Home Pages and Social Media- Tools that help Students with College Choices

Recently, my husband and I were asked to review the communication strategies of a liberal arts college in the Southeast. In addition to our joint experiences and expertise which covered a range of marketing materials–view books, webpages, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.)–we also engaged in research on communication strategies for a range of institutions from Ivy League to small liberal arts colleges. social_media_iconFlower-01

Admittedly, we did not engage in focus groups or conduct extensive surveys with prospective students–that would come later to refine strategies for the specific college. We did, however, seek feedback from some recent college graduates and prospective students about the slogans, looks, and feel of selected college websites, and the general capability of most colleges to convincingly answer that critical question, “Why come here?” through their virtual open doors–their websites’ home pages.

What we learned was not surprising, but it reinforced our theory that adept design of the home page and employment of the growing multitude of social media connections have become extremely important in attracting and engaging students who regularly use social media, and who would benefit from learning about the unique college experiences and resources of a specific institution.

It was also obvious that some colleges constructed their home page for audiences other than the media saturated prospective students (i.e. with a great deal of text for students to read). Other institutions employed home pages as opportunities for students to explore how they could fit into college life–with skillful, vibrant photography, and easily visible links to various resources and social media sites. These institutions allow students to read comments of other students, to ask questions, and to use the portal as a window to observe college life, by skillfully placed links to photos and videos, depicting a range of students and faculty participating in campus and community life.

So, why is all of this important? As a nation, we seem to have reached a consensus that we must increase the number of students who complete a quality college education so that we will stay competitive in a world quickly evolving through the adaptation of technology, just-in-time learning, and innovations in the workplace that have already exceeded projections of some futurists (Remember the cinematic prediction from the movie, “Back to the Future?). Moreover, most colleges have distinct niches, cultures, and characteristics that will be a better fit for some students than others. It is through the college home page that prospective students and families will make decisions whether to visit the campus and whether the curricular/co-curricular experiences are likely to lead to a fulfilling and empowering liberal arts/professional education and/or a solid foundation for advanced study and lifelong learning.

Some of the recent graduates we asked about home pages noted that the brands/slogans seemed to be a call to action like: “Reach Within…Shape the future” and “Become yourself…Change the World.”

These slogans appeared to be more exciting and attractive than the standard claims of excellence, tradition, or a focus on famous graduates from years gone by. Another observation was that the strategic design of a home page portal to attract students who are good fits for a college is a highly cost-effective technique for attracting students. YouTube videos and testimonials from students through homepage links can also level the playing field for smaller colleges with quality learning environments, but smaller advertising budgets.  When coupled with College Board data, visits led by student ambassadors, constant email updates or news feeds, easily accessible college applications, and the demonstrated promise of their slogans, smaller colleges struggling to attract students might be pleasantly surprised about the power of a well-planned, stimulating homepage with appealing social media windows.

As A New Semester Begins–It is Important to Reassure Americans About the Value of Higher Education

thA new semester is beginning on many college and university campuses. With the smiling and hopeful faces of students and their families as they move onto college campuses around the nation, there is also the thinly veiled anxiety about the cost/benefit analysis of higher education.

Recently, I researched and delivered a presentation on the current challenges and opportunities in higher education. Of course, perspectives on these challenges and opportunities, though they might seem more pressing now, are not by any means new.

During President Clinton’s term, Public Law 105-18, (Title IV, Cost of Higher Education Review, 1997) established the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education as an independent advisory body and called for a comprehensive review of the affordability of higher education because public concern was at an all time high.

This legislation created an 11-member commission with members to be appointed by various governmental bodies. In brief, its charge was to examine factors and trends that were related to higher tuition costs, the role of state and federal policies, mechanisms for financially assisting families, and innovative ways to minimize costs for the future.

According to the final report, “The Commission’s recommendations–several dozen in total–emphasize shared responsibility to (1) strengthen institutional cost control; (2) improve market information and public accountability; (3) deregulate higher education; (4) rethink accreditation; and (5) enhance and simplify Federal student aid.” The degree to which the Commission recommendations were, and are still being enacted, is debatable.

