Eric White, NACADA President
I find myself at this time more than halfway through my year long presidency. You have already elected a new president (Jo Anne Huber from the University of Texas-Austin) to take office in October at the end of our National Conference in Las Vegas, and the editor of Academic Advising Today tells me that this is my last column as president. The natural tendency might be to do some sort of reflection on the past year, but I think I will reserve that for another forum. Suffice it to say that NACADA continues to grow in numbers (we have now exceeded 8200 members), and we are looking forward to a capacity crowd in Las Vegas.
I would prefer to look forward to what I see are some of the issues that are affecting higher education and, consequently, academic advising. They will be presented in no particular order of importance. In fact, they are all important! Nor can I assume that I have “covered the waterfront.”
I have been following a discussion on ACADV related to the current crop of parents that we as advisors meet and deal with on a regular basis. For those of you who are not part of ACADV and enjoy being on e-discussion lists, I invite you to sign up. You can do that via the NACADA list serve web page. For those of you who have missed the discussion, it should be available in the ACADV archives.
As the cliché goes, “you must have been living under a rock” if you can’t figure out what this discussion of parents is all about. It probably will take a sociologist among us to determine just what the cause of this phenomenon is and how long it might last, but right now we advisors, who are often the very first people to meet new students and their families as they enter our institutions, must deal with the realities as we find them. This is a time for us to understand these parents and the context in which they are functioning, not to pass judgment, but to help educate them as much as we are here to educate their children. So, in a sense, we have a new clientele.
To perhaps explain some of this, just recently a press release from Penn State came in from an electronic news wire. The first paragraph reads: “Over the past two generations, the marketplace forces in higher education have resulted in the evolution of college students into consumers, affecting the nature of learning and favoring affluent students who can afford academic resources, said a Penn State researcher.”
I’m sure this doesn’t come as much of a surprise to advisors who have, in most cases, resisted the notion of students as consumers, at least in its most crass forms. As we struggle to keep the focus of learning and students as learners, we understand all too well the impact of such consumerist attitudes, not only on our students, but on their families. The press release ends with a quote from the researcher, Roger L. Geiger, a distinguished professor of higher education at Penn State: “The competition for students, for good or ill, has bred consumerism—a reversal of attitude from students as clients, fortunate to attend a particular university, to students as customers who must be pleased with a variety of amenities—from upscale dormitories to mall-like shopping facilities—that have little to do with actual education.”
How this heightened sense of entitlement and consumerism plays itself out, I will leave for the futurists to speculate about. Suffice it to say that we advisors are confronted with these attitudes on a daily basis and must, with all our skills, respond to them in meaningful and productive ways.
Given the emphasis on consumerism and its first cousin, vocationalism, there is little wonder that the proponents of general education in the curriculum find themselves once again looking for new ways to infuse this section of the curriculum with new meaning, new ways to instruct, and new configurations of content. I fear, though, that all the efforts of the general education reforms will be lost without the full support of the academic advising community, for it is advisors who have to articulate curriculum to students. In many ways, it is the foundation of our work, and how students come to appreciate all aspects of the curriculum will depend upon the advising community’s appreciation for general education, their understanding of it within the total curriculum of their institution, and their willingness to take the time to help students appreciate why general education is important.
And finally, higher education must adjust to, respond to, and articulate revised definitions for affirmative action. While one hates to use the metaphor of warfare, it is quite true that there is a ”battle” over the future of affirmative action. This battle, recently “fought” in the halls of the Supreme Court, is clearly not over. A recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education quotes Richard C. Atkinson, the former president of the University of California system: “Colleges should focus more on helping students from low-income families and look for applicants who have made the best use of their opportunities to learn.” It remains to be seen whether income will replace race, ethnicity and gender as the determinates for affirmative action. Americans, in general, have avoided issues of class, just as until recently, we wanted to believe in the melting pot analogy for American racial and ethnic history. The myth of a classless America may have to be put aside, just as most have put aside the melting pot paradigm. No matter what happens, once again advisors will be at the forefront of this issue, which from my perspective has to do with access. American higher education, for better or worse, has always been seen, along with all education, as a means for social mobility. I would bet (Yep, I’m ready for Las Vegas) that virtually all advisors, if not all, believe in the power of education and that we work as hard as we can to see that students succeed and if they can’t, we look for other venues for their success.
This is important work to do, because it represents the very essence of American societal values. So we must grasp on to the challenges, sometimes maybe even going it alone, realizing that the democracy that we know as the United States of America depends upon the work we do.
I would like to thank all those NACADA members who took the time to read my columns and especially those who sent me personal responses to them. It was most appreciated. As I come to the end of my time as NACADA president, I leave knowing that this is an organization comprised of caring and thoughtful individuals who have been able to form an (inter)national community of practice. My hope is that all who are members of NACADA benefit from this association, and that higher education benefits from the existence of NACADA.
Eric White, President
National Academic Advising Association
Cite this article using APA style as: White, E. (2005, September). From the president: Think big...think bold: The importance of our work. Academic Advising Today, 28(3). [insert url here]