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ASU's innovation is a benefit for society

ASU's innovative ways can help more people in Arizona, and beyond, to a degree.
ASU President Crow: Negative political rhetoric keeps me up at night.
January 13, 2016

President Crow cites university's many achievements in broadening access to college credit

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2016, click here.

In his annual address to the community, President Michael M. Crow said that Arizona State University’s innovative mindset requires collaboration and purpose, and it is driven by a responsibility to the community.

“We’re prepared to innovate to be helpful to your family, your business, your hope for your community,” he said.

“We also have public values that we’re protecting, which is to be lower cost and egalitarian in terms of our admission standards.”

Crow made these remarks Wednesday night during his annual Community Conversation at Galvin Playhouse on the Tempe Campus. The dialogue was built around the topic of “What is innovationASU topped the list of “most innovative schools” in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings for 2016 based on a survey of peers. College presidents, provosts and admissions deans around the country nominated up to 10 colleges or universities that are making the most innovative improvements to curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology or facilities. ?”

He said that ASU’s innovations show that the United States — itself an innovation in government when it was formed — has unlimited potential.

“In this moment when America needs a model for innovation — we have literally been able to move and innovate at light speed compared to a normal university,” Crow said.

Crow said that it’s difficult for universities to embrace innovation.

“University innovation is like an oxymoronic term. They’re only concerned with their niche,” he said.

ASU’s very model is innovative, Crow said, compared with universities that limit admissions and restrict programs.

“Some universities spend 10 years talking about whether they want to offer a degree program.”

Crow said that ASU rejected the old-fashioned model of university success.

“We were told we needed to raise admission standards, build a medical school and replicate everything everyone else did.” He said the traditional model wasn’t sufficient to meet the state’s needs.

He discussed several ways that ASU has broadened access to university credit, such as the Starbucks College Achievement ProgramThe Starbucks College Achievement Program offers full tuition reimbursement to employees who pursue an online degree through ASU. and the Global Freshmen AcademyThe Global Freshman Academy debuted in the fall semester. Anyone can take online classes and decide after completion whether they want to pay for the ASU credits, which are offered at a rate of $200 per hour.. While the former is open to Starbucks partners around the country and the latter to potential students around the world, they both also can can help Arizonans who want to pursue college credit, he said

“There are a million people in Arizona who started college and never finished,” he said.

Michael M. Crow

ASU President Michael M. Crow addresses the crowd during his 2016 Community Conversation inside the Galvin Playhouse on Tempe campus. Photos by Robin Kiyutelluk/Arizona State University

The public was invited to submit questions via Twitter with the hashtag #AskMichaelCrow. One question was, "What keeps you up at night?"

“Negative political rhetoric,” Crow said.

“People don’t really know what we have inherited — all these educational opportunities and artistic expressions and all the things we’ve got.

“Everyone is talking about how we’re collapsing and the country is not going ahead, and when you look at what we’ve been through, the civil war and the opening of the west, it’s just not the case."

But ASU’s students are not pessimistic, he said.

“When I talk to our kids I don’t get that sense. Maybe my elixir is being with them. They’re filled with this desire to make a difference.”

Another problem that keeps Crow up at night is the notion of fairness and equity.

“We still live in a society that has a lot of outcomes determined by your parents’ income and that’s an unfair thing.

“We need to do anything we can to find that student with talent — the rich kid, the poor kid, the homeless kid, the foster kid.”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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A new look at the 'affluenza' issue

"Affluenza" defense not complete nonsense, says ASU researcher.
Studies show drug/alcohol use higher among affluent teens than inner-city kids.
Anxiety/depression among affluent youth found to be 2-3 times national rates.
January 14, 2016

ASU researcher shares what her studies have revealed about America's affluent youth

Late Monday night it was announced that Tonya Couch, mother of the infamous “affluenza” teen Ethan CouchPictured above in a photo released by Mexican authorities with dyed-black hair after he has detained in Puerto Vallarta., had posted bail after her bond was lowered from $1 million to $75,000.

This, after the elder Couch was accused of aiding her son in fleeing to Mexico to avoid a probation hearing that might have led to jail time.

It all stemmed from a 2013 incident in which the younger Couch, 16 at the time, killed four people in a drunken driving accident. At the time of his trial, Couch’s lawyers cited a defense of “affluenza,” claiming the teen’s affluent lifestyle lead to an inability to understand the consequences of his actions.

Many in the media and general public balked at this claim, calling it “junk science” or an outright lie.

