Monday, May 26, 2014

It's for the Students...

Another for the annals of excellence without money:  I was in a composition teaching workshop last week, half an hour of which was really useful, and the other almost two days, not so much.  But it was okay.

The last couple of hours was about helping students who are English Language Learners, and study abroad students (that is, students who are studying here, abroad from their country/school).

Like lots of schools in the US, NWU is actively recruiting increasing numbers of foreign students.  They pay full freight, so lots and lots of schools are recruiting.  And they make us look a bit more diverse, though without serving our community's diverse population any better.

More and more of these students are coming not for a year, but for our degree (or a joint degree), and that means that unlike the students who visit for a year, these students have to fulfill all our NWU requirements, including composition.  So our comp workshop got this talk about how to help these students; all of the suggestions were good ideas, many would help our students in general, especially our first generation students. 

And, as you'd guess, most of the suggestions involve adding quite a bit of time and energy for the visiting student.  And there were no suggestions about what we should give up in order to make the extra time and energy, because "it's for the students.  We owe it to our students."  Yes, I asked.

Indeed, we do owe our students good teaching, help, and so on.  But if we add in more students needing special help and more time, then the time has to come from somewhere.  I can't make it up out of thin air.  Yes, I mentioned that.

And I also asked how many international students we could expect in our 20 person comp classes, and was told that the powers that be are trying to spread them so the we all only have 3-4. 

One.  3-4 students needing additional help, beyond the English as first language speakers who already need additional help, is a lot.

Two.  3-4 out of 20 means that 15-20% of our students taking comp are international students.  That's a lot, no? 

Three.  We all know this is about demographics and money.  There are fewer US students in the traditional age cohort right now.  For schools like NWU, that have traditionally pulled from the middle and working class, mostly white, students, and which don't have big reputations, that means some of our traditional students have been getting into and choosing more prestigious schools.  Others have made other choices (community colleges, for profits, or just trying to find a job) based on the dismal economics of higher education. 

Colleges and universities are competing for a smaller pool of traditional students, and we're mostly (I'm guessing Harvard isn't too worried) looking for students who aren't our traditional students to recruit.  We've tried, without great success, the non-trad aged students, and we're doing a variety of distance learning and jigsaw puzzle major to recruit and get them through.  (The jigsaw puzzle major is a special major supposedly for students who've taken courses here and there in different areas; they're supposed to be able to put those together, take a couple of special courses to teach them to . . .  well, put those courses together, and voila, a college degree.)

And now, all these schools are recruiting international students with great energy.  We're mostly getting students from China, Saudi Arabia, and a few other countries which are putting money behind students to give them opportunities to study abroad, often with a narrow choice of majors.  And we're following that money.

And so is everyone else.  The Harvards have always followed that money, of course.  And the flagships have also, to a lesser extent.  So the top students, the ones most prepared to study in another country are all going to more prestigious schools.  The less prepared students are coming to NWU and other schools like ours.  And they're bringing money, full out of state tuition, and we're all chasing that money.

Truth be told, we're all chasing the money because states don't want to pay for higher ed (or any ed, really), and because our traditional student demographic is on the decline.  But that extra money, where's it going?

Mostly, it's probably like a finger in the dike.  Also, of course, we have to hire a deanling to be deanling of international students.  And that person has to have an assistant deanling.

And then they need to hire some more adjuncts to teach the English prep classes for students deemed unprepared to enter our comp and other regular university classes.

But for those of us who will be doing more work, well, there's no money for that.  And no reduction in other responsibilities.

My guess is that the visiting students are selected for their talents in areas valued by governments, so tech, business, mostly.  The impact on faculty will be high in areas required by the university, so comp, math, especially.  These students will have a second language better than most of our first language English speaking students, so they won't impact the languages, except maybe by reducing demand.  Business and tech type courses (computer science, maybe physics and such?), business related courses (communications, public relations) will be in demand.

Faculty in, say, art history, probably won't notice a difference.  Faculty in comp will notice a huge difference.  I'm not sure about math, but I'm guessing some difference.

I tend to really like international students, but I'm daunted when I get them in writing courses, and the idea of having 15-20% of the students in my comp course international students, and students whose first language isn't English, is daunting indeed.

I feel so slow.  Back when I was on our senate, we talked about recruiting more international students, and about special programs, but I guess I assumed they would mostly be visiting for a year, and not working towards a degree from here.  I certainly didn't imagine that comp classes would be so deeply impacted.  I think we all thought about what a good idea recruiting more international students is, and it is in many ways, without thinking about how some courses would be affected.  And now it's coming together, and we're going to really be feeling it.

(I didn't teach comp this year because I taught another course, so I was pretty unaware, but I'm told that a lot of comp faculty were beginning to see the change this past year, especially.)


  1. Ye gads. I wonder what it would take to get people to stop thinking about money all the time and actually start thinking about professors' sanity -- as well as the education the students are getting. We are all supposed to be student focused, of course, but what about keeping the faculty happy? Are the students going to have a good experience when the profs are constantly disgruntled and under water with extra work?? Ugh.

  2. Gotta make payroll. I say that seriously, because I understand that the bean counters really are trying to do their best, and that they're under constant pressure. Our budgets have been sliced and cut. We're at a point of needing to bring in more revenue (more students at out of state tuition, for example) because the state froze our ability to bring in revenue other ways (raising tuition is out, as are a bunch of special grants the students voted to give us) and keeps cutting state contributions.

    I complain about the ways we spend money, on athletics, more administrators, but we spend in response to pressures (or perceived pressures), especially from accreditors and the state legislature.

  3. Definitely a clear case of "Excellence without Money." How easy it is for administrators to envision a big shift, pour resources into recruitment and then expect faculty to provide a new level of support without anything besides a dubiously-useful workshop!

  4. Anonymous5:49 PM

    With that many students, has the university considered a separate comp for international students, perhaps with placement to be guided by a TOEFL score? Of course, to do this well also costs money, unless you already have a few instructors who are well qualified to teach composition for second-language learners. Here's the CCCC statement on second-language writing:

    I have often found international students to be easier in certain ways and harder in others--e.g., they're often more conscientious and in some ways better prepared than US-born students, but they make non-native-speaker mistakes that are specific to whatever their first language is, so marking and instruction have to be very individualized.

  5. We get them in our comp classes after they've either passed the TEOFL or another test, or been through the intensive campus program.

    Our local students here are pretty conscientious, overall, and willing to work, so the international students don't stand out for those qualities compared to the local students. (This quality is something that faculty at international programs comment on about our students.)

  6. Our population includes a very high number of (local) students who speak a language other than English at home, which has always placed significant burdens on our writing program. Now that the fancier campuses in our system are recruiting lots of international students, they are facing some of the same challenges. Of course they get out of stare tuition to help them pay for extra instructors.