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Competitive Ecology
April 24, 2012 10:56 AM   Subscribe

Because of President Obama's desire to remake the community college system into a vanguard of job retraining and the general willingness of community colleges to take up that mantle, there is currently some soul searching about the role of the community college system. The American Association of Community Colleges, in a report titled, "Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation's Future", lays out a plan for a future community college system much different than what exists today: "Now, there's a focus on accountability," says Walter Bumphus, president of the AACC. "We were founded on the premise of being open-access institutions, but recently there's been a pivot to focus more on student success. There's a focus not just on having them transfer [to four-year schools, but on getting them into the workforce."(US News and World Report)

The report's recommendations are:

Increase completion rates of community college credentials (certificates and associate degrees) by 50 percent by 2020, while preserving access, enhancing quality, and eradicating attainment gaps associated with income, race, ethnicity, and gender.

Dramatically improve college readiness: by 2020, reduce by half the numbers of students entering college unprepared for rigorous college-level work, and double the rate of students who complete developmental education programs and progress to successful completion of related freshman-level courses.

Close the American skills gaps by sharply focusing career and technical education on preparing students with the knowledge and skills required for existing and future jobs in regional and global economies.

Refocus the community college mission and redefine institutional roles to meet 21st-century educational and employment needs.

Invest in support structures to serve multiple community colleges through collaboration among institutions and with partners in philanthropy, government and the private sector.

Target public and private investments strategically to create new incentives for educational institutions and their students and to support community college efforts to reclaim the American Dream.

Implement policies and practices that promote rigor, transparency, and accountability for results in community colleges.

The report also includes implementation strategies for each of the seven recommendations.

"This report is intended to be a bold roadmap - a working document - for community colleges to use as they implement these recommendations. To assist in this challenging work, AACC will establish the 21st Century Center to assist members with strategic planning, leadership development and research," said Bumphus.(WSJ Marketwatch)

Predictably, local schools and state governments are working to implement changes, with varying degrees of success and some opposition.
posted by dave78981 (53 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The report also recommends more inter-college paintball wars, and a statue of Luis Guzmán on at least 500 campuses by 2020."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:59 AM on April 24, 2012 [38 favorites]


I wonder if an initiative to strengthen community colleges into bastions of career/vocational training will help eradicate these for-profit scam institutions that advertise on late-night TV, such as ITT Tech, Vatterot College, Strayer University, etc. These institutions seem to exist to fleece taxpayers and provide very little in the way of career training.
posted by jayder at 11:04 AM on April 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


This is great news. Holy crap this is great news. There are way too many people paying >$60k to eventually land a job that required no more than a two year accreditation.

Should have happened 8 years ago, at least its happening now.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:21 AM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Community college is also a great way to save a boatload of money on a bachelor's degree. The tuition is less than half the price for the same credits you get in university, and there's no apparent disadvantage, in terms of relative academic performance, to doing your first two years in community college.
posted by mullingitover at 11:21 AM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


There's something about the call for a better-educated workforce that's always bugged me. It's odd, because education is good, right? But A) it's always seemed to me that there's a tinge of victim-blaming, because those workers wouldn't be out of a job if they weren't uneducated, right? And, more importantly, B) it all seems very supply-side: it all seems to rest on the idea that if we create more educated workers then somehow there will be a job to go with every newly-minted diploma. Supply-side ideas rarely seem to work as well as their proponents seem to think.
posted by lekvar at 11:23 AM on April 24, 2012 [16 favorites]


Part of me wants to support anything that makes it easier for people to get stable, living-wage jobs. Another part of me is afraid that this is part of what I think is a national movement away from "education" and toward "job training" with the side effect of creating a populace that is less socially aware and less politically engaged.

I don't know which part I should listen to in this case. I am very, very wary of any federal attempt to make postsecondary education more "relevant" and "skills-oriented" though, I tell youu what. Maybe that's just my bias and privilege talking in this case, but I am both hopeful and concerned. This proposal could have real, systemic effects and they could be either positive or negative.

Has anybody really taken the time to bone up on this? I'd love an informed perspective.
posted by Scientist at 11:24 AM on April 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


...the side effect of creating a populace that is less socially aware and less politically engaged.

