Happy Mother’s Day-Celebrating the Love and Hidden Workloads of so Many Women

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For most individuals, their mothers are, or have been, a special influence in their lives and contribute to their lifelong sense of love, compassion, and confidence. The love of a mother can encircle you like an invisible force field. Yet, often, mothers supply this nexus of love and support while juggling careers, personal and conflicting aspirations, and hidden familial workloads. This Mother’s Day, let us acknowledge the special place that mothers occupy in our lives and the complexity of their lives that is frequently hidden from our view.

Some time ago, a colleague and I conducted research on the hidden workloads of women in higher education. Our research was presented at conferences, and it was eventually published in an international publication focusing on women.

Basically, we surveyed and interviewed about 100 women in higher education from the rank of assistant professor to Vice President who worked at a highly-ranked and research, regional university. After we entered the 21st century, it seemed like a good time to take a pulse, to seek some perspectives, of women. We found that women reported a myriad of experiences that appeared to be unique to them. They reported having their voices ignored in departmental meetings; feeling pressured to produce research while balancing other familial responsibilities; and struggling to fit their contributions into an educational reward structure not normed on women.

Well, more than a decade has passed since we reported our findings. There have been many changes since then—including that a woman, and a mother, is now running for President of the United States. However, there is still much work to do. Our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters still earned only 77 cents for every dollar that men earned in 2012, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Further, some believe that many workplaces could be further enhanced by the voices and leadership styles of more women.

So, this Mother’s Day, as we celebrate our mothers with flowers, fine jewelry, and special dinners, let us lean in and take a good look at the lives, perspectives, aspirations, and hidden workloads of these women.

May the lives and contributions of mothers to humanity continue to be enhanced and appreciated!

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From Specific Competencies to Career Pathways

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Recently, some faculty and staff colleagues at Florida Memorial University submitted a proposal to compete for a Career Pathways grant. The purpose of this national competition was to encourage institutions to partner with business and industry leaders to refine academic programs, curricular, and co-curricular experiences to assure that students leave with competencies needed in specific workforces and careers. The grant’s overarching assumption is that more collaboration between industry leaders and faculty would lead to clearer career pathways for students from academic programs to current and emerging disciplines/workforce needs.

While this, in itself, is not a new idea, the grantors appear to be echoing the sentiments of many students, parents, employers, and taxpayers regarding the thorny transitions from academic degree programs to desired employment.

Ironically, nearly a thousand years ago or so, it was common for younger persons seeking to acquire specific competencies to work alongside skilled craftsmen until they could demonstrate mastery. Thus, there was a closer and more discernible link between specialized knowledge, experiential learning, and competencies related to entrance into specific professions and trades.

Nearly a millennium later,  after the multiplication of universities, degree programs, certifications, accreditation organizations, unions, and more formalized apprenticeship and internship programs, the link between learner and mastery of specific competencies seems to have eroded. Educators and policy analysts regularly point out varying disconnects between the learning outcomes of high school and the admissions requirements for college. Others note similar disconnects between college degree outcomes and competencies needed for admission into well-paying jobs.

Probably because of the costs involved for individuals and families in pursuing a college education, the expectation is that the investment will guarantee the acquisition of specific competencies that in turn will lead to well-paying careers and middle-class lifestyles.

According to some,  “credentialing” has gone amok in the 21st century. Instead of facilitating a clear pathway from higher education to a career, some colleges and universities have been viewed as generating a proliferation of degrees that load students with irrelevant courses, leaving them with burgeoning debt, and not closer to well-paying careers. Further, families have observed that students seeking entrance into specific careers and the job market, in general, find themselves confused and facing what many view as a fragmented array of educational options and undefined competencies from secondary school through advanced education.

Education stakeholders such as the Lumina Foundation, America Council on Education, and the Lilly Foundation, to name a few, have sought to increase transparency and clarity in credentialing in higher education by engaging in a national dialogue about the need for clearer paths from secondary schools to specific careers.

