Considering College Reflections from West Texas A&MUniversity President, Walter V. Wendler with a Foreword by The Texas A&MUniversity SystemChancellor, John Sharp
I would like to recognize the staff in the President’s Office who work tirelessly in support of WT, and particularly with this special endeavor, inclusive of the “Your Community, Your University” tours and the “Considering College” e-book. Under the leadership of Tracee Post, the workings of visiting and sharing insights from 132 schools in West Texas were orchestrated. School visit tours, which in some instances included meeting hundreds of students at as many as four different schools in one day, were organized by Ashley Gardner. The custom design of the “Considering College” e-book was completed by Amberly Hildebrandt, while the labor of proofing was accomplished by Jeff Mayo. Additionally, there is a host of student interns who are integral to the service and community outreach efforts of the office, especially with the 16,000 recognition letters that have been distributed in our region and beyond. Tracee Post, chief of staff and assistant vice president for strategic communications Ashley Gardner, executive assistant to the president and chief of staff Amberly Hildebrandt, communications and community outreach specialist Jeff Mayo, administrative assistant Sadie Bow, student intern
Lauren Kuehler, student intern Mallori Johnson, student intern Denise Velarde, student intern Danielle Williams, student intern Macy Hataway, student intern Seth Rodriguez, student intern
I would also like to acknowledge the editing expertise of Susan Allen, assistant vice president for academic affairs.
Also, a special thanks to the leadership of The Texas A&M University System.
Walter V. Wendler
This e-book is an effort to capture some of the encounters, beliefs, insights, and aspirations I experienced while visiting 132 schools in and around the Panhandle and South Plains of Texas. The attempt will fall short of truly communicating to you the depth of my journey, but I am enthusiastic about sharing my experiences. What I found in the schools and school systems, ranging from as few as 100 to 1,000’s of students, pre-k through 12, are a constellation of communities that are wholly committed to primary and secondary education for the benefit of their offspring. In some places, especially those smaller systems and distanced by cotton farms, oil patches, or fields of pasture and grain, the school is the last functioning public institution. In many cases, even places of worship have disappeared. The importance of the school to the community is clear, and these communities doggedly pursue a path to meet the needs of their students. They produce students who are determined, gritty, and hard-working, students with aspirations. The school itself models these character traits. Students must participate in numerous activities, and there is a burden of community responsibility in that—a sense of pride. Students feel necessary, mature, part of something larger than self. The people in the communities are tough-minded, hard-working, and engaged, which leads to an enlivened approach to primary and secondary education. One that puts the student at the head of the line, in the center of the equation. What you will read in what follows are perceptions extracted from these visits, often overlooked by the challenges and opportunities of major metropolitan areas, but nonetheless important to the people that call these places home. These ideas help define what a student and family should look for in a university experience and, don't be fooled, countless families and students in more densley populated urban areas share their same aspiration.
I hope you find a few of these insights valuable.
On, On Buffaloes!
Walter V. Wendler President, West Texas A&M University
Foreword Chancellor John Sharp
Over the past three years President Walter Wendler fromWest Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas has visited nearly every high school in the Texas Panhandle and on the South Plains, 132 in all. He has talked to students about making a plan for themselves. When that personal plan includes college he has shared the value of understanding the cost of study, the quality of academic programs, faculty, and extracurricular activities that are valuable to many students. He addressed the importance of scholarships and financial aid and other recognitions of achievement to offset the cost of college. He emphasized the value of good teaching and the significance of citizenship. And especially important to me as Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System -- he has tirelessly encouraged people to pay attention to the cost of their education, its long-term value and the personal and social benefits a high quality education provides. The suggestions Walter makes in this e-book for students and their families to consider as they select a university as a place to study are powerful. I would urge you to look carefully at the suggestions and give them every consideration if you are looking for a place to study.
John Sharp Chancellor, The Texas A&M University System
A number of suggestions follow in this e-book. The overriding concern of a student when seeking a place to study should answer a very direct question: Do the academic programs offered meet my aspirations for the future and the kind of life I want to live? The most serious attention should be given to academic quality offered and the fit between personal aspirations, abilities and goals. These considerations should be central in all that follows. I recommend you ask the following questions of the institution and yourself: 1. Does it appear that the cost of the education offered is affordable and in line with the kind of job opportunities presented? 2. Will the institution be responsive to my aspirations? 3. Is there a concern for the practicalities involved in university study and the big ideas of life purpose? 4. Can I become part of something that’s larger than myself? 5. Is the University careful with its resources? 6. Teaching should be paramount. Does that seem to be the case? 7. Are there services to help me find a job at the conclusion of study? 8. Does the campus promote the idea of hard, meaningful work? 9. Is the campus alive with a commitment to people or is it choked by bureaucracy? 10. What is noble citizenship and does the campus value it? 11. Do the people encountered seem to like the place? 12. Are new ideas valued for how they shape me and the larger society? 13. Is the idea of family in every manifestation important to the University? 14. Are a range of students, from recent high school graduates to adults of various ages, part of the learning atmosphere of the University? These are a few of the things that should be on your mind as you seek a place to study. If you can answer these questions to your satisfaction you will likely be challenged and grow from your experience.