Recently, however, research from Arizona State University’s Suniya Luthar, a Foundation Professor in psychologyThe Department of Psychology is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. has been cited as appearing to support the idea that affluent youth do actually suffer from issues such as severe depression and anxiety that can lead to substance abuse and poor decision-making.

A recent blog post co-written by Luthar and Barry Schwartz for Reuters states that although Couch’s “affluenza” defense may just be “an absurd effort to minimize one teenager’s responsibility for a horrific tragedy,” it would be “foolish to allow [it] to obscure growing evidence that we have a significant and growing crisis on our hands."

“The children of the affluent are becoming increasingly troubled, reckless, and self-destructive," they wrote. "Perhaps we needn’t feel sorry for these ‘poor little rich kids.’ But if we don’t do something about their problems, they will become everyone’s problems.”

ASU Now sat down with Luthar to get to the root of this growing problem and talk about ways to deal with and — potentially — prevent it.

Question: Your research has received a great deal of national attention in the past few months, cited extensively in The Atlantic and more recently by NPR, CNN and The Washington Post. Why so much interest now?

Answer: These reports stem from two sets of events recently, one involving the tragic cluster of suicides in Palo Alto, California, and the other being the Ethan Couch “affluenza” case. Essentially, these events capture the types of problems that we’ve repeatedly documented in our research on kids in white-collar, professional families: high rates of depression, anxiety and self-harm on the one hand, and substance abuse and rule-breaking behaviors on the other.

Q: Why are we suddenly seeing so many troubled affluent children? Have they always had these issues, or is this a new phenomenon?

A: Well, we really don’t know what “used to be.” Until the turn of the century, there really wasn’t any research on this subgroup of children in particular.

That said, it is clear that the pressures on these kids have increased tremendously over the last several decades. Competition among affluent youth has become that much stiffer, so that instead of having 200 kids vying for a particular spot in a university, it’s more like 2,000. Between that and globalization, there is so very much more competition, not just for university admissions, but for jobs in prestigious white-collar settings. These factors, I believe, lead to an enormous sense of pressure and, in turn, to high levels of distress among upper-middle class children.

Q: Your research article “I can, therefore I must: Fragility among the middle classes” is among the most-read articles from ASU according to ResearchGate. Does this mean that many more scientists are now studying this population?

A: No, not necessarily. The interest is partly because of the recent media stories, and I think scientists now acknowledge that these problems are in fact real. We have replicated our findings several times across the country.

Despite this acknowledgement, we can’t assume that many more researchers are working with this population simply because these kids are very difficult to access. Most upper-middle class schools are extremely protective about the privacy of their students and families, so that asking to conduct research with them is unlikely to go anywhere. In our case, after our first couple of studies (that happened pretty much by chance), schools started to reach out and ask for assessments, usually after troubling incidents involving serious self-harm or substance use.

Q: What are the solutions to these problems? Are they at all preventable?

A: Yes, I do believe that they are preventable in many cases, but our interventions will have to be at many different levels, as Barry (Schwartz) and I wrote in our recent blog post. Starting with the parents, obviously; it’s critical to keep the channels of communication open with your kids. Teenagers can be notoriously difficult sometimes to get through to, but do keep trying, do make sure your children really do feel loved and cared for, and that you value them for the human beings they are, and not for the splendor of their accomplishments. Also, you have to set your limits and be firm in sticking to them.  Kids catch on very fast about whether or not testing the limits will lead to any real consequences from you.

Equally important, parents must understand that they are not machines who can just keep giving and performing; that they too need replenishment if they are to sustain “good enough parenting” in these extremely fast-paced, stressful communities. This is why my recent work is focused on mothers, who are usually the primary caregivers, in efforts to ensure that they too receive ongoing support and tending in their everyday lives.

At schools, teachers need to remember that they are only one of many teachers parceling out tons of homework (often in challenging AP classes). And schools in upper-middle class communities tend to push kids toward a very selective group of colleges — back off that approach. Focus more on conveying to kids that there are many ways in which they can get a splendid college education, show them real-life examples of the many very “successful” people who went to schools nowhere near the Ivy’s.

And there urgently need to be changes in higher education. In our blog article, we reiterated Barry’s terrific suggestion to introduce a lottery system for admissions in highly competitive schools. So essentially, if you have a good enough portfolio to make the top applicant pool, your name gets thrown into the pool but from there on, selection occurs by lottery. This can do much to reduce the enormous pressure kids feel that if they did just one more challenging course or activity, that would make or break their admission.

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Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU News

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