Thus, the work by faculty and staff at Florida Memorial University to clearly describe degree competencies and engage in dialogues with industry representatives is a strong step in the right direction.

Americans: We Are Strengthened by Our Diverse Perspectives

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Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, President, Florida Memorial University

Most Americans have been involved in, or heard, conversations about diversity. The topics swirling around the concepts of diversity are broad and deep. Diversity, demographically speaking, describes a range of variables employed to describe human beings—and if you attempt to list the distinct characteristics, you will probably omit a few descriptors.

Sometimes, unfortunately, we focus on the differences when reporting statistically on academic achievement, family earning, health, and so forth. Admittedly, we need to be informed about how our policies, tax dollars, and governmental interventions affect the majority of Americans and citizens with specific characteristics. Sometimes, however, segmenting our population into diverse groups can be utilized too peremptorily to imply hierarchical ranking. However, measuring some outcomes related to specific human variables can be helpful in promoting the attainment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all—as proclaimed as self-evident in our Declaration of Independence.

Like many other Americans, my concept of diversity has also been expanding as I interact with persons who share different characteristics. I recall when I served in academic affairs at a regional institution that enrolled, made accommodations for, and graduated students with characteristics often referred to as physical disabilities, my personal definition of diversity expanded. What I learned from those students has changed my perspective on diversity and broadened my understanding of courage—for life.

At Florida Memorial University, I have, once again, thought about the concept of diversity. Even though Florida Memorial University is known as a Historically Black College or University, there is a great deal of diversity among students, faculty, and staff that enriches us all. The opportunity to work academically with such a diverse range of faculty encompassing  every descriptor possible is invigorating. Faculty bring perspectives and life experiences from 33 countries including America.  When an idea is introduced at a faculty meeting, for example, we are able to discuss it from experiences that faculty have had from vantage points outside of America, from different disciplines, from family worlds that encompass unique mixtures of world cultures from times chronically different, and from their experiences in a very diverse region of South Florida.

Similarly, in meetings with students it is easy to appreciate the mix of the numerous cultures. Students bring perspectives from many countries including Brazil, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Paraguay, Senegal, Chile, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Jamaica, Colombia, and Nigeria.  In many respects, the diverse characteristics of students and faculty at Florida Memorial University under girds everything we do. Now, as we highlight the accomplishments of the faculty, identify our centers of excellence, and enhance our responsiveness to South Florida, we will move forth with a broader understanding of human experiences. This broader understanding will be an asset as we employ our diverse characteristics to prepare our students for a competitive, and very diverse global community.

Legacies of Courage and Love from the Silent Generation

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Joined by Trayvon’s family, (from left) Jahvaris Fulton,
Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the legendary
Harry Belafonte is honored at Trayvon Martin’s
21st Birthday Celebration Banquet in Miami.
(Photo courtesy of Geri R. Vital, ©2016)

Recently, my husband and I had the pleasure of hearing Harry Belafonte, Jr. (who will soon celebrate his 90th birthday) enthrall an audience at the Trayvon Martin Foundation’s Fourth Annual remembrance dinner in Miami, Florida, sponsored by Florida Memorial University and other stakeholders. The Trayvon Martin Foundation is located on the campus of Florida Memorial University.

Even though Mr. Belafonte informed the audience that he had recently experienced a stroke and that he was on medication that affected his memory, his nearly 30 minute, extemporaneous speech was still a phenomenal gift to us. Looking around the ballroom, I noted that the audience was lifted a bit higher by his audacious courage, by how he promoted social equity throughout his life with his talents, his inspiring work, and by his still ardent call for us to commit to positive social action, as our daily guide.

Mr. Belafonte, and many of those he interacted with (such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the Reverend Jessie Jackson and many others) are/were members of what is sometimes called the Silent Generation. When you look at the altruistic accomplishments, the courage, and the legacy of some members of this generation, they were anything but silent—they spoke eloquently through their deeds and built foundations for a stronger America.

