Community college: Not ‘failing diploma mills,’ but pathways to success

While there’s an active community of commenters here on the Get Schooled blog, a wider audience often sees the essays on the blog via social media. University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky, a frequent contributor to this blog, shared some of that wider response to a recent piece he wrote on community colleges and President Obama’s proposal to make community college more accessible to students by eliminating tuition.

Many Get Schooled commenters attended four-year universities and sent  their own children to Georgia State, Tech or UGA. But thousands of Georgia students begin at community colleges. With more than 25,000 students, Georgia Perimeter College is the third-largest institution in the University System of Georgia.

By Peter Smagorinsky

obama4I recently wrote an essay for the Get Schooled blog questioning the assumptions behind Professor Peter Morici’s contention that President Obama’s plan to fund community college education should not go forward.

A professor of economics at the University of Maryland, Morici asserts we should close the “failing diploma mills” of two-year colleges because, he claims, people who attend them are dysfunctional and, as defective human beings, do not merit our support. His evidence for this wholesale condemnation is that many community college students do not complete their two-year associate’s degree within three years.

Community college students, he states confidently, have “deficient high school records and preparation, intractable personal problems, and poor study habits and executive skills.” Typically, he asserts, the community college student is a “19-year old mother — who receives no child support — [who] reads at the sixth grade level, can’t do algebra and has significant emotional and self-esteem issues.”

Since writing my rebuttal, I have heard from a number of people who are dumbfounded at Dr. Morici’s hostility toward a whole social class with whom he appears to have had little actual contact. One reader, for instance, sent me Tom Hank’s essay on community colleges, from which he is such a proud graduate that he still tells his children, “That place made me what I am today.” In commenting on President Obama’s initiative to make community college education affordable, Hanks says:

“I’m guessing the new Congress will squawk at the $60 billion price tag, but I hope the idea sticks, because more veterans, from Iraq and Afghanistan this time, as well as another generation of mothers, single parents and workers who have been out of the job market, need lower obstacles between now and the next chapter of their lives. High school graduates without the finances for a higher education can postpone taking on big loans and maybe luck into the class that will redefine their life’s work. Many lives will be changed.”

That sentiment has recurred in the notes I’ve received. People go to two-year colleges for all manner of reasons, mostly grounded in economics. Single parents who put themselves through school cannot simply coast through obstacles, as can those whose parents who can afford the price tag of a four-year university.

Rather, people funding their own education typically do so while holding down jobs and meeting life’s myriad obligations. If they are single parents and their children become sick, they miss time because they can’t afford childcare or, often enough, the care of doctors. Rather than being dysfunctional for taking more than three years to graduate, they are often making great sacrifices to advance their life’s prospects through education. Community colleges are also often the starting place for military veterans.

As one person wrote, “The reasons [for taking longer than typical to graduate] are endless, and ALL [who persist] are admirable, anyone who perseveres. That is also what they will draw on forever, the perseverance.”

Another wrote, “I worked during college. Yes, it took me longer. Not everyone has the same opportunity or level of family support necessary to meet these arbitrary timelines.”

One person wrote suggesting I look at the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, whose mission is dedicated to helping mature, low-income women 35 and older succeed through education, often beginning with an associate’s degree.

I should note that my father, who grew up in a poor immigrant community, had little sympathy for street beggars as an adult, even as he generally embraced Rooseveltian principles of providing public assistance to institutions designed to allow opportunities for those willing to work within their provisions. He escaped his Manhattan ghetto through a combination of family support and unusual talent.

Not everyone has such generous endowments of either. The community college system is, however, where they might parlay determination and opportunity into a successful life trajectory. Such “grit” is often celebrated as an independent variable through which people may advance up the economic ladder.

Yet grit alone does not enable a person born into social disadvantage to navigate complex, new social systems autonomously. Individuals’ grit benefits from institutional pathways such as affordable education through which they may make the most of their prospects in life.

If society has any compassion toward those who get a late or disadvantaged start in life and may potentially change both their own arcs and the lives of those around them, then the community college system is surely worth public support.

 

Reader Comments 0

64 comments
BCW1
BCW1

Nothing is FREE...somebody is paying for it!!!

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

I think most people recognize the value of community colleges.  I also think that making college "free" is a recipe for disaster.  We've already seen the run-up in tuition and fees due to the HOPE Scholarship as colleges and universities began "chasing the dollar".  We've also seen the hundreds of millions of dollars squandered on the not-ready-for-college student who went for a year on the HOPE Scholarship, lost HOPE, and never returned.

