Opinion: Expecting more of community college students while giving them less

Rick Diguette is a writer who teaches English at a local college. He is also a lucid voice on the changes to the higher education landscape in Georgia.

By Rick Diguette

0317artAt the annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges held a few months back in San Antonio, the buzzwords of choice were predictive analytics and retention strategies. I’m afraid big data’s stranglehold on higher education continues unabated, as does the notion relentlessly promoted by Complete College America that we must produce more college graduates, preferably sooner than later.

The retention and graduation rates at America’s two-year colleges have always been anemic, especially when compared with four-year colleges and universities. And the reasons for this are as plain as the nose on a two-year college student’s face. They are typically burdened with a number of so-called “demographic qualifiers” that work against retention and graduation in both obvious and subtle ways.

The most obvious and perennially detrimental demographic is that most two-year college students must hold down a job, often full-time, while pursuing a degree. But if you visit Complete College America’s new data portal, where you can learn all about things like “performance funding” and “Full-Time is 15,” you may also notice precious little space is devoted to this demographic reality. In fact, all you’ll learn about working and going to school at the same time can be summed up like this: fuhgeddaboudit .

A more subtle bar to student retention and graduation at two-year colleges is also grounded in economics, but of the zip code variety. Where students live and which schools they attend tell us virtually everything we need to know when it comes to predicting college success. This country’s economically disadvantaged are typically educationally disadvantaged as well.  Under-performing public schools turn out a disproportionate number of America’s marginally educated students. In other words, you don’t have to be a think-tank guru or a big data analyst to read the writing on the wall.

At the beginning of each semester I tell the students at the community college where I teach a few things they need to know right away. The first is that while higher education in Georgia is very competitive, the playing field is far from level. Those students fortunate enough to be admitted to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, or Georgia State have more resources available to them than are available to the average community college student. And those resources will assist them in completing their education, in the job market, and beyond.

Another thing I tell my students is that some of those occupying the seats of power in this state are not convinced the average community college student has what it takes to compete in higher education. Thanks in large part to Complete College Georgia and the Legislature’s decision to base state funding of public colleges and universities on retention and graduation rates, over the past few years it has become more and more difficult to get admitted to a community college and stay enrolled.

With the impending consolidation of Georgia Perimeter College and Georgia State University, the ranks of traditional community colleges in this state will shrink dramatically in terms of enrollment. Which brings me to one other thing I tell my students at the beginning of each semester. The consolidation may mean that all of the resources currently available to students at Georgia State will also be available to them. But just in case that doesn’t magically happen when the two schools merge, they need to get on the ball and stay there.

 

Reader Comments 0

91 comments
Cere
Cere

My son attempted to attend GPC's Dunwoody campus. It was a disaster. It 'should' be a good way to get core classes and a two-year degree in order to go on to a university, but it's not. The place is a poorly managed train wreck. There is virtually no counseling, extremely long lines, little help anywhere and questionable teachers in many classes (although there were a few good ones mixed in as well). Perhaps due to their policy of hiring freelance teachers and paying them a pittance to teach class by class. Some teachers are also full time teachers in public schools, moonlighting as 'professors' at GPC and others. It's a shame really. BIG waste of money.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Cere 

I have to speak up here.... Many of my doctoral students went on to teach at GPC after they got the degree, and I kept in touch over the years. So I know there are some good teachers there. And as for your other complaints, they may be settled with the consolidation between GSU and GPC, that will be complete by Jan. 2016. GSU has a pretty efficient operation going.

redweather
redweather

@Cere With something like 1,300 students in its Dual Enrollment program every semester, I doubt it could be so bad.  Maybe your son was the problem.  Some Dual Enrollment students have the grades to get in the program, but that's about it.

class80olddog
class80olddog

" In letters sent to 113 South Atlanta parents late last month, Associate Superintendent Timothy Gadson acknowledged that students may not have mastered some course content."

Ya think?

class80olddog
class80olddog

What I don't get is that South Atlanta chaged over a hundred grades, the superintendent is letting them stand, and it is not on the list of Georgia's worst! I guess those grade changes helped!

