Friday Fragments | Confessions of a Community College Dean
Friday Fragments | Confessions of a Community College Dean

I wasn’t shocked -- at all -- to get empirical, scholarly confirmation that budgets matter for public colleges. A new study shows what administrators have known for years: when teaching-intensive institutions endure budget cuts, their performance suffers.

It’s probably unprofessional to react with “duh!” but it’s really the only appropriate response.

It’s true that money can be used well or badly. Spending, all by itself, doesn’t guarantee results. But results require spending.

You’d think that would be so obvious as to go without saying, but in many circles, it’s heresy. Too many boards and legislators like to believe, for reasons having to do with external politics, that colleges can just cut and cut and cut without doing damage. It’s simply not true.

Worse, many of the solutions peddled by the prophets of austerity are self-defeating on their own terms. For instance, some of the same people who scream the loudest about cost controls also want community colleges to focus entirely on vocational programs, and they don’t notice the contradiction. Vocational classes, as a group, are much more expensive to run than gen ed classes. If we were to be more “market-driven,” in that sense, our costs would actually go up.

Yes, community colleges need excellent management. Part of excellent management involves acknowledging reality. In reality, funding matters. The low-hanging fruit has been picked. If we want social mobility, or even the widespread belief in social mobility, we need to pay for it.

Thank you, scholars, for documenting the obvious. It’s time to put this issue to bed.


Graduation week has wound down.

Day two (of two) of graduation was as lovely as day one. Both days were in the drive-up format, so every family got a front-row view for their student.

The rule for families was one vehicle per graduate, but we didn’t specify the size of the vehicle. One family brought a party bus with 18 people (by my count). They came pouring out of the bus, all of them dressed to the nines. When their graduate stood on stage in front of them, she pantomimed a stage dive; the crowd was large enough to make it plausible.

Faculty lined the roadway up to the stage. The allied health faculty made a tailgate of it. And our student affairs AVP deserves the Energizer Bunny award for the way she directed traffic.

We had the nursing pinning on Monday. I greeted the graduates.

I told the story of the first week after The Girl was born. She spent it in the NICU, with an IV in her head delivering antibiotics. For a while, we didn’t know if she would make it. I went in every day, seeing her in the incubator, fighting to live.

She was so small, and we were both so helpless. Seeing your 3-day-old daughter in intensive care clarifies your priorities really fast.

Doctors came and went; I don’t remember a single one. But I remember the nurses. They didn’t only care for TG; they also acknowledged us. Through their confidence and caring, they made it possible for us to hold it together while we waited for TG to turn the corner. Coming home from the hospital for the first time without her was heartbreaking. Each day after that was heartbreaking. The nurses helped us get through it. I let the graduates know that they’ll be seeing people at the best, and worst, moments of their lives, and they’ll make memories beyond what they may imagine.

Someday I’ll be able to tell that story without choking up. Apparently, 16 years hasn’t been enough time.


Now, of course, The Girl is in her glory. This week she played piano in the pit orchestra of her high school’s production of Seussical.

A musical in a pandemic is a different animal. This one was staged on the football field, with the audience in the bleachers. The chorus sat in chairs surrounding the stage; the pit orchestra was off to the side.

Luckily, they had three great nights of weather for their performances. We caught the closing night performance on Wednesday, of which the obvious and undisputed highlight was the excellent piano playing.

Seussical isn’t my favorite musical, and the microphones weren’t really made for the outdoors. But I couldn’t help but see the palpable joy in the students and families that they were actually together, doing something close to normal. The students enjoyed being together and doing something collaborative. The graduating seniors got to perform in front of a live audience one last time.

Kudos to all, but especially the piano player.

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