aldo Santorum, the former senator’s immigrant father, is said to have called the GI Bill “the greatest gift he received” in an obituary on this conservative Web site. It allowed him to get a doctorate in clinical psychology, which led to a career working for Veterans Affairs.)

What’s more interesting to ponder is whether Governor Christie’s father would have been able to get that degree today, given the recent history of receding state support and inflating costs. A New York Times article from 1957 says that Lewis Webster Jones, then president of Rutgers, announced a hefty 23-percent tuition increase. Still, the rate was enviably low: $200 a semester, or around $3,200 a year in today’s dollars. (Out-of-state students paid $250 a semester, or $4,000 a year today.) Compare that to $10,356, plus $2,717 in fees, for a commuter student in 2012. (It’s roughly double that if you need room and board, and it’s a heck of a lot more if you have the misfortune of being from another state.)

Over the years, those increases have been needed to cover expenses the colleges brought upon themselves—like growing administrations, growing campuses, and deferred maintenance—but, like colleges in other states, Rutgers has had to cover declining state support. According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers, public support for higher education per full-time enrollment went down 12.5 percent nationwide from 2006 to 2011, but it went down 20 percent in New Jersey. According to the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, students now bear 60 percent of the cost of their higher education, compared with 30 percent in 1990. The percentage of a New Jersey family’s disposable income needed to pay tuition has gone from 12.6 percent to 17 percent since 2002.

Cuts in education have come at the hands of both Democrats and Republicans, in New Jersey and elsewhere. Mr. Christie, at least, said before he took office that he would increase state funds for higher education, calling New Jersey’s level of support “disgraceful.” So far, however, his support has been flat, say policy observers.

But few others on the national political scene talk openly about giving public colleges more state money. In fact, the GOP platform, which was approved on Tuesday, seems to be directing working-class and needy students toward private loans and toward community colleges and for-profit colleges. In the latter institutions, students have had trouble with completion and defaulting on loans.

Who knows? When talking about higher education, the convention speakers 20 years from now might have a different “bootstraps” story.


Re-Imagine Education

Gallup sends regular updates to those who are registered with their services and often times they include interesting articles that relate back to strengths-based education or general education discussions. Below is an article from their most recent listserv about needing a new approach to education. Sir Ken Robinson claims that it is not legislation and testing requirements that is going to improve our education systems, but it is the ideas of creativity, diversity and maintaining an organic experience that will drive education to the next level.


Sir Ken Robinson calls for a radical transformation in education

“For most companies now, creativity and innovation are bottom-line issues. And the great irony … is that our education policies, which are meant to be serving the needs of the economy, are stifling both of those qualities through standardization and compliance,” says Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D., an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation.

Robinson called for a radical transformation in education during his presentation to the 2012 Gallup Strengths in Education Conference. Legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Robinson says, won’t bring about that transformation because it contradicts three fundamental principles of human life.

First, to be a human being is to live a life that is essentially creative. “We create our lives in the way that’s not true of any other species on earth,” Robinson says. The second key principle is diversity, which gives humanity its texture, its dynamic, its vibrancy, its color, and a sense of possibility. The third principle is that human life is organic, “an interaction between ourselves and our environment.”

Yet these three principles are contradicted by most education systems. “Our education systems don’t promote creativity, they promote conformity. They don’t promote diversity, they promote compliance. And they don’t promote organic development; they’re premised on the opposite idea, [which is] linear development,” Robinson says.

It will take a radical transformation to re-imagine education to arrive at a system that promotes creativity, diversity, and organic development. The problem begins when politicians call for a move to get “back to basics” in education, because as Robinson says, policymakers usually mean a group of subjects, such as science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM).

“I’m not knocking the STEM disciplines,” Robinson says, because “they can be every bit as creative as music or art or dance.” But while they may be necessary, they’re not sufficient — they provide a partial education at best. “For a community and economy to flourish, we need a multiplicity of talents of every sort,” Robinson says.

How would Robinson start the process of transforming education? Rather than building on the current industrial model — or “specifying more and more national standards” — Robinson would ask educators and policymakers to recognize that education is a personal process. “Personalizing to me is not a slogan,” Robinson says. “It’s the axiomatic basis on which all good education has always worked. You know, it’s the teacher who looked you in the eye and got you — the person who understood what you were about and encouraged you.”

