My blog posts and tweets generally get more attention than they deserve, but not enough to make a difference.
So when a friend pointed out this morning while I was in class that next week’s meeting of the Education Committee of the Florida Senate will be a workshop on “Preparing Postsecondary Students for Success”, I got really excited. “Hey! That’s what I do!”, I thought. I looked around my studio physics classroom at the 65 or so undergraduates majoring in fields like engineering, meteorology, chemistry and (gasp!) physics and thought, “This is it!” I checked the calendar on my iPhone to make sure I was available for the meeting, being held Monday afternoon 4-6 pm. And then I braced myself to receive the invitation to present to the Senators.
While I was waiting, I snapped a picture of my postsecondary students preparing for success. But they didn’t seem to notice my excitement. Imagine that! I guess they were too busy trying to figure out what those carts smashing together had to do with conservation of momentum.
But I waited all day, and no invitation came from the staff or chair of the Senate Education Committee. I guess I’ll have to find something else to do late Monday afternoon. Like prepare next Friday’s quiz.
There is a scene in Steve Martin’s 1979 movie “The Jerk” in which he grabs a copy of the new phone book, searches furiously for his own name, and on finding it exclaims, “I’m somebody now! Millions of people look at this book every day!” If you’re actually helping postsecondary students prepare for success and waiting for policy-makers to notice, you might be having that kind of moment.
Of course, I complain too much. Senator Bill Montford visited a studio physics class this summer (I wasn’t teaching it, but two of my distinguished colleagues – Simon Capstick and David Van Winkle – were). The last two FSU presidents – Eric Barron and John Thrasher – visited studio physics classes. When I tell colleagues from other universities this, they are actually impressed. I find it depressing that even their own presidents don’t visit those classes, which are certainly – as our studio physics classes are here – the leading implementations of evidence-based pedagogies at their institutions.
If my students are able to enter the careers for which they are planning, they will be economically successful by anybody’s measure. And our studio physics classes can actually play an important role in the attainment of bachelors’ degrees by students in STEM fields. The report Engage to Excel published by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in 2012 highlights the importance of engaging introductory science and math courses for promoting persistence by STEM majors.
What others mean by “postsecondary success” doesn’t always impress me. My own university is quite proud of its bachelor’s degree program in hospitality. Yet a report by the New York Fed published in 2014 showed that 63% of the bachelor’s degree graduates in Leisure and Hospitality who graduated between 2009 and 2011 (admittedly a tough time) ended up in jobs that did not require a bachelor’s degree.
It’s possible – even likely – that next week’s Senate Education Committee meeting will focus on one of the chair’s pet projects – separating governance of the State College System (SCS – made up of institutions previously known as community colleges) from the State Board of Education (which also handles K-12) so that the SCS has its own board like the State University System does.
Maybe there will be a discussion about increasing the graduation rate at SCS institutions for AA degrees. Or for Associate of Applied Science degrees in fields like engineering technology.
But I’m pretty sure there will not be a discussion of finding ways to help more students to succeed in fields like engineering and physics. After all, we might be helping lots of our students to become somebodies in those fields, but it’s unlikely that’s the sort of thing the state’s legislators will notice.