Higher Education

4 tips for balancing an education and a full-time job

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A guest column by Brooke Chaplan

According to a 2011 survey, 71% of college undergraduates retained a job while they focused on their degree. Of these, 2 out of 5 worked at least 20 hours a week, and 1 in 5 managed at least 35 hours.

Of course, these statistics don’t accurately portray the difficulty for maintaining both a career and education. Between the two, you have to spend time hitting the books and the showers, reading the latest essays and taking in your boss’ memos and emails.

At times, you may feel as though you never have time to eat or sleep, let alone socialize with friends and family. So what can you do meet all of your obligations, despite your busy schedule?

Save Time through Online Courses

While pursuing a degree often requires you spend at least a few hours in the classroom, many degrees allow you to take online courses at your convenience. With an online course, you can still acquire your necessary credits to graduate, but can do so in the early morning before your shift, or in the few minutes you have on your lunch break. There are also full-time options available like the New England College masters of public policy online, and criminal justice degrees from other institutions.

Apply for Financial Aid

You likely spend a lot of your time simply earning enough money for food and groceries. Any extra funds you have then go toward textbooks and tuition. But what if you could cut some of your tuition costs? Plenty of financial aid programs will cover the cost of your schooling, so you can spend more time reading textbooks than working to buy textbooks. If you need help paying for college, fill out a FAFSA application or talk to your school’s financial aid counselor for additional resources.

Cook Your Meals All at Once

When you have to get up early to drive to campus, and then drive across town to make it to your afternoon shift, you might not have a lot of time to cook your own meals. But don’t spend your hard-earned money on fast food! If you prepare all your meals at once, you can save money on meals and still enjoy healthy fruits and vegetables.

To start, wash and cut fruits and vegetables as soon as you come home from the grocery store. Separate your key ingredients into easy-to-grab bags that you can pop in the oven, or dump in the slow cooker after school or work. Make each meal large enough that you can use the leftovers for your lunch the following day or freeze them for quick heat ups during the week.

Don’t Procrastinate Your Assignments

When you find a gap in your schedule, you may want to use those few extra minutes to take a nap or play some video games, but don’t get too comfortable just yet! Any extra time you have should go toward finishing assignments early. Have an essay due in a month? Start gathering research. Don’t have to write that report until next week? Jot down a rough draft anyway. By working on your assignments long in advance, you give yourself an extra cushion of time should your work schedule shift and you have to take extra hours.


With these four tips and tricks, you’ll have an easier time juggling your education and your job without the hassle or added fuss.


Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening.

3 Initiatives Designed to Help Minorities Succeed in College

It seems that graduating from high school is no longer the end goal of P-12 learning – earning a college degree has replaced it. By 2018, 60 percent of jobs will require a college degree. On Monday, I wrote about the nationwide average high school graduation rate being 80 percent – which is admirable but also means that at least 1 in 5 kids won’t make it to college classes. When you factor in the high school graduates that bypass college completely, it seems that at some point America’s workforce will simply not be able to meet the demands of its employers. When it comes to minorities who graduate high school and are ready for the rigor of college coursework, numbers are bleak.

A new report from the College of Education at the University of Arizona found that less than 1 in 10 minority high school graduates in the state are adequately prepared for college. Non-minority students are not much better off though, with only 2 in 10 prepared for college after graduating from high school. A rise over the past 15 years in minority students in elementary and high school in state, as well as economic disparities between students of color and their white peers, are cited in the study as drivers behind the high school graduation-college readiness gap.

There are several methods that have been proposed to help minorities have better access to education. Here are just three of them.

  1. College scorecards and higher affordability. In 2014, Obama proposed the implementation of a rating system that would provide the general public with greater details about the total cost, graduation rates and alumni earnings of individual colleges and universities.

The program has since been nixed thanks to opposition from lawmakers and university heads, but the idea was that students choosing schools with higher ratings would have more access to Pell Grants and affordable loan programs. The plan was twofold in nature – first, getting more useful information into the hands of consumers and second, providing better affordability for young people who seek out higher education.

The rising cost of a college degree has been a concern of the Obama administration throughout both terms in the White House. College graduates in 2010 left their schools with an average of $26,000 in debt, leading to higher student loan debt in America than credit card debt. In order to reach his goal of leading the world in percentage of college graduates by 2020, Obama has been vocal about lowering the cost of the college process and providing more targeted, useful programs that address the needs of the economy.

This new “college scorecard” proposal was meant to one more step in that direction. Like public K-12 schools, colleges would be held more accountable by the federal government and would be compared to each other through data that truly matters.

