Education Changes Things

Bakersfield College

(Janet Fulks is a former member of the Academic Senate Executive Committee and has played an important role in ASCCC efforts regarding basic skills, guided pathways, and other areas. She retired this spring from Bakersfield College after twenty-five years in the classroom there. The following article, while not originally written as a farewell, offers the benefit of Janet’s experience and wisdom as she moves on to new challenges.)

Education changes things.
Think about that statement for a moment. How has education changed things for you? How has it changed things for your loved ones? How is it changing things for students? Can you see what it is doing and what it has done in our world, in California, and in your home town?

Education changes things. We invest billions in our state and national education budgets. We create special loans for students, invest in buildings, and hire and support faculty. When the economy is in decline, people flock to education. Students with any college education have higher incomes than those without higher education. Even an associate degree increases the stability and level of a person’s employment, and more advanced degrees strengthen that stability and flexibility for the future. Data from the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office shows that students starting in community colleges have average incomes below the California median, but those who complete a degree have average incomes above the California median.

Education Changes Things. A student may struggle as a single mother raising children on her own, but after attending community college she can graduate with her Licensed Vocational Nursing Certificate or Associates Degree in Registered Nursing. Her life and her family will be elevated to a socioeconomic level that will pay forward for many generations. An unemployed oil field worker who returns to college and completes a Career Technical Education (CTE) certificate may be hired as a welder or electrician and will make a living wage and have stability through both boom and bust economic times. Other students may not know how smart they are, never having had a relative that went to college, and may arrive at a college with no direction but can get just the right information and encouragement from a counselor who listens and offers guidance. Community colleges and community college faculty help many students discover how intelligent and capable they are, encourage them along their way, and help them to graduate, transfer, and find careers. Education changes things.

But this statement has a flip side: bad education also changes things. Education built on standards that are not reviewed and standardized tests that do not reflect the real knowledge and critical thinking that students need today are examples of bad education, and they too can change things. Bad education creates a population where more and more students arrive at colleges with inadequate reading, writing, and math skills, and legislation prevents colleges’ ability to respond. Bad education creates a system that deprofessionalizes the work of faculty, underestimates faculty’s ability to influence individuals and the world, and does not trust faculty’s grading nor understand the effort and planning needed to stimulate and foster a thinking mind. Bad education is driven by uninformed legislation to force faculty and students to do external policy makers’ bidding without taking all relevant factors into consideration.
Bad education happens when outside agencies study educational institutions, do good research, and then develop proposals or recommendations without talking to educators about the efficacy or additional data needed to support these ideas. Bad education happens when good teaching and learning is traded out purely for budgetary reasons that rarely include cutting back on the rapidly growing bureaucracy. Bad education happens when colleges are more concerned about numbers that look good than really intellectually examining what they do and improving their work and service to their students and communities. Bad education happens when faculty and institutions are held responsible for students’ lack of success but are never given the resources necessary to address student needs. Bad education happens when some funding is temporarily made available but the metrics to measure success expect massive changes within an unreasonable period of time, ignoring the existing barriers and variables involved in producing real and meaningful progress.

Good quality education changes things, changes lives, and changes the world. Quality education engages faculty at the heart of all decisions; after all, faculty are the permanent aspect of community colleges today, as chancellors, presidents, and vice-presidents turn over at a far greater rate than faculty. Quality education in California supports and understands the efficacy of the collegial consultation with faculty and the 10+1 areas of academic senate responsibilities and rights under Title 5.

Education changes things in positive ways when faculty use their knowledge and skills to document high standards, teach rigorous courses, clearly communicate to the students what they need, base their teaching on evidence, and get the support they need. Good education happens when peer review is done correctly and becomes a collegial mentoring and professional development activity for all involved. Good education happens as faculty dialog across disciplines with all of their colleagues and remain focused on the goal of serving students. When these things happen, the undeniable fact in the lives of our students and our communities is that education changes things.