[Re]defining Ready Top 10 List

  1. Preparing our students for the world as it was, or even as it is, does them a serious disservice. We have to help them to succeed regardless of what the future brings. We have to Redefine Ready.
  2. Instead of our graduates wondering, "Am I ready for the real world?" we want them asking, "Is the real world ready for me?"

Click on each statement below for an explanation.

10. We must redefine what it means to say, “A Coker student is ready.”

The statistics surrounding high school graduation rates are alarming.  Frankly, college graduation rates are not much better, and looming changes in demographics will only exacerbate the problem. It is time we begin to see elementary, secondary and collegiate education as a whole and not just a series of rough transitions. This is a difficult proposition, but we must address the readiness of our incoming students. Included in these discussions must be an examination of how we best measure college preparedness and what surrogates might be available to replace or supplement SAT scores.

Like it or not, the federal government has made its intentions clear – measuring the value we add to the lives of young women and men is now a high priority.  Recent legislation stopped just short of delivering a collegiate mandate comparable to No Child Left Behind, and we simply must not allow the government to define for us what ready means.  We, as a community of scholars, teachers and staff, must collectively define ready and then go about measuring and reporting it.

Instead of simply bragging about quality, we should champion our students’ preparedness. Imagine statements such as, “We know Amesha will be successful in your graduate program because….” or, “We know Mason will skyrocket through your management structure because….”

9. We must redefine what we mean when we say, “A Coker student leads by example.”

Enron, Bernie Madoff, Tiger Woods, Martha Stewart, steroids, and the list goes on. Sadly, it would not take the average American very long to identify several examples of unethical behavior.

While some may argue that ethics cannot be taught, it is clear that something can and must be done to prepare our students to be ready to meet the challenge of ethical leadership.

With thousands of websites offering students the opportunity to purchase essays and term papers, friends or family members cheating on their tax returns, or simply learning someone’s Facebook profile picture is not who it purports to be, students today are learning a lesson we must help them unlearn – it is not okay to cheat, the high road is always the best road and doing the right thing, every single time, is the only way they will succeed in their careers and in life.

8. We must redefine, “A Coker student drives change.”

Experts tell us the world is changing more quickly now than ever before in our history.  Preparing students to be ready to meet this change could prove to be one of our most difficult challenges.

I agree with J. Paul Getty who said, “In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.”

Thus, it behooves us to craft our education experience in such a way to provide students with a toolkit of methods to handle this ever-excelling rate of change.

This need to manage change has to be accompanied by a corresponding willingness to take some risks and to take advantage of opportunities in a timely fashion.

The English psychologist Edward de Bono stated it this way, “An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.”

For too long, I fear, institutions of higher education have been content to wait on the sidelines to make sure every new idea was debated and every possible consideration was laboriously examined.

I am certainly not advocating an uneducated, unchecked, or reckless approach to decision-making. I do, however, believe we should model the change management behavior we desire out of our students. They, and yes “we,” must do this to be truly ready for the future.

7. We must redefine, “A Coker student solves big problems.”

Albert Einstein famously noted that, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  As the complexity all around us increases, what else but a liberal-arts based education can provide what’s needed to solve these problems in an innovate, creative manner?

We must continue our focus on what we have been doing, while at the same time evolve our model to account for increasingly complex environments.  Liberal arts content and skills are invariant – the means by which they are delivered cannot be.

Perhaps no vehicle we currently offer meets this challenge better than an integrative experience for each student.  My challenge to you today is to seek ways to make this experience even more complex and more integrative, and to, perhaps, combine it with more experiential forms of learning that I will discuss in just a moment.

6. We must redefine what we mean when we say, “A Coker student lives long, happily, and well.”

South Carolina has one of the highest obesity and diabetes rates in the nation.  Many of our students, faculty and staff are included in those numbers.  Candidly, your President is likely to join those numbers if the past few days are any indication.  It is a serious issue and one Coker College must address.  Whether it is by creating a Center for Obesity Study or Diabetes, increasing our physical fitness requirements and facilities, or providing increased fitness opportunities for our campus and surrounding community, Coker must face this issue straight on.

Meeting the needs of our students and the surrounding community is nothing new to us. Witness our evening programs in Hartsville, Lake City, Mullins and now Cheraw. We must simply redefine what we mean by “needs.”  In order to be ready, our students must be healthy and ready to meet our ever-changing world.

We must also prepare them to be more fiscally fit than they presently are. Although financial leaders dating back to Alan Greenspan, former chair of the Federal Reserve, have called financial literacy a “national crisis,” little has been done to seriously address this issue in our K-12 educational system and, sadly, even less occurs on the typical college campus. It is hardly a surprise that recent tests of high school seniors’ financial literacy result in a failing grade, with college students faring only slighter better.

Ladies and gentleman, our students will not truly be considered ready until we include fiscal fitness, as well as physical fitness, as part of our efforts.