Adrian High School Amarillo High School Ascension Academy Booker High School Borger High School Bovina High School Boys Ranch High School Bushland High School Canadian High School Canyon High School Caprock High School Channing High School Childress High School Clarendon High School Claude High School Dalhart High School Darrouzett High School Dimmitt High School Dumas High School Farwell High School Follett High School Fort Elliott High School Friona High School GroomHigh School Gruver High School Happy High School Hart High School Hartley High School Hedley High School Hereford High School Higgins High School
Kelton High School Wheeler High School Kress High School Lazbuddie High School Lefors High School McLean High School Memphis High School Miami High School Nazareth High School Palo Duro High School Pampa High School Panhandle High School Perryton High School Premier High School Randall High School Richard Milburn Academy River Road High School San Jacinto High School Sanford-Fritch High School
Shamrock High School Silverton High School Spearman High School Stratford High School
Sunray High School Tascosa High School Texline High School Tulia High School Turkey-Quitaque (Valley) High School Vega High School Vista Academy
Wellington High School West Texas High School White Deer High School
Highland Park High School Holy Cross Catholic Academy
Abernathy High School Amherst High School Anton High School Borden County High School Brownfield High School Christ the King Cathedral School Coronado High School Cotton Center High School Crosbyton High School Dawson High School Denver City High School Estacado High School Floydada High School Guthrie High School Hale Center High School Harmony Math and Science Academy Idalou High School Jayton-Girard High School
Muleshoe High School New Deal High School New Home High School O'Donnell High School Olton High School Paducah High School Patton Springs High School Petersburg High School Plains High School Plainview High School Post High School Premier High School Ralls High School Roosevelt High School
Ropes High School Sands High School
Seagraves High School Seminole High School Shallowater High School
Klondike High School Lamesa High School Levelland High School Littlefield High School Lockney High School Loop High School Lorenzo High School Lubbock Christian School Lubbock High School Lubbock-Cooper High School New Hope High School Meadow High School Monterey High School Morton High School Motley County High School
Slaton High School Smyer High School Southland High School Springlake-Earth High School
Spur High School Sudan High School Sundown High School Tahoka High School Talkington School for Young Women Leaders
Triumph Public High School Wellman-Union High School
Whiteface High School Whitharral High School Wilson High School
At no time in the history of higher education in the United States has the relationship between cost and value been more important. With the introduction of the G.I. Bill as the curtain closed on World War II, and the growing support of federal and state legislatures for higher education, low- cost university study opportunities were available to many. After the integration of public universities initiated by the NAACP in the mid-30s, culminating, finally by the mid-60s reasonably priced public higher education was available to all. During the 1970s as state legislatures tightened the financial belt on higher education, the burden of accessibility to low-cost universities shifted to lending and granting institutions, and students and families, through federally insured loans. Currently, as the value of many institutional offerings is called into question, and levels of educational indebtedness are nearing the $2 trillion mark, cost and value have been placed at the forefront of decision-making by students and families , statehouses, lenders and granting agencies. No matter the effort, universities and students are the parties on which cost and value pivot.
When considering college :
- Over and over again I found a deep sense of pragmatism in the 132 schools I visited. If any college tells you, “Don’t worry about the cost, the degree is worth it matter what you pay,” they do not know what they are talking about. Look for a powerful perception of panhandle pragmatism.