Robinson focused on this in his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. “To be in your element, you’re doing something for which you have a natural aptitude,” Robinson says. “And this, by the way, is why I think Gallup’s work in strengths is so important, because part of the premise of the work in strengths is to discover natural aptitudes.”

In the end, a key to transforming education is to find ways to discover what kids’ natural aptitudes are, then helping them understand what excites and motivates them. Teaching is “about creating conditions for growth, Robinson says. “If you create an appetite for learning, you have a very different style of education than one based on feeding kids a dry diet of condensed information. If they have an appetite to learn, they’ll create their own opportunities.”

~from Gallup’s Strengths Insights

Start of a New Academic Year: Starting with a Commencement Speech by Steve Jobs

In 2005, Steve Jobs addressed the new graduates of Stanford with tales from his life. With his recent passing, it is truly amazing to think about what he accomplished with his life and how significant the lessons he learned apply to our broader society. This should hopefully be a little motivation for the start of a new academic year.

The Link Between Strengths and Wellbeing

After several months of taking the Wellbeing Finder assessment provided by Gallup, I have learned a few things about my overall wellbeing. The first is that days where I have a great amount of social interaction, I tend to have higher wellbeing scores. This may not be a surprise, but it is important to note. Second, I learned that I tend to have a higher average wellbeing score on days that I am not at work. In turn, those generally are weekend days or times when I am away from the office. The most beneficial finding from the assessment has been that I tend to have higher wellbeing scores when I am able to lead with my Strengths.

It is not an automatic element of the assessment that one can discern based off the assessment questions. There are no direct questions related to use of Strengths or even the activities you engaged in while at work. Instead, it takes a more reflective approach to identifying what occurred throughout that day and how those interactions, accomplishments or experiences contributed to that day’s overall wellbeing.

For example, the week that I spent at the University of Georgia while attending NHTI was the highest overall week of wellbeing since I started the assessment. Since the experience was career-related, I still consider it to compare to the experience of a regular week of work. The days were long and the sessions were packed, but I found that I was actively embracing my Strengths throughout the week. My Developer element came out through the engagement in the sessions and the self-reflection I went through in the evenings. My Relator and Empathy elements was prevalent through the interactions, connections with new colleagues and sharing of experiences. My Responsibility element was gleaming from the experience of feeling like I was back in graduate school and embracing the educational interactions and homework.

While NHTI was a special case, I have found this true during a regular week as well. The week of August 5th was one of two different sides. The first half was filled with preparations for the start of training and few interactions outside of a couple of meetings. Starting with Wednesday afternoon, a handful of our student leaders came back and we started training. My Developer, Empathy and Relator elements all began to shine again because I had an opportunity to connect with and affect the development of this students through their training. This is not to say that there was not a little stress involved and my focus for those days was almost solely on these students, but the reality is that I truly enjoy those types of experiences.

My personal goal is to continue to find opportunities to focus on my Strengths and continue to improve my overall work experience. For more information, Gallup released an article recently talking specifically about this topic:

Uncovering the Links Between Happiness and Health

Sarah Pressman’s research into wellbeing can help educators help students be healthy and engaged in the classroom

Sarah Pressman, Ph.D., will share her insights on the connections between positive emotions, relationships, and happiness — and the pathways that support health outcomes — at the Strengths in Education Conference. She will also discuss how these connections relate to the wellbeing of students and how educators can support students to have the highest wellbeing possible.

Dr. Pressman’s work as Beatrice Wright Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Kansas seeks to find links between happiness, wellbeing, and health outcomes. It also has important implications for educators who want to promote student health and wellbeing in their classrooms and at the schools or on their campuses.

Strengths Insights: What connections have you found that link physical health and overall wellbeing?

Sarah D. Pressman, Ph.D.: Research in the field of positive psychology has shown that people who are happy are living longer and are less likely to get sick. For example, we’re exploring when and how positive emotions protect you from stress, because stress is associated with about 95% of the illnesses out there. When you’re stressed, you experience hormonal changes and your immune system is suppressed, but if you get over that negative physiological response faster, it’s better for your health.

Strengths Insights: How does your research into stress connect to students in a school system or on a college or university campus? How can teachers help their students learn how to better handle stress?

Dr. Pressman: One thing that students don’t understand is how much they compromise their health when they’re stressed. When our stress hormones go up, our immune system is suppressed. If teachers talk about how stress affects us all, maybe students will avoid the kinds of negative behaviors that will further compromise their health, so they won’t end up sick, missing school, or unable to take their exams. It might help students know and recognize that they’re probably not at their healthiest when they’re stressed, and they probably should be doing things to protect themselves, like getting enough sleep, and washing their hands.