What makes you think community-college educated people are less socially aware or politically engaged than 4 year college educated ones? (Typing stuff on MeFi from a white-collar job doesn't count as either "aware" or "engaged".)

I just hope that the net outcome of this is some community college websites that you can glean an ounce of class offerings, schedule and pricing from. It took me a couple days and several back-and-forth emails to figure out if I could take a machining class recently.
posted by DU at 11:30 AM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


Community college is also a great way to save a boatload of money on a bachelor's degree.

That's part of what the soul searching is about, though. Refocusing the system onto job training means many schools will have to transition away from being two year colleges- see the links about schools dropping art and phys ed.

Also, with the insistence on personal "accountability" instead of open access, many students who went to lousy inner city schools or just didn't apply themselves and didn't get the education they need will no longer be able to incubate in remedial classes until they're able to pass college level courses. Other, older students who have returned after some absence, need remedial classes even if they were good students.
posted by dave78981 at 11:31 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Typing stuff on MeFi from a white-collar job doesn't count as either "aware" or "engaged".

I... I have NPR playing in the background, too.
posted by griphus at 11:39 AM on April 24, 2012 [36 favorites]


Another point against you.
posted by DU at 11:44 AM on April 24, 2012


dave78981: "Refocusing the system onto job training means many schools will have to transition away from being two year colleges- see the links about schools dropping art and phys ed. "

I'm actually OK with this as well. Really there's room for both. When I lived in central Oregon in the late 90s, a ton of timber industry people were getting job retraining at Umpqua Community College. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people got retrained to go from working in a lumber mill to working in an Intel fab in Beaverton. I got an AA degree that let me go to University of Oregon and start as a junior.

The nice thing about community colleges is they seem to be focused more in education and less on building a really expensive and gorgeous campus. UO fell victim to that. Since I left, tuition for in-state students has more than doubled. Quality of education is the same, but they have lots of shiny new buildings now.
posted by mullingitover at 11:46 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


What makes you think community-college educated people are less socially aware or politically engaged than 4 year college educated ones?

Oh come on. He was saying that a comprehensive liberal arts education -- whether it's from a university or a community college or a library -- leads to kinds of engagement that a "job training" program doesn't lead to. And I agree. At my community college, I see people who haven't had access to certain options in their lives firing off all kinds of synapses and opening all sorts of new doors. That's what college is for.

To me, the more compelling question is whether any of these changes have any impact on students' hirability at all. Adult training programs don't have a very good track record.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:50 AM on April 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


We should start a betting pool as to whether this thread, or the Pillow Fort thread, will contain more Community references by the end of the day.
posted by hincandenza at 11:51 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


He was saying that a comprehensive liberal arts education -- whether it's from a university or a community college or a library -- leads to kinds of engagement that a "job training" program doesn't lead to.

Yes, I get that. I'm asking for proof of that conjecture.

Studies have shown that the well-educated are more likely to agree with the establishment. Maybe that's what you mean by "engaged" and "aware". IMO, things like union formation is a better example of that. And which types of jobs are the ones that historically have formed unions?
posted by DU at 11:52 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


My scholarship at a somewhat high ranked university had some paperwork issue one semester and, being that I couldn't afford the school otherwise, I had to take my sophomore fall at a community college in order to be able to graduate "on time."

It felt lousy at the time, but it ended up being one of the best choices, academics-wise, that I could have made. I filled a semester's worth of general-ed credits for a fraction of the price in smaller class sizes (the fancy university's general ed classes were all 60+ students, the CC was 30 or fewer). It wasn't exactly like the Community tv show, obviously, but it was very similar in terms of demographics (waaay more diverse age- and race-wise than the fancy uni).

I would honestly recommend at least a year of CC to anyone looking to attend a $$$ university (I would take a step further and suggest attending the CC near the fancy school if you think you can get in-state tuition benefits).

mullingitover is completely right, at least in my experience. The fancy unis have brands and rankings and athletics to consider. Community Colleges? They just want you to do well. It was a much more student-focused experience and I'm thrilled to see them getting positive attention (as opposed to just being "for slackers").
posted by troika at 11:54 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've always been upset by the notion that college is a second-rate option for people who couldn't get into university. College is a different option, and often the better one, especially for students who are short term career oriented. I see many students at the university level who would have been better served with a quality college education.
posted by sfred at 11:54 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the U.S., college and university are interchangeable terms. Community colleges are a specific subset which do not offer 4-year degrees, something that both colleges (e.g. Haverford) and universities (e.g. UMass, Cornell) do.

