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Life Skills and Making the College Connection

In this month’s Chronicle, (reference below) there was a thought-provoking article entitled: “Now Everything Has a Learning Outcome.” The article details a new emphasis at Augustana College for both faculty and student advisors to include non-academic activities in counseling/advising sessions with students. So for example, participation on the golf team, a part-time job, a volunteer activity, all are seen as part of holistic learning experiences of a student. For many students, this far-reaching approach enables them to see the connection between their academic lives and those outside the ivory towers. As Dan Berrett explains,

“…. too many students squander those formative years. If they manage to make sense of what their education adds up to, they do so by accident or on their own. But educators uncomfortable with that reality are trying to shift it. While colleges won’t return to dictating moral development, some are now guiding students with a firmer hand. They are bolstering advising, trying to connect what students do in and outside of class, and explicitly identifying the learning that happens in various corners of campus. In sum, treating a college education as a holistic, cohesive experience.”

He continues,

“What matters in this vision of college is how well students put together and make sense of the pieces of their education. To that end, colleges must curate that experience. Augustana has identified nine learning outcomes—like critical thinking and quantitative literacy—that apply to everything students touch: courses, clubs, teams, residence halls. … Residence halls, for example, help achieve intercultural competency and communication competency by requiring roommates to work out their differences and negotiate privacy. Sports can help develop collaborative leadership and ethical citizenship. Running the campus’s organic farm can develop collaborative leadership; dealing with vendors and handling invoices might foster quantitative literacy.”

The program at Augustana is what I would characterize as “boutique advisement.” In a small college with favorable student to faculty and staff ratios, advisors have more time to get to know their students in a less restricted setting. In essence, these staffers function in a manner similar to what an elder sibling, aunt, or uncle might have in the virtually extinct extended families of another era. Many students today need and crave insight and direction from some caring adult to make sense of their often frenetic and bumpy lives.

The situation at public institutions regarding assisting students is not pretty. Students are frequently hard-pressed to see their advisors, whose numbers and hours are being cut due to budgetary imperatives. A student may see their “academic” advisor once a semester, and faculty are often not available to spend much time getting to know their students. So even if a student passes their courses and eventually secures a degree, they may lack essential life skills required to succeed in the workforce or in life.

In my experience, the pace and numbers of students at a large institution like CUNY campuses, forces faculty and staff into a “nuts and bolts” type of student advising. Take courses A, B, and C to meet such and such requirement may be all too typical. What I commend Augustana for doing, albeit with more resources per student, is attempting to understand the confluence between the needs of the student with those of the greater society at large. More than academic or career guidance is offered. I would characterize their approach as “how to be your own person in the world you live in now and in your future.” This is a much more ambitious undertaking than what currently passes for college education.

Reference:

Berrett, D., 2014, “Now, Everything Has a Learning Outcome,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 10, 2014. Retrieved at: http://chronicle.com/article/Now-Everything-Has-a-Learning/149897/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

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