However, in the last five years or so, the public spotlight on higher education seems to have only intensified. Articles and discussions on costs and related issues in higher education can be viewed in various publications such as Forbes, American Association of Colleges and Universities, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. In addition to discussions about costs and graduation rates, the public appears to be more attentive to, and focus on, when things go awry on college campuses. One consequence of this scrutiny is that the terms of college presidents have shortened, and one public misstep anywhere among the rank and file can derail an academic leader. Public confidence in higher education seems to be at an all time low.

Yet, at the core of this spotlight on higher education institutions and the frequency of news stories on the costs, graduation rates, and student debt is the difficulty in determining and measuring families’ and society’s return on its investments in higher education. Some higher education leaders believe that college and university advocates should acknowledge the underlying anxiety among these investors in education and engage in more meaningful dialogues and demonstrations of the added value and contributions of higher education to local, regional, national, and global communities.

Possibly, through dialogues, demonstrations and strategic storytelling, more public recognition will ultimately emerge about the positive effects of higher education on economic development, creation of jobs, cultural enrichment, development of intellectual capital, support of small businesses, and overall heightened quality of life in various communities. However, these conversations will not be easy dialogues or demonstrations to convince families and other taxpayers who are still struggling to pay for college.  Questions linger such as: Will higher education really lead to better lifestyles and overall well being? Will debt to finance college educations result in unpaid mortgages, and living from paycheck to paycheck?

After over 30 years in higher education, it is easier to acknowledge that investments in higher education involve extremely complicated short-term and long-term benefits. Higher education outcomes include human transformations within the context of academic coursework, co-curricular activities, leadership opportunities, learning communities, residential life, and internship experiences. It is common for students to leave college with a greater sense of purpose and/or changes in attitudes and perspectives. While educators often observe how higher education transforms individuals and generations of individual families, these observations, in many cases, have not been quantified beyond graduation rates and job attainment. Many educators have seen first hand how the college education of one family member spreads like a ripple effect and changes the quality and perspectives of family worlds for current and future generations.

Because we are steeped in the culture of higher education, we educators might assume that the benefits of higher education are obvious. Thus, we do not necessarily focus on, or understand, the general anxiety of families, legislators, prospective students, and other significant stakeholders who question these investments. Moreover, as educators, we can also point to the numerous assessments already employed in measuring various academic and co-curriculum outcomes of higher education. These assessments include accreditation through the eight regional accreditation associations (i.e. Southern Association, New England, Middle States, Western Association, Council for Higher Education, and so forth) that measure each college/university’s ability to demonstrate that they are fulfilling their academic and student service objectives.

Further, many disciplines within colleges and universities are also accredited by professional associations for that discipline–such as the American Bar Association, Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, National Architectural Accreditation Board, Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology–to name a few.) Nonetheless, many citizens are not aware of these regular assessments, and/or what they signify about the value and benefits of higher education.

Thus, there are more and more discussions throughout local, state and federal levels to increase accountability measures–even though it is not clear that increased measurements would capture the main benefits of higher education (i.e., producing critical thinkers, lifelong learners, and intelligent citizens who will work together to create and improve upon the tenets of our nation). Nonetheless, it is hard to escape the fact that the focus on measuring outcomes is also related to the overall general anxiety about the expected benefits of higher education for obtaining more immediate and tangible outcomes such as high paying jobs, promotional opportunities, and overall higher quality of living that includes nice cars, home ownership, and increased consumerism.

Since many families’ incomes and net worth have not kept pace with the general notions of a middle class good life, it can be argued that frustration and anxiety are probably further fueled by the unrelenting pressure on everyone to continue to consume more, better, newer products and technologies.

So, what should colleges/universities do to counteract this public pressure about costs, the expectation of high-income jobs, and queries about the value of higher education outcomes? Well, for one thing, even though numerous colleges and universities have existed for hundreds of years, they have not always worked strategically to engage in dialogue with significant stakeholders about the value that they add to families and communities. Such conversations are past due.