Numerous publications claim to have the perfect formula in place for ranking the “best colleges and universities” based on a variety of factors but none are officially sanctioned by the government. The President’s ranking plan would avoid the fluff of other rating systems and address the core of educational matters: cost, graduation success and chances for achievement in the career that follows. These are the real stats that all students, whether recent high school graduates or those returning to campus for the first time in a few decades, need to make informed decisions.

In terms of minority students, the college ranking plan would have been beneficial. Though minority college student numbers are rising, 61 percent of college students in 2010 were considered Caucasian in comparison to just 14 percent Black students, 13 percent Hispanic students and 6 percent Asian or Pacific Islander students. Based on these statistics alone, minority students are at a disadvantage when it comes to attending and graduating from college. Every student situation is different but the cost of college and accompanying loan interest rates certainly play into the unbalanced collective college population.

This idea will not be implemented, but it’s still easy to see how a rankings system that effectively provides more grant money and more affordable loan options to students will make the dream of a college education a reality to more minorities. As more first-generation minorities attend colleges, choosing schools with high graduation rates (many of which likely have strong guidance policies in place) and good job placement will mean more career successes.

  1. Online class offerings. Each year online learning initiatives become less of a fringe movement and more of an incorporated, and accepted, form of education. More than 6.7 million people took at least one online class in the fall of 2011 and 32 percent of college students now take at least one online course during their matriculation. It is even becoming commonplace for high schools to require all students to take an online class before graduation as a way to prep them for the “real world” of secondary education.

The flexibility and convenience of online learning is well known but what is not as readily talked about is the way distance education promotes diversity of the college population. With less red tape than the traditional college format, online students are able to earn credits while still working full time, maintaining families and dealing with illnesses. Whether students take just one course remotely, or obtain an entire degree, they are able to take on the demands of college life more readily – leading to student population with more variety.

The Babson Survey Research Group recently revealed that while online college student enrollment is on the rise, traditional colleges and universities saw their first drop in enrollment in the ten years the survey has been conducted. This drop is small – less than a tenth of one percent – but its significance is big. A trend toward the educational equality of online curriculum is being realized by students, institutions and employers across the board. The benefits of a college education through quality online initiatives are now becoming more accessible to students that simply cannot commit to the constraints of a traditional campus setting.

  1. Free community college. During his sixth State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spelled out a proposal that would offer two years of community college for free to any student that wanted to take advantage of it. Once enrolled, these students would need to maintain a 2.5 grade-point average, stay enrolled at least half time and be on track to graduate on time to keep receiving the tuition-free access.

This program would, essentially, make the first two years of a college education a basic American right – aligning it with universal access to a K-12 (and even pre-K in some states) education. Of course there would be some requirements for having access to that right and it would not be mandatory, but the basic premise would be the same: free higher education for any American student.

Arguably this plan helps everyone in the long run. More Americans with access to a college education means a stronger economy and less college debt means more money in the pockets of college graduates that they can then pump back into that economy. Proponents of the plan say that it will particularly help minorities when it comes to college attendance because it removes the cost barrier that tends to discourage these groups from enrolling.

What do you think are some other initiatives that will help make more individuals from minority groups ready for college?

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

Will a college education guarantee higher wages?

The Obama Administration’s College Scorecard is kind of the gift that continues to give. It gives prospective students, and their parents, the ability to compare schools without having to fully visit too many colleges.

Another fantastic win from the scorecard is that we are provided with an idea of how well students do financially after they’ve graduated.

According to an article via Hamptonroads.com, the scorecard “tracks salaries 10 years after the freshman year.” The good news? Student salaries used for the purpose of the article range from $34,000 to $56,000. The bad news? Salaries all depend on a student’s major.

But that’s not really bad news as someone with a degree in finance is likely to make more than a student who chooses a career path in journalism.

The economy also plays a major role in determining one’s salary. Some companies constrict employment, increase employee production, and fail to produce salary increases because of how tight its bottom line becomes due to the state of the economy.

Even with those deciding factors, college graduates still make more than that of those with just high school diplomas. Most companies still prefer a college graduate compared to someone who just has a G.E.D. or high school diploma. A college degree won’t guarantee that you are wealthy, but it should help you live a more comfortable life than if you didn’t have it at all. Now if we could just get the pursuit of those college degrees to be a little more affordable in the first place, we’d really have something.

That statistic isn’t likely to change anytime soon, and students should still strive for a college education to maximize their lifetime earning potential.

Should higher education be bundled, or unbundled?

A guest column by Chris Mayer

Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on the Association of American Colleges & Universities.