-A sales pitch is a sales pitch. Find a university where people are responsive to the needs and aspirations of others , no matter the circumstances. McLean, Texas
-Education is a value proposition. Dollars and good sense work together and are woven into an economic fabric that attends to thoughtful utilization of all resources . These become the realization of the American dream. Canyon, Texas
-Seek a place that puts the needs of others first : A place that aspires to join forces with others and build something bigger than self , and promotes citizenship. Gruver, Texas
- If you visit a campus and find indicators of a lack of stewardship of any kind look elsewhere. Resources are scarce. Cost goes up and value down when resources are frittered away. If the restrooms on campus are not clean, don’t go there . Tahoka, Texas 9
Pragmatismin the Texas Panhandle and on the SouthPlains
Seventy percent of college students graduated with debt last year—on average $30,000. Some will repay that debt with Social Security checks voluntarily or through garnishment. Of Americans over 60, 2.8 million have student loans, and 73% of those are cosigners paying for children or grandchildren. Something is broken. Pell Grants, formerly the solution for qualifying families, covered 79% of tuition and fees in 1975 but only 29% by 2017—a downhill slide caused by escalating costs, easy government loans and no public demand for matching value increases. Some studies suggest borrowing yields an increase in credits earned and academic performance. I don’t care what those studies show. Borrowing more is bad; borrowing less is good. Borrowing nothing is best. Community colleges revolutionized higher education. It started with Joliet Junior College in 1901, and JJC proudly retains its junior college name and mission. Traditionally, these institutions were free or nearly so. Many have wandered off the path. In Texas, the average debt for graduates was $9,500 for public and $13,000 for private community colleges. Laredo College has the lowest debt level at $2,332. The most indebted graduates owe $33,828 from the private for-profit American Intercontinental University in Houston. If that doesn’t startle you, you are not paying attention. The value equation does not work. I feel a moral obligation to recognize pragmatismwith pragmatism. To those multiplied thousands of students I said, “Do not borrowmoney to attendWest Texas A&MUniversity for the first two years." These debt levels are for graduates. More disconcerting are the nearly 3.9 million students who drop out of college or community college with no degree, but over $7,000 debt on average. That stinks. I have visited 132 high schools (public, charter, private and for profit) in Texas’ top 46 counties talking with thousands of students, teachers and leaders. The schools range in size from twelve to thousands, and many have a deep culture of pragmatism learned from their families and communities. This is particularly so in smaller community-based schools in places like Texline, Booker, Klondike, Guthrie and all points in between. Many students bring that native pragmatism with them to WT, and it strengthens the University. I feel a moral obligation to recognize pragmatism with pragmatism. To those multiplied thousands of students I said, “Do not borrow money to attend West Texas A&M University for the first two years. If you must borrow, go to a community college. Amarillo College, Frank Phillips College, Clarendon College, South Plains College and Western Texas College are all good places to start. Don’t borrow a red cent for community college either. Pay as you go.”
ChapterNine: Considering College— Pragmatismin the Texas Panhandle and on the SouthPlains Community colleges were founded and designed to be low cost, no frills, and open access. If it takes four years to get an associate degree with no debt, do that. Make sure courses transfer by contacting the university you plan to attend. Transfer to a place like West Texas A&M University that appreciates community college graduates and their academic experie ce carryi g a ledger with little or no red ink. Resist the faddish advice that a degree must take four or six years to complete. This preoccupation by universities, ranking agencies, state bureaucracies and elected officials as a means to measure perceived quality is over-valued for most institutions. In 1930 the average life expectancy of a U.S. Citizen was 60; it is 80 now. If a single mom requires eight years to get a bachelor’s degree, is that a loss for the state, the university or the individual? Certainly not if the graduate incurs little or no debt. Lastly, if someone must borrow at all, never borrow more than 60% of the anticipated starting salary of the first job. Check the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you want to teach school in a smaller community in Texas and the starting salary is $40,000, don’t borrow more than $24,000 to attain your bachelor’s degree. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board appropriately recommends this 60% rule. Any leader in any walk of life who tells any potential student that borrowing without qualification is okay displays ignorance and should not be trusted. Too many people in too many places for too many purposes tell students and parents, “Whatever the cost of the degree, it is worth it. It will all work out.” It’s a lie, and unless those individuals will cosign the note, it’s disingenuous. Never borrowmore than 60% of the anticipated starting salary of the first job. Check the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you want to teach school in a smaller community in Texas and the starting salary is $40,000, don’t borrowmore than $24,000 to attain your bachelor’s degree. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board appropriately recommends this 60% rule. I have been called, “The Dave Ramsey of higher education.” I’ll own that. A degree attained with little or no borrowing will have more value than any degree with a passel of promissory notes draped around the graduate’s neck like a string of poison posies. If you are interested in attending college and do not hear these admonitions on campus, leave immediately. Do not attend orientation. Do not enroll in courses. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
Be a pragmatist.
Charles Spurgeon, the great nineteenth-century preacher and orator rightly observed, “Skillful mariners sail by all winds, and we ought to make progress through all circumstances.”
