Tom Brown is a St. Helena resident who served as a dean at Saint Mary’s College of California for 27 years. He currently is a consultant and speaker at colleges and universities that are seeking to keep more of the students they enroll. Send comments, questions to: thedean@tbrownassociates.com

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British sociologist Michael Young coined the term “meritocracy” in his 1958 satirical book, “The Rise of Meritocracy.” Young describes an imaginary society where those at the top of the societal pyramid create and perpetuate the myth that their success is based solely on their intelligence a…

A November Napa Valley Register headline about the passing of St. Helena’s Bill Connolly referred to him as a mentor. In the classic Greek myth, as Odysseus, King of Ithaca, prepared to go off to fight the Trojan War, he asked his loyal friend Mentor to advise and guide his son, Telemachus, …

There are few better (or worse) examples of Washington gridlock than continuing Congressional inaction on immigration reform. When Congress failed again to enact immigration legislation following the 2012 election, President Barack Obama issued a directive called Deferred Action for Childhoo…

During the 1960 presidential campaign, Senator John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of 10,000 students at the University of Michigan, who responded enthusiastically to his challenge for them to serve their country by living and working in developing countries.

On Monday, the Supreme Court allowed the government to enforce a travel ban that would prevent people from six predominantly Muslim counties from entering the U.S. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, however, the Court’s order explicitly states that students from the designated c…

As commencement days drew closer during my life as a dean, I regularly spoke with anxious graduating seniors concerned with having an answer to that omnipresent and somewhat ominous question, “What are you going to do now?” I often suggested that they might respond with another question once…

Recently, news media have reported stories of students shouting down and shutting out speakers with whom they disagree. Such was the case last month, when UC Berkeley College Republicans issued an invitation to a controversial self-described conservative speaker who usually taunts his audien…

Two terms have entered common usage over the past year: alternative facts and fake news. The former was first used as Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, defended the White House Press Secretary’s false claims about the crowd size at the recent inauguration.

I was buying popcorn and soda at the Cameo when I asked the young cashier about his educational plans — something I do from habit as a longtime academic advisor. He responded that he was planning to enroll at a university whose name was wholly unfamiliar to me, adding that he was getting a s…

My tenure as dean thankfully ended before the widespread use of cell phones. Accordingly, I didn’t have the experience so many colleagues have since described to me. They are meeting with a student to discuss career plans, possibilities for attending graduate school, or something as basic as…

Thomas Edison failed repeatedly in his quest to develop an electric light bulb, leading him to say, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Growing up, I remember my parents and teachers telling me, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Nearly 20 years ago, “Tuesdays With Morrie” was a best-seller. It’s the tender story of the relationship between writer Mitch Albom and his favorite college professor, Morrie Schwartz. On graduation day, Albom gives Morrie a gift and promises to stay in touch, but he never does. Sixteen year…

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Nearly one-third of Americans with community college associate degrees or certificates make more money than those with bachelor’s degrees, according to a 2013 Georgetown University study. Once known as “Voc-Tech” (Vocational-Technical), community college Career & Technical Education (CTE…

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When driving home with my college buddies for vacations, we practiced being respectful in front of parents by fining each other a quarter for every swear word used.

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Watching campus protests at the University of Missouri and Yale, from Smith, Claremont and the University of North Carolina, I am reminded that students have always challenged nations and institutions to live up to their proclaimed ideals and values.

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I met Dr. Cynthia Horkey while engaged in a consulting project with Arkansas’ 22 community colleges. After moving to Umpqua Community College, Dr. Horkey invited me to speak to the faculty, administration and staff in February. The lushly beautiful wine country around Roseburg, Oregon, remin…

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Our oldest granddaughter, Briahn, has begun her first year of college at the University of Hawaii. Needless to say, she has heard countless words of advice from Dean Pappa, usually preceded by, “I spoke to new students at orientation for many years and here’s what they said mattered to them …”

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President John Kennedy once observed, “A child miseducated is a child lost,” which is a corollary to the United Negro College Fund’s slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

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Last weekend, I attended the 50th anniversary celebration and reunion of my Saint Mary’s College High School Class of 1965, which included the late Dave Curtin, a longtime St. Helena police officer and American Legion Post leader.

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For the past month, students across America have been receiving letters of acceptance and financial aid offers from their colleges and universities of choice. This is an exciting time and it is also an opportunity for students and parents to sit down for adult conversations about college and money.

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Attitudes toward issues of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc., operate at two levels: At a conscious level, there is what people choose to believe or want others to think they believe; and at an unconscious level, there are moments when immediate, automatic associations tumble …

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently proposed a budget calling for $300 million cuts in state aid across the University of Wisconsin system. Louisiana Gov. Bobbie Jindal also proposed to meet his state’s budget shortfall by cutting the same $300 million in state support for higher education.

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“So, where are you going to school next year?” is a question many high school seniors grow weary of being asked. Increasingly, however, the answer has become, “I’m taking a gap year.”

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Last week, Melissa Patrino, former aide to Congressman Mike Thompson, gathered a group of Hispanic parents and their children at Napa’s Puertas Abiertas to hear a bilingual presentation on higher education by Ramon Salceda, director of Talent Search at Napa Valley College.