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

If you live near one of Ga's community colleges, count your blessings.  They are one of the best values around in higher education.

Go for two years, get your core curriculum completed, take classes in a class of 30 instead of a lecture hall of 300, and save $6000-8000 per year on room and board.

Diguette is way off base on one statement, the most probable cause of the high dropout / low graduation rate is the fact the community colleges are open admission and they accept many marginal students.  Those non-traditional students who work full time and go to school are probably the most consciencious ones on campus.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@redweather @Lee_CPA2


Like how you put that. Given the same intellect and motivation, the size of your safety net has a lot to do with your choices and outcomes.

redweather
redweather

@AvgGeorgian @redweather @Lee_CPA2 And one of the toughest things to get reconciled to in this life is that many people with less intellect and motivation have, nonetheless, a much bigger safety net. You've just got to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

redweather
redweather

@Lee_CPA2 Community colleges in Georgia are no longer "open enrollment" institutions.  Haven't been for about four or five years. But the admission requirements are very different than they are at four year colleges and universities. Non-traditional students are more often than not highly motivated and very conscientious, but many of them try to do too much. Working full-time and taking a full load of classes doesn't work. Or their employer changes their work schedule/increases their hours midway through the semester and things go south quickly. Or they lose that job they must have in order to pay for classes. Or . . . in other words, their safety net is extremely small.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Lee_CPA2 

Or---even cheaper--take your basic core curriculum courses at one of the even cheaper Technical Colleges, and then transfer to a four-year school.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@redweather @OriginalProf @Lee_CPA2 

Reasons? This is advice that's often given by high school graduation counselors. Or is your comment relating to the Technical Colleges themselves? 


(One of the frequent bloggers here teaches a core English course at a Technical College. atln8v--sp.?-- could you weigh in?)

redweather
redweather

@OriginalProf @redweather @Lee_CPA2 The USG now requires public state colleges and universities to accept technical college credits in about two dozen core courses. That's the best I can say about that.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@redweather @OriginalProf @Lee_CPA2

Core classes that often have very little to do with the student's major field of study.  If you are an accounting major, who cares where you took your World Literature or History classes?  If you can take them at a technical college and they will transfer, I say go for it.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Thanks to all who shared their personal experiences with the various methods and strategies of pursuing college credits and degrees. They were very informative and I learned much from them.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Colleges in GA are not as easy to categorize as they used to be. A traditional community (junior) college grants only 2 year associate degrees. I think GA has very few Regents colleges that do not grant at least some 4 year degrees, while technical colleges award certificates, diplomas and associate degrees. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_colleges_and_universities_in_Georgia_(U.S._state)

High school students have increasingly used technical colleges as a substitute for community colleges through dual enrollment  programs  because of the price advantage of technical college for the same transferable credit as a  4 year college and the ability to begin core classes for  a specialized associates degree while still  in HS (Nursing, Accounting, Vet Tech, etc.) The price advantage seems to be going away as new legislation may provide future dual enrollment classes at no cost to high school students (technical or 4 year college).  High schools may be paid FTE funding for college taught dual enrollment classes.  http://www.gadoe.org/Curriculum-Instruction-and-Assessment/CTAE/Documents/FY15-Guidance-for-Dual-Enrollment.pdf

The important thing to remember is to work backwards.  A college degree is a set of classes that fulfill the degree requirements.  Look up the degree you want to pursue and make a plan to earn the class credits needed considering your budget and the rigor of the class in relation to your degree and career plans. It is possible, although rigorous and a very different experience, to earn 2 years of college credit in 11th and 12th grade. 

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

A generic discussion topic / essay whose theme undergirds more than half of ALL "Get Schooled' topics:


"Married, college-educated parents devote large quantities of time, effort and/or money to confer advantage in X on their children.  How can we overcome these efforts to level the playing field for other, less fortunate kids and create a more just society and level playing field?"

For X you can substitute grades, test scores, literacy, college admissions, homework, teacher quality, school disciplinary actions, etc,. etc.. etc.


AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@class80olddog 


Hey - why don't we give lottery ticket buyers an education voucher equal to 30% of their purchases. They are mostly poor and could use their own money to buy their own bootstraps. What do you think? Is that the type of opportunity you had in mind?

class80olddog
class80olddog

Answer: you don't- life is not fair. Some of us have managed to bootstrap ourselves up. just give everyone the opportunity

class80olddog
class80olddog

@AvgGeorgian @class80olddog No, I was thinking of what I did in college - worked 12-hour days during the summer, worked during the school year, ate very cheap meals and lived in a very cheap housing arrangement.  I also rode my bike to class and never used the bus (even though I paid a fee for it - you're welcome to all the spongers who benefitted from my fees).  I had one scholarship that had to be repaid by working in my field in Georgia for 1 year for every thousand dollars I received and a very small student loan, which I paid off very quickly after getting a job.  My parents (note plural) could not support me financially in any way. 

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

@AvgGeorgian The lottery already HAS multiple education vouchers - state-funded Pre-K, Hope scholarships, and Zell Miller scholarships.  Those programs are where all the available lottery dollars go - what you gonna cut to fund your 30% vouchers?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog @AvgGeorgian 

Ahhh....those were the days when one could work one's way through college, and any student loans one got could also be paid off quickly. College didn't cost that much, and the usual minimum-wage jobs that college students got could pay for school costs. No such boot-straps nowadays.
 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

To Rick Diguette: So far, I've heard that in the consolidation of GPC and GSU, GPC will be considered one of GSU's internal colleges like Education or Business. GPC students will finish their 2 years within this college and then apply for general admission to GSU like all other incoming students. I would assume that, like students in all the other colleges, GSU's full resources will be available for them.

Astropig
Astropig

"At the beginning of each semester I tell the students at the community college where I teach a few things they need to know right away. The first is that while higher education in Georgia is very competitive, the playing field is far from level. Those students fortunate enough to be admitted to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, or Georgia State have more resources available to them than are available to the average community college student. And those resources will assist them in completing their education, in the job market, and beyond."


That would earn him a quick dismissal at AstroPig State. I told my kids pretty much the exact opposite- That going to CC was the great equalizer that would allow their innate abilities to come to the forefront and ensure them a bright future.They could transfer to the 4 year of their choice as a seasoned college student that would know what it takes to succeed in a more competitive environment and what instructors demanded in class.


It's no wonder kids that age are confused-A mere three months after hearing stirring graduation speeches about how they were going to do some world shaking,they have to listen to the above telling them pretty much that the game is rigged against them.



class80olddog
class80olddog

"APS students who failed classes advance anyway"

I am SHOCKED, SHOCKED, I tell you.

class80olddog
class80olddog

"Atlanta teacher accused of providing unauthorized access to gradebooks"

Imagine that.

30097
30097

I'm sure that the course material Mr. Diguette's students don't learn in his classes is more than made up for—in his opinion—by the entitlement attitude he strives to instill in them.

Along with class envy, racial grievances and a stubborn refusal to see the connection between hard work and economic success.

redweather
redweather

@30097 " . . . class envy, racial grievances, and a stubborn refusal."  You should perhaps consider changing your online screen name to Dr. Pangloss.  All's right with the world?

30097
30097

@redweather 

Whatever's wrong in the world can be righted by sowing class envy and racial discord? 

And on the taxpayers' dime?

redweather
redweather

@30097 @redweather  We tell our children to look both ways before crossing the street in order to focus their attention on how dangerous and potentially deadly our roadways can be. This professor is doing something similar by reminding his students "to get on the ball and stay there." You argue he's sowing class envy and racial discord. Sounds like good old fashioned straight talk to me.

class80olddog
class80olddog

OK, maybe I am confused - what is the difference between a "community" college and a "Technical" College?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

 "Community colleges" and "technical colleges" are very different, but both are controlled by the state of Georgia. The University System of Georgia (USG) has 4 categories of public institutions of higher education, ranked according to the academic programs they offer. The "State Colleges" are the 2-year schools, formerly termed "community colleges. They have a limited number of baccalaureate programs, and are often consider "feeder" schools for the 4 year schools, with many of their students transferring there.


