Monday, October 18, 2010

The Transformation of the American Dream

I made a reference last week that took me back to an increasingly valuable touchstone – John Zogby’s book, The Way We’ll Be. Adults scrapping current careers and coming to MVCC to study in subjects that give them fulfillment beyond a paycheck is part of a tapestry of trends identified through polling by Zogby International and described in his book.

The subtitle of the book is “the transformation of the American dream.”  Based on polling results, it's estimated that one in three of adults in this country is reprioritizing his or her life to focus on the basics, finding value, and leaving the world a little better than they found it. This new segment of society (a subgroup that is continuing to grow) is a significant force that is truly transforming an American dream that has, for many decades, been more about material acquisition and consumption than spiritual and personal fulfillment. In fact, Zogby polling results over the past twenty years describe the trend of people taking intentional pay cuts to work in jobs that bring them less income but more satisfaction and fulfillment than their previous jobs - by 2007, this group comprised twenty-five percent of the American public.

Since the economic downturn in 2008, many people have found themselves working in jobs that paid less than a prior job (or found themselves with no job at all), but not so much by choice.  Likewise, our enrollment growth of nearly twenty percent in the past three years at MVCC has been influenced by the economy.  As I’ve stated before, that enrollment growth also was made possible by improvements in our operational systems – priority registration and increased retention; waitlisting and offering more class sections; hiring more faculty and increased support for adjunct faculty. So with record enrollments and people looking to MVCC like never before, another truth emerges from The Way We’ll Be - people are increasingly seeking value and, as John Zogby writes, “bypassing the sizzle to find the steak.” We can no longer just say, “we’re the best" at what we do and point to an anecdote as proof. The public is increasingly able to assess the extent to which institutional "promises" are delivered - or not! And, as they're able to identify alternatives, they're increasingly taking action based on the information gleaned. If a college says it provides an excellent education, in a personal friendly environment, it had better deliver - or be willing to live with the consequences. Unsubstantiated claims of being "student-centered" or of offering "outstanding academic preparation" can and are being tested broadly. The era of unsubstantiated claim is over and the time of assessment and demonstrated results is increasingly present.

These ideas were amplified at my Think Tank meeting last week. The Think Tank is a really cool committee (no other description will do) of faculty and staff whose purpose is to meet with me for a good monthly exchange to inform each other’s perspective. At our meeting last week, I learned a few harsh realities where our sizzle is seemingly outweighing the steak - fortunately, they are things that can be resolved with a little attention. We then spent some time talking about a few basic operations at the College that were not performing as we all might think.  Coupled with similar feedback I received from my monthly luncheon with students, my frequent phrase, “getting a little better each day” seems to fall short of creating a culture of assessment and continuous improvement that society is increasingly demanding of us.  Regardless of our role and responsibilities at the College, each of us can and should be able to do better!  Our students - and the public - deserve no less.

If you have any comments on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.