However, each year we lose more of these trailblazers and, thus, we look to our college students and younger adults with hope that they will step forth and carry a torch of audacious hope to broaden and deepen our human connectivity through intellectual discourse and positive social action.

My husband and I feel fortunate to have been able to interact with some of the special humans in the Silent Generation such as the incomparable Dr. Maya Angelou, Pulitzer Prize poet Gwendolyn Brooks, humanitarian Harriet Fulbright, historian Dr. John Hope Franklin, activist and academic Angela Davis, Mayor Harold Washington, the Honorable Andrew Young, heroic Tuskegee Airmen, priest-activist Father George Clements, heavyweight champion and philanthropist Muhammad Ali, and many more inventors and innovators, teachers and scholars, scientists and statesmen.

Admittedly, many of members of the aforementioned and others in the Silent Generation lived controversial lives and colored outside of the lines. As time has demonstrated, these lines are temporary boundaries that continue to change with time, through intellectual realizations and the transcendence of the human spirit. And, of course, the Silent Generation Americans were only humans!

We have marveled that lives of courage, sacrifice, and concern for others seems to have transformed these mere humans into legends. Even as they are undoubtedly contemplating the conclusions of their earthly existences, these legends of the Silent Generation seem to stand tall, despite advanced age, and vigorously employ their lives’ wisdom to heighten awareness for today’s youth in order to inspire actions that will result in an even better America and more peaceful coexistence in our global community. They have shown us the power of lives lived with altruistic purposes, and now these stalwarts are demonstrating how to bow out with dignity and grace.

Listening to their life stories–replete with challenges, missteps, and victories–and seeing a world continuing to transform through their perspectives is a special gift to be held close to the heart and deeply treasured. Though these remarkable people who have illustrated the great potential of human lives might be a bit weathered by their journeys,  their actions still serve as a clarion call for us to shake off our complacency, focus a little less on consuming, look up from our hand-held devices, and take more active roles in advancing the progress towards broader social justice, greater fairness, and respect for all lives among our global neighbors.

Holding these treasures, and the inspiring life stories of many others, close to our hearts—We thank you!

Leadership Essential-Defining Success for Others


images-3.jpgAs we approach 2016 with hope, resolutions, and anticipation, it might also be helpful to ruminate on some of the evolving concepts of leadership and the lenses they furnish for current and emerging leaders in our society. Often perspectives on leadership held by policy makers coalesce into societal policies, legislation and laws.  Leadership philosophies and styles tend to encompass a variety of perspectives, values, and notions of good lives.

In November 2015, I was honored to give the keynote address at the graduation ceremony of The University of North Carolina Bridges leadership program for women. More than 20 years ago, the UNC Bridges intensive, four-week, leadership program was designed to inform, promote, and support women in leadership roles in higher education.  I particularly enjoyed returning to the (William and Ida) Friday Center in Chapel Hill to interact with women seeking higher education leadership roles because, I had been nurtured, mentored, informed, and furnished leadership opportunities for 14 years in the UNC system.

Moreover, discussing leadership theories continues to fuel my hope that we will eventually develop leaders who will transform our society, so that the majority of Americans will experience a more perfect union. Further, the eroding public confidence in higher education, its value, and its leaders appears to be a microcosm of eroding confidence in political institutions, corporations, and many leaders in America. Probably since I was an English Literature and Language major (decades ago) the words of Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel which depict dueling social ills prior to the French Revolution seem to resonate with me as I contemplate 2016:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, were all going direct to Heaven, we were going direct the other way. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859

In short, what better time than 2016 to reflect on leadership and co-existing extremes?

The theme of the graduating Bridges class was transformational leadership. Thus, speakers were asked to share experiences, knowledge, and wisdom regarding the concept of transformational leadership.  In a nutshell, the theory of transformational leadership affirms that leaders are more successful when they facilitate the development of leadership qualities in others, when they inspire team leadership to solve problems, and when leaders are introspective about the personal values, assumptions, and paradigms from whence they lead.