By highlighting and clearly demonstrating the benefits of higher education that extend far beyond graduation rates, hopefully, more Americans will recognize that critical thinking, broadened perspectives, and innovation (which, by the way, are characteristics of a quality liberal arts education) will lead to a better quality of lives for their families, children, retirement years, and future generations. The more citizens understand the broad and multi-generational benefits of higher education,  the greater the possibilities are of reducing general anxiety over costs. Hopefully, anxieties over costs will eventually be replaced by acknowledgements, or pride, that the investment in higher education delivers greater lifelong benefits than the short-term investments in new cars, bigger houses, and the latest trendy technology!

National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education, Federal Register, The Daily Journal of the United States Government, Office of the Federal Register, website.

The American Dream–A Reboot Needed

IMG_0749Recently while spring cleaning, I sorted through some older TIME magazines and put one issue down, then picked it up again.  The 2012 TIME issue entitled, “The Making of America Issue: The History of the American Dream,” seemed to linger in my hands while riveting scenarios of the current deepening divides in American lifestyles, educational achievement, justice, economic realities, and dreams for improved lifestyles raced through my mind. The TIME article on the American Dream was written by Jon Meacham.

Before I venture forward, I should make it clear that my family, like many others, ascribes to an education leads to upward mobility version of the American Dream.  We believe that hard work, quality higher education, delayed gratification, spiritual grounding coupled with core values of honesty, personal integrity, compassion, and altruism pave the way for personal and familial well being.  Our American Dream also embraces peaceful existence with our global neighbors, whenever possible.  Like our parents, we have been known to live below our financial means, at times.  However, also like our parents, we seek to leave a legacy that will result in a better future for our children, grandchildren, and other people’s children.  We suspect that most American families shape the Dream to fit their past family experiences and future expectations.

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For the most part, like others, we are proud of our diligence, contributions as citizens, and we are honored to pass the legacy of hard work, higher education, and altruism on to our extended family, friends, and the students we have helped guide over numerous decades in higher education.   Yet, while we feel hopeful overall, and we are sometimes viewed as good examples of obtaining the American Dream, we know that there are multitudes of families who feel crushed and betrayed in their quests for the good life of the American Dream.

We often wonder if the implicit Dream core values of hard work, improved quality of life, accumulation of wealth, and steady progress for individuals, for families, and for the nation have morphed into a light speed, digitally enhanced 21st century notion of progress–the accumulation of goods.  We also question whether the numerous messages of a better, more consumer-oriented, Middle Class have become so commercialized that many Americans are left disillusioned? Is the commercialized American Dream a positive contribution to the global community?

So, with the magazine cradled in my hands, I sat on the floor, and I reread the article that sought to describe the economic and social complexities in which the vision of an American Dream emerged. I noted that the term American Dream was supposedly coined after the Great Depression in 1931 by popular historian James Truslow Adams in his book, The Epic of America.  Historian Adams discussed the ‘American Dream of a better, richer, and happier life of every rank’ as a great thought or concept that America had contributed to the world.  In brief, the Dream described an expectation of a steady improvement in the lives of everyday Americans, the lives of their children and grandchildren, and growth of the nation.

As usual, the devil is in the details. In some ways, you can argue that the concept of the American Dream for a better life is a beacon of hope which under girds many Americans and immigrants, as they endure economic hardships, an array of inequities, and conditions totally out of anyone’s control. Emerging out of the 1930’s Great Depression, it was probably crucial to rally the spirit and hearts of everyday Americans with a vision of hope for a better future.  Yet, from the beginning, there were contradictions and struggles in applying the intrinsic building blocks of the Dream.  At times, various groups perceived that their rights to the Dream were blocked and sought remedies in the Civil Rights Movement, Supreme Court decisions, the US Justice Department, the political system, public education, the workplace, and housing venues—to name a few.

Likewise, for most of the last decade,  times have been tough in America for most citizens.  Efforts to live the lifestyles that are seemingly promised by the Dream have been met with economic downturns, home foreclosures, downsizing at jobs, shrinking wages, and various gridlocks in state and federal governments.  Some American citizens are professing lack of confidence and hope in the roles of once venerable institutions (such as government and higher education) in supporting the American Dream.  Their uneasiness is further exasperated by data that reveal a steady unevenness of quality of life and well-being in American society for many citizens.