Just to clear that up for any non-U.S. mefites unfamiliar with the terminology.
posted by rtha at 11:59 AM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oof I left out the relevant part, the reason I started writing that comment: A LOT of people in my classes were adults getting a start on additional degrees, students who took a year or two off after high school and/or had no direction, people without degrees that had gotten laid off and were going back to school to get a degree and thus be eligible for a better career track: these are definitely the people who would benefit from CCs having directed job training.
posted by troika at 12:00 PM on April 24, 2012


a national movement away from "education" and toward "job training" with the side effect of creating a populace that is less socially aware and less politically engaged

Wait, what? I thought "job training" was always the agenda propelling our schools system forward. Well, that and assimilation. Most of contemporary schools were based off of the Native American Boarding Schools. But, I can understand if you're afraid our "higher education" systems will simply become "education" systems.
posted by thetoken at 12:01 PM on April 24, 2012


roll truck roll is correct. I was not comparing 2-year vs 4-year colleges, but rather liberal arts education vs. vocational training. I realize it's a sticky question and I am not totally on one side or the other. People need stable, living-wage jobs. Society needs people who can think critically and engage the world around them.

These needs are not inherently mutually antagonistic, but I feel like we are seeing a wave of legislation and cost-cutting recently that reduces overall public education under the guise of making education more relevant. Gains in one area needn't come at a cost to the other, but sometimes they do, and I am concerned that this may be a potential problem in this case.

The reason I am concerned it that the proposal seems to have as its core mission moving the community college system away from general education and toward vocational training, rather than simply expanding the training component at no cost to the general education component. If anyone has a good assessment of that for this specific government proposal, I'd love to hear it.

I am speakkng from the perspective of someone who studied both computer science and anthropology at a community college, who is now at a public university where he wants to employ both of those areas to a career in conservation biology for which he is now studying, and who has watched his public university be systematically gutted by the state legislature even as metrics like "completion rates" and "college readiness" have become bywords for measuring the univerisity's performance and therefore right to exist.
posted by Scientist at 12:04 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, re: unions. While unions are typically made of blue-collar workers, the initial organizers have historically been members of the educated elite who trace their politics to student movents and communist philosophy. So it takes both, and it takes a working public capable of engaging with the ideas being advocated by academics.
posted by Scientist at 12:07 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I highly, highly recommend the blog Confessions of a Community College Dean, which is exactly what the title implies and frequently features cogent analysis of community college funding models (non-existent), the tension between being a transfer factory and a job-training center (it's cheaper to be a transfer factory, turns out; all those cheap English Comp classes pay for the nursing practicums), and the for-profit/non-profit dichotomy (for-profits are filling the gaping chasm left by public divestment from community colleges).
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:07 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Reports like this always make me feel like I'm stupid or cynical or both. Am I reading them wrong? To me, it always seems like they're saying, "This is broken, how do I make it better," and then saying "Make it better by making it this much better! By this date!" And then the strategy is something like, "Construct coherent, structured pathways to certificate and degree completion," for example, as if the colleges are going to be like, "Oh! Our pathways haven't been clearly structured! We need to get on that!" Do colleges not already "aim to [..] courageously end ineffective practices?" If they don't, are they really able to see that about themselves? I guess what puzzles me is that reports like this seem to be based on the assumption that the colleges (or whatever) aren't trying to do this already. Is that the case? Or is it the report just saying, "Hey, you know stuff has changed since you last constructed those pathways, so you might want to check on them and make sure they're ok"?

(rtha, I think that, at least historically, colleges in the US only offer undergraduate degrees, and universities offer both undergrad and graduate, which is why you can end up with something called the University of Maryland University College.)
posted by amarynth at 12:12 PM on April 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


Here in California, it's nearly impossible for students to actually get into the classes that they need to transfer to a UC or even a CalState.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:16 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I adored my time at the community college I went to -- Lane Community College in Oregon. I currently go to a fancy-ass private university now for my master's degree, and the science education I got at the community college was far superior to the pre-reqs that some of the students took here at said fancy-ass college. I've had to show people how to use a microscope here, which just blows my mind. Like really, you can't prepare a slide?