Higher education today faces many challenges, including lower than desired completion rates, the high cost and resulting debt associated with attaining a degree, and low educational quality that leaves many graduates unprepared for the workforce and employers disappointed with their abilities.

One approach to these challenges currently receiving a lot of attention is the “unbundling” of college degrees, in which students complete only those courses or develop those skills needed to acquire competencies for employment.

At the same time that unbundling college degrees is gaining momentum, many campuses are bundling curricula even more tightly in order to integrate learning and provide students with a more coherent experience. These efforts are underway to help students make intentional connections between different disciplines and experiences, which will enable them to bring a broad range of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and frameworks to bear on the complex problems they face as students and will face as employees and citizens. Bundled education promotes success in today’s world, as the issues and problems people encounter are too complex to be addressed with one discipline or a set of discrete technical skills. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching are supporters of bundled education. AAC&U’s LEAP Challenge pushes for all college and universities to engage their students with assignments that require them to integrate their learning from across disciplines to address real-world challenges.

While advocates of unbundled and bundled education both make strong cases for their approaches, it is essential that unbundled education not be considered a substitute for or equivalent to bundled education.

The promise of unbundled education is that it provides students the option to select and complete courses based on the competencies they need to acquire and succeed in particular jobs— without the debt associated with attaining a degree. Completion rates for unbundled courses would likely be higher than completion rates for traditional degrees, which require several years of progressively advanced work to complete, and the quality of many unbundled courses could be high since they narrowly focus on promoting a specific competency. It should be noted, however, that there has been some criticism of the quality of these courses. This will have to be addressed if unbundled education is to be a viable option.

On the other hand, those working to bundle education are seeking to create coherence for students by integrating learning across curricula and, in many cases, cocurricular experiences. The goal is for students to no longer view courses and experiences as discrete events; instead, integrated curricula connect courses and experiences and seek to develop students’ ability to employ multiple disciplinary perspectives and skills. Integrated curricula require students to remember and practice what they previously learned and to apply their skills and knowledge in new contexts. To accomplish this, integrative curricula are often organized around themes or problems, or they may focus on progressively more advanced development of skills like communication or critical thinking. Some institutions are developing interdisciplinary majors and attempting to reduce or even eliminate disciplinary boundaries through organizational restructuring. Arizona State University’s aspiration to fuse intellectual disciplines is one example.

Another advantage of bundled education cited by its advocates is that it is best suited to address employers’ dissatisfaction with college graduates’ abilities. Numerous surveys highlight this dissatisfaction or identify the most essential employee skills required for the workforce. Communication, teamwork, and problem solving are usually at or near the top of lists of skills valued by employers and, as noted above, bundled education promotes these skills by integrating opportunities for students to develop them across curricular and co-curricular programs. Surveys conducted by AAC&U and the National Association of Colleges highlight employers’ views on these skills.

What role, then, should unbundled education play in higher education? Low completion rates, high costs, and low quality are all serious issues; however, it is important to understand the limitations of unbundled education compared to what a degree can offer, especially a degree that integrates learning. These limitations suggest that the two approaches (bundled and unbundled education) reflect a difference in kind rather than a difference in degree (no pun intended), and this distinction should be kept in mind when considering the future role of unbundled education.

Unbundled education views students as consumers and curriculum designers. Students determine what competencies they need to achieve their employment goals. They then find courses that promote these competencies, enroll in these courses, and complete them. Students repeat these steps until they are employable. Employees might complete additional unbundled courses to assist with a job change, make promotion more likely, or in response to identified weakness.

This places a lot of responsibility on students to determine what they need from their education, and it is difficult to imagine many being able to put together a coherent curricular plan. Even those who have this ability, or have assistance, will need to be able to design a curriculum that addresses their needs in an economically efficient manner based on a very accurate assessment of their needs for a job they do not yet have. Furthermore, given the rate of change in today’s technology-driven global economy, there is no guarantee these jobs will require the same skills, or even exist in the same form, by the time students’ complete their coursework.

Advocates for bundled education agree with employers about the importance of skills such as communication, problem solving, and teamwork, which is why many institutions already have student learning goals aligned with these skills, and why they are turning to bundled education to better promote them. Therefore, advocates for unbundled education will have to demonstrate how well a single course promotes the skills necessary for employment compared to a curriculum and cocurriculum that are integrated and designed to support student attainment of the same skills.

Unbundled education seems too narrowly focused given that the work environment is not unbundled: employees address problems, work in teams, and communicate in complex and messy contexts. These contexts often require employees to draw on knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines and experiences, which enables them to recognize nuance and successfully address problems they encounter. This seems to make a single, or even multiple, problem-solving or communication courses insufficient preparation for the workforce. Employees with degrees will have foundational knowledge, disciplinary skills, and problem-solving experience that employees who completed only unbundled courses will not have.

