Dr. Stout's 18th Annual Summer Reading List

Lessons Learned from Summer Reading

Summer is my favorite reading season. I keep a list of ‘must-reads’ throughout the year and dive in when July comes. I often choose books because of the clear connection to higher education and the work of our colleges.  Other books, which at first glance don’t appear to speak to community colleges or education, illuminate surprising connections. 

As President of Montgomery County College, it was my tradition to share my reading list at fall convocation.  This September, I’m eager to share my 18th annual summer reading list with you.  I particularly enjoyed these three books below.

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein provides an unexpected yet perfect example of the disconnect that can occur between colleges and community members.  The book follows several families forced to rebuild their lives after the closure of a General Motors assembly plant, one of the largest employers in the community. Some of the unemployed workers started retraining for new jobs at nearby Blackhawk Technical College. The college thought it was doing a great job of up- and re-skilling. However, after examining the data, college leaders found there was much more work to be done. Janesville is a good reminder that it’s important to check our assumptions and that using data can help us get a handle on what we’re doing right and what we need to improve. This is essential to driving student success.

Smart Baseball: The Story Behind the Old Stats That Are Ruining the Game, the New Ones That Are Running It, and the Right Way to Think About Baseball by Keith Law is a terrific fable for our data-obsessed industry.  Law expertly reminds us that even when your industry or organization lives and breathes data, it’s still possible that you’re not measuring what matters! According to Law, baseball’s obsession with statistics hasn’t stopped it from anchoring itself to outdated metrics, thanks to a “common type fallacious argument that says we should keep doing it this way because we have always done it this way.”  Many of us in higher education recognize how hard it is to escape what Law calls “the gravitational pull of the past” and yet, we must. This school year, let’s have the courage and humility to set aside familiar metrics and start tracking new measures of college and student success. Together, we can gain new insights to drive impact.

Paying the Price by Sara Goldrick-Rab is an important reminder that meeting students’ basic needs and helping them stabilize their lives outside the classroom is critical to student success. Despite receiving federal financial aid, the 3,000 college and university students Goldrick-Rab studied frequently lacked funds for living expenses, books, and sometimes food and shelter. They dropped classes, worked too many hours at outside jobs and even went hungry. Not surprisingly, half ultimately dropped out, and fewer than 20 percent completed college within five years. The colleges in Achieving the Dream’s Working Student Success Network have been offering their low-income students a range of services that build financial stability, including financial coaching and asset building; access to public benefits; and support for childcare, transportation, food, and housing. Stay tuned for lessons we’re learning from our colleges.

As you traverse this fall semester, I hope you will use data and science to guide your decision-making and expand your support for students inside and outside the classroom. ATD will be right by your side.

My best,

Karen

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