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This month’s column is based on a chapter I contributed to “Foundations: A Reader for New College Students,” which opened with the following:

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The July 3 issue of the Star featured a cover story about the passing of David Curtin, a longtime St. Helena resident, police officer, and veteran who revitalized the local American Legion Post. It described Dave’s life of service, his being a loving husband, father, and all-around good guy.…

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It’s graduation season, and I’m thinking a good, old-fashioned country singer would be an excellent choice as a commencement speaker. Like the finest of their counterparts in folk, rhythm and blues, the best are in the troubadour tradition of poets with a keen eye for observing life.

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The self-proclaimed “Tiger Mom,” Amy Chua, and her husband and fellow Yale Law professor, Jed Rubenfeld, have caused a stir with their new book, “The Triple Package.” Like many self-help books I have perused in airport bookstores, this one promises a road map to success in modern America.

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One of the enduring myths from the Vietnam War era is that colleges and universities are hostile environments for America’s military and returning veterans. Even at the infamous 1968 Democratic convention, when Chicago Mayor Richard Daley turned his police force loose on anti-war protesters,…

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Visit any kindergarten or elementary school in this country — in the richest community or the poorest — and you’ll find first-, second- and third-graders who love their teachers, love school and love learning. Ask a classroom full of these children how many of them can sing and practically e…

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Several years ago, my wife, Nushi, and I were asked to evaluate several educational programs at Bethlehem University, directed by the same Christian Brothers who built the imposing Greystone that is now home to the Culinary Institute. The Christian Brothers also operate schools around the wo…

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A few weeks ago, I was working on a project that led me to ask high school and college students two simple questions: What do you know about the SAT? What do you know about the ACT? For the most part, students understand that those six letters represent tests that will play a major role in d…

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The hot winds of hate swept through Boston last week. Two brothers, who fled to the U.S. as children to escape a murderous war, inexplicably picked Boston’s Patriots’ Day to commit mayhem against the very nation and people who had offered them refuge.

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Colleges and universities across the nation come to cities and towns like St. Helena in search of our best and brightest students, whose distinctive backgrounds and life experiences can enhance the diversity of their campuses.

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I enjoy watching youth soccer these days, especially when one of my young granddaughters is competing. A wonderful thing happens after the matches: Both teams take turns extending their arms and holding hands to make a tunnel to celebrate their opponents, who run through laughing and cheerin…

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I don’t recall who our guest speaker was on that long-ago campus evening; however, I have never forgotten the young man who valiantly tried to dispute her assertions about the status of the world and America’s place therein. The student’s views appeared to consist of recycled ideas that he l…

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There was a time when a college dean or faculty member greeted new students at orientation with a talk that included these not-very-encouraging words: “Look to your left, look to your right; two of you won’t be here next year.”

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As I was making my way up Deer Park Road late Sunday morning, a long line of cars was streaming down toward the Silverado Trail. Commencement Day had ended at Pacific Union College and students and families were off to celebrate.

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I spent the month of February in Asia, where progress and development continue at a rapid pace. The contrasts between my first visits there 30 years ago and today were remarkable.

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Congressman Mike Thompson recently spoke to a group of students at Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School. He shared his inspiring story of having dropped out of high school, then college, before finally completing undergraduate and graduate degrees.

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Legendary 84-year-old Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired last week in the wake of a child abuse scandal. After nearly 50 years of unparalleled success as a coach, educator, and mentor, JoePa’s Wikipedia biography now concludes with that dishonor, just months after he was nominat…

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Nearly 90 percent of high school students in the graduating class of 2010 believe a college degree is worth it, according to a College Board study released last week. However, media outlets from the New York Times, to USA Today, to National Public Radio are once again raising the question: I…

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Many Baby Boomers remember the day when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first earth-orbiting satellite, into space. Scott Wilson, Washington Post columnist, recalls Sputnik as a wake-up call reminding Americans that there was “a big brash alternative out there that was a lot smarter t…

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Last month, the nation was stunned when Tyler Clement, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman, committed suicide by jumping from New York’s George Washington Bridge. Tyler killed himself after his roommate and another student broadcast an intimate video of him on the Internet.

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Anna’s parents were anxious,  as they had not heard from her since her arrival in Maine. Then the following email arrived:

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In my last column, I wrote about hearing Maria Elena Durazo, the powerful union leader, deliver the commencement talk at her alma mater.

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A few months ago, I was talking with two of Fiona and Hal Barnett’s wonderful daughters, Mia and Jessica. Mia will enter the University of Washington this fall, while Jessica graduated last year from Santa Clara. I candidly shared that I probably would prefer to be starting college rather th…

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My neighbors, Mark and Suzanne Roomian, recently arranged for their smart and lovely daughter, Tori, a Justin-Siena junior, to tour some campuses she may be applying to next year.

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In addition to my work with students seeking to make their way in this world and with faculty and staff who want to be more helpful in this process, I also consult with colleges, government agencies and businesses looking to create more effective work environments. Their goal is expressed in…

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When I left campus life after nearly 30 years, I served on the District Leadership Team for the Christian Brothers’ District of San Francisco, headquartered at Mont La Salle, high atop Mount Veeder. That’s how I came to live in Our Town 10 years ago this month.

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It’s the end of August and new academic years are opening across the United States.

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