Even if advocates of unbundled education are right, much will be lost if significant numbers of students forgo bundled degrees. In addition to preparing students for the workforce, bundled education develops informed citizens and educated people who have encountered some of the most significant ideas of the past, present, and future; it also prepares and (hopefully) inspires them to continue learning. While specific skill training may prepare students for their current jobs, a bundled education prepares students for jobs that do not yet exist.

Although there is still a lot of work to be done to refine integrated curricula and demonstrate their value, these efforts have the potential to help students become even better communicators, thinkers, and team members who bring rich perspectives and diverse skills to the workforce and their communities.

Both bundled and unbundled will likely have a role in the future of higher education; however, it is important to be realistic about what each can achieve. Even if unbundled education is a helpful innovation, it should not be seen as a replacement for the bundled curricula offered by traditional college degree programs.


Chris Mayer is the associate dean for Strategy, Policy, and Assessment and Academy Professor of Philosophy at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. You can find him on Twitter at @ChrisMayer_WP.

Higher Accountability for College Dropout Rates

There are a lot of metrics in place that gauge the effectiveness of P-12 schooling in the U.S. and shine a particularly bright light on public schools, particularly when they are failing students. Dropout rates are just one of the factors taken into account when these numbers are calculated and tend to weigh heavily on the schools and districts who have low percentages. The same does not seem to be true once the high school years pass though. Compared to P-12 institutions, colleges and universities seemingly get a pass when it comes to college dropout rates – perhaps because in the past, higher education was considered more of a privilege and less of a right. A college dropout was simply walking away from the assumed higher quality of life that came with the degree, but still had opportunity to excel without it.

That’s not the case anymore. As of 2013, 17.5 million students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities.  More than ever, colleges and universities have a responsibility to not simply admit students, but ensure they are guided properly to graduation. In other words, institutions of higher education should not be able to just take their student’s money and say “good luck.” They should provide the tools necessary for students to successfully achieve a college education and anticipate the issues that could prevent that.

Authors Ben Miller and Phuong Ly discussed the issue of the U.S. colleges with the worst graduation rates in their book College Dropout Factories. Within the pages, the authors encouraged educators at all levels to acknowledge that colleges and universities should share responsibility for successful or failing graduation rates, and that the institutions with the worst rates should be shut down. Perhaps the most terrifying suggestion in the book (for colleges and universities) was that public institutions with low graduation rates would be subjected to reduced state funding.

The book was written based on findings from Washington Monthly that ranked the U.S. schools with the lowest six-year graduation rates among colleges and universities, including public ones like the University of the District of Columbia (8%), Haskell Indian Nations University (9%), Oglala Lakota College (11%), Texas Southern University (13%) and Chicago State University (13%). These stats were published in 2010 so they are not the most current available but a quick scan of the University of the District Columbia’s official page shows graduation rate numbers through the end of the 2003 – 2004 school year. The past nine years are nowhere to be found. The school boasts 51.2 percent underrepresented minorities in the study body, including 47 percent that are Black – but what good are those numbers if these students are not actually benefitting from their time in college because they receive no degree?

In the case of Chicago State University, the latest statistics show some improvement from the 2010 ones. The six-year graduation rate is up to 21 percent – but the transfer-out rate is nearly 30 percent. The school has 92 percent underrepresented minorities that attend – 86 percent who are black and 70 percent who are female – but again, what good does any of that do if these traditionally disadvantaged students are not graduating?

In all cases of college dropout factories, the P-12 institutions chalk up a victory on their end. They graduated the students and also saw them accepted into a college. What happens after that is between the students and their higher education choices.

This, to me, is a problem. The accountability for student success extends beyond the years that they are in P-12 classrooms. Graduation from high school, and acceptance into college, should never be the final goal of P-12 educators. That is not a victory. That is only halftime.

As far as the colleges and universities are concerned, higher accountability should be demanded from educators, students, parents and really any Americans that want the best economy and highest-educated population. Public institutions, in particular, should be subject to restructuring or take over if dropout rates are too high. The lack of delivery on the college degree dream at many of these schools is appalling, frankly, and has gone on long enough.

What do you think an accountability system for colleges should look like when it comes to dropout rates?


Diverse Conversations: 5 Questions For Securing the Perfect Internship

You may think that the cold of winter is too early to start thinking about summer internships, but the competition for placement is already heating up. Companies have already begun accepting applications for summer, and as a result, students vying for top spots need to start preparing now. This can be easier said than done, as students have more choices, but also greater competition.

