Monday, March 19, 2007

Reflections From a Week in the Midwest

March 19, 2007 - I was fortunate to spend time a few weeks back traveling through my favorite part of the United States- yes, the Midwest (perhaps I am biased having grown up there). And while snowstorms and the resulting flight schedules out of O'Hare were less than ideal, I enjoyed meeting with various colleges, community colleges, high schools, and state agencies regarding the issues that face them and the "going-to-college" pipeline.

During the week, many of my discussions focused on the usual questions- "Is it true that you can deliver True Electronic Transcripts™ directly into our SIS?" ..."Is Connect! really free to us and you'll provide training?" We spent time answering these and other questions regarding the "going-to-college" process and did I mention I love this stuff? Honestly, these conversations were a lot of fun. But perhaps the best discussion I had all week was with two young men while I was in Topeka, Kansas.

After a very long day driving from Iowa City to Topeka in an awful snow storm, I was looking forward to dinner with my colleague, Jonathan Fernands. What I hadn't anticipated was the conversation that would transpire with two of the young men working at the restaurant in Topeka.

As my colleague and I engaged our waiters in conversation, we learned that both of them were products of the Kansas Public High School system. One of them, (I'll call him John) had graduated from high school, went onto Kansas State University and was currently enrolled in law school at Washburn University. John was a hoot!

The other young man (I'll call him Dave), had attended college for one year and then had dropped out. Both John and Dave were very engaging and intelligent. We chatted about Kansas basketball, Kansas politics, methamphetamine problems in the Midwest, the Washburn University mascot- the Ichabods, Midwest wrestling (John had wrestled in high school and passed on an opportunity to wrestle in college), and we discussed education. Specifically, the life paths that each of them had followed and the critical decisions points along the way. It's worth noting that John and Dave had a lot in common. Both were from relatively successful households, both had been married early on in life, both had kids, and both valued education. Most importantly, both felt that the educational process had not worked for them. They felt they had wasted time and money pursuing degrees that were not for them. They had completed career placement surveys that weren't helpful and served more to confuse them than to assist them, and they both struggled with what they would do in the coming years. Ironically, John was the most fervent in his frustration with the process. He in particular, was not sure that law school was for him. Both felt that their high school counselors and college advisors were overwhelmed- interesting.

My discussion with John and Dave served as a validation of the issues that I have come to routinely hear about from students that are engaged in the "going-to-college" process. We know that counselors are overwhelmed, forced to spend too much time on administrative tasks as opposed to spending time building relationships and guiding students. We know that there are more young people, similar to John and Dave, experiencing the same obstacles throughout the country.

As I woke up the next morning to prepare for my presentation on our electronic transcript solution to the Kansas Board of Regents, one thing became really clear to me. Exchanging transcripts electronically is only part of the solution that John, Dave, and other students, parents, counselors, community colleges, and colleges/universities require - a small part! We must pursue the movement of electronic documents with an eye for the "big picture". Our counselors need solutions that free them from administrative tasks so that they are able to spend more time engaging their students. We need a solution that helps to demystify the topic that students and families often dread the most - financial aid. And we must avoid limiting, single-point solutions that do not account for the multiple elements involved with the "going-to-college" process. We need a comprehensive solution, not another temporary band-aid.

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