Just Say No to Saying No

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When I read yet another article minimizing the value of a college education I am challenged by thoughts of privilege.  Yes, Steve Jobs, an individual I greatly admire, was a college dropout, but at least he had the opportunity to give it a try. Mark Zuckerberg’s intelligence and initiative is without question, but how many students can realistically include Harvard on their college wish list? And then walk away from the opportunity?

I do not discount hard work, enterprise, and determination. But for those of us who are simply above-average, or first-generation, or of a marginalized population, college is the pathway to get a step ahead, a leg up, a move toward potential success. Yes, student loan debt and college costs demand answers, but denying the value of learning, but for an elite few, is not the answer. Just say Go. Go to college.

100 Days

Three and a half years ago, I made the decision to earn a PhD. After spending 90% of my professional career (post-Bachelor’s degree) working in higher education, it seemed a logical step.

It has been hard work. One class at a time. Work. Family. Soccer. More work.

There is a reason that only 3% of the U.S. population attain a PhD.

Because it is hard work.

My dissertation defense is in 100 days.

Tornado Watch: Assessments for Student Retention

As a resident of tornado alley, there is a summer tradition of dusting off the Twister DVD while scanning the afternoon skies for possible wall clouds. The film takes place in Oklahoma, but was filmed near my current home in central Iowa. The story follows a team of meteorological students and scientists as they attempt to place weather sensors in the path of a tornado to measure readings inside of the storm. After many failed attempts, injuries, and even fatalities, our protagonists successfully launch the sensors and save humanity. Err, save their research. As the flick can also be caught at least three times a week on cable during the summer, I catch up on all of my favorite lines.

Jo: [cow flies by in the storm) Cow.
[cow flies by in the storm]
Jo: ‘Nother cow.
Bill: Actually, I think it was the same one.
Watching the segment as the sensors rise into the F-5 tornado and begin generating data, I am reminded of our students, particularly those in the first-year. If we could read their minds and extrapolate the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions, surely we could develop better methods for student success and retention. Fortunately, there are a variety of assessments to assist in this process.

The College Student Inventory™ (CSI) from Noel-Levitz allows students to answer questions regarding their strengths and challenges before they even arrive on campus. I ask my incoming students to complete this assessment after summer orientation and use the information to frame our beginning of the year 1:1 appointments. The student and advisor reports are handy for discussion and the group summary reports provide great information for planning our first-year seminar course and programming topics.

MAP-Works® offers a similar tool to discover student transition issues early in the semester. Students develop a personal profile based on their initial campus experience that is measured for potential barriers to success. A web-based report is generated immediately for students and faculty or staff advisors that compares with all first-year students on our campus. Campus resource services are suggested where needed.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) helps demonstrate theory that there are distinct patterns to individual psychological types even though persons exhibit these patterns in different ways. Helping students to understand their type preferences and how they affect personal learning styles provides a common ground for understanding differences and the transition to college. I provide an MBTI learning styles assessment for each student in our first-year seminar each fall. Students do not always grasp the type concept, but do find meaning from discussion of the transition to university style learning.

It is common knowledge among student affairs practitioners that students enter the college or university with varying degrees of emotional intelligence. Additionally, those familiar with retention issues will cite non-academic challenges as the frequent impetus for student attrition. Assessing emotional intelligence using the EQ-i® allows students to see potential areas for growth that may enhance adaptation and coping skills leading to academic achievement. I find the EQ-i particularly helpful for students seeking direction in their academic or life plan.

While no assessment tool can foresee every difficulty faced by our students on the path to graduation, I have found these tools to be helpful for communication, planning, and advising. Not a certified MBTI or EQ-i user? Check with your human resources office for recommendations.

Have you tried these assessments? Other tools you suggest?

Enjoyed Twister and need a good summer read? Check out The Stormchasers.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go



Congrats to our new Hixson Scholar graduates and everyone else celebrating their academic achievements this month. Special props to one of our 2004 award recipients, Tyler Dohlman, who just completed his DVM.



But the unfortunate, yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and the results uncertain.

~Jon Stewart (2004 commencement address to The College of William and Mary)



So…get on your way!




photo credit Christopher Gannon/TheRegister

Gridiron Challenge and Support

Nevitt Sanford (1967) developed his theory for student development based on providing a balance of challenge and support. Too much support with too little challenge creates a cushy environment for the student, where development is unlikely to occur. However, the opposite of too little support with too much challenge also makes development an impossible and negative experience.

One of the “other duties as assigned” in which our dean of students office staff has the opportunity to participate is football game duty. We partner with the athletics department in an effort to keep the student seating section a safe and fun place to enjoy the game. Each home game, a few staff sign up to attend the game and join our students in the stadium. We arrive before the gates open and greet students who stand in line for hours to race down the stadium steps for a seat in the front row. When seated, we distribute wristbands to the students who made it to the front so that they are able to maintain those seats throughout the game.


