Moral of the story: UNCG students leave me in awe! You should try to recruit them for jobs and/or graduate school! (with a forward)
I had this post on LinkedIn and it has been far more "popular" than I expected. So, I posted it below as a blog. The Introductory comments are just some thoughts that I have as UNCG tries to adjust to a future of fewer students. The introductory comments are longer than the actual blog post. But, neither are that long.
Introduction to blog post (this was not posted in Linked In)
UNCG students remind me everyday of what higher education can mean and the challenges that students are willing to overcome just to be in school. Students also remind me everyday that they are not customers purchasing 120 credit hours (or more) to get a piece of paper in the same way they purchase an automobile or items on Amazon (as consulting firms like rpk seem to assume). They are investing their trust, effort (and perseverance and resilience) and money in the university to propel them into a meaningful and successful future.
The revenue model for universities like UNCG is tied to selling credit hours. But, that is not what students are buying. My intuition is that once a university succumbs to the idea that the revenue model of selling undifferentiated credit hours is the university mission, then being sucked into the black hole of a death spiral is not far away. I mean, if competition for students is high, and if students are investing in a university for their future, not buying credit hours;, then it is hard to imagine they will favor an institution that sells credit hours more efficiently, but would rather select an institution with the greatest likelihood of propelling them into meaningful and successful (their definition) lives.
I don't say this to minimize the challenge that there is too much academic capacity for to few students. And, I am not afraid of change in a university. I am afraid, however, of a university forgetting that it only exists to do three things: propel graduates to meaningful and successful lives; produce research, scholarship, and creative activities that matter to their field and to people; and, for public universities, improving lives in their local, regional and statewide community. Every decision regarding the allocation of every resource (including time-time is not free and infinite) should be laser focused on those three outcomes. I believe that if they are (as opposed to selling credit hours most efficiently, or focusing on tangential issues like athletics for schools with a small following), the the right change can happen to lead to fiscal sustainability.
The introduction is longer than the blog post. Sorry. But, the anecdote below and the literally 100s of other stories I have heard about the lives of UNCG's students make me worry even more about whether UNCG stays a mission driven institution. Many UNCG students overcome obstacles that I couldn't have imagined as an undergraduate. They truly are investing their lives in this institution. And, in general, UNCG has a faculty that teach here because supporting students with so much grit, determination, perseverance and resilience helps create a meaningful life for us.
[On a different note, given what so many UNCG students overcome to be here, I don't understand how we can morally ask them to pay 87% ($11,000,000) of the athletics department budget to compete in division 1 sports, when less than $3,000,000 goes financially support student athletes with a significantly more going to coaches salaries. That however is another question. And, it doesn't matter what I think. All I wish is that it should matter what students think and that they should be explicitly asked without being spun. I don't know what the student below thinks, but I would be shocked if the student has any time to attend a division 1 athletic event. I also suspect, if given a choice, the student would prefer to be able to keep two weeks of their pay to help them overcome their obstacles to being at UNCG, than the little benefit that division sports brings to UNCG in comparison to other division 1 schools in NC.]
University of North Carolina at Greensboro students always leave me in awe as I get to know them. I had a long conversation today with a student who works 20+ hours week at a tough job, has responsibility for taking care of grandparents, takes a full load of courses and does well (and is very smart), and does not own a car so has to arrange rides everywhere. The person is positive about overcoming a challenge that two key courses on our program are only offered in the middle of the morning during the peak time of job work. The person is truly dedicated to my class, too.
When I talk to the many students at UNCG who have so much perseverance, resilience and "grit", the students are so humble. This particular student responded to my saying that I was in awe by saying, "it's OK , I know others at UNCG have it worse". And, of course the person, along every other UNCG student I have met overcoming these challenging circumstances are the nicest, grounded, unentitled, empathetic and good people.
I try to coach them that they excel in traits that employers want the most - resilience, drive, perseverance, grit and being "unentitled" such that they simply do what needs to be done, never acting like something is below them. But, they just see the conditions of their life as their life. I know I would have never had the career I have had, if I had to overcome the challenges that so many UNCG students just bust through to get through college. But, because of their challenges they don't have the same number of experiences like study abroad or summers of research work to put on their resume like students from wealthier backgrounds or from more elite schools..
It is hard for students to weave a story of resilience and perseverance, partly because they see the challenges they have overcome in academe to be normal, and partly because they do not want to appear as if they are telling a sob story or trying to win you over with emotion. So, when you meet them or interview them, please be curious. I have been blown away by their stories. I think many of you will be, too.
I think when all of us read job letters and CVs, accomplishments (awards, papers, etc) and experiences often draw our attention. UNCG students have that, too, What can get lost in this kind of review is the intelligence, grit, determination, resilience, perseverance and ability to be part of team without expecting recognition for anything. I truly think the world of pretty much all of the several hundred UNCG students I have taught since returning to the faculty in 2021.