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Sad Stats About Community Colleges October 21, 2010

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Education, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Teaching.
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For those of us who spend our professional everyday lives teaching at 2-year/community colleges in California it usually gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling to think about the importance of our services rendered: a ground-level quality education (mostly!) that allows large numbers of hopeful, skillful young and youngish people to pursue their dream and seek further higher learning, good careers, and a fulfilling life, by transferring to 4-year colleges. We believe we add to that  elusive concept of flourishing that happiness is all about, by channeling students into further academic studies. But apparently we need to do a reality check. According to a study by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento,

Seventy percent of students seeking degrees at California’s community colleges did not manage to attain them or transfer to four-year universities within six years, according to a new study that suggests that many two-year colleges are failing to prepare the state’s future workforce.

Conducted by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento, the report, released Tuesday, found that most students who failed to obtain a degree or transfer in six years eventually dropped out; only 15% were still enrolled.

In addition, only about 40% of the 250,000 students the researchers tracked between 2003 and 2009 had earned at least 30 college credits, the minimum needed to provide an economic boost in jobs that require some college experience.

And the affirmative action efforts seem not to be working, either:

There were also significant disparities in the outcomes of black and Latino students. Only 26% of black students and 22% of Latino students had completed a degree or certificate or transferred after six years, compared to 37% of whites and 35% of Asian Pacific Islanders.

Latino students were half as likely as white students to transfer to a four-year university — 14% versus 29% — and black students were more likely than others to transfer to private, for-profit institutions without obtaining the credits needed for admission to the University of California or Cal State.

So why is this happening?

Students face many barriers, including not being prepared for college-level study, as well as financial, work and family constraints. Black and Latino students, the study notes, are more likely to have attended segregated and overcrowded elementary and high schools and to have had less access to highly qualified teachers and counselors. But some community college campuses do a better job than others, and the research found that students who pass college-level math and English early in their college careers and complete at least 20 credits in their first year of enrollment had higher rates of success.

Ah, here comes the recommendation:

The study encourages community colleges to improve data collection about enrollment patterns and student progress and also calls for a new state funding model that rewards schools when students complete degrees and transfer.

The community colleges already are putting more emphasis into ensuring that students master basic math and English skills early in their college careers, she said. Legislation signed this year also establishes an associate’s degree that will provide more seamless transfer of community college students to UC and Cal State University. Under another new law, the community colleges’ Board of Governors will create a task force to consider ways to improve retention and degree attainment.

This sounds proactive and nice, and in many ways it is, but those of us in the CC trenches read an additional subtext: a demand for even more faculty time spent on managing and monitoring students, in a field where the workload is already  heavy (5 classes taught per semester, plus school-related work). I will need to hear more about that report—but off the cuff it seems to me to be an argument for more faculty involvement in class management and paperwork rather than more emphasis on what we are good at doing, and like to do, teaching good classes and fire up fresh minds, thus improving retention and hopes of transfer. So now I’m really depressed.

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1. Asur - October 21, 2010

Why assume that people who drop out at the CC level should have succeeded?

More worrying to me is that college education is considered so broadly appropriate; for many, technical training and high school school-to-work programs would be much more conducive to their flourishing.

I don’t see high dropout rates as a failure of the community college system so much as a failure of high schools to adequately guide their juniors and seniors.

Our primary education system enshrines secondary education, which in turn enshrines college…this is just not appropriate to the abilities and dispositions of many students.

2. Mephisto - October 23, 2010

Eww, really? Why assume that students who stop attending at the CC level won’t re-enroll in the future? I mean unemployment insurance in the U.S. doesn’t exactly let a person have their cake and eat it too, so to speak. And it doesn’t necessarily follow that if a person has a baby at a young age they lack the potential for college. Only a few people get paid to go to college.

And very few people are allotted the opportunity to go to college at all. Something like ninety eight percent of people don’t get the chance to go to college. That means if you picked
fifty people from around the world at random,only one person from that group will have the opportunity in their lifetime to enroll in an accredited higher education program. And their are about seven billion of us right now. We (I assume) are a part of the one hundred and forty million or so people on this world who get that special opportunity.

When I was in high school the head counselor would visit senor students in their government or economics class to talk about applying to college. The students in the advanced placement
classes received a entirely different spiel then the students in the preparatory classes. The counselor talked to the “advanced” students about the UC system and the other students about the CSU system. As far as I know, Community Colleges were alluded too via student’s questions, but were not explicitly covered by the counselor in either group.

You don’t have to be an intellectual to flourish as an undergrad. All you need is: the knowledge of your classes prerequisites, time to properly do your homework, the ability to follow through with stuff, and OPPORTUNITY. I’ve heard that the average college grad has an IQ between 115 and 120. If that’s the average then their are probably college graduates with IQ’s more toward the opposing side of the psychometric
spectrum as well. After all, there is that one guy, George W. something, and he graduated from Yale.

3. Welcome to the Future of Academia « Philosophy On The Mesa - October 25, 2010

[…] Posts, Teaching. Tags: academia, academic efficiency, productivity trackback Following up on the “Sad Stats” post below, perhaps it isn’t too hard to discern a trend here, in this excerpt from a recent […]

4. Kaelyn Roberts - December 1, 2010

I think the statistics do show that people who drop out at the CC level have a lower success rate than that of someone who would finish the CC level (at the least) or even graduate from a university. The success rate is just that much lower for someone who drops out of high school. However, not everyone is “cut out” for school and may become more successful applying themselves somewhere else.

5. Kenyon P. Phil 108 - December 9, 2010

I believe that the reason so many students are not completing their degrees because of life in general. Not only are students not properly prepared in high school but the demanding work in college sometimes may be too much of a commitment, as many students are juggling jobs and families. I myself work from 2:45pm – 11:15pm everyday and my day starts at 6:30am when I have to wake up to drive my mother to work which after my after-work obligations like cleaning and studying leaves me with only 5 hours of sleep a night if I’m lucky enough to get to sleep by 1am! Did I mention my daily commute? To top it all off I am in class from 9am- 12pm Tuesday –Thursday so if you do the math which I have already done for you, you will realize that I am booked, really booked, and though I manage to get things done and take care of business I believe that it takes a ton of will-power and self motivation. Unfortunately most of us do not have that and that I believe is the reason there is such a high drop-out rate. With all the obligations and “recreational activities” going on outside of class it becomes tougher and tougher to stay focused for the 2-6 years it takes to obtain a degree. I am glad to hear that they are going to make it easier to transfer because personally that was something that I was concerned with because I was told that even if I complete my 2 years at a community college it would be nearly impossible for me to find my place at the already overcrowded SDSU. The only thing I can say it to just keep pushing and don’t let life bring you down and don’t use life as an excuse because there is always someone who has it harder than you.


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