For any program to succeed, the students must have "skin in the game".  I've long advocated to make HOPE a reimbursement program where the student pays tuition and fees up front and is reimbursed based on their grades.

Instead of "free money" for community college, how about student loans at the Treasury Bill interest rate?

jerryeads
jerryeads

We have lots to learn about helping our fellow citizens so that we might escape going the way of Rome, but as the editorial in this morning's print AJC noted about helping homeless folks, it's a LOT cheaper to lend a hand than it is to stick 'em in prison. Your tax money at work, folks. Take your choice. You can either pay for the revolving door of prison or pay a lot less for helping folks become self-supporting so that THEY pay taxes too. Is that really so hard to figure out?

That said, there are reasons why CCs are inexpensive. For example, they apparently hire many faculty as adjuncts. Those folks would make more as service personnel in restaurants. While most of them may well be very good at what they do, it seems possible that CCs  might be less selective in hiring discardable temps than regular full-time faculty. That practice may contribute to the well-evidenced bigotry against CC students by the clueless ivory tower Morici and some posters below.

Pete noted the kinds of hard-working folks who choose CCs. I get many of the same folks at my much less expensive than the big schools college, and I dearly enjoy those "non-traditional" students who are in my evening classes because they're working full-time. And yes, my first degree was from what was then known as a "junior" college.

Astropig
Astropig

@jerryeads


"Pete noted the kinds of hard-working folks who choose CCs."


But he also intentionally misrepresented the essay that his essay was based on. 

honested
honested

IF the concern is preventing additional worthless degrees, shouldn't we be concentrating on eliminating the scourge of 'for profit' colleges?

Astropig
Astropig

@sneakpeakintoeducation @Astropig @MaryElizabethSings @honested


I believe that (like todays guest columnist) you are L-Y-I-N-G. Please cite where any student anywhere in any public charter school is "required" to go to any state capital and lobby for anything. I don't mean some biased opinion column,I want facts. Til then, you're just making a fool of yourself.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Astropig 


I'm not denying the simple fact that many charter schools are public schools.  However, you appear, from your words, to be naive about the complexities within the charter school movement.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Astropig


I have never exploited my students nor any other teacher's students. I served them very well. You are a twisted soul, a sad person.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@honested 

Yes!  I believe that there are several now under federal investigation. The worst thing, to my mind, about these is that they aim at the returning veteran with his/her GI Bill that pays for educational expenses, but their degrees are mostly worthless.

Lexi3
Lexi3

@MaryElizabethSings @honested 


Let's see: I'm imagining social promotions, test cheating, grade inflation. Oh no, wait....


Fact is, for profit enterprises go out of business if they don't offer goods and services people will voluntarily pay for (forgetting for the time, those government favored and subsidized entities). Not too many government schools that go out of business.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Astropig @sneakpeakintoeducation @MaryElizabethSings @honested


Very funny; just this morning I was reading about charter schools in NY that require the students and their parents to go to the state capital in Albany to lobby for more charter schools during a school day. Only a charter school can use their students are political pawns; if public schools did this to lobby for full funding, they would be taken to task. Charter schools are only public schools when they want to be; when transparency is required then they are suddenly private entities.


Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings @Astropig


And you appear to be not cognizant of the fact that charter schools are not run for profit.You don't like them because people like yourself can't exploit the students for a career of mediocrity and then retire. Not very nuanced there.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Astropig @sneakpeakintoeducation @MaryElizabethSings @honested


As always, Astropig, you have to resort to inflammatory language rather than debate.  Here is the link about the trip. Bear in mind, if charter schools are public schools why are they being closed to attend a political rally in which the parents and their children are required to attend?  Parents are allowed to use this time as their allotted allowance of school volunteering. No matter, I am sure you can put a spin on it. I would love to see the right-wing reaction if the public schools closed down and transported the 1,000,000 students to a rally in Albany. 


http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/02/8562715/success-academy-close-schools-again-albany-rally


and here is a few links about the CEO, Eva Maskowitz, who pays herself a salary of $475,000,using  strong-arm tactics to ensure that the parents and their students turn up at the rallies. 



http://www.thisworldwelivein.com/2015/02/25/success-academy-will-close-nyc-schools-for-political-rally/

http://ny.chalkbeat.org/2015/01/30/success-academys-albany-rally-set-to-compete-with-uft-lobbying-day/#.VO83efnF8xF



OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I think that Professor Smagorinsky is  writing in large part against pervasive negative stereotypes of community colleges and their students.  He's showing the necessity of community colleges in the larger scheme of higher education. That is, they don't just exist as a bridge to transferring to a 4-year college, or as a place to educate the poorly prepared students from our high schools so they can get a midway diploma for the job market. They have their own importance. 

