This week, I was honored to give a talk at the National Student Success Conference 2019 in Tampa, Florida called “U.S. Higher Education is Failing its Students: How an Innovative Student Success Model is Helping.” It was a treat to share with the audience how The New School has been putting some truly creative structures in place to help students thrive in college.
You never know what a conference is going to be like. I have been disappointed so many times. But this experience was great from beginning to end. In fact, this was, hands down, the best conference I have ever attended. And I’m old, so I’ve gone to MANY. What made it so great?
- It was highly organized – from beginning to end – the communications, directions, the layout of the program, the space, and the schedule – it was all impeccably laid out and organized.
- Everything about it was visually appealing. The signs, the program, the swag, the rooms for break-out sessions, and the ballroom for the plenary sessions had an incredible sign and awesome technology.
- The schedule allowed for movement between sessions, networking breaks, and leisurely meals with colleagues.
- With about 325 people attending, it wasn’t overwhelmingly big. The scale was just right.
- With only 5 sessions to choose from in each time slot, I was worried whether or not I’d find something applicable to my work. But my worries vanished when I saw the line-up. Literally, every session had something interesting to offer. The topics were wide-ranging enough, but all had to do with student success – a rich, intriguing topic – and virtually every speaker knew their stuff inside out and presented more conversationally than most people who give talks. The conversational quality of the speakers made everything seem quite intimate and cultivated an atmosphere of genuine exchange. Whoever chose the papers should be commended. A truly rich array of relevant, innovative, and rich topics.
- USF had a huge cadre of students – easily identified by their green jackets – who were friendly, lively, and extremely helpful.
- We were in our own area of the hotel, so we weren’t bothered by others walking through, and everyone we passed was a member of the conference.
- The plenary sessions were fantastic! And they were done over breakfast and lunch! Every person who spoke was knowledgeable, personable, and genuine.
- A colleague from Morgan State University, Tiffany Mfume, was selling her books during breaks. If you have a chance to read her new, slim volume, The College Completion Glass—Half-Full or Half-Empty?: Exploring the Value of Postsecondary Education, I would go for it. She’s insightful and brilliant and could possibly help change the conversation about the value of a college education.
- There were very few vendors, and the ones who were there were just terrific. Dave Becker from CampusESP, an online platform for college parent engagement, was a great contributor to the authentic ambience of the conference.
- The food was incredibly good. The first night, there was a sushi banquet and an open bar. The second night, they held a networking reception on the water with more shrimp and crabs than I’ve seen in decades, again with an open bar and a steak carving station. The breakfast buffets were excellent. And the table-served lunches were pretty good, too.
Finally, the conference ended with a bang! The last speaker was Sara Goldrick-Rab, the author of Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. She’s an engaging, natural, energetic, and insightful speaker. She uses great slides, walks back and forth on the stage with a microphone instead of standing behind a podium, and every sentence out of her mouth is another pearl of wisdom. Here are a few:
“Students are humans first. Colleges must commit to a culture of caring.”
“Please let’s stop calling college students kids.”
“Let’s expand the National Student Lunch program to college!”
“Homeless prevalence among college students is not junk science.”
“Couch surfing is invisible homelessness.”
She’s truly inspiring.
I’m so grateful to the conference organizers and all the speakers. I came home rejuvenated for the work I have before me.