Yet, in some ways, we might have sabotaged ourselves in our quest for the Dream.  It probably does not help that we are bombarded constantly, by media and advertisements, with examples of how we are supposed to be pursuing the Dream.  Despite evidence to the contrary, ubiquitous images of people obtaining the Dream seem to suggest that disparities, struggling families, and foreclosure realities are/were only a blip in an otherwise society of beautiful, successful, technologically equipped, and content Americans citizens who are lining-up to purchase the latest must have product such as the newest cell phone, for instance.

Only when it is really hard to ignore the growing tensions and frustrations of some Americans in achieving some version of the Dream do we see some sort of news coverage of details gone awry (protests, workplace violence, toxic spills, riots, active shooters, and political gridlock).  No matter how beautiful the reporters are, many of us are still not really comforted.  Further, there is a growing disquiet among many Americans about the future prospects of their children, the value of a college degree, coupled with growing anxiety about retiring without enough money.  The economic recovery that has not quite trickled down to millions and millions of citizens is making it increasingly difficult for them to pursue their American Dreams.  Similar to the years after the Great Depression, Americans seem to need a Dream, that is supported appropriately, that helps them maintain hope, security, and economic stability.

So, what do we do?  Some of us think it is time to reboot the American Dream by strengthening the pillars (institutions, policies, and living work wages) that support the core values of upward mobility, personal progress, and national progress. Certainly rebooting the American Dream would encompass policies that support families; affordable higher education; higher wage jobs; opportunities for continuing education; improved achievement in K-16 education; and fairly applied justice for all.  The 21st century American Dream also seems to require broadened perspectives of racial understanding, tolerance of differences, sustainability practices, knowledge of global complexities, and an awareness of the benefits and pitfalls of a consumer driven society.  Possibly, if citizens focused less on acquiring expensive possessions, without appropriate monetary resources, they would enjoy a better sense of overall well-being (and less debt).  For example–what would happen if more discretionary income was invested in future leaders, innovative projects, and/or scholarships for students?

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The American Dream for the 21st century would probably also benefit from taking into consideration the access to different windows of the world allowed by the Internet and alternative news networks. America, as much as we love it, is not viewed as the center of the world by everyone.  A more complex, interdependent view of the world would help Americans make more knowledgeable political and social decisions.

The American Dream can once again, become a beacon of hope, but it needs to be rebooted for the technologically enhanced, and globally connected world of the 21st century!  The reboot might start as close as possibly to the family unit and gradually include global communities. Meacham, Jon. “Keeping the Dream Alive,” TIME, Vol. 180, No. I, 2012.

Commencing for a Better America

commencement2013_729_293_725_291_720_289_710_285 It has been a tough year in many places in America–from the weather, political histrionics, financial losses, civil unrest, and tragic deaths.  We have been throttled by tornadoes, snowstorms, flooding, searing heat, droughts, and icy roads.  Political gridlocks have left us less than optimistic about the effectiveness of our government to improve the quality of life and potential of Americans and future generations.

Yet, as we enter commencement season at thousands of higher education institutions around the nation, there is a sense of cautious hope for our collective American futures.  As my husband and I, together with other family members, prepare to travel to Vermont, which is apparently just beginning to thaw out from the distinction of accumulating the most snowfall in 2015 in the Continental US, for our daughter’s commencement from Law School, we will be joining a small, but significant number of families who will be traveling to also applaud accomplishments of children, grandchildren, and relatives.  Like the other families who will gather to witness these commencements, we will share a sense of pride, relief, and optimism about the contributions these graduates can make to positive social action, to more effective governments, to numerous industries and agencies, and to global communities.

Even though I have attended more higher education commencements than I care to admit, I remember mostly the commencements of Winston-Salem State University and Cheyney University.  While the speakers and acknowledgements of my own commencements and those of my siblings have faded from my memory, the looks of elation, hope, and jubilation of the graduates of these two institutions seem to be permanently etched in my brain and my heart.IMG_0480

As I walked down the aisle with Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. at one commencement at Cheyney University, I watched the beaming faces of the families of those in attendance.  With a little over 250 students graduating, there were over 3,000 parents, family, friends, and well-wishers cheering the graduates on to commencing a new life of opportunities.  These family members filled the Historic Quad of Cheyney University and celebrated with the exuberance and intensity seen at joyful family reunions.

