Sunday, September 04, 2011

Welcome to the New World: a First Look

Fascinating piece up at The Washington Monthly about a topic on which I was almost entirely ignorant --"Western Governors' University," and in particular its position as a challenge (as the reporter describes it) to the for-profits--Phoenix, Kaplan and suchlike.  Interesting all the way around (are the for-profits really so far into the dumper?--I never knew).  But perhaps most interesting is their personality-hook story: the lead-in personal account meant to humanize the abstractions  In truth his story is only loosely linked to the larger WGU story but it is fascinating in its own right.  Indeed, if you want to get a sense of what the new world looks like, I think you could do worse than consider this guy: one John Robinson of Woonsocket, RI, third-shift emergency medical tech, but also the home-schooling stay-at-home parent of what sounds like an, ahem, challenging youngster: 
“I was starting to feel the burnout,” he recalls, citing what is widely held to be an inevitable fact of life for emergency medical workers. He was desperate to climb out of his job. The problem was that there was no clear next rung on the ladder for him to reach for. Robinson’s career had been a series of false starts. After serving as a military policeman during the first Gulf War, he’d studied criminal justice at a local community college for a while, then decided it wasn’t for him. He earned his EMT certification—a relatively quick credential—a couple of years later. Fully aware that ambulance work wasn’t really “a lifelong career kind of thing,” Robinson set his sights on a nursing degree, going so far as to earn all the academic prerequisites. But then, just before he pulled David out of school, Robinson ran aground in the great sand trap of contemporary American public higher education: due to a shortage of instructors, there was a two-and-a-half-year waiting list for the nursing program at his local community college. Other state schools, he heard, had wait lists as well. The system was maxed out. As Robinson’s name inched slowly up the rolls— and as he continued his routine of homeschooling by day and sirens by night—he and his wife started to discuss a new idea. For years, he had been working with kids in his spare time: at a Sunday school, in martial arts lessons, in an afterschool program for children in public housing projects. And now, with his son, Robinson seemed to be making real progress. It was a giant leap—but what if he became a teacher? Better yet, what if he specialized in teaching kids like David, kids who needed special ed? By all accounts, the country was in dire need of such teachers, and the job promised security and solid benefits, perks he had always lacked as an EMT. With newfound resolve, Robinson began his search for a degree program in special education. And for the first time in his life, he didn’t look to a nearby state college.
..and then, and only then, do we  move on to WGU.  On the face of things, you've got to admire this guys' grit and perseverance--and savor the irony that about the only opportunities available to him are those rooted in coping with social dysfunction--and that even here, he has to scramble and claw over obstacles just to find his place.   Good luck to him, I say, and I hope the hopeful representation of WGU in the rest of the piece is at least half as true as the author present it.

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

I find it amazing (or, in English, dubious) that the bottleneck for the nursing program was "a shortage of instructors." Most of us who are looking for academic work find that there are too many applicants for each position. And that's not likely to be much different in the Woonsocket area, given the mass of hospitals nearby, not to mention proximity to Providence.

Now, if they said the issue was space, lab equipment, or similar, then it would be more believable. But the idea that a Community College less than 15 miles outside of Providence cannot find qualified teaching staff for a nursing program seems ludicrous.

There are many a "sand trap of contemporary American public higher education," but lack of qualified faculty isn't one of them.