Our students are big fans. For the most part, if you have been standing in line for four or five hours, you haven’t been taking part in other extracurricular activities that historically take place prior to a football game. So, we work the crowds, meeting students, helping with body paint, and taking photos for students posing with the school mascot.

I call it friend-raising. It gets us out with the people that really count, our students. The ones that we want to be successful and graduate from the university. It’s also about providing support and encouraging students to make good choices. Because that is what we do in student affairs.

Photo note: Yes, that is a photo of someone in the stadium press box today with a copy of Student Development in College. Yes, he may be an even bigger student affairs geek than me. I never take my books to the game.

Sanford, N. (1967). Self & society: social change and individual development. New York, NY: Atherton Press.


The Dreaded ‘P’ Word: How Productive Are We?

The Dreaded ‘P’ Word: An Examination of Productivity in Public Secondary Education seeks to identify common indicators for determining productivity among institutions of higher education. Using an analysis of available funding resources, including state appropriations and tuitions revenues, in comparison to the production of graduates, author Patrick J. Kelly ranks the states based upon their ability to graduate students with degrees that have value in their state. Kelly’s argument for this research is that little progress has been made at the state level to gauge the return on investment in postsecondary education in comparison to other states. The report seeks to provide a productivity measure that is comparable across institutions.

This report highlighted an area that is lacking in higher education assessment, the ability to adequately measure states’ return on investment in postsecondary education. Kelly states that higher education is “not equipped with a wide variety of productivity measures that are directly comparable across institutions.” He adds that institutional missions may contribute to the lack of measurability and acknowledges that graduation rates may vastly differ based upon the socio-economic status of the student population. Kelly’s conclusion of the research is most telling in that “there is no evident relationship at the state level between resources and performance.” Some of the best performing states have the lowest resources, while some of the least productive have the largest resources.

Kelly suggests that it is important for states and systems of postsecondary education to identify benchmarks for productivity because only then can productivity be measured between states. At the same time he encourages more analysis of productivity levels of education so that overall productivity can be measured among states and against other countries. The report suggests that it should be an impetus for more research in postsecondary education, a beginning to the conversation that must occur about degree production based upon available resources.

How institutions spend resources and the outcomes they achieve require measurement if we are to continue advancing our postsecondary education systems. If institutions focus on indirect goals of productivity such as increasing graduation rates as opposed to increasing graduation rates in fields of study resourceful within the state, we will continue to be a nation challenged in this arena. In higher education, we cannot be afraid to seek the funding that is essential to support our students and institutions, but we must be willing to identify why it is needed.

College Students & Money: No new car, caviar, four star daydream

It’s handy having a international expert on financial literacy around when counseling first-year college students about managing their resources. Iowa State professor Tahira Hira is recognized for her work on consumer spending including debt and bankruptcy. As our graduates leave campus with some of the highest student loan debt in the nation, I feel an obligation to discuss personal finance during our first-year seminar.


Dr. Hira’s three main principles for college student financial well being:
  • Live within your means.
  • Spend less that you make.
  • Be mindful of borrowing, including consumer credit or students loans.
Spending plans are key to managing finances and Hira shares these tips for students:
  • Give yourself an allowance that fits your budget.
  • Balance your checkbook regularly.
  • Leave your credit cards at home to avoid impulse buying.
  • When going out for an evening, take only as much cash as you can afford with you.
  • Eliminate casual shopping.
  • Reduce stress with exercise, hobbies, or community service; versus shopping.
Our financial aid office partners with a great online tool called CashCourse that offers financial planning tools and economic tips. I utilize CashCourse for a personal finance assignment in our seminar course.

For many of the great, great successes of the world…

For many of the great, great successes of the world, the background they came from was their great challenge. I’m trying to find those people. Those who may not have the highest grade point or a perfect family background, but who can be successful. These are the ones who will lend the helping hands in the future. ~ Christina Hixson

The Hixson Opportunity Awards began at our university in 1995. Since that time, I have read thousands of scholarship applications, hoping to identify the student who is most deserving and most needs our support. The student who will become that helping hand of the future.

I have instructed our students as they muddled through the first college year. We have spent endless hours counseling students struggling with a class, roommate, finances or the multitude of challenges faced by first-generation college students in the quest for a degree. Most importantly, we have helped to develop leaders and scholars through connections, resources, and occasional 3 a.m. phone calls. Our program focus of community, challenge and support has become a model for retention and graduation success duplicated at other universities.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first Hixson Scholars graduating from Iowa State, my good friend Steve Sullivan revisited many of the students he featured in stories over the years. Our students, and now our alumni, are the backbone of the Hixson Program. Take a peek at his Visions magazine feature.


Life is like one big Mardi Gras

I enjoy the gems of wisdom from celebrity commencement speakers each graduation season, particularly when they are authentic and from the heart.


This year’s entry from Ellen Degeneres made me smile.

Life is like one big Mardi Gras. But instead of showing your boobs, show people your brain. And if they like what they see, you’ll have more beads than you know what to do with.

You can watch it here.