For this week’s installment of “Diverse Conversations,” I interviewed L.J. Brock, Vice President, Talent Acquisition and People Infrastructure at Red Hat. L.J. and I discussed Red Hat’s internship program and the 5 questions he says all interns should ask to increase their options and make sure they secure the best opportunity to drive their future.

Q: How has today’s young workforce changed from the workforce of, for example, 10 years ago?

A: The workforce of today, as a whole, has the same attitude that the startup workforce had 10 years ago. There’s a lot of confidence and willingness to take chances. People want to make their marks at a company and be recognized for the amount of work they put in and I think jobseekers are looking for a job they care about, doing work that excites them, at a company whose mission they can believe in. It’s really competitive, especially in the technology industry. The stigma of moving from job to job is gone and people don’t feel they have to pay their dues in order to move up. Everyone is looking for, and finding, what they want, now.

Q: Is there any particular type of environment that college graduates expect when they enter the workforce? For example, do they expect companies to be open to their ideas, or is it just a matter of “come in and do your job?”

A: The main things that attract people, including college graduates, to Red Hat are our environment and culture. The ability to make an impact and see that impact on day one is paramount and I think a lot of these jobseekers are over the idea of “just doing a job” and going home. They want to influence. They want to be recognized. And they want to do this on a grand scale, no matter their title and time in the job. Red Hat has always operated as a meritocracy – your ideas really matter here and the best ideas will rise to the top. It’s how we work in developing software and it’s how our company moves forward– through our people, their hard work, and their ideas.

Q: What should the ultimate goal of the internship be? Gain knowledge? Get a better idea of what the working world is like? Get a job at the company you’re interning at?

A: When it comes to our internship program, we treat these students as peers. We’ve been operating this program for over 10 years and while the size and scope has certainly grown, the idea of how it works has stayed the same. The goal, of course, is to find young talent and get them in the door. We show them the opportunities that Red Hat offers and they’re given the chance to come in and experience our culture and to work on projects that matter. There’s no benefit in having these intelligent people come in and work on imaginary problems or push papers around– we want them solving real problems and getting real experience they can use no matter where they end up. We want them to make an impact. The ultimate goal is to have them continue on with Red Hat, but it takes a lot of initiative, a cultural fit, and the ability to adapt to change. We love the idea of hiring interns because they already understand our mission and what it takes to succeed at Red Hat.

Q: Can you provide some background on Red Hat’s internship program?

A: Our internship program has been around for over 10 years and keeps growing in size and to new geographies. We work to identify the best and brightest college students, usually in their junior or senior years, and bring them in to work on various teams across Red Hat. We’ve had interns in engineering, finance, human resources, marketing, legal, design, and customer support in the past, and we work to expose them to other areas of the organization for a multi-disciplinary look into what it is to be a Red Hatter. They get hands-on meetings with our executives and participate in many activities geared toward giving them the full Red Hat experience in just a few short months.

Q: Why is it important for applicants to start applying to internships so early in the year? And, how has this process changed over the past several years?

A: There’s not just a huge amount of competition out there for talent, but also for jobs and internships. Students should get the earliest possible jump on an internship to give themselves the longest period of time to find the right fit. The job they may want will not be there forever, so getting in early is key. We’re looking to fill these open jobs and if we don’t know about the candidate and their abilities, there’s no guarantee. Job fairs also take place early in the school year and that’s another great way to find out about what is offered and for the students to, in some cases, meet the person hiring for specific roles. This has changed somewhat over the years as internships are no longer an add-on for a company’s strategy. It’s become an integral key in how they find and hire talent.

Q: In a past interview I conducted with Dr. Lynn C. Owens, Associate Professor of Communication, William Peace University, Raleigh, NC, she reported that research shows students are not as prepared as they should be for the workforce. How can initiatives like Red Hat’s internship program help shift those statistics?

A: Knowledge is power, but experience is what gets you hired. Red Hat believes that the key to having a young workforce succeed is to get them the experience they need as soon as possible. And that’s real-world experience. Internships should be all about learning how to take your knowledge and apply it in a professional setting. Internships are also about making yourself an asset to employers, so we hope that as internships as a whole become more serious and focused, we will see some of these statistics around preparedness improve.

Q: So, you mention there are 5 questions all intern applicants should consider if they make it to an in-person interview. What are those questions and why are they important?