In the conversations following the keynote address, the Bridges graduates and I also discussed leadership roles through the lenses of other leadership theories.  In addition to transformational leadership, we agreed that there are a host of leadership theories that attempt to inform, elucidate, and guide those seeking leadership positions in a range of societal institutions.  Some leadership theories that were viewed as illuminating various aspects of leadership include:

Authentic leadership– leaders are usually positive people who lead from honest and ethical foundations and maintain honest relationships with employees or followers.

Servant leadership–leaders desire to serve, the servant’s heart is a fundamental component for this type of leadership. The servant leader puts the needs of others before his/hers and shares power–the pyramid is flipped.

Collaborative leadership–leaders employ teams to lead a hierarchy structure that is less of a pyramid.  Current modes of communication support a more flat organizational structure in which team members learn from each other and work together to solve problems.

While reflecting on transformational leadership, and various other leadership styles, it occurred to me that the first place for an aspiring or current leader to engage in deeper rumination or for meaningful New Year’s resolutions is one’s personal values and definition of success.   In other words, the journey towards a high level leadership position, through it, and after it, begins with a person defining–What does success mean to me?

In higher education, for example, success to a leader could mean 1) advancing knowledge in a discipline, 2) improving the teaching and learning environments, 3) employing big data to truly solve intractable problems, 4) forecasting future opportunities, and/or 5) simply helping others to discover the joy and benefits of a lifetime of learning.  A personal definition of success is not only helpful, but it could lead towards a more fulfilling career, life/work balance, altruistic behavior, and healthy lifestyle.  

Even a cursory view of higher education leadership, political leadership, and corporate leadership would reveal that long term success in a leadership role is more difficult in a world defined, measured, and sometimes quartered by social media that can topple leaders through informed/ill-informed public reactions.  Thus, it is essential for leaders to reflect on a personal definition of success that will help ease some of the unavoidable bumps and turbulence in leadership roles.  It is also important to note that the meaning of success will probably change and evolve over time in a leader’s tenure and lifetime.  

So where does this leave us with our New Year’s resolutions? Hopefully, when making our lists, we will also be cognizant that every individual effort adds to the collective well-being.  When we reflect on what success means to us and our families, we will also be aware that our concepts of good lives will be played out in microcosms that will be expanded in the macrocosms called America and the global village.

 

 

Thanksgiving is a time to pause and realize we can improve our collective lives

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Usually it is very easy to compose a Thanksgiving season blog.  This year, however, there have been many global disturbances in which humans have hurt other humans.  Further, the rhetoric of too many political candidates has left many of us wondering about the general assumptions some political organizations seem to believe about the intelligence of American voters.

Unfazed by the human tragedies and the political circus seem to be the Black Friday marketers–consumerism must go on, and this year it needs to be bigger than last year. So, cut your Thanksgiving family time short to save $ on something you probably do not really need anyway.

A quote from Charles Dickens 1859 novel depicting the climate prior to the French Revolution seems apropos:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

When considering our current situations in the world with its gaps of wealth, education, understanding, and alternate versions of history, it could be easy to succumb to melancholy and to lack faith that there will be a heightening of humanity and more evenness of global, human well-being.  Maybe this melancholy is the reason why some humans inflict pain on others .  As I was once told, “hurt people–hurt people.”

Yet, when considering the extensive list of things gone awry, it is the stories of hundreds of selfless individuals, and their mostly unheralded acts of courage, altruism, philanthropy, and love that fuel the optimism shared in some of our family worlds, our communities, and generally in America.

So, this Thanksgiving, I will wish the retail industry well, look into the faces of friends and relatives with hope and optimism, laugh at the stories of our past follies, and I will try not to gain too much weight from the Thanksgiving dinner, its leftovers, and the month long holiday season.

