28 July 2011

Taking roll, and then what?

Ray Paredes, the Commissioner of Higher Education for Texas, thinks that making universities more like high school will help more students graduate with their bachelor’s degree. In this article (also San Antonio Express-News), he is quoted as saying:

Paredes said institutions must find cheap ways to improve student retention, such as taking roll and requiring students to visit professors during office hours.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that we take roll and say, “Come to office hours!”

Then what?

What are we supposed to do if half the class never comes to “mandatory” office hours? Fail them? Somehow, I don’t think that’s the outcome Paredes is looking for.

I can tell the commissioner that at my institution, we require third- and fourth-year students to come to us professors to get advisement before registering. We see only a small fraction of the students we are supposed to advise.

Similarly, it is not at all clear what tracking attendance is supposed to accomplish. Again, I do this all the time for my classes using clickers, and it does not perceptibly dent attendance rates. I haven’t run statistics or done a trial, yet, though. Students have told me that they think they are more likely to come to class if I track attendance, but there is a well-known difference between what people say they will do and what they actually do.

Students in universities are adult human beings, there of their own free will. (Maybe with some persuasion from relatives.) University education is not compulsory. People are still allowed to stop going to university, right? There are a lot of reasons that people stop going to universities, and many – I daresay most – are not something that the institution, or the state, has a lot of control over.

I bet a lot of the reasons why students drop out are financial. One of the best things the state could do to increase completion rates is just to keep higher education affordable. Texas has a mixed record in affordability.

Moving along, Paredes also noted:

Soon, a portion of state funding will be linked to graduation and retention rates.

Well, at least it’s only a portion of funding. The College Guide blog has been examining the many states looking to link funding with graduation rates across the U.S. Their conclusion: No evidence that it works.

The effectiveness of the performance-based funding for state universities shouldn’t be a total mystery, however. According to the article, “at least seven states - Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington - use performance-based goals in their funding formulas for higher education. Some of the plans, such as Tennessee’s, date back three decades.”

Three decades? Interesting. Well how well is that working out in Tennessee? Did performance-based funding satisfy tax critics and increase the percentage of adults with college degrees? Only 24 percent of Tennesseans have college degrees, that’s below the national average.


Genomic Repairman said...

The road to hell was paved with good intentions. The road to a good education in Texas is paved with a lot of dumb ideas.

chattyprof said...

Wow, what an interesting thought: Force students to come to office hours? What about students who take classes online or hybrid? Wow, I can't even imagine enforcing this idea for students in any delivery medium.

Secondly, during the H1N1 outbreak a while back, our VP told faculty during opening week that we should loosen our attendance policy. It was the first time in 13 years that I completely lifted the policy from my syllabus. It was the absolute worst term that I had ever seen in both attendance and grades. In fact, I contacted my division chair and, together, we decided that since the "outbreak" was not nearly as wild as anticipated, I could reserve the right to add the policy back in mid-term. I did. I will never let that happen again. Thank you for this piece. Ellen Bremen, M.A. @chattyprof http://chattyprof.blogspot.com