So President Obama's proposal would reach a group of citizens who aren't concerned with 4-year colleges and universities...citizens who deserve our help. I think especially of our veterans returning home, many of whom joined the military right after high school.

Lexi3
Lexi3

@sneakpeakintoeducation @Lexi3 @OriginalProf @Astropig 


Looks as though you learned everything you think you know about Milton Friedman in a community college.


Nobel prize winner (when that still mattered) Friedman is generally regarded by economists, both left and right, as the most influential and prolific economist of the 2nd half of the 20th century. And, his "policies" were not tried in Argentina, contrary to leftist propaganda. "There were indeed advisers from the University of Chicago in Argentina; since there is strong global demand for Chicago economists, they have visited many countries. But their influence in Argentina was barely noticeable. In the Fraser Institute index of economic freedom, which gives scores from 1 (the least free) to 10 (the most), Argentina moved from 3.25 in 1975 to 3.86 in 1985. Compare this with the countries Klein mentions as superior alternatives to the Chicago Boys’ brutal “neoliberal” models: Sweden went from 5.62 in 1975 to 6.63 in 1985; Malaysia, one of the “mixed, managed economies” Klein prefers, went from 6.43 to 7.13. In 1985, after Argentina allegedly applied Friedman’s ideas, the country’s economy was less marketoriented than all the Eastern European communist economies tracked by Fraser, including Poland, Hungary, and Romania. But Argentina tortured people, so in Klein’s mind it must have been on the fast track to free markets." http://www.hacer.org/chile/?p=22


Simply, Argentina was not then and is not now a free market economy, and it lacked the institutions to adopt one overnight. Instead, it moved towards socialism, has a socialist president and is a constant crisis mode since that adoption.


For failed experiments, you might look at Cuba, the Soviet Union, Red China, Albania, Yugoslavia, Romania, the Nationalist Socialist Party of Germany (the Nazis), the National Health Service of Great Britain and every other socialist enterprise in history.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig @OriginalProf 

See above discussion of the "for-profit" colleges. They suck up a lot of the GI Bill money that veterans have available, because they're just about open-admission and the courses are much easier than those in the non-profit schools (community colleges, regular universities). They promise jobs as the non-profit schools don't (and can't), that don't ever materialize.


This is anecdotal, I know...but last year I revisited the University from which I retired, and over lunch I talked with an older man who asked what I knew about my school.  Said he was a disabled veteran who had just used up all his GI Bill college credits at a for-profit school, and then discovered that no business would even consider his for-profit degree. He had found some sort of job, and wanted to take some courses to educate himself on his own....I steered him toward the Veterans Office of my former University.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf @Astropig


Okay. So we should not let vets choose the college(s) that they would choose because we don't think that they'll make the choices that we would make for them? I mean, these guys and women are adults with more life experience than a lot of us could ever hope to have,especially if they have been deployed overseas.You would limit their options because...?


Because "for profit" schools get in your good life?

Because "for profit" schools won't hire you?

Because "for profit" schools put the choice and responsibility in the hands of people other than you?


I'd really like to know here how shutting down more educational options helps anybody.Should we shut down UNC after what we witnessed in their recent academic scandal? (which is as bad as anything I've ever seen a private college do).


What about PennState? They covered up and facilitated a heinous series of crimes so that they could keep the football cash registers ringing. You're going to have to explain this one real well for me to see the difference.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf @Astropig


Well, Isn't this a problem for the accreditation agencies to handle? I'm not talking about unaccredited schools here.Why are they handing out accreditation to schools that you personally don't cotton to? Are you saying that they're on the take?


And is it not easier than ever to do research on schools,both for and "non" profit? Am I the only person with a computer that can dig a little information up on a place where I'm thinking of borrowing thousands to attend? Family? Friends? Are they not warning vets that some degrees are not worth the paper they are printed on?


I'm not taking up for the diploma mills here in the least.But I'm always suspicious when one branch of higher education badmouths another branch. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Astropig @OriginalProf 

No, shut down the for-profit colleges and/or sue for false promises, especially those that take federal funds under the GI Bill. 

You don't seem to understand the for-profit colleges. They almost may be seen as scams targeting the returning veterans with their federally guaranteed tuition.

They selectively advertise to veterans. They promise the moon in terms of job-placement, and they also promise to see that their graduates get jobs. They accept pretty much anyone, no matter what their high school grades were like. Their courses are very easy, sometimes don't even have exams, and are like the high school classes where one is "socially promoted." The veteran gets the degree...goes out to get a job...and finds that his degree means nothing, for businesses won't even consider it. It almost works against the veteran, that he/she chose a for-profit school. The school does not offer job-placement. They take the (federal) money and run.