Because most of all, Thanksgiving is a time to affirm that we can improve our collective futures with genuine acts of kindness and awareness of our global connectivity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

The Job Search-The Concept of “fit”

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Over the last couple of years, there has been sufficient media coverage on the search for jobs by new college graduates, the creation of jobs in America, the unemployment rate, and preparation needed for more citizens to be prepared for high-tech jobs.

Nonetheless, there are still hundreds of thousands of college graduates, at every level, and in all disciplines looking for something close to an open job door to launch their careers/lives, and/or to move out of their parents’ houses. Moreover, there are mid-level workers, steeped in the nexus of family responsibilities, searching for new jobs to earn more money or to acquire a better quality of life.  Further, there are Baby Boomers who are phasing out of jobs, or seeking to re-imagine how to live a quality retirement life by engaging in new interests with monetary payoffs.

Recently, I have been watching our daughter and other college graduates negotiate the hurdles to enter the workforce.  While some aspects of securing a job that works for you, as well as your working for it, have remained the same, there are significant challenges many new graduates face in order to convince those searching and interviewing that they are a good fit for the organization–at least for the near future.  Being a good fit for a job seems to mean that the prospective employer or current employees think that they can work with you, and you can work with them–at least for the time being.  The inherent limitations on the searching for a good fit approach for recruiting talented employees should be explored further–but for now, it still seems to be the norm.

As research reveals, most employees change jobs or careers numerous times in their lives, so fit  in an organization can change over time.

Yet, while watching new graduates attempt to sell their skills, enthusiasm, tech savvy, and innovative ideas to organizations, I have been reminded that establishing at least the illusion of fit for a job is a very complex undertaking.  It involves a variety of factors such as others’ perceptions of the prospective employee, past experiences of the current employees, and other factors not within the control of the job seeker. Further, strategies for projecting fit  can be different from organization to organization and at different stages of your career and life.

For example, establishing fit when you are a new graduate, usually includes creating a strong impression that you will bring energy, a fresh perspective, technological skills, and the ability to work with others. During interviews, graduates will be challenged to exude confidence, knowledge, and flexibility as they respond to questions from highly relevant to arcane.  In mid-career, prospective employees might want to project knowledge, energy, good judgement, good team skills, and a repertoire that will benefit the organization.  In many ways, searching for a job can be compared to speed dating–you have a limited time and toolkit to assess and be assessed for fit.

Not surprisingly, many new college graduates who are attempting to enter the workforce claim that even with good academic records and a few visits to their campus career centers, they do not really believe they are prepared to convince employers that they are the right person for a specific position.  Many students agree, though, that understanding of the concept of fit can be enhanced by actually observing organizational culture and participating in internships or volunteer experiences.

Some aspects of projecting fit are visual and auditory.  Students often need assistance transitioning from campus chic to work attire–in order to convince interviewers of their fit.  Even though many workplaces are allowing casual attire, there is a range of casual wear that is considered acceptable in the workplace. New graduates might not understand that range, but they can learn it quickly with a little assistance from career centers, mentors, and internship experiences.  Additionally, many of us have observed bright, caring, and talented people lose job opportunities because of their ill-fitting communication skills, both written and verbal–OMG!

To help students make a transition to an appropriate, and comfortable workplace fit, at least a few universities that I know of have charged their career service offices with maintaining a career wardrobe collection of ties, business jackets, and other accessories to help students make an acceptable visual presentation in interviews. Further, these career centers have consistently worked with students to employ the staid version of English–probably a necessary standard to establish comfort and fit when conversing with prospective employers.

Moreover, in terms of written communication, recent graduates often are unsure of how to craft an appropriate resume and how they should represent themselves (i.e., choice of pictures) on LinkedIn and other social media sites.  If I had a dollar for each student or young professional who was convinced that the same generic one-page resume is the only option for all job opportunities, I would be extraordinarily rich.  There are so many other options available for students to demonstrate what they know and can do, such as online portfolios and personal websites which portray leadership experiences, writing samples, and positive stories.

