In a speech both rousing and intimate, University Professor William Tierney, co-director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the USC Rossier School of Education, finished his year-long tenure as president of the American Education Research Association (AERA) with a keynote address to several hundred members of the organization gathered for their annual conference in San Francisco.
Focusing on the conference theme of “Education and Poverty,” Tierney wove stories from his youth as a Peace Corp volunteer in Morocco, his days teaching Native Americans on a reservation in North Dakota and his struggles to complete a doctoral dissertation at Stanford University to encourage the audience “to bear witness to the kids,” to listen, take more time to reflect, and to argue and defend beliefs surrounding the issues that students in poverty bring to their ability to learn and succeed.
His keynote address, which incorporated personal photographs, displays of video games, and the challenging data of poverty and college attainment and success, was titled “Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Role of the Intellectual in Eliminating Poverty.”
Tierney called on his fellow researchers to work toward five goals that can make the difference for first-generation high school students who are raised in less financially advantaged households or with no college-going culture in their lives:
- Make sure a student knows which college-preparatory courses are needed and make them available.
- Use assessment measures throughout high school and communicate thoroughly and culturally appropriately so that the students and their families understand at every step what is needed to stay on the path to college.
- Communicate about college throughout the students’ high school years. References and recommendations about appropriate colleges and universities from trusted, caring adults must compensate for a national ratio of college counselors to students (450 to 1) that is twice the recommended average.
- Help the students with college applications. More than 50 percent of impoverished students do not go to the colleges for which they are qualified because they cannot manage the application process.
- Help a student’s families learn about financial aid.
Tierney spoke about the need for “College Knowledge” and the work of the USC Pullias Center in designing Collegeology Games, a suite of games in card formats and also now on social media that enable high school and middle school students to play and compete as they learn the processes of college selection, application and financing. Collegeology Games was designed by the Pullias Center in partnership with USC’s Game Innovation Lab at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Tierney, one of the first researchers focused on higher education to lead the AERA, steps down from his presidential post with the close of the conference today. The association has a membership of nearly 25,000 education researchers from around the world.