UNC and PennState offer real classes, with degrees that have a high reputation on the job-market. They may have had the individual scandals which you mention, but their educational reputation remains high.


Veterans may have "life experience," but that doesn't necessarily translate to educational experience. I doubt that fighting in the Middle East prepared them to estimate for-profit universities.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@OriginalProf @Astropig


It's very difficult to regulate a company that donates thousands to those in congress to protect their for-profit interests. Money corrupts. Senator Kline was charged with the responsibility of protecting the students from the predatory practices and, instead, protects the for-profit colleges after they donate huge sums to help get him re-elected. Isn't there something wrong with this picture?



http://www.huffingtonpost.com/davidhalperin/charged-with-protecting-s_b_4110906.html

Lexi3
Lexi3

@sneakpeakintoeducation @OriginalProf @Astropig 

"It's very difficult to regulate a company that donates thousands to those in congress to protect their for-profit interests." So true. I thought for a moment you were writing about the green energy industry, populated with administration insiders and those connected to it, which has taken and squandered billions of taxpayer dollars.


As Milton Friedman wisely observed, the regulated always take over the regulators. A great reason to diffuse power, rather than centralize it in an unresponsive, corrupt,  omniscient bureaucracy.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Lexi3 @sneakpeakintoeducation @OriginalProf @Astropig


Milton Friedman's policies have been tried in Chile and have sent the country and the public schools into turmoil. We know the results of this experiment and it failed. Now the citizens are having to pay billions to put the country back together after M.F. failed experiment. Surely you are not suggesting that is what America should do?

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Lexi3 @sneakpeakintoeducation @OriginalProf @Astropig

I never mentioned Argentina; you did. I am talking about the disaster that is the economy of Chile after they implemented his policies. I will not disparage you as you tried to do to me by making assertions that you know nothing about. I suggest you read the Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf


"citizens who deserve our help. I think especially of our veterans returning home, many of whom joined the military right after high school. "


Too late. There is already a thing called the "GI Bill" that takes care of these folks pretty well and has since Mussolini still looked like his wedding picture (1944).The fact is, community college is already affordable and accessible.Liberals are just looking for rationalizations for another entitlement that they can "defend" at election time.

Astropig
Astropig

I don't mind a difference of opinion.That's the salsa that makes life interesting. But I hate being lied to:


" Morici asserts we should close the “failing diploma mills” of two-year colleges because, he claims, people who attend them are dysfunctional and, as defective human beings, do not merit our support."


Morici does no such thing. The word "close" does not appear in his essay. His thesis is that subsidizing even more worthless degrees than are already awarded would devalue the real degrees offered by his university. His point is that it is "fraud" (a word he emphatically does use) to take these kids money with no value added to their education by offering more degrees and programs that have little,if any, real world value.He rightfully points out that community/technical colleges do offer some great programs in several fields that lead to a middle class vocation.As is usually the case when he tries to indoctrinate you, Smags totally ignores that and gets a free pass because...Because they think we won't know the difference.(Judging by the usuals,they know that part of their audience well)


As for the "defective human beings" part, that's not in there either.He does use the word "dysfunctional",which is hard to refute.We all have some dysfunction. Schools have dysfunction. Families have dysfunction. I'm not sure how our columnist made the jump from "dysfunctional" to "defective". Maybe he didn't read the essay.


Anyway, I would urge you to read the essay by Dr. Morici yourself and judge for yourself. I think Smagorinsky owes the guy an apology for mischaracterizing the man's work.

bu2
bu2

@Astropig 

You are absolutely right.  Its such a distortion it amounts to lies and slander.


Mr. Smiagorsky resorts to emotions and distortions, not logic to convince people.  This is a pattern in his previous essays.  I was trying to type something similar to what you just wrote, but it got eaten by the blog.

Astropig
Astropig

@bu2 @Astropig


I'm astonished that even the regular left of center commenters don't have the integrity to call him out. This isn't some simple "conflating" of disputable remembrances-it's an outright distortion of what Morici wrote and thought. I sincerely hope that UGA will take a hard look at the ethics of making up thoughts and phrases that are not anywhere near the original intent. I'm not holding my breath,but it makes you wonder if he makes up stuff in his class to pass on to impressionable students.

popacorn
popacorn

@Astropig @bu2 Impressionable is not the word for a classroom full of virtually all-female education majors who basically shoot the bull for the whole class and convince each other how wise they are. Smagorinski and the other UGA professors preside over this sandbox, liberally handing out As and scamming student loan money for a program that has no effect on teacher ability.