A: Always remember that you’re not the only one being questioned. The employer is also being interviewed by you, so find out as much about the job as they are finding out about you:

1) What kinds of projects would I be working on? Make sure this internship aligns with your career goals and builds on the knowledge and skills you’ve already gained. If there’s not a clear set of goals for your time at the company, that may be a red flag that you should look elsewhere.

2) What would a typical day look like? This will help you decide whether the environment and work is for you. Internships run the gamut from major learning opportunities to extreme grunt work. Know what you’re getting into.

3) Are there regular activities for the interns outside of normal work? Many companies, including Red Hat, have a full-fledged intern program that include activities such as volunteering, seminars, ballgames, cook-outs, and the like. These can be valuable in meeting new people, executives, and other hiring managers from around the company.

4) What do you like most about working here? Learning about the company’s culture and work experience can help you determine whether it’s a good fit for you.

5) Have you stayed in contact with previous interns? Ideally, the employer can reference past interns that now work there full time. In addition, it’s a good sign if that individual can think of interns who have moved on to interesting roles within the company or in other highly regarded companies.

We would like to thank L.J. Brock for taking the time to speak to us.

Growing the Next Generation of Data Scientists

Note: Today’s guest post comes to us courtesy of Sriram Mohan, an associate professor of computer science and software engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, Ind. 

Data, more than ever before is the lifeblood of every organization. From media companies to retail stores, data allows organizations to differentiate themselves from the competition. Whether used in market research or in cost reduction efforts, organizations must leverage data to be competitive, and for the most part, they now enjoy access to all the data anyone could ever need.

What most organizations today don’t have ready access to are data scientists who are trained to turn all of their data into actionable insights. Gartner predicts that by 2015, about 4.4 million data science jobs will be available, and only a third of them will be filled. Is there a shortage of people with the requisite combination of programming, data management skills and statistical and mathematical ability?

Yes.  Can we in academia develop more of those people? Absolutely. But we are going to need the help of industry to accomplish that.

As universities nationwide define and create new undergraduates and graduate data science programs, industry can help to make our programs more interesting and relevant for students. We will also benefit from greater access to industry data sets and the latest Big Data technologies.

Data science, by its nature, is abstract, making it difficult to attract initial student interest. But in the real world, data science is applied in many concrete, exciting ways that we can bring into our classrooms. The perceived gap between academia and industry is why I took a sabbatical this past year to work with Avalon Consulting, a Big Data consultancy headquartered near Dallas.

The experience has proved invaluable, however, most, if not all, of what I learned came through hands-on experience in developing solutions. To make data science concepts more interesting and tangible for students, we should provide them with similar hands-on opportunities. To that end, companies should organize contests for students that allow them to work on actual problems with real industry data sets (similar to the Netflix Prize). My university offers students a capstone project that challenges them to solve real-world problems provided through organizations such as Avalon and the U.S. Armed Forces. Such Partnerships are a good start, but to educate data scientists, we need to do more.

Academia needs to stay up to date with the latest Big Data tool chains. Those ecosystems are evolving rapidly, but most of the development happens on the industry side – so much so that academia often finds itself left behind. If we want our students to be aware of the latest changes when they graduate, we must foster a better exchange of technological knowledge between academics and industry.

Industry typically uses summer internships to expose students to the latest technologies. Such experiences could be extended to faculty as well. My colleagues at Rose-Hulman used industry experiences in the past to stay current in technologies such as Google web frameworks, Android development and other programming languages.

Longer- term experiences, such as my training sabbatical, should also be considered. My experience led directly to development of new courses in Hadoop and modern database paradigms. The time I spent working in the ever-changing world of Hadoop and NoSQL databases at Avalon was critical to those courses’ development. Given the rapid pace at which Big Data technologies are now advancing, it is imperative that academia and industry find additional ways to collaborate to better prepare our students for the workplace.

Once our students enjoy greater access to industry data sets and the latest Big Data technologies, we can bring more real-world problems, solutions and stories into the classroom and generate greater interest in data science. The future for these students is bright, but industry collaboration is required to fully meet its demands.



Beyond Athletics: Three Other Ways to Recruit Minority College Students

We’ve all heard the fairytale stories before: a minority kid from a tough neighborhood gets a shot at a college career because he or she is recruited for a particular sport. Not only do these athletes get to show off their physical talent, but they get a college degree and a more promising future in the process. Listen, I’m all for athletes landing athletic scholarships if it means that more minority college students earn a college degree. But I also know that stories like these, while intentionally heartwarming and media friendly, do not represent the vast majority of minorities with college aspirations. Athletes get a lot of the attention, but if colleges and universities are truly committed to diverse populations of students then they need to put the steps in place to make it easier for all minorities to earn a college degree.