Like so many communities in the Texas Panhandle, McLean, Texas, was located near a railroad switch station around which the community developed. A parcel of 640 acres of land was donated for the establishment of McLean, named for former secretary of the Texas Railroad Commission William P. McLean by Alfred Rowe, the proprietor of the 200,000 acre RO ranch. Alfred Rowe, born in Lima, Peru, was an offspring of English merchants. A world traveler, even in the borderless global perspective driven by COVID-19, Rowe perished on the Titanic’s maiden voyage in April 1914. He chivalrously refused access to a lifeboat and froze to death on an ice floe—a West Texas genuine article by way of Peru. On February 1, 2017, I visited McLean, Texas, population 778, with 245 students pre-K through high school in McLean ISD. I arrived early. Finding the room, I met a man in jeans, running shoes and a work shirt arranging chairs in the assembly hall. Making conversation, I asked, “How long have you been on the janitorial staff?” He replied while laughing, “I am the superintendent.” He explained that this was part of the last line in his job description: “Other duties as assigned.” He was also a bus driver, substitute teacher, cook, groundskeeper and just about anything else needed in service to his students and their families. Oscar Muniz was the epitome of agility and accomplishment through circumstance. Inmany institutions, public and private, security and significance are calibrated by position in the constellation of roles and responsibilities (pecking order) rather than by the flexibility and commitment that it takes to get the job done. Bureaucracies petrify themselves, rock-hard when process and standing become more important than result. In many institutions, public and private, security and significance are calibrated by position in the constellation of roles and responsibilities (pecking order) rather than by the flexibility and commitment that it takes to get the job done. Bureaucracies petrify themselves, rock-hard when process and standing become more important than result. On the other hand, organizations built on responsive actions thrive when times are difficult and challenging. Results guide forward movement. The COVID-19 crisis requires agility and flexibility in response to circumstances for which no textbook exists. Results-driven flexibility, like Superintendent Muniz exhibited, will continue to be important in the coming months as enterprises reconstruct themselves to be responsive to human needs. For universities, the aspirations of students and the need for individual responsiveness are amplified nearly beyond recognition by the circumstance of COVID-19. 14
Unfortunately, too many institutions are fueled by fear of failure. That fear will drive innovation off a university campus more quickly than COVID-19. Singularly, risk aversion in leadership creates fear. Thomas Watson, the brains behind IBM, said, “The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.” Organizations that need to change to successfully survive, fail to do so 70% of the time. The COVID-19 outbreak will drive the need for institutional change like no other event in modern history. Failure, blindly guided by inflexibility, will drive the bus off the cliff. The changing nature of student demographics, government’s relationship to higher education, student indebtedness and the public expectations makes it fact, not fiction. Additionally, commercial and industrial enterprises of every kind will have to adapt at a speed hitherto unknown—or bust. Oversimplification? I don’t think so. Oscar Muniz demonstrated the power of organizational leadership and how working members of any organization at any level overcome any challenge— even arranging chairs. Flexibility and focus create responsiveness. When organizational priorities are kept to the forefront, flexibility follows in response to the loftiest goals of the enterprise.
Unfortunately, too many institutions are fueled by fear of failure. That fear will drive innovation off a university campus more quickly than COVID-19. Singularly, risk aversion in leadership creates fear. Thomas Watson, the brains behind IBM, said, “The fastest way to succeed is to double your failure rate.”
Circumstances are simply that and nothing more.
While it may be difficult to see through promotional fog and sales chimera, seek a university where people are flexible in response to needs and aspirations through circumstances. If you sense a reluctance for people to bend to the task at hand while keeping their eyes on first purpose— educational attainment, look elsewhere.
Truthfulness and Transparency
On February 2, 2017, I visited Canyon High School. A group of 600 students attended. Canyon ISD covers over 700 square miles of ground. With the onslaught of the COVID-19 virus, many people believe smaller college towns and the universities and the allied schools they serve will become extinct. They are wrong, particularly when a strong partnership exists between the local community, the independent school district and the regional university. In unison, aspirations for individuals and economic development potential for communities in the region are served in and through Canyon, Texas. In Forbes this month, Derek Newton claims that smaller, close to home, regional universities may fare well in spite of COVID-19 concerns. He points out issues such as over-admissions, increased competition and reliance on international students that are confounding issues for universities like WT. Most importantly he opines, “All education is local,” parroting Tip O’Neill’s famous quip. Valuable action that West Texas A&M University can take as an antidote is to pay attention to the communities of West Texas. This includes knowing the high schools, the leadership and their students. Canyon ISD is a large school district compared to the other districts in the Panhandle and Region 16, but it is “our” school. It helps build West Texas A&M University as a better institution of higher learning in the same way that a host of other committed independent school districts in the Texas Panhandle do. In Forbes this month, Derek Newton claims that smaller, close to home, regional universities may fare well in spite of COVID-19 concerns. He points out issues such as over- admissions, increased competition and reliance on international students that are confounding issues for universities likeWT. Most importantly he opines, “ All education is local,” parroting Tip O’Neill’s famous quip. Seventy percent of WT’s student body borrows to pay for school. This reflects the national average, but, fortunately, WT students borrow less than average. Borrowing may reduce the chance for a home loan in the future. “Thoughtful homeownership” is a vital part of the Jeffersonian Dream. Thoughtless homeownership, the kind that led to the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008, was driven by a number of forces that included a lax view by lending institutions regarding appropriate borrowing levels.