I do question the job training track -- definitely need more encouragement for people to go into vocational programs (like my dad says, the world needs smart mechanics just as much as smart engineers). But the arts and music program at LCC is also pretty great, and I'd hate to see that go away to focus entirely on the job training programs.

I think that there's such a focus on community colleges as vocational institutions (everyone's getting their welding training, or machining, or becoming a medical billing person..), that it does ignore that for people who want to go into the humanities/art, community college is fantastic: cheaper, smaller class sizes, more opportunities for shows and performances, and frankly, I was more impressed by the art, music, and sociology departments at the community college than the state university I went to.

I tutored at LCC briefly, and the other thing I miss about my time there is the students going into the health programs, some of the most intensely determined people I've ever met were non-traditional students coming back for their education. It's wonderful and slightly frightening to work with people and realize that they are, in fact, hanging on your every word.

Procrastinating studying, have to go back to it - I could really go on and on about it, but I wouldn't trade my time there for anything, it opened up so many doors for me.
posted by circle_b at 12:17 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


The reason I am concerned it that the proposal seems to have as its core mission moving the community college system away from general education and toward vocational training, rather than simply expanding the training component at no cost to the general education component.

Well, that seems to be exactly right.

Look, I am a 40 year old community college student. Right out of high school I went American University in DC. I studied International Politics and Russian Studies and had dreams of being a lawyer, but what I really excelled at was getting drunk and falling over. After one year, I gave up and, tail between my legs, slunk back home to Connecticut. I joined the Army, I started a business, I changed careers, but I never found anything, until now, that I was willing to invest my time in studying.

I live in Bridgeport- one of a slew of Northeastern, formerly industrial and manufacturing cities struggling to redefine itself this century. With a tax base that largely fled in the 80s, Bridgeport strains to educate its children. Hence, 93% of Housatonic Community College's(the city community college) students fall into some sort of remedial studies program when they get to the school. Many of these people probably would do a lot better in a vocational program, but to prohibit community colleges from offering remedial courses or even programs, like the bill in the State house wants to prohibit, seems a short sighted and clumsy way to reach that "reducing by 50% incoming students not ready to do college level work" goal. To push remedial studies off onto secondary school systems already overburdened seems like an almost intentional way to keep the poor and minorities from getting better educated and better jobs.
posted by dave78981 at 12:22 PM on April 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Refocusing the system onto job training means many schools will have to transition away from being two year colleges- see the links about schools dropping art and phys ed.

Were the majority of them really two year colleges?
Every community college I've ever lived near was more focused on direct career training (nursing, hairdressing, EMT, law enforcement, mechanic, etc) than it was on "university prep" or cheap credits.

Perhaps it was just a function of the socio-economic trends in the areas where I lived, but certainly the students moving onto a 4 year degree were the minority, not the core base.
posted by madajb at 12:23 PM on April 24, 2012


I am glad for the renewed interest in community colleges; howevs, at as a lowly writing comp adjunct, I'm resenting the big-time emphasis on everything STEM. I mean, I get it, but come on, leaven it with a bit of the humanities. What, are we just spitting out the proles of the 21st century?
posted by angrycat at 12:25 PM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


I highly, highly recommend the blog Confessions of a Community College Dean,

There's nothing in here about how to plan the perfect dance, passing off an outfit as your sister's, how to pick a perfect costume for delivering bad news, dalamation fetishes, trains or being overly politically correct? Are you sure this is a community college dean?
posted by Talez at 12:30 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Every community college I've ever lived near was more focused on direct career training (nursing, hairdressing, EMT, law enforcement, mechanic, etc) than it was on "university prep" or cheap credits.

Ouch. As a nursing student, I can tell you that nursing doesn't belong with the other direct career training you listed. Nursing, at least in my state, is a rigorous, intense 2 year program that's designed to be both career training and university prep for the bachelor's and master's level courses you will eventually be required to take.

