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Higher Ed in Focus

By July 10, 2019 No Comments
University of Florida

The following is the first in a series on higher-ed leaders working with MTC to improve learning, college admissions for students.

Recently we sat down with Zina Evans—vice president for enrollment management and associate provost at University of Florida and a member of MTC’s growing Higher Ed Working Group (HEWG)—to discuss her thoughts on MTC and its part in the movement to change education. She expressed her excitement for how the MTC Mastery Transcript conveys students in a more contextualized and authentic way and sees it supporting learning that focuses on “a deeper level of knowing content and a broader range of skills that a student can apply no matter what he or she is doing.” Read on for more.

Why did you join MTC’s Higher-Ed Working Group? What excites you most?

What excites me most about the HEWG and the Mastery Transcript Consortium™ (MTC) is that we are trying to do more to contextualize student learning; the standard letter grade gives us some information, but this group is giving us the opportunity to talk about learning in a more contextualized way—in order to understand the student better. I am excited to see what that will look like and how we can use that in an admissions context. The grade is one thing but the context gives us even richer information. The Mastery Transcript seems to be a very powerful tool to have in general—and in the admissions process as well.

How do you see the Mastery Transcript giving admissions offices a better understanding of a broader range of students?

The Mastery Transcript will allow us to see a broader mix of high schools and students within their context. I really sometimes worry we look at high schools too generally—because they are big or rigorous or inner city—and make some assumptions. It is one thing to see that a student got a certain grade, but it is another to understand what is going on. I believe that the Mastery Transcript will give us better context in understanding who schools are; what students are learning; and whether student can be successful on campus. It doesn’t matter whether those students are in a suburban or under-resourced high school—if what I believe is going to come out is more about what that student had to work with and then what that student was able to do, how he or she was able to develop skills. That is what is really exciting here—universally seeing not only skill sets, but also the deeper context in which those skills were achieved. 

What worries you most about students in their application process and transition to college?  

Transition to college is not a one-size-fits-all experience. For example first generation and low income students have a set of different challenges that we need to be particularly conscious of in college admissions. The student who is first generation may have never had the opportunity to engage with someone who has been through the admissions process before. That is a big deal, having someone who can support the student in being able to understand and make the most of this process. Having a student tell his or her story through an essay and other forms of engagement is just as important as grades. Helping students understand that and bringing that into context for them is key. We live in a culture where everyone thinks there is a trick or a special sauce. But our institution just wants to hear more about who you are: the student, the kid. We are not trying to keep people out, but what we are trying to do is get as much as we can out of the student. The question is what that information is. I say: Don’t overthink how you give us your information. Answer thoughtfully and genuinely, and you will create a more compelling and authentic application than if you are trying to overthink it. That is a particularly important message to convey to low income and first generation students who should seek out the support they need to understand how to put together a comprehensive and competitive application.

How do you see kids benefiting from the Mastery Transcript?

I see the Mastery Transcript heading in a direction where students will really understand it and get into it. I see them excited to show more of their context and related skills they developed. There will be more emphasis on increased critical thinking skills, persuasive argument skills, etc. For instance you will be able to see: “Wow you really know chemistry well AND you are also a really good problem solver as you worked your way through chemistry.” There will be a deeper level of knowing content and a broader range of skills that a student can apply no matter what he or she is doing, through engagement in this course or another. Those are all the sorts of elements that this type of a transcript will draw out of a student. Students will also get the feedback they need to know “I have really increased my capability in this area.” They will leave class more focused on the content they have mastered and the skill sets they are growing. That is how I think students will really benefit.

Do you see this type of learning benefiting University students too? 

As much as we produce new knowledge, we also move at a snail’s pace, which is an interesting dynamic in higher learning. Any time we have more information and don’t have to make assumptions that is a good thing. Really knowing that students are successful in a class and have developed the types of skills that will make them successful in life are valuable in a university setting too. At a university we want to understand there is an academic foundation, but even more that students can figure out the right answer and make meaning about what it means and apply it in a broader context. That is what we hope for students at the University level—and heading in a direction to do that helps us to do that more effectively makes sense. Getting more information that tells us this has happened is really good for us to have. One of our schools, New College, in fact, is built on this concept: It is more about the content and what you have mastered and less about getting and giving out grades. This is an institution that really values this, and more of us are seeing the benefit of this, so students are best prepared as they move through their postsecondary education.

How will college campuses benefit?

One of the things we often grapple with is that students have different types of higher learning and different areas. We want to be able to know, “Is this the kind of environment where the student is going to do well?” What they will be able to show us through the Mastery Transcript are their special talents or skills. For instance an artist will be able to give us broader picture of who he or she is and what high school is like in the context of what they have accomplished. We spend a lot of time understanding the high school and its curriculum. 

I believe many high schools are going in this direction, and as a result they are providing high school profile information that enables us to understand them better. Anyone who is thinking about this type of transcript or who is transitioning their curriculum should be thinking about what is the core value in an educational environment. How can we show student work in a better way than we do right now? There needs to be a clear value statement: Why is it important for students to be able to articulate their best self? How do we believe this better articulates a student’s work? There will be some uniformity which will be a benefit, but if there are 50 schools using the MTC there will be 35 different flavors. Certain elements will be different from one school to another. There are some state requirements we need to translate this into though, so we will walk that fine line. 

What are your reactions to the prototype after a first glance? What looks interesting/promising?

I am really impressed so far. I have been hearing about this work around the edges and to be able to see this is exciting. I am very happy to be part of this group. Hopefully we will make some good contributions to what you are doing.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work? 

Balancing competing demands and having enough financial aid to support students in a meaningful way. Students financial needs have increased faster than our aid budget.

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About Jenny Barker

Jenny is the director of communications for MTC. Contact her at barker@mastery.org.