Vincent J. Cannato outlines the push and pull of home ownership in a National Affairs essay, “A Home of One’s Own,” a piece that doesn’t distinguish clearly between thoughtful and thoughtless homeownership. President Harry Truman glued together homeownership and higher education as key components of the G.I. Bill that would resettle and energize a nation coming home from war. Universities can ill afford to neglect the impact of over borrowing in pursuit of the American dream. During my visit to Canyon High School, I suggested to the students, “If you have to borrow money to attend WT as a freshman or sophomore, please don’t come here, but graduate debt-free from a community college.” One local leader in Canyon asked me if I feared firing for suggesting that students should not attend WT but go to a lower-priced community college. My simple-minded response: “For telling the truth?” The leadership of Chancellor John Sharp and the Board of Regents of The Texas A&M University System is rigorously focused on honest, forthright communication. Truthfulness and transparency are foundational burdens of effective service in a republic. Panhandle pragmatism rules in Canyon, Texas. Education is both a value proposition and a valued proposition. Dollars and good sense work together where land, natural resources and agriculture are woven into an economy that cannot thrive without thoughtful utilization of all resources and the opportunities provided by them. A local banker praised the position saying he too frequently had to deny mortgage loans to families due to over indebtedness from education loans. Being transparent is critical in gaining the trust of future students. Wherever their aspirations take them, their perception of our university’s integrity and honesty is paramount. I am betting my professional career that such relationships will prevail. Panhandle pragmatism rules in Canyon, Texas. Education is both a value proposition and a valued proposition. Dollars and good sense work together where land, natural resources and agriculture are woven into an economy that cannot thrive without thoughtful utilization of all resources and the opportunities provided by them.
Seek a university that appreciates the fullness of the American Dream and sees a university education, when it is desired and earned, as only one element of that aspiration.
Field of Dreams
Looking for a college? Gruver, Texas, can teach us something. A small but remarkable community in Hansford County, Gruver is home to about 1,200 souls.
The community wanted to be the county seat of Hansford County, and during the 1920s there was a battle between the good folks of Gruver, led by Uncle Joe Gruver, and the anxious citizens of Spearman, Texas, a few miles down the road. Over a period that spanned nearly two decades, there were battles between the communities over railroad interests, line locations, county politics and state politics. The governor and eventually the state legislature got involved, and it got tough along the way. At one point there was gunplay that thankfully turned into an old-fashioned fistfight, having no impact on the outcome but revealing a level of intensity resident in Panhandle communities—an American kind of toughness that embodies and is driven by community aspirations. Uncle Joe Gruver lost the fight and never forgot it. He was tough, innovative and persistent with a spirit that represented the very best of those good folks of Gruver. They work together and worked hard, standing unified and proactive for community improvement and a brighter future.
That has never changed.
Gruver ISD, a school district of less than 500 students (a drop in the bucket compared to the state’s 5.5 million), gets an A rating on accountability, has experienced teachers averaging over fourteen years of service (three years greater than the state average) and a four-year graduation rate of over 96% (compared to the state’s 90%). Teachers’ salaries at $46,026 are low (about 15% below state averages). But Gruver has spit. By comparison, Houston ISD’s accountability rating is a B for its 210,000 students, the average teacher’s salary is $54,125 at the state average and just over 80% graduate on time or earlier. Small can be very good. There’s no symphony or ballet, few museums or live theater, such as available in the great Bayou City, but Amarillo is not far away, nor is West Texas A&M University. The power of community flourishes in Gruver, Texas, where a donated parcel of land (410 acres) allows farmers to grow corn to help students go to college. The Gruver Farm Scholarship Foundation was established in 2012 to motivate students through incentives and encourage academic and extracurricular success. 20 The power of community flourishes in Gruver, Texas, where a donated parcel of land (410 acres) allows farmers to grow corn to help students go to college. The Gruver Farm Scholarship Foundation was established in 2012 to motivate students through incentives and encourage academic and extracurricular success.
The community, Gruver ISD and the foundation all want to create a brighter future for students. Panhandle pragmatism is at work in Gruver. The foundation also wants to attract families from afar to live in Gruver, a place that cares for its families and students and works to provide educational opportunity beyond high school in a variety of educational settings. Farmers volunteer equipment and time; students, teachers and staff help; and all begin to understand an agricultural way of life. They thought they were just planting corn, but they were growing community. The yield of corn challengingly coaxed from the land funds scholarships. Graduates of Gruver High School have the opportunity to attend college or vocational training tuition and fee free. Truckloads of graduates like those fromGruver would bring honor toWT. They know how to work. They know how to succeed. They expect a reward when success is achieved. These are the students that make a place likeWT successful. Leadership at every level, committed faculty, resources to support students and faculty and facilities that offer excellent places to work and study are all important. When Karl Nielsen donated 410 acres of land to help Gruver ISD, the school set it up as a cash lease. Although the yield was modest, about $25,000 per year, the good folks of Gruver thought they could do better. Volunteers, farmers and townsfolk did do better. They raised corn as a community. They sold corn. The proceeds are fueling postsecondary study. Students are awarded funds based on a combination of merit and participation. Yes, test scores and grades are important—the foundation recognizes that, as does the Gruver ISD; but community participation, belonging to something larger than itself, is also a critical factor. Truckloads of graduates like those from Gruver would bring honor to WT. They know how to work. They know how to succeed. They expect a reward when success is achieved. These are the students that make a place like WT successful. Leadership at every level, committed faculty, resources to support students and faculty and facilities that offer excellent places to work and study are all important. These elements allow a university to turn dreams into reality for students who have aspirations for themselves, their families and the places they call home. When a student is looking for a university experience, I would advise them to diligently seek out a place that values and champions the free exchange of ideas, puts the needs of others first and applies what is learned for the betterment of communities. Seek an institution that embraces better ways to shape the future and treats others with a dignity that flows from the humanity of a place where each individual promotes citizenship and being part of something larger than oneself.