During an interview, inadequate communication skills and body language (such as posture, eye movement, and so forth) are often ways that prospective employers eliminate prospective employees. New graduates and anyone seeking to change jobs need to be prepared for online Skype, Google Hangout, or other such teleconference interviews and interactions. Organizations use them to both save money while assessing communication skills of prospective employees.  Often, potential employees are eliminated from the competition because of their micro expressions, lack of eye contact, use of space, or comments during an online interview that could suggest that there could be an issue with fit into a particular organization’s culture.

As previously stated, students who have had the opportunity to participate in the workforce through intensive internships or cooperative experiences demonstrate greater confidence when discussing their abilities and potential contributions in interviews because they have already had opportunities to sit in conference rooms and observe and mimic the behaviors of more seasoned employees.

Nonetheless, it has continued to surprise me that even the most talented graduates lack self-esteem and worry incessantly about the competition for desirable jobs.  Apparently, performing well academically does not necessarily translate into confidence in securing jobs or the overall strategies for competing for jobs.

Recently, I read an article about a new graduate who went to an unbelievable number of interviews and sent out approximately 100 job applications.  Needless to say, the job search rejections left the new graduate disappointed, but she refused to give up, and eventually secured a job through her network contacts, assisted by an extended family member.  Networking and discussing career aspirations with seasoned employees still seem to help graduates secure entrance into tough job markets.

So, how can colleges, career centers, and mentors help?  It seems that as long as human beings are judging who will be a good fit for their organizations, it will be important for those who are helping graduates and young professionals to explore and understand the concept of fit from various angles– including knowledge, communication skills, attitudes, attire, and workplace expectations.  Sometimes, it is important for the graduate to determine early in the interview process that a company is not a good fit and to pursue other better options.

Yet, I admit, the perception of fit still seems a bit flawed to me.  Hopefully, those candidates selected because they appear to fit will actually help lead organizations to a more innovative and productive future!

Love Quest–Happy Valentine’s Day!

Featured imageAs I walk through numerous commercial venues, it is hard to look pass the red velvet Valentine’s hearts, heart-shaped balloons, and, of course the chocolates in heart-shaped boxes that are readily available to help us share our feelings and demonstrate that we love others. Yet, my first instinct is to express something akin to chagrin about the limited nature of love these red mementos seem to represent.

Love appears to be one of the most complex human states of being or demonstration of emotional connection that most humans proclaim to seek and treasure. In some way, we are all on a love quest. Fortunately or unfortunately, many of us encounter our first glimpses of love in our family worlds from our parents and family members, enhanced by books, and other social media. We tend to conceptualize love from watching others demonstrate love.

Unfortunately, it is rarely easy to discern the depth and commitment of the love we think we see without sustained observations, authentic conversations, and soul-searching. Commercialized expressions of the emotion often furnish little help for us, as we explore love. If we are lucky, we begin to understand that love transforms our views of ourselves and, ultimately, of the world.

For some of us, we observe parents who show their love for us by sacrificing for their families, working long hours, providing adequate food and shelter, and rejoicing in each of our victories–as we transform into more complicated human beings. There are also opportunities to observe how others love their significant others from various viewpoints in our career progressions.

As we continue to develop as humans, our concept of love usually also broadens, and we discover a capacity to empathize with, or extend something often referred to as brotherly love to, friends, neighbors, and even persons we do not know well. Oftentimes, we will give of ourselves to these people by offering the gift of our time, money, intellect, talents, guidance, and/or best wishes.

Then, as we mature, and if we are lucky, we broaden our capacity to a notion of care, concern, or possibly love for those less fortunate than ourselves in America and in other countries. We care about the environments in which others live-their abilities to live purposeful lives, to drink clean water, to live without crippling diseases, and to raise healthy children of their own.

