As we discuss strategies for Mason’s future, I’ve been thinking about some assumptions I brought to my job 13 and a half years ago, and how I’ve rethought them. Some of the issues surface actively in discussing new goals, mainly in terms of our stance toward conventional (outdated?) status symbols.
- When I came to Mason, full of experience at fairly high status places, I assumed we would work hard to get students to graduate in four years, the way “all the good schools” do. Of course we want to help students finish quickly (but also, and well), and our 4-year or less rates have indeed gone up. But I no longer think of this as a prime goal. We have good students in diverse situations, and for some, six years make a lot more sense than four. This is particularly true when, as often in engineering, students get good, relevant jobs en route which help pay for, but also enhance, the educational process. So I’m all for a demanding graduation rate and retention standard, not just wedded to a single pattern. Changed my mind.
- When I got here I assumed we would work constantly to become as selective as possible, with lots of attention to those SATs US News loves so much. Well, we did improve student quality—among other things, with a large batch of Honors students who do us proud. I certainly believe we need standards to assure that we’re not knowingly admitting students who aren’t likely to be able to make it here academically. But I no longer see better and better scores, more and more students turned away (another US News staple) as the main point. Assuming adequate minima, I like the opportunity to deal with students who can take advantage of a good education but not always with maximum glitter on entry. The challenge—and the rewards—are greater this way. Changed my mind.
- I assumed I’d work hard to reduce community college transfers in favor of more conventional 4-year types. But I learned, quickly, that we get some fine transfer students, and that both cost factors and diverse backgrounds make it essential to keep emphasizing, and improving, this gateway. There are some problems, particularly in attaching transfers to the full educational experience, out of class as well as in. Figuring out better connections, not trying to opt out, is the way to go; the gate must be kept open. Changed my mind.
- When I first considered the Provost job, and saw the differential between what the state of Virginia pays per in-state student to some institutions and what it pays Mason—at $2,500 or so a pop—I thought that this is something that ought to change. It hasn’t. But I haven’t changed my mind on this one.