Hurt feelings aside (I kid!), many of the people in my classes are taking prereqs for university level programs because they're cheaper, just as good and closer to home.
posted by dave78981 at 12:32 PM on April 24, 2012


Seconding Snarl Furillo's recommendation of the Confessions of a Community College Dean's blog. His piece earlier this year about the focus on workforce development articulates a lot of the assumptions that frustrate me about this proposed redefinition of the community college's mission. And don't get me started on completion rates, which currently exclude students who transfer to 4-year schools, but who don't technically register to graduate (because people don't often feel the need to celebrate the end of their sophomore year). Troika, for example, would be considered a dropout.

And I don't think for-profits are ever going to go away as long as the states keep decimating funding for us and for K-12 education, and as long as multi-million dollar marketing campaigns convince students to take much easier, faster courses for what may appear to be the same type of degree.
posted by bibliowench at 12:46 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


An over-emphasis on training for specific jobs will not leave enough room/time for courses in the liberal arts. Such courses promote critical thinking and a greater understanding of the world, both of which are necessary for informed participation in the democratic process.
posted by mareli at 12:47 PM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


The secondary schools just do not have the funding to provide adequate education. As long as that's true, no attempt to make this better is really going to work. But I also thing that treating "community college" like it's a monolithic thing is a big mistake. Some of them are a fantastic deal. Others? Someone I know has been taking classes at one for the last year, after about ten years' break since high school, and has been miserable, because the instruction quality is terrible and her fellow students are completely unprepared for anything remotely challenging. She had a "research paper", for example, where they were only allowed to use one particular website as a source. Taking kids from a class like that and throwing them into a four-year college is almost unfair. But so, honestly, is taking kids who can't compose a decent sentence or do their own research for a six-page paper and putting them out into any kind of work environment.

High schools should be turning out better students than this. It shouldn't take an additional institution to provide sufficient education to be an accounting clerk, for example. I did that with no college and no post-HS education whatsoever, just on-the-job training, but I was capable of balancing a checking account, doing basic arithmetic, and communicating in written English before I left high school. Far, far too many people aren't.
posted by gracedissolved at 1:19 PM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


ha ha show me the money: how about billions for hiring the teachers to do all this training.

the current CC system is built on adjuncts working for peanuts... I know, I was one of them, making less than what I had been making as a grad. student.

Plus, the problem with voc. tech. is that you actually have to have jobs for your graduates. You can't expect someone to learn highly technical skills, say, airplane mechanic, and then throw them out the door with a peace of paper and your good wishes. People expect that if they get training then it will lead directly to a job. I mean, you can do that, but then you are running as much of a scam as Strayer or whoever...

The idea that you can train everyone to be a nurse, or an electrician, or plumber just doesn't work. How many people you train depends on how many jobs are available, so you have to have a direct line to the respective job markets. The kind of "planned economy" in noted communist societies like... western europe.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:40 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's something about the call for a better-educated workforce that's always bugged me. It's odd, because education is good, right? But A) it's always seemed to me that there's a tinge of victim-blaming, because those workers wouldn't be out of a job if they weren't uneducated, right? And, more importantly, B) it all seems very supply-side: it all seems to rest on the idea that if we create more educated workers then somehow there will be a job to go with every newly-minted diploma. Supply-side ideas rarely seem to work as well as their proponents seem to think.

Here is the thing: There aren't a lot of jobs, there are even fewer good jobs, both ideology and globalization are pushing employers to make the existing jobs worse (fewer benefits, less security, etc.) Everyone is always talking about how mechanization/automation/scary-robot-AIs is going to get rid of even more low-level white collar jobs.

It's not clear to me how more training is the answer to these problems.

My assumption is that as people have less money, two things are happening:
1. The people who want to pay upfront for at least part of their education are cutting back on education expenses so schools are losing enrollment
2. But at the same time, desperate people are taking on education debt in the hope that it will lead to a job that can pay back the debt plus provide enough to live on, so schools are gaining enrollment in a new area. This may or may not balance out.

Schools need to make money.

Who benefits? In the new model school, it's administrators, who have seen a substantial increase in numbers and pay in the past few years (and to a lesser degree staff, who at least make a living wage and get benefits even if they're not making a lot). In new model schools, the classes are taught by a precariat of adjuncts who work for astonishingly little money and no benefits under awful conditions, many of them stringing together classes at multiple schools just to make $25,000 a year.