EliasDenny
EliasDenny

Speaking from my personal experience as a veteran and from a low income background. I attended community community college part time at night along with many other older students who went on to productive lives and careers.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Peter Smagorinsky is a professor with compassion, knowledge, and wisdom.


My Alma Mater, The City College of New York, City University of New York, costs students very little to attend because CCNY it is a public institution of higher education.  I had mentioned, previously, some of its graduates from Gen. Colin Powell to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.  Without public universities such as CCNY, graduates such as Powell and Kissinger may never have been able to have earned a college degree, which matched their individual potential. If that had been the case, America would have lost all of that human potential with which to serve our great nation.


President Obama, himself, has compassion, understanding, and wisdom.  We should support this effort to fund community colleges throughout our nation.  President Obama has vision, and he is nurturing America's future with that vision.



Lexi3
Lexi3

@MaryElizabethSings 


Mr. Obama's vision is that of a collectivist utopia ruled by unequal equals such as he, issuing fiats to compel us to live as he deems best. If implemented, we'd all be living in 25 years like the average Cuban today. This week he seizes, through the FCC, the internet under the Orwellian term of "Free internet," perhaps to control the messages that flow across.

Lexi3
Lexi3

@MaryElizabethSings 

I'm doubting Kissinger was community college material. Powell, perhaps-he is an Obama supporter.


Even if the country benefited from the talents of Kissinger and Powell, that doesn't mean there is a net gain to society of subsidizing their educations. To determine that, you'd need to know the costs, the opportunity forgone by society, in using those funds to educate Kissinger, Powell and the millions of less esteemed grads instead of using them for other purposes. And, again, the grads benefit most from the education. Why not expect them to pay for it?.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Lexi3 


Actually, Henry Kissinger attended CCNY and is listed among its alumni; however, he did not graduate from CCNY.  Nevertheless, that public college gave Kissinger his academic start in university.  See link below for his name, among many other famous Americans, who are listed as alums of CCNY.  I had hurriedly pulled Kissinger's name and Colin Powell name from memory when I had posted earlier.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_City_College_of_New_York_alumni

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Lexi3


"Read much?" is not a legitimate answer.  Your biases are showing.  And, your extreme analogies are over the top.  Sounds like too much FOX News to me.

Lexi3
Lexi3

@MaryElizabethSings @Lexi3 


My analogies are spot on. I reject the suggestion that the assertions I make are "ridiculous."


I get my news from numerous sources, including Fox, which is the only major news outlet that will report true stories that reflect badly on our Dear Leader and the narrative his acolytes embrace and promulgate. I've also read Dreams from [His] Father and the Audacity of Hope. I'm quite familiar with Fast and Furious, the IRS targeting scandal (for which Obama apologized before he reversed and declared there was no smidgeon) , his illegal illegal immigrant de facto amnesty, Benghazi, and the numerous other scandals his Attorney General and campaign manager pretend didn't proliferate during his administration.


As for the internet and FCC, there are numerous stories posted on the internet and in print about its efforts at "net neutrality" and it is about to promulgate a new regulatory scheme which will amount to expropriation and ultimately content regulation, like the old "fairness doctrine" progressives used to filter news for decades. For a tocsin rung by a leftie organization about the effort of the FCC to rule the internet you might read: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/02/dear-fcc-rethink-those-vague-general-conduct-rules.


I never knew CCNY was a community college, though I know it counts as alums many community organizers, blessing society with their unique taxpayer paid for gifts.



MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Lexi3 


Your word, not mine, was "ridiculous;" my words were "over the top."  I never wrote that CCNY is a "community college." I wrote that CCNY is/was a public university which has cost graduates very little to attend so that it was possible that working class students could get an excellent education there for little money outlay.  However, to have been accepted at CCNY, applicants needed to have had a B+ average from high school or another college (if transferring in) when I was accepted there.  


Just to set the record straight.

Lexi3
Lexi3

@MaryElizabethSings @Lexi3 


"Ridiculous" was honested's word, in the same thread.


You inserted CCNY into the blog about the merits and demerits of community colleges, a category mistake. I thought I'd shine a light on the improper conflation. Further, the fact that many hard working, dedicated students make it through these [albeit taxpayer subsidized] institutions paying their own freight is a good evidence that it can be done without the need for more gifts from Santa paid for with money confiscated from hard working taxpayers, many of whom never had the luxury of going to college.


Finished editing your father's book?