As the Honorable Reverend Jesse Jackson walked in the commencement ceremonial march, parents, family members, and significant others thanked him for participating in this significant event in the lives of their loved ones. And, of course, Reverend Jesse Jackson did not disappoint in his graduation address.  Moreover, as an added bonus, actor and musician Terrence Howard also participated in the same commencement activities and gave remarks, much to the positive approval of the graduating students and their guests.

This and other such commencements warmed my heart.  I understood the sacrifices of money and the hopes for a better life tied to these graduates.  My husband and I carry similar hopes and dreams for our daughter, but our sacrifices pale in comparison to those made by first generation parents and families.  We believe our daughter’s and significant numbers of other proud graduates’ accomplishments will prepare them to commence or begin to make the world a better place for us all–and it does not get much better than that in America!

So, to all who are graduating, Congratulations on your impressive accomplishments!

Graduates, we need your innovations, your contributions to global sustainability, your fresh insights, team work, and new ideas to strengthen America!

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April Showers Bring May Flowers and Hopefully Needed Clean Water for Global Neighbors

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A good spring rain shower waters the trees, boosts water in lakes, cleans the streets, and sometimes soothes the spirit.  In fact, in many places, spring is one of the most beautiful times of the year, as we behold flowers opening, lawns greening, and the  beauty of the Earth unfolding.  As a kid, on the rainy spring days, I remember being reminded by my parents not to frown on rainy days because, yes, “rain showers bring May flowers.”  This statement was usually followed by “we need the rain!”  Without a doubt, water is one of the most basic necessities for life on our shared planet.
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Even though most of us know the significance of rain and the need for water to sustain our lives, many of us still view rain as a gift from the sky that will keep on giving.   Awareness of the need to sustain this valuable resource often only correlates with drastic climatic or pollution conditions that force us to plan and change our behavior to maintain sustainability.  Some environmentalists affirm that we are using water much faster than it is replenished. Other scientists have sounded alarms that global warming is producing profound changes in water availability, quality, and access. Thus, it is not a surprise that in some places in the United States a rainy day is a much appreciated day!  Like with many other limited resources, some states and municipalities are planning ahead strategically to maintain vital water resources.
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 As the USDA drought monitor map illustrates, there are states experiencing significant drought conditions in America.  Some western states with desert climates such as California are already engaged in a debate about the future of protecting water supply. Thus, not surprisingly, there are significant portions of America that employ water strategists and consultants to ensure that there will be adequate water for the citizens in the region.  According to some researchers, it is unclear whether droughts in some of the western states and adjacent areas are a new phenomenon or part of a cyclical rotation. Yet, issues regarding clean water possessions have social and economic effects for all of us.   Some urban planners project that protracted droughts in some parts of the US can lead to economic imbalances, as companies elect to locate in more verdant states.
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As my daughter, a fledgling environmentalist, recently reminded us, there is a great deal of drought in our global community that is literally a matter of life or death.  Even with the scarcity of water and drought protocols, many of us in America take clean water for granted.  We are usually only inconvenienced by monitoring our consumption and employing our sprinkler system on alternative days.  Yet, even with these practices, we function with limited knowledge about how the lives of our neighbors around the world are affected by lack of clean water.  Maybe if we knew more, we would engage in broader positive social action about managing water better among the Earth’s global citizens.
Most of us know that drought conditions can be linked to quality of life in many global communities.  The Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation monitors drought conditions in various global communities and supports drought relief efforts and water sanitation services through generous donations.  According to their Foundation website, drought can be devastating, resulting in barren fields, malnourished families, and starvation for millions of global citizens.  Likewise, the lack of clean water kills. The website charitywater.org states that:

“Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren’t strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses.”

