Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bates and switch

The Tacoma News Tribune reports that Bates Technical College has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit by 16 former civil engineering technician students who claimed they were not adequately prepared for jobs in the field. This follows similar settlements with students in their court reporting ($170,000) and denturist ($1,250,000) programs.

Bates is one of five technical colleges in the State's technical and community college system. So when they say they agreed to pay, I'm guessing they mean that they agreed for us (taxpayers) to pay.

The take-away here is not that technical and community colleges are bad and that all students should instead get a bachelors degree from the University of Washington at Lake Wobegon (where all the children are above average). The take-away is that the goal of professional/technical (prof/tech) programs is to train "employable" students and if graduates aren't qualified, then the program is a failure. Here is what one student said:

“When I left Bates, I was embarrassingly not ready for work in the field and was told as much by employers and potential employers,” plaintiff Michael Edmundson wrote in an affidavit filed earlier this month. “Bates did not teach me how to use the equipment required by the industry or how to do the basic task required as an entry-level employee in the field.”
Having served 7 years on a prof/tech advisory board at a community college, and having left a little frustrated by the experience, let me toss out a few rough ideas for your consideration (instructors, administrators and general community)
  1. Program outcomes must be created with input from, and regularly validated by, an advisory board of working professionals. Advisory boards should be coordinated by the college as a function of Workforce Development (or equivalent), not the individual department. The composition and functioning of prof/tech advisory boards must be actively managed and not left up to chance.
  2. Prof/Tech programs are not the same as academic programs and instructors should not be granted the same academic freedoms. This is not to say that we should micro-managed every classroom decision, but instructors need to be teaching to agreed upon outcomes. Further, if those outcomes are not being achieved then corrective action needs to be taken swiftly for the students' sake. It's not okay for a prof/tech instructor to have a "bad" year. It's one thing for an AA to graduate without a full appreciation of Maslow's self-actualization level and another for a database administration student to graduate not understanding the importance of indexing in database performance.
  3. Instructors should be expected to hold professional certifications in their area of instruction and be able to demonstrate that their understanding of the field is current. I would suggest a regular sabbatical (every five years) to work in the field or, better yet, local businesses (the college itself) could hire instructors for ongoing project or part-time work. And if no one wants to hire the instructor, well I guess that tells us something too.
  4. We need to pay instructors enough to leave industry and teach. If database administrators (DBAs) routinely make $120,000/year then you are going to be paying around $120,000 to get a DBA instructor. I don't care what Sociology instructors with 25 years experience make. As an alternative, we could use part-time instructors so they could keep their regular jobs. In this scenario the college would need to invest in a person or persons who can focus on curriculum development and assessment while part-time instructors focus completely on classroom work and sharing experience.
  5. Businesses need to invest in the system by having top people - people who really understand the profession and its future - serving on advisory boards. I mean an active strategy of identifying and rewarding employees to participate.

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Anonymous said...

Here here! You must be somewhat gainfully employed in a field where at least one or two real world needs are addressed to have such insight. Now if only those professors - many of whom have never worked a day outside of academia - and college administrators - no not IT administrators half of whom are useless as well - got a clue then graduates might at least only be made fun of for their lack of experience instead of completely ridiculed, all the while causing future graduates to not even be granted an interview.