"Technical Colleges"are part of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG).  These 2-year schools (22 of them) train their students for various technical careers.  Their basic Core Curriculum courses can transfer to USG schools ( a great way to save money), and HOPE grants are available.

class80olddog
class80olddog

The question is: should State money be poured into colleges where the six-year graduation rate is 30% or should it go to the flagship universities.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

I should think it's most equitable for state funds to go to educate all of its citizens, and not the comparatively few academically elite who can be accepted into the 4 flagship universities.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@OriginalProf @class80olddog I think that educating ALL of its citizens is what should be happening in K-12, not in Universities.  As I have said before many times, we would not need all of these college-educated people if a HS diploma meant something. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@redweather @class80olddog @OriginalProf I didn't SEND my daughter anywhere - she had her heart set on Georgia - despite being accepted at Emory (could not afford the tuition) and getting accepted with scholarships at Mercer. By the way, after being wait-listed, she went on to graduate from UGA with dual degrees in four years. Sounds like she was a good bet. She also kept HOPE the entire time, worked part time (full time in the summer) and kept her student loans down to a minimum. 

bu2
bu2

@class80olddog 

Community colleges serve their role.  They are cheaper than the research universities, both for the student and for the state.  They serve as a good filter for those who are more marginal academically.  They can also bring those marginal students up to speed before they face tougher competition for grades in the 4 year schools.


The open universities also serve their role (its not just academically elite that go to 4 year schools-not all of our public schools have restrictive admissions).

redweather
redweather

@class80olddog @OriginalProf ". . . we would not need all of these college-educated people if a HS diploma meant something."


That has got to be the most bizarre take on post-secondary education that I've ever encountered.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@class80olddog @OriginalProf @redweather

It is possible that some businesses use a college degree as a requirement due to an oversupply of college graduates. most businesses will  complain that there is a severe shortage of qualified, skilled labor. it keeps the cost of labor down.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@AvgGeorgian @class80olddog @OriginalProf @redweather I don't see how using a college-degreed person as a short-order cook "keeps the cost of labor down".  I agree that businesses CAN use a college degree as a requirement simply because of the oversupply of college graduates - something that will get worse as more people go to college.  Contrary to the thinking around here - more college graduates will not automatically increase the number of jobs that pay high wages and require a college degree. It may actually depress those wages.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@bu2 @class80olddog "before they face tougher competition for grades in the 4 year schools."

I don't understand - are you saying that all classes are graded on a curve where you compete against your classmates and the top 10% get A's and the bottom 10% get F's despite the quality of the work?

I always thought if you learned the bare minimum, you got a C - if you excelled in the course - you got an A.  If you had a class of only exceptional students - everyone might excel and get an A.  If you had a class full of losers, everyone might get an F.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog @bu2 

Bu2 is quite correct. The courses in 2-year colleges are very often less rigorous than those in 4-year colleges. Students who are only familiar with 2-year colleges (I used to teach many before I retired from a USG University) very often are not used to the amount of work expected, the content-comprehension required, and the pace of the classes.  Often, they are not even used to taking class-notes. They are competing with 4-year classmates who are quite used to all of this.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@redweather @class80olddog @OriginalProf What is confusing to you?  I have mentioned in my posts about a company I used to work for that would hire HS graduates for lower-level managerial positions, but now requires all managers to have four-year degrees.  There are many employers who have decided that the only way they can get a person who can read, write, and do math is to go for a college degree or at least some college.  By comparison, my mother only completed through grade 8 but she could do all of those things.  If people didn't have to go to college just to prove they had minimum skills, it would save a lot of time and MONEY. There are lots of positions out there where a GOOD HS diploma would be adequate, but we don't have GOOD HS diplomas anymore.  I should also state that there are not enough "college-level" jobs if EVERYONE goes to college.  What you end up with is college graduates digging ditches.