Who pays? The students pay via cash or taking on debt. The adjuncts "pay" in the sense that they do the really heavy lifting of teaching but make ridiculously little.

Who profits? Administrators and loan-givers.

It looks to me as though this "community college" wheeze is a way of squeezing more money out of an already stretched working/lower middle class. Now, as part of that scheme, some people who take classes are going to genuinely benefit, maybe a lot. But many people won't, because the jobs just don't exist. The ones who do benefit provide ideological legitimation for the enterprise.

There's a bootstraps narrative, here. The public schools can fall apart, the economy can tank, but the response shouldn't be political; it should be a push to make individuals take on more debt and chase after a very, very few jobs. (Which incidentally....drives wages down.)

Folks do what they have to do, and if community college seems like a good individual solution, well, knock yourself out. But it seems to me that we're trying to solve a political problem with personal methods.
posted by Frowner at 1:58 PM on April 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


(Also, I suggest that "precariat" be the plural modifier thingy for adjuncts and other temporary workers...."a precariat of temps gathered round the doors at OfficeTeam"; "a precariat of adjunts decided they couldn't afford MLA this year".
posted by Frowner at 2:00 PM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Four-year colleges hate the competition, incidentally. They take the tuition from those 100-student freshman courses taught by an adjunct earning $20k, and funnel it into the high-level courses with 10 students and a tenured professor earning $120k. Large state universities are drastically reducing the number of community college transfers they allow, in order to keep this system intact.

It's all silly of course, intro classes should be much cheaper than they are, and advanced classes much more expensive. The result of the current system really disadvantages low-income students. But I guess everyone really likes the fiction of a single fixed tuition price per school.
posted by miyabo at 2:02 PM on April 24, 2012


Soul searching in higher education? Bah, none of the talking heads are "going there".

I'd not be the 1st or the best voice to point out the inability to escape crippling student loans in an economy that lacks access to low cost cost energy to grow the economy.

Unlike many other forms of debt caused by a bad decision - you can't escape the loan debt via bankruptcy. And if you miss a payment to these Government loans with the new "we pull your passport if you owe the government" rules being suggested you can't just go to a new country.

With no visible low cost energy source on the horizon how will the economy grow jobs for the bulk of graduates and grow their salaries over time?

Then you have others who make statements like this:
In ten or twenty years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the majority of paid work in companies, that is, work that isn’t done by machines, being done by these “certificate” holders. They’ll live in ever expanding slums, autonomously policed by RoboCops and drones. They’ll have fast Internet and there will be Superbowl commercials about how great all of it is.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:14 PM on April 24, 2012


the problem with any announcement from Obama from now until the election is that it's horse-shit. he's had every opportunity to build a jobs based election platform and he didn't. Instead he:

a) saved Wall Street and the financial system by bailing out the big banks
b) gave the states a year or two of breathing room on budget cuts: schools, roads, health care, public safety via an modest and one-time only stimulus package
c) passed Mitt Romney and the Heritage Foundation's universal health care law with the caveat that all of the good things happen in 2014, after the election.

That's his platform, everything else is totally empty.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:09 PM on April 24, 2012


And don't get me started on completion rates, which currently exclude students who transfer to 4-year schools, but who don't technically register to graduate (because people don't often feel the need to celebrate the end of their sophomore year). Troika, for example, would be considered a dropout.

Me too, although I'll be graduating from UC Davis in June after transferring from Merritt College in Oakland. Getting a 2 year degree would have wasted my time, taking classes to complete it that weren't aligned with my UC ( though transfer requirements are the same for all UC's, prerequisites for the same degree are not). There are some degrees, like engineering, where getting a 2 year degree at the CC would be an even bigger waste of time.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:21 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


the problem with any announcement from Obama from now until the election is that it's horse-shit

Obama's announcement was made in February, when he presented his budget. That said, this isn't the thread to debate the President's merits.
posted by dave78981 at 3:22 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, go read Confessions of a Community College Dean. In addition to good blog posts, he's got a great community of commenters, some of whom disagree with him quite vigorously. (Also, I would guess that he's going to write about this within the next week or so.)