5. We must redefine what it means to be student-focused.

Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart and mentor of Dr. Shewmaker who you heard from earlier today, once said, “The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary.”

Extending the analogy to higher education, one goal of a College should be to provide legendary student-centered service.

George Kaludis, a leading voice in higher education, asserts that students can be accurately viewed as customers much of the time, save for the content that faculty members deem necessary for them to learn.  Further, he argues that current processes must be examined and redesigned to focus on the student and parent as customers, and the faculty and staff as enabled and empowered service providers.

While students play varying roles in the teaching/learning experience, the "student as central focus" must be our model. We must take this model and make it is distinctively Coker, molding it to fit our culture while ramping up our efforts to provide a student-centered learning experience.

4. We must redefine our intention when we affirm, “A Coker student has multiple educational options.”

For 102 years, Coker College has been known for providing a quality undergraduate educational experience.  But Coker has redesigned its programming many times during our illustrious history.  As Mac Doubles, who is with us today as our recently appointed Provost Emeritus, details in his chronological account of Coker College, we have indeed gone through several redefinitions – from a private high school for girls affiliated with a Baptist Convention to our current state today.

Perhaps it is time we consider redefining our levels of programming and, yes, even the type of programs we offer.  According to The College Board, college graduates earn 80% more on average than high school graduates. Over the course of a person’s lifetime, the difference in earning potential between a high school graduate and a college graduate is more than $1 million.  Earning potential increases with each degree a student receives, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Our Board of Trustees approved in its October meeting the exploration of graduate programming, and we are in the midst of evaluating areas of greatest need and opportunity, as well as our strongholds upon which to build.  I implore you to heed my earlier call to move expeditiously down selected paths so that we can help our students to be better prepared for their chosen career, to be better prepared to pursue a graduate degree --somewhere else or hopefully, one day soon, to obtain that graduate degree at Coker College.

As we ready ourselves to offer graduate programming, we must continue to provide the type of undergraduate program that is both needed and desired – note both necessary and demanded.  This means a scan of our educational boundary and a detailed examination of our current offerings and our pedagogy to determine which areas need to be strengthened, expanded, or reconfigured.

3. We must redefine our claim, “A Coker student learns by doing.”

Earlier today you heard from my friend and mentor, President Tim Cloyd from Hendrix College.  Their Odyssey program has become the envy of the higher education world.  Simply put, this experience requires all Hendrix students to engage in active learning, be it research, study abroad, artistic development, internships, or service experiences.

While I’m not suggesting we simply copy their model and create a Coker Odyssey, I do believe we have the ingredients to re-conceptualize our current offerings, while creating new requirements to more fully engage our students. Let us, as a community, decide that our students simply must have more experiential learning and deserve more opportunities to practice the skills we have taught them.

2. We must redefine our assertion, “A Coker student makes all the difference.”

Last night many of you heard Jessica Jackley, cofounder of Kiva – the international microfinance institution that provides individuals around the world with minimal startup funding.  Their mission, simply put, is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.

With an average loan size of $400, Kiva has now facilitated more than $100 million in loans – that’s a loan being made every 31 seconds.  Loans that help poor men and women around the world begin the climb out of poverty by utilizing their intrinsic motivation to become successful.  All of this because two young people not much older than most of our traditional-aged students decided to make a difference.

This is my challenge to all members of the Coker community – fellow faculty, staff, and Board of Trustee members – help us create students who make a life-changing difference – in Hartsville, in South Carolina, across the United States and around the world. A redefined student of Coker College must have the opportunity to experience the difference he or she can make. Rest assured, there are many, many needs in our town, our state and around the world. If we greet this challenge, our students will be ready to expand their reach, their impact, and to truly make a difference.

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, agrees stating that, “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”    
At the end of the day, we want our students to be ready – to be prepared to serve, to act, and to do.  We can prepare them, but let us not do so by today’s standards of ready, but rather by our own re-definition of what ready means to this great institution.

1. Finally, we must redefine and make good our promise when we say, “A Coker student is ready for the world.”

It is not new to many of you – Friedman’s proclamation that “the world is flat” confirmed what many of us have believed for a long time. Restrictions on trade, on movement, on culture that were traditionally imposed by boundaries are disappearing or at least beginning to fade. This means that the very meaning of what it takes to be competitive has, by definition, changed dramatically as well.

In addition to some of the skills I mentioned earlier (the ability to deal with complexity in a creative way, change management, etc.), being declared “ready” now requires individuals to possess a global mindset. Crafting that mindset in a population of students who hail, for the most part, from the rural south, may prove to be a daunting task.

But I submit to you that in order to truly declare our students “ready,” we simply must instill this mindset.  In addition to our core liberal arts studies program, we must work to create and implement more and more diverse international study opportunities for all students.  We must secure funding for these endeavors, and we must work to implement meaningful learning outcomes for these experiences. Equally important will be internationalizing our own campus, increasing our international recruiting efforts, and providing faculty exchange and cultural awareness opportunities on our own campus and in the town of Hartsville.

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