And, possibly, as we watch our children and grandchildren grow, and as we guide them and shape their capacities to evolve into loving and caring world citizens themselves who will contribute intellect, compassion, and visions for sustainable environments, we will also be extending our expressions of love even farther ahead to future unborn generations.

The love quest–possibly there is nothing like it on our  planet.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Promise: Expanding Access to Community Colleges for the Public Good

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President Obama’s 2015, nearly New Year’s proposal, America’s College Promise, would offer free community college education to approximately 9 million students nationally. The Promise hinges on postsecondary academic performance and continuous progression towards degree completion. From the current national dialogue, it seems that the America’s College Promise proposal is an opportunity to examine the benefits versus costs of a community college education for most Americans. That is good.

No doubt, debates and perspectives on free community college programs will range from alarms to accolades depending on one’s frame of reference– potential student, politician, policy analyst, and so forth. As we know, President Obama announced the America College Promise at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee–where Governor Haslam announced Tennessee’s Promise last year that will be implemented with the 2015 entering community college class.

In the Tennessee Promise, the state agrees to pay the last dollar of community college tuition for two years for students who maintain at least a 2.5 GPA and satisfactory progress towards completion. What is possibly a very significant component of the Tennessee Promise proposal is that there will be mentors assigned to students, and students will be required to participate in community service. Mayor Rahm Emanuel of the City of Chicago has apparently also released a similar plan, the Chicago Star Scholarship, that promises free, last-dollar community college tuition for students who maintain a B average and qualify for college-level reading and math classes.

Why all the interest in assisting students to attend community colleges? Apparently the proposal for free community college goes back at least to 1947 and a commission’s report on higher education to President Harry Truman. Possibly, it is an idea whose time has come–or is past due. At any rate, the projected income of students who complete two years of college is estimated to be nearly a half a million dollars more, on average, in lifetime earnings than those without postsecondary education. Further, for supporters of these proposals, there is a projected benefit to society that out weighs costs. It will be good for America to have more educated citizens who are more appropriately prepared for current and future jobs in the workforce–a stronger economic attraction for businesses.

Yet, one theme that seems consistent in the various dialogues about free community college tuition is that such a benefit is not about to happen nationally for some time. No doubt, in the fall of 2015, and thereafter, the results of the Tennessee Promise and the Chicago Star Scholarships will be reviewed to determine if these promises are kept and do deliver the projected public good.

What, exactly, is so special about expanding access and affordability to community colleges? Like some of my higher education colleagues, I have been fortunate to earn tenure as an English instructor and serve as a dean, for a combined eight years, in two Chicago community colleges. It was at the community college that my love for teaching, and interacting with students, was born. Later, I earned the rank of full professor at a regional, best in the South, institution where I taught upper division courses–while also serving as an administrator.

Years later, as I recall the role community colleges played in educational opportunities, career readiness, and even in career exploration in my family, it occurred to me that we were actually a community college family. My husband earned one associate degree in art and started two others while working a full-time job. He used these years to explore career options, before completing a bachelor’s degree and, ultimately, a master’s degree in mass communication at major regional universities. He later worked as a graphic designer and taught communications in one community college and at three universities.

My late Mom earned her registered nursing degree from a community college; a degree that helped her buy, and pay for, our family’s house and support three children through college and many of life’s vicissitudes. Needless to say, pursuing higher education and delayed gratification became a cornerstone of our family world. Later in life, when Mom was in her early 60’s, she completed her B.S. degree at a university–just because it was a goal she was determined to attain. Mom stated she always enjoyed learning, and even though it took her about 6 years, she completed her baccalaureate degree while working as a nurse– after she had already worked as a registered nurse for several decades.

In my experiences as a young English composition instructor in a community college, I enjoyed interacting with the diverse students who saw a need for a college education in their lives. The Chicago community college that first introduced me to a career in higher education also introduced me to a range of international students, some who had already earned advanced degrees in their countries. Yet, when they immigrated to the United States, they needed to become more fluent in the English language and knowledgeable about American cultures. Interactions with these students broadened my global perspectives.