I have lots of not-very-well organized thoughts about community college: my mother went to one when I was a teenager, which was mostly a good experience, and I worked at another for six years, which was ... complicated.
posted by epersonae at 3:38 PM on April 24, 2012


My cousin went to a community college after taking a year off after high school, then commuted to a local state college, and got into the PhD in physics program at Yale. This is a guy that didn't much like high school and probably wouldn't have benefited from being immediately thrust into a four-year college environment. Community college can be a great boon for many students, and I'm really happy that they're finally getting the attention they deserve.
posted by deathpanels at 4:11 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


the problem with any announcement from Obama from now until the election is that it's horse-shit.

The community college where I occasionally lecture has an excellent axe-grinding department. I'd be happy to write you a reference. Until then, care to comment on the substance of the post?
posted by joe lisboa at 5:20 PM on April 24, 2012


It'd be really nice if community college classes offered as many STEM classes as they did liberal arts classes. I'm at a community college currently, entirely for cost reasons (four year college tuition in state is $10,000 a year, but I only have access to a $5,000 stafford loan as a "dependent" student), but it's been horrible trying to get my STEM degree pre requisites met here. The two quarters where I took liberal arts classes exclusively? No problem, PLENTY of class times and offerings. There's even a state transfer module agreement with the local flagship to ensure they transfer!

But trying to get science and math classes scheduled? Oh man. They don't even offer many of them; second year physics doesn't even exist, and while orgo is offered here, my chem professor warned me not to take it because the local state flagship school won't accept it. The community college also forced me to take liberal arts level bio, chem, and math before letting me register for the more intensive ones that will actually (sort of) transfer into a STEM major, because my high school courses had "expired." (chem apparently expires after 3 years, bio after 5, etc...) The english department didn't care, and let me place straight into a second year english course with my 5-6 year old AP english 5s.

I don't really feel that remedial high school courses should be offered at a college. That should be learned in high school, and perhaps relearned at some sort of community center or library. I took AP classes and college prep in high school; I shouldn't have to go to a school that focuses primarily on people who couldn't handle high school, just because I'm not rich enough to afford a four year.

My college offers 200+ remedial algebra courses, which you can pay for with pell grants (that I don't qualify for, despite a poverty level income). They offered roughly 10 calculus courses combined (I/II/III), and I think there was only one second year math offering.

The kicker is when I contacted my state uni's engineering school with transfer questions, they told me that I would "maybe but probably" have to take first year engineering courses before I can take the second year chemical engineering course requirement. An associate of arts? Lots of transfer credit, and there are established agreements between the CC and the 4 year's departments. Associate of Science? It's almost like it's worth nothing at all.

I can only hope that a public college in a better state values me more (which is unlikely, given how much they like to charge out of state students), or that some private college somewhere wants a community college transfer student with a 3.9 GPA, because I'll be seriously even farther behind my richer peers otherwise. I've already had to wait five years for college due to stupid government requirements for declaring independent status. (GLBT and your family hates you? Too bad! All the requirements for a student under age 24 to declare independent status are only available to straight people.)

Community college is great in theory, but for it to be great in reality, they really need to work out some more transfer agreements for those of us in non-liberal arts fields. For all the "we need more STEM majors!" you see all the time, I think I've yet to see this ever addressed.

(On the bright side, 90% of my teachers have been absolutely GREAT. Classmates are a little more hit or miss because of the lax academic entrance standards.)
posted by Estraven at 11:03 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


"personal accountability"

Yeah somehow I worry this will mean more laws about not being allowed to drop classes, not being allowed to retake classes, getting kicked out if you are failing too many classes.

Usually increasing demand for student "personal accountability" just means punishing already struggling students more.

Among my friends who struggle at community college, many have more problems with applying themselves than actual learning disabilities-- and those with learning disabilities can't afford to spend a thousand dollars to get tested for specific learnging disabilities and they don't do much for you even if you can prove you have them.

I think a better solution for community college success would be to have structured student housing for students who need a structured environment to develop positive studying and life management skills and specific help for students with any kind of obstacle with doing this; specific help identifying and working through learning disabilities or lower functioning areas of performance.