So what does this mean for most of us?  As we calibrate our sprinkler systems, and pause to admire our flowers and green lawns, let us be cognizant that for some of our neighbors, even though some may be far away–water is a matter of life and death.  Sustaining our natural resources is one of the most important efforts we can engage in to sustain global communities and the well-being of future generations. I have been convinced that access to clean water is a social and environmental justice issue.  Helping global neighbors attain an improved standard of living might be viewed as a form of effective diplomacy.

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 www.gatesfoundation.org

http://munchies.vice.com/articles/some-california-rice-farmers-would-rather-sell-water-than-plant-crops

 http://www.wired.com/2015/03/californias-run-water-act-now/

http://www.appalmad.org/slider/west-virginias-streams-are-in-trouble

Women’s History Month- Celebrating Our Leadership Talent Pool

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Women’s History Month presents an opportunity to reflect on (her)stories–nationally and globally. First of all, we have been fortunate in America to move towards a more enlightened and holistic sense of humanity because of the emergence of incomparable, iconic, and some internationally renowned women. Regardless of your current paradigm of what leaders should do to inspire and effect needed stability or change, it is easy to discern that there is something magnificently different, inspiring, courageous, and enthralling about extraordinary women who have risen to prominence in America.

As I reflect, it is hard to identify how a combination of intellect, authenticity, courage, charisma, personal backgrounds, and public appearance coalesces into women leaders who are fascinating and uplifting to watch. Nonetheless, there are, and have been, women visionaries who compel us to envision a better self and better world.  Each of us probably has a list of unforgettable women who helped shape our lives. And yes, there have been many men such as fathers, brothers, teachers, mentors who also helped shape and mentor us.  However,  this month we tell her stories.

Many of the women who have affected our lives seem to have had the courage to push past cultural expectations; to lead with their hearts and to engage the hearts of others; to employ their intellects to encourage intellectual development of generations; to broaden circles of interest about significant public issues to influence public policy; and to illustrate a grace under pressure that we can only applaud. As we think of, and pay homage to, these extraordinary women who accomplished the unexpected and possibly unthinkable while making it look easy, we also have to acknowledge that there are countless women who are not discoverable in historical accounts. For many of us, these women are unknown and obscure; yet, we are better humans because they were here. Thus, we should pay homage to all of them!

Recently, I began thinking about some of the women who helped me develop a broader view of leadership in higher education, to understand leadership from a woman’s perspective, and to embrace needed personal transformations and realities. Thus, I personally thank some authentic and incomparable women such as: the first African-American woman principal, former slave, and pioneering educator Fanny Jackson Coppin; activist and civil-rights leader Coretta Scott King; award-winning author, poet, and indomitable spirit Maya Angelou; Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize novelist Toni Morrison; anthropologist, museum director, and sister president Johnnetta B. Cole; higher education leader, President Molly Broad; Hall of Fame Coach C. Vivian Stringer; higher education educator, author, mentor, and former college president Gretchen Bataille; educator, former mentor, and former college president Bernice Miller; actress, singer, and late entertainer extraordinaire Pearl Bailey; selfless and inspirational Catholic school nuns; and of course, my late hardworking, nurse caregiver, supportive, and Southern mom, Dolores Batiste Howard.  These women with their ranges of perspectives and experiences have furnished a broad and diverse legacy from whence I have benefited.

When thinking of the contributions of these, and so many other women, it is easy to imagine that there is an expanded talent pool to elect a woman President of the United States with characteristics of some of our extraordinary American women. Of course, like many Americans, I want the most qualified,  future-oriented, and politically adept person to lead America. So maybe the time has come to broaden our pool of consideration to include some of those extraordinary women leaders of which America appears to have an abundance. A cursory glance of recorded history demonstrates that other countries have capitalized on the skills of women for national leadership roles. Although there are fewer Internet records of the lives or leadership characteristics of Queen Cleopatra (69-30 B.C.); Elizabeth I, Queen of England (1533-1603); Prime Minister Golda Meir; Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; or Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, their feats as leaders have inspired and broken the perceived glass ceiling for generations of women around the world.

Women’s History Month is a good time to engage in positive actions that support women in our institutions of higher education, businesses, and communities so that we will broaden our pool of talent for potentially great, world leaders!