That’s not a field of dreams for a university or a student, but a focus on real mission that becomes an institutional reality.
Tahoka, Texas, the county seat of Lynn County, is a small town of 3,000 souls. In spirit, it is bigger than the South Plains skies that crown it. Maybe it’s poor; the median household income is $42,000 per year. In spirit, family income only provides a glimpse into what makes a community work. Toughness, practicality and self-reliance matter, too, in the oldest town south of Lubbock on the South Plains. Many Tahoka Bulldogs, the school’s mascot, have assumed successful careers in diverse locations, occupations and pursuits of life. Phil Adams, a Bulldog and former chairman of the Board of Regents of The Texas A&M University System is currently serving his third six-year term as a Regent. Phil’s dad was Tahoka’s Ag teacher for years; his mom was a school teacher and counselor and lived out her life in Tahoka. Mr. Adams attributes his success in life to four Tahoka, Texas, values: home, church, school and work. Mr. Adams did not mention to me the importance of stewardship—it was probably too obvious. Tahokians care for what they have. After visiting 80 high schools in the Texas Panhandle and South Plains, in Tahoka I found the cleanest restrooms that I have ever seen. That finding provided a luminous look at the people of Tahoka. By comparison to more prosperous schools in more prosperous metropolises, stewardship of limited or scarce resources represents a fifth value on Phil’s list. Or, possibly, it is embedded in each of the Tahoka values: home, church, school and work. Many Tahoka Bulldogs, the school’s mascot, have assumed successful careers in diverse locations, occupations and pursuits of life. Phil Adams, a Bulldog and former chairman of the Board of Regents of The Texas A&MUniversity System is currently serving his third six-year term as a Regent. Phil’s dad was Tahoka’s Ag teacher for years; his momwas a school teacher and counselor and lived out her life in Tahoka. Mr. Adams attributes his success in life to four Tahoka, Texas, values: home, church, school and work. Many communities, particularly small communities, struggle to maintain their independent school districts in the face of declining populations, a lack of employment opportunities and increasingly sparse healthcare. Fiscal wherewithal is sometimes provided by windmills standing resolute against the endless West Texas skies. Billions of dollars in energy investments create tens of millions of dollars enabling smaller schools to build new facilities that empower hope for the future.
But enlightened stewardship is required.
Stanley T. Greer discusses in a January 2019 research report, Local Tax Abatements and the Texas Wind Industry published by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the impact of Chapters 312 and 313 of the Texas Tax Code which creates burdens that are “scarring rural Texas.” Mr. Greer carefully rehearses the costs and benefits, with a legitimate emphasis on “costs” that impact the long-range stewardship and utilization of an abundant resource in Texas—wind. While the benefits of renewable energy resources are difficult to dispute, the costs of environmental degradation, deleterious impacts on human health, the high costs of transmission to urban areas and the sporadic reliability of wind energy all require thoughtful assessment of ultimate value. Stewardship and appreciation of costs and benefits will lessen negative impacts on small communities in West Texas. Public awareness and accountability are required to balance the precarious equation of what is ultimately good for communities. Tahoka and dozens of other independent school districts get immediate benefit from wind energy seemingly unavailable from any other source.
Schools inmany small communities are the glue, the pride of place, the last bastion of public purpose that bonds the community together.
In part, what I saw in Tahoka, heard from Principal Don Worth and experienced through a pragmatic sense of purpose was memorialized in the school’s motto: “We Serve, Students Win.” Intentionally caring for what a community possesses sustains near and long-term value. Schools in many small communities are the glue, the pride of place, the last bastion of public purpose that bonds the community together. When visiting Booker High School, I was told by the former school librarian that the school district (with less than 140 students, pre-k through 12) was essential to the community. “Without it,” she said, “Booker would be boarded up.”
Purposefulness and stewardship take on heightened priority in the sparsely populated, windblown, yet vital communities of the Panhandle and the South Plains.