A few of the areas where I think universities could improve on minority programs and recruitment include:

Arts recruiting.

Just as scouts go out and recruit the best basketball or football players for teams, the same should happen with minority students who show promise in the arts. Theater, musical performance, sculpting, painting, film studies and even creative writing – minority students who have talent in these areas should be given attention and invited to college programs. Why arts programs over more practical careers in STEM or healthcare? Minority students with arts passions often feel forced to abandon them in favor of immediate jobs or things that are simply not their passions. Arts careers are considered “silly” for white peers, but almost irresponsible for minority students. This should change and colleges should take the lead on it.

Mentorship programs.

There are some minority students who come from a home where one or both parents are college graduates but those odds are lower than their white peers. All first-generation college students face different challenges and expectations than those for whom college acceptance, success and graduation has always been expected. During the recruiting process, colleges should tout their mentorships programs and make sure minority and first-generation students are aware of the support they will receive when they decide to attend. As much as possible, these mentorship programs should work on matching students based on race, gender and career industry – though aligning all of that is admittedly difficult. Using the same mentor for several students is an option. Particularly in the case of minority students, mentors are generally overjoyed to be able to help a young person succeed. Colleges just need to be asking for that help and then expressing that it exists to their potential minority students.

Creative financial aid.

College is expensive and for students who have to pay for it on their own while supporting themselves, it can be overwhelming. There are no shortage of loans that students can take out to help finance their college careers, but saddling them with debt before they even set foot in the work world can be a recipe for disaster. Colleges that truly want a diverse population of students who succeed after graduation should look into adding more minority scholarships. The “pay it forward” college payment system that is implemented in certain states like Oregon should be considered for wider adoption, especially when it comes to attracting minority and first-generation students to college campuses. College does not need to be completely free in order for more minorities to attend and graduate. It does need to be affordable, though, and that takes some thinking out the normal financial aid box.

Athletes who earn college degrees are certainly inspirational but they are only a small portion of the minorities who want the type of education a college or university can provide. If we really want equality on our college campuses then it will take more than touting the success of our minority football, basketball and track stars. We need to find ways to translate that same success across interests and disciplines, and to give those students the support they need to truly succeed. Part of that process is to make college more affordable for all students. Another piece of that puzzle is targeting areas that are often overshadowed by athletics, like the arts. By understanding the true picture of what potential minority college students are like, colleges and universities can get more of them on campus or enrolling online.

How do you think more minority college students can be recruited?

Why Colleges Need Athletes as Minority Mentors

When it comes to getting more minorities into college, and then graduating them, there are a lot of different ideas out there. Stronger high school recruiting, better guidance programs for first-generation students, and more minority faculty members are just a few of the ways to make college campuses more diverse to the benefit and success of everyone.

Having strong minority role models as mentors is another, and perhaps the most powerful idea of them all. Successful people who look like the students a particular college or university is trying to graduate, and who come from a similar background, can leave a lasting impression and inspire students to similar heights.

One particular group of minority mentors that I feel should be getting even more involved in the minority recruiting and mentorship process are student athletes. Whether still athletes at the school, or alumni, this particular subset of minority mentors should play an important role in graduating other traditionally disadvantaged students.

Maurice Clarett as mentor

One great example of a college-athlete-turned-minority-mentor is The Ohio State University alum Maurice Clarett. The former college running back has taken on a new role as both a cautionary tale, and inspiration, to other young people. If his name sounds familiar, it is because his claim to fame was not just on the football field or as a national champion in the sport. Clarett served four years in prison for aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed weapon. It was behind bars that he started reading up on personal development and ways to grow beyond a delinquent and even ways to rise above his association with being a football star.

Today he talks with other college athletes about things like personal responsibility and being accountable for actions, no matter what their upbringing. Clarett has visited athletes at Alabama, Notre dame, Tennessee and Mississippi State. He recently spoke with the national champion Florida State football team and acknowledged that many minority college athletes come from home environments that leave them “undeveloped” and without the skills needed to function successfully in life. Taking advantage of the resources available on college campuses and determining to be better than life’s circumstances are two lessons that Clarett tries to pass along to the people he mentors.

A story like Clarett’s is so much more powerful than the seemingly-empty warnings from adults on college campuses, many of whom look nothing like the students they are trying to influence and have no shared life experiences. By finding ways to tap into the stories of athletes, colleges can give their students a more impactful way of committing to success.

