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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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