Strengths Insights: Gallup research into wellbeing has shown that people who have at least three or four very close friendships are healthier, have higher wellbeing, and are more engaged in their jobs, while the absence of any close friendships can lead to boredom, loneliness, and depression. How does that align with what you’ve found in researching wellbeing? How does that play out in schools or on campuses?

Dr. Pressman: Social relationships, positive emotion, and wellbeing are extremely closely tied. Work is a very stressful place, and we know that your stress is buffered by having a perception of social support. So believing that you have a few close friends that are at work who can help you and give you emotional support will help you objectively reduce the kinds of physiological responses that you have during stress.

We did an interesting study a few years ago looking at how loneliness in college freshmen was associated with how they respond to the flu vaccination. What we showed is that social isolation predicted having a worse vaccination response to the flu immunization.

We also counted how many objective social contacts students had, and we found that the people who had the fewest contacts (for example, if they talked with only about five people every two weeks) had worse vaccination responses than people who reported speaking regularly with 10 or 20 people. College students might need more than three or four friends because they are usually away from their families and don’t have the support network that they had at home. In your first semester of college, you really might only know a few people, and if you’re feeling lonely, if those aren’t good quality ties, that will have a negative health consequence, and health is critical to having good wellbeing.

Strengths Insights: Do you have any specific suggestions on how educators can model healthy behaviors for their students or how they can help their students have higher health and wellbeing, handle stress more effectively, or become more engaged in their classes?

Dr. Pressman: First, they already are, to some extent, enhancing many of these things because of what they do with strengths. One of the reasons we ask students to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder and teach them about their strengths is because it should make them happier and enhance their positive emotions. If you can help someone have higher positive emotions, then they will have higher physical wellbeing. Just by trying to get students to think about their strengths and savor them, you will probably help them have higher wellbeing and be more engaged in the classroom, especially if you encourage them to keep [their strengths] in mind during times of stress.

But it’s important not to let stress become the entire focus of your message. You have to address stress, but we never tell people they have to be happy 100% of the time. They need to recognize when they’re stressed and experience negative emotions, but they also shouldn’t let negativity overwhelm the positive. That’s a really important message: Accept the negative, but try to focus on the positive.

Greater Than the Death Penalty: The NCAA’s Reactions to the Sandusky Scandal

Released today were the sanctions imposed by the NCAA on Penn State in reaction to the child abuse scandal and cover-up by university officials, including Joe Paterno, the university presidents and the athletics director. This is actually not the end of story, as there will be additional court battles down the line for civil lawsuits by each of the families affected, but this could symbolically be the biggest penalty enacted on the football program and athletic department. Included within the sanctions are the following:

  • $60 million of fines, which will be used to set up an endowment for the protection of victims and families discovered in the future.
  • Revenues of approximately $13 million from Big Ten bowl proceeds over the next 4 years will be allocated to child protection agencies in the Big Ten community.
  • A 4-year postseason ban for the football program.
  • A reduction of 10 scholarships initially and then 20 scholarships per year for the next 4 years.
  • The opportunity for players to transfer out of the program without any waiting period at the potential new schools.
  • A wins will be vacated from the records between 1998 and 2011, including postseason play.
  • A 5-year probation of the program.
  • A partnership with a representative for academic integrity, as chosen by the NCAA board.

To say that these sanctions will make up for the wrongful acts is completely false. There is nothing that could be done to fully repair the damage to the lives of the victims and families. The scar that this leaves on the university and the Penn State community is one they will have to wear for the rest of their existence.

This combination of sanctions are actually unheard of, as no other schools has been penalized in such a crippling way. A “death penalty” ruling would have stopped the program for whatever time period of the committee’s choosing, but this will drop the program into a pit much deeper and difficult to get out of than “Hell on Earth” from The Dark Knight Rises. Players have the opportunity to leave the program, Penn State will be unable to recruit the same kind of talent they were used to and the decreased revenue will more than level their ability to compete at the D-Ia level for years.