It would be hard to work in a community college, without admiring, or at least acknowledging, the thousands of students who seek degrees to gain specialized knowledge for a career, to change careers, or to increase their earning potential, all while juggling full or part-time jobs, families, and more complex lives than the more traditional undergraduates who are able to immerse themselves in the college lifestyle 24/7. Admittedly, there are also thousands of students who resemble traditional college students, but these students, for a variety of reasons chose a community college to save money, live at home, take a slower transition into the workforce or university environment, or other reasons too diverse to classify.

Perhaps the American community college is intricately linked to our lives as Americans similar to secondary education. Because we are a very diverse nation in which scientific and technological advances arrive in regular waves, an examination of the appeal and depth of community colleges seems appropriate to add to our national dialogue. Community colleges offer a range of citizens, or those seeking citizenship, an opportunity to 1) participate in a longer transition from secondary education to higher education; 2) engage in just in time learning for a new career, new job, or for knowledge; 3) schedule an educational experience around other life priorities such as families, full-time jobs, and other responsibilities; and 4) save money before transferring to a four-year college or university for higher degrees.

It is hard to drive past a community college without noticing its presence. Most community colleges resemble busy places (like shopping malls or good restaurants), and likewise, it is often hard to find a parking space because thousands of students are coming and going. If there is city or regional transportation, it also usually stops conveniently at the college. If you stand inside of a community college, some students will look like they just graduated from high school with their book bags, cell phones, and economy cars. These students might not have attained adequate academic preparation in secondary school, may not have confidence in their cognitive abilities, do not really know their interests, or are not really sure about the college experience–but they are there moving forward, expecting some clarification from the array of academic classes, certificate programs, and transfer options.

Other students know exactly why they are taking classes–they have a career or job plan that needs specialized knowledge, a credential, or certification such as a waste water operator certificate, emergency medical technician specifics, information technology game development skills, a paralegal certificate, and hundreds more. Many community colleges offer these programs in flexible terms, evenings, weekends, and many combinations of the aforementioned.

Possibly, community colleges are an essential component of our American lives similar to K-12 educational experiences. As we continue the dialogue on the benefits and costs of a free community college, hopefully, these examinations and discussions will include the breadth and depth of these institutions in family worlds.

Let Us Give Our Families the Gift of Tolerance For The Holiday Season

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Happy Holidays!
We say that phrase often during this time of the year.

Many of us attend, with our families, churches, synagogues, mosques, and other “places of worship” during the Holiday Season. Visiting these places of worship is a good thing, I guess–if it is more than a ritual or another box to check because we have been told we are supposed to do such.

Holiday Season 2014, many of us notice an undeniable undercurrent of unrest and intolerance in America, and other places of the world. Peace and civil discourse seem to be eroding, and some citizens believe they must take to the streets to be heard, acknowledged, and understood. Whether we are watching protests marches, vitriolic political campaigns, the frenzy over Ebola, viewing violent acts around the world, or interacting with persons in our community–one thing is sure–we need the gift of understanding and tolerance in our communities, cities, in America, and in many places in the world.

Like most fundamental orientations, the gift of tolerance probably begins in the smaller units of “family worlds”–in the conversations that parents have with their children and the examples they set when interacting with people who seem to be different from them.

From my perspective, there are at least a few basic essentials needed for giving the lifelong gift of tolerance that can be taught in our family worlds:

• Expanding the family’s knowledge base about other people, their lives, opinions and ethnic origins, by viewing them from numerous and historical perspectives. Do not assume….

•Treating other individuals and families as we would like others to treat us and our families (almost all organized religions profess this ethic of reciprocity).

•Gathering facts, from different perspectives, and discussing them in our families before rushing to generalizations or judgments.

So, Happy Holidays and spread the gift of tolerance in our families this season and into 2015. Such a gift will improve the well-being of all Americans, and it will be the gift that keeps on giving!