Being able to manage life plus school is hard, and it only takes a minor disability/life circumstance in the way of doing this to really funk up any possibility of making it.
posted by xarnop at 5:59 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it would be good if we had more teaching of practical skills. I had half a semester "shop" class in middle school, and the other half was home ec. I think more people learning practical skills like welding and metalworking would be really useful. People who have ideas for products would easily be able to create prototypes.
posted by delmoi at 7:44 AM on April 25, 2012


Among my friends who struggle at community college, many have more problems with applying themselves than actual learning disabilities-- and those with learning disabilities can't afford to spend a thousand dollars to get tested for specific learnging disabilities and they don't do much for you even if you can prove you have them.
50, 20 years ago someone with ADD could have gotten a factory job doing the same thing over and over while their mind wanders. These days, not so much. The work is done in China, or by robots, and probably the Chinese jobs will be replaced with robots as well.
posted by delmoi at 7:49 AM on April 25, 2012


It is odd how small of a role the Internet and online education seem to play in the recommendations in this report, especially now that online education appears to be gaining momentum, what with Coursera, Udacity, MITx, StraighterLine, etc. representing established heavyweights like Stanford, as well as startups and for-profits like Phoenix placing stakes in the future of online education and the Internet's potential to completely disrupt the current higher-education system.

Look at the traditional university. Bloated with overhead costs and superfluous features (in terms of direct instructional benefit) like football programs, alumni halls, even research facilities. Surviving on government aid, and passing costs on to students in the form of tuition (which has consistently and substantially outpaced inflation, housing prices, drug prices, you name it). What you have are these integrated, centralized hubs of loosely related services.

The Internet has the potential to inspire new, more effective business models, most likely modularized services instead of centralized ones. Think taking classes asynchronously on your own time from home, maybe going to a discussion section on the weekend in rented office space, getting job placement services from a different organization that specializes in just that. If that doesn't sound appealing to you, it does to an increasing number of people. The for-profit university industry, even with their sleazy marketing tactics and surprisingly high tuition costs, has grown in bunches in large part because of the convenience and accessibility of their online courses and degree programs.

We are seeing just the beginning. The players in the industry (which increasingly are including Silicon Valley folks like Marc Andreessen) are just now starting to figure out how this will play out, what business models are most appropriate, etc. It is inevitable that Internet based learning will play a large role in the very near future of higher-education in this country. It seems incredibly out of touch to talk about policy in this arena without talking about the Internet.
posted by AceRock at 2:23 PM on April 25, 2012


football programs, alumni halls, even research facilities

Things that are generally missing from community colleges.
posted by epersonae at 2:39 PM on April 25, 2012


startups and for-profits like Phoenix placing stakes in the future of online education and the Internet's potential to completely disrupt the current higher-education system.
Phoenix and Kaplan University are mainly about sucking down student loan dollars by charging the same rates are regular schools and screwing over their students. I think I read somewhere that Kaplan U has, like, a 90% default rate or something - but the loans are insured by the government. Phoenix has more like a 50% repayment rate. But that doesn't mean the student actually made any money with the degree. They could still be working at WallMart and making loan payments.

(Again, those stats are from memory - could be wrong)
posted by delmoi at 4:14 PM on April 25, 2012


On the other hand, you have stuff like Khan Academy which doesn't get you a certificate, but is totally free.

I wonder if you could get to the point where you could have ad supported education. The material could be free, you'd only need to pay for exam graders.
posted by delmoi at 4:16 PM on April 25, 2012


No, you're right. The for-profits have real problems. They are overly aggressive in their recruiting tactics and often deceitful. The default rate statistics are a little difficult to interpret. This is a population who are more likely to default on loans anyway. But yeah, a lot of these schools are highly efficient federal loan collectors first and educators second. But mileage varies and even on mefi we've seen some positive stories about some of these schools.

The point is, with all of their flaws, the for-profits and their success and growth point to something real. A population of students and potential students not being served by traditional colleges and universities, students who value convenience, accessibility, customization in their educational experience over things like well manicured quads and even small class sizes. What we are seeing now are not ideal solutions, or even good ones, but they seem to be the only ones available. What we will hopefully see in the near future are legitimate organizations figuring out how to use online learning to educate those who want to be educated but who are for whatever reason left outside the system.
posted by AceRock at 8:19 PM on April 25, 2012


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