Delayed note from an ATD Kickoff conference

Last week I attended an Achieving the Dream Kickoff conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. Brookdale has recently been selected as part of the team, so the college has sent five of us there to get things started.

I’ve heard a lot about ATD over the years, and I’m a big fan of its president, Karen Stout. But inside this was my first time, to the extent that we were.

Some takeaways:

  • The “student-ready college” position seems to be stuck. I look forward to the updated version of the book of the same name, but in the meantime, this is a well-organized policy.

  • An ATD school president shared with us the way he started an all-campus meeting to emphasize the importance of attacking the equity gap. He told everyone to stand up and imagine that we were new students. He then asked everyone to sit down except for a small fraction. He asked a few people standing around to see all their friends across the room and imagine that they were all left out. It was shaking, which was the point.

  • Objective transparency was a consistent theme. One college noted that its in-house staffing campaign was entirely dedicated to – and explicitly – to pay small balances from students who were in arrears, so that those students could return. Employees who did not want to give college as an institution are willing to give it to students. It helped the students directly, and indirectly helped the college by telling potential external donors about its internal donor culture. External donors like this kind of thing.

  • Clearly, the state of Florida has designed its performance funding system so that it will only fund AS degrees where the average wage of graduates, six years after graduation, is at least 52,000 per year. As one might imagine, this narrows the field somewhat. I was wondering what happens when the recession comes, but couldn’t ask.

  • One of the presidents mentioned giving priority to the recruitment of faculty candidates who have earned associate degrees along the way. The idea was that people who went to community colleges were more likely to be able to relate to their students. I didn’t sell it personally, but I would give credit for the creativity. This has given extra credit to those who were first generation students themselves and to those who are fluent in the second language. I’m not fond of punishing people based on their parents, but second language premiums are understandable to me.

  • One of the ATD staff – I won’t embarrass him here – has some of the best comic timing I’ve seen that isn’t a comedian. I mentioned it to him, to which he replied that it was not intentional. That made it even more impressive. Good comic timing can be learned, but some people have it. The next day he presented again and got several full-crowd smiles, apparently for no reason. This is the comedy version of Perfect Pitch.

  • Although some schools have a lot of money, and some have different structures, most of the challenges are the same. That was reassuring, his way.

  • The travel gods seem to be getting more and more angry for unknown reasons. Charlotte Airport was chaotic when we arrived, apparently due to a brief shutdown that morning. The return flight was a nightmare: after several delays at the gate, we spent five and a half hours on the tarmac before finally taking off. I planned to reach home at half past four. I returned home at half past eleven. A few more of my delegation were booked on another flight for which they waited eleven hours at the airport before finally being canceled; They rented a car and returned to New Jersey the next day from North Carolina.

Traveling aside, the conference was heartwarming and promising. There is a lot of work to be done, but it was gratifying to see such a positive attitude. Now if anyone can please the traveling gods …

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