It is about a culture change and punitive damages that can be used to support purposeful causes. Still, some of the elements seem to be out of place in the grand scheme of the situation. The financial penalties seem 100% justified, and everyone can be sure that there will be more forthcoming. The probation and the scholarship reduction both seem to support a reduction of support for the program during a time that they need to be taken off of their pedestal. The academic integrity partnership is one that should hopefully provide guidance toward a new direction for the program. Allowing the current and future players to leave and compete elsewhere provides a protection for those who no longer want to be associated with a tarnished program, while also taking another knock of the program off of the pedestal.

Where the potential challenges arise are with the penalties that do more to punish those not involved in the scandal than those who are. The process of vacating wins is something that is seemingly just for the record books, but the scandal had little to do with the team’s on-the-field success. One could argue that the cover-up protected Paterno and his crew from the possible limitations of recruiting and management if the scandal were unleashed sooner. All of this could have been avoided if they had simply reported Sandusky the instant they discovered his wrongdoing. Still, this penalty tarnishes the records of more than just Paterno and the program (which is justified). All of the players at Penn State will be associated with the scandal and their wins during this time period will be called into question, even from the symbolic standpoint. Also, if you are not going to impose the “death penalty” for such heinous acts, why take it out on the current players if they are able to perform at a championship level? The ability to transfer helps players take matters into their own hands, but the process could be more difficult that initially identified for these players to transfer.

It is important to keep everything in perspective, as even I had mixed reactions to the final announcement of the sanctions. The main purposes for the sanctions were to acknowledge the wrongdoing at the university, break the program from its pedestal and begin to rebuild anew. The struggles for the victims and their families have not ended with these sanctions or even the incarceration of Jerry Sandusky. At the same time, people in power at the university are ultimately the ones responsible for the wrongdoing, and it is challenging to think that their egregious actions (or inaction) are going to tarnish the history of the players, alum and community who knew not of the crimes, as well as the current players who saw Penn State as an opportunity for their future. Sandusky has left the ultimate mark of shame on Penn State and college sports, and Paterno and the Penn State elite did nothing to help their university community.

For ESPN’s reporting on the sanctions, please take a look at the link below:

Creating a Wellbeing Campus to Improve Lives in Communities

Gallup produces a lot of research on wellness and wellbeing. In partnership with a consortium of Texas schools, they worked to provide the Wellbeing Assessment to each school’s students, faculty and staff to track their wellbeing scores and help the schools identify how they support the five essential elements. Take a look at the link below to learn more about this venture.

Creating a Wellbeing Campus to Improve Lives in Communities

Reinventing Liberal Arts Education

The debate of the purpose of higher education continues…I cam across this TED video where Liz Coleman argues that liberal education has fallen victim to a process of learning more and more about less and less. She argues that cross-disciplinary studies need to make a comeback. This goes against the belief that all should access education and use it as a stepping stone to that career through specialization. This is the debate of the love of learn versus the acquisition of the credential.

Take a look…

Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements

Wellbeing is a concept that goes much beyond eating right and exercising. It is actually more than just being happy. Wellbeing is actually a combination of experiences and patterns that represent a holistic support for one’s overall experience and outlook on life. There are tons of texts out there that discuss the secrets to happiness and elements of wellbeing, but this text is one of the few that actually manages some easy to follow elements that capture the overall concept with a set of statistics to support with empirical evidence.

Here are the FIVE element to wellbeing:

  • Career: Where do you spend the largest part of your day? Career is actually a bit of a loose term, in that students attending a school are seen in the same light as a regular full-time or part-time employee to their place of employment. When asked the question about what you do, this is the first place that most people would go. Do you feel high engagement in your career? Do you get to do the best work everyday? Do you feel supported in your professional development? These are just some of the questions that relate to high career wellbeing.
  • Social: Do you feel like you have friendship and love in your life? Social relationships are vital and the amount of time you can spend with the people you care about can increase your overall life satisfaction. This can actually include a broad range of activities: from going out to dinner to talking on the phone. These relationships can sometimes help people achieve in ways they may not have on their own. How do you balance your day between work and play?
  • Financial: Who thinks about money in terms of their health? The reality is that money buys happiness in a different way than most might think. It is not how much money you have but how you spend it. It is about the experience. One may define that experience as traveling the world, or maybe it is purchasing a large-screen television to host viewing parties for major sporting events. Do you feel like you are getting value out of your spending? Do you worry about your finances? These are important questions that define one’s financial wellbeing.
  • Physical: What choices do you make regarding your diet, exercise and rest? Short-term choices have long-term effects. Exercising on a regular basis, particularly in the morning, can help to maintain energy. Getting the appropriate amount of sleep can help you be more effective throughout the day. Eating the right foods keeps you active. All of this can help you feel and look better. How do you take care of yourself?
  • Community: Do you feel connected to the environment around you? At a basic level, everyone needs to feel a sense of security in the area they live. Beyond this, a sense of pride comes from engaging in the offerings in the community, such as farmer’s markets, community performance events and service activities. Community can also be defined more broadly to encompass the groups to which we belong. Do you have a sense of belonging in your communities?