Lessons Learned–Public Policy Analysis

IMG_0142-1Happy New Year!

Each New Year provides an opportunity to reflect on how to improve ourselves, our families, and our extended communities.  Each year, it seems that extended communities continue to expand.

This year, as I think about how we can engage in positive social action in order to improve the living/economic conditions in more families and extended communities,  I begin to reflect on the advantages and limitations in employing a few analytical frameworks or tools for highlighting potential opportunities and or for solving intractable social problems.  Moreover, I am reminded of the folly of attempting to solve some intractable problems through public policy processes and/or limited perspectives–lessons I learned in graduate school.

Analytical tools and analysis of policy options, though worthwhile, often reflect overt or covert values.  Nonetheless, a combinations of perspectives, interdisciplinary approaches, and analytical frameworks, which acknowledge imbedded values, can be helpful and serve as frameworks for identifying some options to our seemingly intractable American challenges.

I admit it was enlightening, and somewhat fun in graduate school, to be introduced to, and contemplate the advantages and limitations of the social, political, and philosophical frameworks of Henry David Thoreau, Emile Durkheim,  Graham T. Allison, and many others  However, it is the public policy analysis essay of Richard R. Nelson that highlights advantages and limitations of analysis of policies that continues to resonate with, no haunt me, still–when seeking frameworks for positive social action for our families, extended communities, and the future of America.

Though he is known more as a political economist, it was Nelson’s extended essay in the text, The Moon and The Ghetto: An Essay on Public Policy Analysis, that I have reread, reviewed, and contemplated for decades since graduate school–searching for expanded lenses–a framework epiphany that has the power to provide direction.

It is probably the simplicity of Nelson’s question that both intrigues me and still begs for rational, political, and larger societal perspectives.  In his essay, Nelson queries–If a society has the resources, scientific knowledge, and technological capacity to land a man on the moon why does that same society seem unable to solve problems of economic, educational, housing and other “unevenness of human progress” as exemplified in urban ghettos?  Nelson, 1977, offers, “It is apparent that the American political economy pays far less attention to certain values and interests than to others because the voices of certain groups are determining (14).”  In his analysis, Nelson discusses the need to “lay out the topography of political impasse and highlight the arena of battle” that will ultimately furnish direction.

While I continue to reread Nelson’s public policy analysis, my current understanding is that there are interwoven layers of societal forces that include diverse perspectives, shifting political will, the limitations of rational analysis, and social/technological “know how” that are very difficult to harness effectively to solve these seemingly intractable social problems that hinder more widespread societal economic and lifestyle evenness.

Thus, in the Moon and the Ghetto, Nelson shows the advantages and limitations of three policy conceptual frameworks to illustrate the complexity of using rational analysis on specific case studies.  By using these frameworks and the case study methodology, Nelson shows how specific societal problems can be explored by focusing on different aspects such as inadequate policy processes, inadequate organizational structures, or inadequate resource and development.

Nonetheless,  Nelson does not leave us with a definitive framework–all of the aforementioned analyses highlight specific areas, but they appear to fail to provide direction for resolving the problems of “unevenness of human progress” that continue to exist in too many American cities and towns.

As we move forth in the new year, and prepare for the challenges that will inevitably engross many Americans, we are still faced with the question of how can public policy analyses, political processes, or organizational changes add value? In what directions do we want to travel to address the “unevenness of human progress”?  How can interdisciplinary approaches and various disciplines contribute to illuminating the policy dialogues?

Reginald M. Clark (1983), employing a totally different lens attempts to shed light on the question of unevenness of educational attainment in urban Chicago communities by suggesting that we might want to focus on “family worlds.”  Clark’s ethnographic research identified specific and identifiable family interactions that produce high-achieving or low-achieving students well-prepared or ill-prepared for post-secondary education.

As we make plans for 2015, it might be a worthwhile intellectual endeavor to identify where we want to go as a family, community, and country, while at the same time taking a closer look at family worlds and how they are related to the larger public policy issues, political fixes, and social unevenness.

In 2015, how can various  and multidimensional frameworks provide directions for where we want to go?  What are acceptable solutions?