If a family visits a college campus and finds indicators of a lack of stewardship of any kind, from cleanliness of the restrooms to deliberate utilization of increasingly scarce resources—state funding, tuition and fee dollars, gifts, grants and other means of material support—look elsewhere for an institution that “gets it” like Tahoka does.
Clean restrooms may seem trite, but they are the tip of the stewardship iceberg.
Scholarship, research, artistic expression, service of every kind all impact university life. No university of any kind, at any level, that does not value these activities that extend the frontiers of human insight, is not a good university. However, as important and central as these actions are they do not supplant the ultimate purpose and value of a university. The foundation lies in increasing the effectiveness of teaching students, from freshman through postdoctoral studies. Teaching is the first purpose of the University . Commitments to value good teaching begin in high schools that value the relationship between teachers and students. Teaching is a form of leadership. I have never found a good teacher who was not a good leader. And likewise I have never met a good leader who didn’t have the ability and desire to teach. Many institutions treat teaching for research and scholarship, and teaching for vocational skill as different realities. All good universities teach, in every subject area, in a way that also provides useful skills. There is, thankfully, a resurgence in how people value useful skills in high school.
When considering college :
-Look for a strong commitment to teaching , and appreciation for the border between late adolescence and a productive life, one that values citizenship. Without these things little education is attainable. Whiteface, Texas -A college should value craft and skill, in intellectual and vocational pursuits . It is part of what makes a society work. According to the history of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity to the present time, Rabbi Judah said, “He who teaches not his son a trade, does as if he taught him to be a thief.” Lubbock, Texas -A place that teaches determination, humility, and respect for others while seeking to improve one’s station in life are traits taught and learned and should be the goal. In every area of subject matter, from algebra to zoology these fundamentals are part of good teaching. Pampa, Texas
Teaching on theBorder
Whiteface, Texas, is a small community located in Cochran County. Its neighbor, Sundown, Texas, is located in Hockley County. These are both border communities. They lie at the intersection of ranching, oil production and cotton. I found in both communities a sincere commitment to teaching the small number of students who attend high school as Whiteface Antelopes or Sundown Roughnecks. In addition to the rough geographic borders of oil production, ranching and farming, the borders between adolescence and adulthood exist and are respected in both communities. When talking with students, I queried them to understand their participation in school events outside the normal classroom setting. I may have called them extracurricular activities. In both cases there was nearly unanimous acknowledgment that they were involved in something outside of the classroom and/or work. The border between the academic nature of the high school experience and life’s avocations in workplaces and communities was nearly eliminated. In addition, it appeared to me that teachers sensed the power of this bilateral engagement, and did not see their teaching commitment ending when the bell sounded. Rather, nurturing young people living on the border between adolescence and adulthood was front and center. In addition to the rough geographic borders of oil production, ranching and farming, the borders between adolescence and adulthood exist and are respected in both communities. When talking with students, I queried them to understand their participation in school events outside the normal classroom setting. I may have called them extracurricular activities. In both cases there was nearly unanimous acknowledgment that they were involved in something outside of the classroom and/or work. This commitment was expressed in different ways by different teachers at both schools, but the recognition that these students were living in “two worlds” simultaneously was apparent. Good teaching recognizes that transitions from one state of being to another are the core of teaching. If the teacher says, “My role is teaching calculus or history, and that’s where the teaching stops,” that’s instruction, a necessary aspect of teaching, but only one aspect. Teachers in Sundown and Whiteface seem to understand the “border existence” between one phase of life and another. Nothing creates better teaching than an understanding of the border condition. That border condition produces aspirational ethics. Those ethics and motivations provide determination for students to cross the border. To become something they are not. An aspiring architect or engineer or teacher inculcates an understanding of moving forward with the necessary skills and insights. Nurturing teachers do that.
Teaching is a special vocation requiring a powerful connection between teacher and student on a sustained basis. That is what I saw in Whiteface and Sundown. Tireless love to navigate challenging transitions. That is teaching. Questions, concerns, fears, trepidations and a host of other grit that gets placed in the machine of progress must be addressed. Teachers appreciating that challenge will care for the individual in that borderland existence between what is and what will be. Lastly, good teachers also sense their roles as leaders. Thankfully, in every school I visited I have found to a greater or lesser extent the importance of leadership and teaching. There is no border between these two. Teaching always requires that a vision be cast. Leading requires the same. No excuses, no lack of funding, no challenge with unprepared students, no placing of blame elsewhere absolve the
teacher from being a leader and the leader from teaching. Effective teaching and leadership allow no borders between.