If you want to be successful in your career, it is important to be balanced in the other areas as well. This is a lesson that I have taken from this text and hope to better incorporate into my life. The book comes with a code that allow you to activate a 6-month subscription. Once logged in, there is an overall wellbeing assessment that highlights your strength in each of the five areas, with the opportunity to take daily checkups to track your progress. I have only just begun to utilize the tools and have already seen a small improvement in my overall wellbeing.

A Higher Education Mystery: Honor Students Landing in Jail

Immigration is an extremely charged issue on a national level, but there is a more specific challenge for colleges and universities. A significant population of young people exist who either grew up unaware of their status as undocumented Americans or at least never made the conscious decision to take the risk of exposure. With policies that are structured to work against these young people, can it be truly identified that they are at fault for their predicament? Can you prosecute someone who may have been 5 years old when they came to the United States and were able to enroll in public school?

The video below brings a little light to the challenges of some young, Mexican-American students. Fears of being jailed or deported are not problems with which the average teenager needs to contend, particularly honors students who have high aspirations of success. Considering this is a group that is silenced due to fear of prosecution and/or deportation, this video is at least a start to raise awareness for their struggles.

NHTI Closure: It’s Only the Beginning

I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend NHTI this summer. I am sure that I have said this on multiple occasions, but this was the most transformative and meaningful professional development experience I have ever encounter. There are a number of young professionals I would love to recommend to jump into this experience and will certainly start tagging people to hopefully get accepted over the next few years.

Last evening was the closure to the institute. With a formal dinner in store, the 2012 class of NHTI gathered for pictures and a tour of the Richard B. Russell Special Collections Building. The dinner was spectacular, but we shifted forward into the presentations and graduation ceremony. After a recognition by the UGA staff of the faculty, we got our chance to toast and/or roast our cluster leaders. Laughs were shared and tears of joy were shed. In the end, each of us were able to get called up to the front and receive our official certificate of completion and NHTI pin, symbolizing our success through the program.

While I am going to hold my lessons learned for another entry, there is a lot of appreciation I have for how this whole institute came together. The NHTI faculty were selected in a competitive process, developed their presentations and arrived in Athens before the participants in order to prepare and practice in order to get it just right. They engaged us with compelling presentations, informative group discussions, challenging scenarios and plenty of laughs. Their comfort with sharing their personal journeys, struggles and successes was something truly inspiring. They made themselves available to respond to questions at any time of the day and had a warmth that gave us a peek into who they are on a personal level. While they may know that we are grateful and may be able to predict that a lot of future success was sitting in that room, it will be exciting to prove that we are truly a talent selection of professionals and future leaders in the field.

In addition to the faculty with their presentations, the associate sponsors were just as impressive, Whether it was Ellen Heffernan’s directness in highlighting important details in interviewing or Brad Noyes recognition of the importance of surveying the market, they touched on the important partnerships and details that guide decisions at the and for the director level while not making the presentation a direct advertisement for their services. Lee Thompson Jr of Southwest Contract even went as far as explaining his appreciation for the existence of NHTI and the opportunity his family has had to be an active part of the experience.

I would be completely remise if I did not recognize the staff of UGA. Gerry Kowalski and Keener Scott had the program down to a science. With housekeeping checks and materials galore, there was almost never a moment where I had a question about what was happening on the schedule. I was able to completely disconnect from my iPad and iPhone during the day, including having no true sense of the actual time (fully focused on the experience). They thought of everything, down to the smallest details. The linens were changed every day. There was an iron and ironing board in the apartment, as well as some extra toiletries. The vans always arrived on time and got us to our locations on time. Their selection of TAs was spectacular. While the faculty made the learning experience happen, the UGA staff covered all of the environmental aspects to encourage and enhance the opportunities for authentic learning.

It was truly sad to say goodbye to the NHTI 2012 class, but we will see each other down the road. The relationships are lifelong and I hope I will make everyone proud as I continue on in my career.