Mirroring smart mentorship

Traditionally getting into college on an athletic scholarship has been a way that minorities have been able to break onto college campuses, particularly if they came from educational environments that simply did not offer the same resources as advantaged peers. I’d argue that getting these athletes to graduation day is simply not enough; a whole other realm of life skills is needed to ensure that they are successful long after their athletic playing days have passed. When the cheers die down and the attention turns to the more practical things in life, these student athletes need ground to stand on. Pairing them up with mentors, or at the very least bringing in former athletes to share their after-college success stories, is a great way to inspire greatness that lasts a lifetime.

Leadership. Teamwork. Hard work. Earning a “win.” Losing gracefully. All of these are lessons that college athletes know in the context of their respective sports. Translating that to life beyond college can be challenging but can be made much easier with the help of mentors that have a common understanding with the students they address. Schools should make this as much a priority as recruiting minority students to sports and academic programs. Colleges and universities have a responsibility to their students to prepare them for all aspects of life and proper mentorship can be a necessary building block in that process.

How do you think colleges can best mentor minority students?




5 Tips You Can Use to Become an Academic Entrepreneur

More and more academics are recognizing the potential to supplement their income from higher education positions with out-of-the-box projects and schemes. To try and get to grips with the so-called academic entrepreneur, I met with Shonell Bacon, Instructor of Mass Communication at McNeese State University.

In this article, you’ll see some of her tips on understanding the relationship between academia and entrepreneurship—and how you can marry the two concepts together to generate supplementary income.

  1. You can be an academic entrepreneur. Bacon defined “academic entrepreneur” as “someone who knows what their talents are and is able to capitalize on them. They are able to take those qualities that make them excel in the academic arena and apply them to additional revenue streams. They are not necessarily unique; they are just always looking for opportunities. They are broad thinkers with narrow goals and lanes to optimize success for those goals.
  2. The tools you find useful in the academy are also useful in your entrepreneurial ventures. Bacon said, “For me, the biggest advantage to this approach is how I use knowledge from these two worlds, academic and business, to better myself in both worlds. For example, outside of academia, I am an author and an editor. With both, I constantly use my creativity; my knowledge of grammar, structure, and organization; my ability to think outside the box to strengthen my own writing as an author and others’ writing as an editor. When I’m in the classroom, I bring these tools with me. When I’m considering academic research projects, I use my creative, my outside-the- box thinking to explore topics that on the surface might not seem as academic as other topics, but in the end, they are creative endeavors for me that satisfy their academic requirements.”
  3. Online tools and technology are your best friends. “I would probably say that higher education’s embrace of technology, especially with moving some classes online, allows for accommodating entrepreneurship into your career” Bacon said. The use of technology forces educators to think outside the box and figure out how to deliver the same quality education electronically. Bacon recalled her first foray into online teaching and remembered how teaching online made her consider how she might offer her expertise in other areas digitally.

“The minute I had to reconsider and think creatively about my teaching, those same reconsiderations came to me in regards to entrepreneurial endeavors. I also think about the ‘leisure learning’ style courses that are offered at most colleges and universities. Oftentimes, these courses enable academics to make a little money in activities outside of their academic work. For example, I’ve taught leisure learning classes in fiction writing, fiction workshop, and developing projects for submissions. These courses allowed me to blend my teaching qualities with those qualities often exhibited in my entrepreneurial activities. I also think that schools, such as University of Phoenix, those schools that offer credit for “life learning” and business activities and experience suggest that entrepreneurialism–the work we do outside of academia–is important.”

  1. Value your time. “Work doesn’t end because you leave your campus office. With working 60+ hours a week, sometimes more, academics often don’t have the time for entrepreneurial activities, especially if they want to have some life to live while also taking care of home and family. And that time affects them in another way, too, because you have to make time to think on the idea of entrepreneurship: what skills do I have as an academic? How might those skills be useful outside of academia? What non-academic skills do I have? How can I bridge these skills to develop real financial independence through entrepreneurial ventures? There has to be time taken to consider these questions and others before a person can even get to developing the success s/he wants.”
  2. Be part of the revolution. “I definitely think more academics will embrace entrepreneurship,” Bacon said when asked if more academics would become entrepreneurs. “One reason will be out of necessity, say for example, the need for additional money. But others will come to embrace it because we live in such a fluid, technological world where one person can seamlessly move in and through many identities at any one time. Technology, whether it’s the actual device, or the app, or the software, etc., enables us to branch into other arenas, and more academics can take part of entrepreneurship through technology. Because of technology and the ability for an academic to blend multiple identities simultaneously, the field will definitely not only emerge, but also expand. I definitely see this more so for the future as younger academics come into the landscape, particularly those who are digital natives, from birth living with Internet and the many other advances of technology.”

We would like to thank Shonell for sitting down with us.