Someone might ask, “You saw all of that in Whiteface and Sundown?” I would say, “Yes, that and more.” As students cross that bridge between being a high school student and something else, they learn from energetic teaching to accept responsibility for personal action and become emotionally responsible citizens. That is the role of education. And students in Whiteface and Sundown expect that. Those high expectations lead to changed views of the world and the borderland allows perspective to see the world changing. Lastly, good teachers also sense their roles as leaders. Thankfully, in every school I visited I have found to a greater or lesser extent the importance of leadership and teaching. There is no border between these two. Teaching always requires that a vision be cast. Leading requires the same. No excuses, no lack of funding, no challenge with unprepared students, no placing of blame elsewhere absolve the teacher from being a leader and the leader from teaching. Effective teaching and leadership allow no borders between. If a student and family visit a university campus and don’t find a strong commitment to teaching, an appreciation for the border between late adolescence and a productive life in a vocation and in citizenship, skip the free lunch and head for the house. Look elsewhere for a place to study. Find a place where the fruit of teaching is realized in its fullest expression as addressing and appreciating the borders.
Where theHandMeets theMind
According to The History of the Jews from the Babylonian Captivity to the Present Time, Rabbi Judah said, “He who teacheth not his son a trade, does as if he taught him to be a thief.”
This proverbial reflection is worth a second look in a contemporary context. While traveling the South Plains, I found a number of examples of high schools where technical education, i.e., trade school or vocational education, is treated seriously and provides great benefit to students and the extended community. Lubbock Cooper Independent School District has a well-developed Career and Technical Education Division with a complete wing dedicated to arts of the hand and mind. Unfortunately many perceive vocational education to be for those poor souls who can’t think and therefore must do — a parochial and condescending view of professions of craft. The marketplace of skill is changing that perspective. Certifications in Automotive Service Excellence, Digital and Interactive Media, Microsoft Office Specialists, Career Safe OSHA, the American Welding Society and Serve Safe, to name a few, are programs that prepare students for useful careers with free- market value. Not a single one of these certifications precludes the possibility of a student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the future. Recently, a young woman with six years of welding experience was accepted into our mechanical engineering program at WTAMU. The combination of vocational skills and engineering problem-solving acumen will uniquely qualify this young woman for a career in a way that a traditional engineering graduate could only hope for.
Unfortunately many perceive vocational education to be for those poor souls who can’t think and therefore must do— a parochial and condescending view of professions of craft. The marketplace of skill is changing that perspective.
Likewise, I toured Lubbock ISD’s Career and Technical Education Center. Many of the crafts taught there will have a valuable impact on the lives of students. Lubbock ISD uses a series of cluster areas to prepare students for jobs. The arts, A/V production and communications, business management, health science, hospitality and tourism, human services, information technology and manufacturing, are a few of the clusters in which a student may enroll. The facilities, professionalism of teachers and abilities of students were impressive. This commitment to vocational education is growing nationally. In rural school districts, many students are first in their family to attend college and come from homes where the practice of craft is the norm. Additionally, for rural students from farms and ranches, working with their hands is a given and not disparaged as something below anyone’s dignity. There is nobility in work and an appreciation for being able to “do” something. This view warrants lifelong pursuit.
The combination of thinking and doing should be valued in higher education. In many universities, programs combining craft, emotive power and technical expertise, such as art, design, music and dance, are held in high regard. WT’s Sybil B. Harrington College of Fine Arts and Humanities is an example. However, these skill-based capabilities are different from the application-driven pursuits that we typically call trades. Any separation of thinking and doing serves no one well. In 2016, seventy percent of high school graduates enrolled in post-secondary educational experiences. Couple this understanding with the fact that nationally 34% of college graduates with average indebtedness near $30,000 are underemployed, according to the Federal Reserve Board of New York. They are working in jobs that require no college degree. Hindsight creates in many diploma and promissory note holders envy for jobs that require certification of skill with nearly guaranteed employment and low or no debt. Please don’t deem these observations regarding gainful employment to be “thick-skulled,” or represent a lack of appreciation for critical thinking skills often, but not always, accompanying a rigorous undergraduate education. Rather, the recognition is that both can be accomplished without negative impact on either. Hindsight creates inmany diploma and promissory note holders envy for jobs that require certification of skill with nearly guaranteed employment and low or no debt. Please don’t deem these observations regarding gainful employment to be “thick-skulled,” or represent a lack of appreciation for critical thinking skills often, but not always, accompanying a rigorous undergraduate education. Rather, the recognition is that both can be accomplished without negative impact on either.
This is South Plains/Panhandle pragmatism at work.
If, when considering colleges, you sense on a campus dismissiveness regarding trades, vocations and knowledge applied to some necessary and useful task, leave. They are not as smart as they want you to think. If you believe that Rabbi Judah’s observation would not be appreciated or seen as a diminishment of being an educated human being, get in your car (hopefully pronounced safe by someone who holds Automotive Service Excellence Credentials) and drive to another campus— one where the hand meets the mind.
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