Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Assumptions, damn lies and statistics

So in my morning perusal of higher ed blogs and notes, I came across this post on the Innovations blog on the Chronicle of Higher Ed website.

And I've thinking about how quickly a "common sense" assumption can lead to "everybody knows this" when it's just not true at all.

Because when I read this headline, "fewer Low-income students going to college" I thought, well, sure, I handle financial aid issues for the performing arts students at the University I work for, and the low income students are always having trouble.  That leads to, thinking about the conversations I have every April and May with students and families who have limited resources, and who are asking my school (and me, since I'm on that front line) for more resources to help them achieve their dreams, and I have to say "you can't afford to come here".

Then I think about how nice it would be if money wasn't a factor for these students and we could have a school that educates artists without saddling them with debt so that they could go be artists.

Except that I didn't have any debt from undergrad (thanks Mom and Dad!) and I didn't go be an artist, well not at first. and not ultimately.

But back to the wrong assumption-  The article is actually about a report that hones in on this point: "that among those who had taken Algebra II, the proportion of low- and moderate-income students enrolling in four-year colleges immediately after high school was much lower in 2004 than in 1992."

So the population we're studying is those that took Algebra II, what about those that didn't take Algebra II?  Perhaps those students attended colleges that didn't require Algebra II (I've worked for them, the performing arts doesn't require math for many majors, I haven't taken a formal math class since high school, and statistics was so much more fun than math).  Then there's the other qualifier- enrolling in 4 year colleges immediately after high school.  They could have attended a community college, or taken a year off.  Or they didn't actually go to college, but it's pretty impossible to tell based on this report and it SURE isn't possible to tell this based on the misleading headline.

How does this relate to higher ed arts?  Well, we assume that we're preparing students to be artists, but we've prepared them to do what? Be an entrepreneur whose field is the arts? Be an an orchestral musician? Be a piano soloist superstar? Be on stage at the Lyric Opera? Be an educated member of society? 

Because "everybody knows that we're preparing students to be artists" at the college where I work, but are we really?  How do we on the inside of academia know what it's like outside of academia when we've never been anywhere else?  I used to think my time in the private sector was a huge mistake as it took me off the path to getting ahead in my academic career, now, I'm not so sure.

Perhaps all we can assume is that we're teaching them about their art, but are we preparing them to think on their own enough to handle whatever curveballs come their way?  Because if my life had gone the way I thought it would during my college years, I would be the contrabassoonist of the Chicago Symphony, and I would be flying a jet car to Symphony Center for rehearsal.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Nothing kicks your butt like. . .

your own big mouth and a deadline-  Yesterday I proposed the following presentation topic to the programming chairs of the October 2010 ICFAD conference (ICFAD is NOT a Godzilla foe- "I am ICFAD! Destroyer of worlds and BFF of Megalor!  Fear me Godzilla!" rather it is the International Council of Fine Arts Deans, a great group of arts administrators who do good work).

Ahem, anyway, here's the topic-

Title: Are we preparing our student artists for the world we remember or the world that is?

Higher education exists as a paradox of both creating a future society and reflecting a current society.  Changes in the professional arts environment and how the arts are perceived, attended, and supported has implications for the curriculum being taught in our higher education arts institutions. Recent research studies and data sets from the NEA and the Americans for the Arts National Arts Index are starting to provide insight to how the US perceives and values it's art.  As the incubators of the next generation of artists, are we providing them what they need to thrive in this new world?

So the next few months I'm going to be honing in on this.  The first step is to gather curricula from established programs.  This has gotten easier as most schools post these things online, either as separate documents, or via online catalogs.  So some digging around the internet should be a good place to start.

But if you're lurking about on this blog and want to help- send me links to any schools you think I should look at-  I'm going to start with these, because I've either attended them, or worked at them (or both!)- Northwestern University's School of Music, Dept of Dance, School of Communications (theatre), Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of the Arts (Div of Dance, Music, Theatre, Studio Art), U of North Texas (School of Music), Longy School of Music, Texas A&M Commerce Dept of Music, Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts (Music and Theatre).

I think the second step is to look at the NEA's recent findings and the findings noted in the National Arts Index and identify some characteristics/skill sets/competencies that our students need and compare them to what we're teaching them. 

But that's just where I'm going to start.  I welcome suggestions from any and all.  I've heard that sometimes the comments section doesn't work, so if you are having trouble commenting, feel free to email me directly at  I'll update what I find here.