Bad News for CCs

90% of students who start at a community college don’t finish college.

Is this because of community colleges? Or is it because the students starting at a community college aren’t actually able to finish?

 Most students who do well in high school don’t go on to a community college. The students who typically go to a community college are either

  1. those who struggled in high school, who goofed off, who skipped school, who didn’t do their work. If they have not had a major attitude change, they’re going to do the same thing in a CC and they aren’t going to graduate.
  2. those who struggled in high school because they did not have sufficient skills. Their skill levels are not going to automatically improve just because they are going to college. They need remediation and they need tutoring. These are available, but they will have to avail themselves of it.

A study in a Boston Globe article, as reported on The College Puzzle, said

2-students-big1Students attending two-year community colleges-the least-expensive option-fared the worst in the survey by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, with an abysmal 12 percent graduation rate.

Seven out of 10 public school graduates may get into college, but many lack the preparation to succeed. At Bunker Hill, for example, more than 80 percent of the Boston students from the class of 2000 required a remedial math course.

In this study, a student merely needed to earn a diploma or certificate from any institution of higher education, not just the original college. And by providing at least a six-year window, the study made allowances for students who often juggle college with work or family obligations. Rationalizations are now off the table.

A couple of thoughts: First, is it the college’s fault if the students need remediation when they arrive? Or maybe, to what extent is the college responsible for remediation?

If 80% of the students need remediation, then they are trying to go to college without adequate skills. Perhaps we should quit encouraging everyone to go to college.

My brother-in-law did not go to college. He has a good job in management because he learned how to manage people and he is a conscientious worker. (And he got a job with a company that rewards those things.)

If he had gone to college, he would have been one of those students needing remediation and not passing. My husband, from the same family, actually did better in college than he did in high school.

The more I read studies like these, the more I wonder why we as Americans feel it is important to send our kids to school. In the old days people apprenticed. That was like school, only different. As an apprentice you would learn your job and do it. (Or at least it was to be hoped you would.) Were there a lot of failures in those days that we just don’t hear about because they died young? got run over by a horse? or something equally removing-them-from-the-gene-pool?

The [most successful community] college also offers so-called “nested semesters” that allow students to take accelerated courses over 10- or even 5-week periods in addition to the traditional 15-week schedule. The faster pace creates a sense of urgency missing on many campuses. Minority students, who make up 42 percent of the student body, appear to fare especially well at Quincy College. Black and Hispanic graduation rates for a recent class, says Harris, outstripped that of Asian students.

This is an interesting idea and I am going to pass it on to my dean and president.

I wonder why the Asian students were outstripped. What about the shorter, more intense courses, courted Hispanic and black culture, while putting aside Asian culture? That’s an interesting question. I wonder if it would hold up through a second study or a similar program somewhere else.

No one believes that ill-prepared urban students will suddenly cruise through college. But any college that can’t help at least half to the finish line needs to reexamine what value it is adding to the educational experience.

Again, I may be negative, but why is it the college’s job to get the students through?

I guess I have a different view of the responsibility of students and colleges.

What is the role of the college?

I think the college should provide remediation. It should provide qualified teachers. It should provide technology so that the students can learn that aspect of American culture. It should encourage students. It should make sure students are not trying to swim out of their depth, by taking too many classes or classes for which they are not yet prepared.

It has NO responsibility for students graduating.

Now, if the short terms are good for students, they will also be good for colleges. The colleges will retain more students if the students are doing well. Student retention, though not the job of the college, is a goal of the college. They want to retain as many students as they can reasonably do.

But I know that many schools have watered down their programs. The classes are light. And they are doing this in an attempt to get the students to pass. What’s the use of passing if there was nothing rigorous?

bw-hand-writingDoes it do a student any good to get out of freshman composition and be unable to write an essay exam? No, it does not. They will have essay exams and they will need to do well on them to continue on in their education.

But we water our courses down at the CC in order to “help” more of our students through.

Students rise to a challenge and sink to the lowest common denominator thinking.

The Ugly Stepsister: Rhetoric

 Joseph Kugelmass wrote an insightful article for Inside Higher Ed entitled “Stop Using Rhetoric to Teach Writing.”

He says that after five years of teaching composition, he feels it is a mistake to make Aristotelian rhetoric the foundation of writing instruction.

My first thought, sophist that I am, was: Perhaps Quintillian rhetoric would be better?

Then I thought of the minimal rhetoric I have seen taught in composition courses. I would expect since he argues against it that he has seen quite a bit of it. I have not.

Kugelmass makes some interesting points about audience; logos, ethos, and pathos; and advertising. But for me, the pivotal quote was:

The field of rhetoric ought to remain a discipline in its own right, instead of becoming simply another word for using language, and as a discipline it is not broad enough to cover all the moments of aesthetic discovery and delight that initiate students into the writer’s world.

Obviously as a PhD with a first field in Rhetoric and Composition, I have a horse in the race.

I agree with him that rhetoric ought to remain a discipline in its own right. It did not for quite some time in American educational history and I hope rhetoric never again disappears from our universities.

In addition, I agree that rhetoric should not become another word for using language. Nor should it, as it has to some extent, be used to identify specific types of constructions. (Rhetorical questions?)

And I agree with him as well that rhetoric is not wide enough to cover all the beauty in writing.

cinderellaBUT to me the implication is that rhetoric and its study does not add enough to writing instruction to warrant its inclusion. This, I feel, is a serious error.

While it is true that students speak to their parents differently than they speak to their friends, many students do not yet understand the different audiences of work and academia when they come to our classes.

Yes, probably the students Kugelmass teaches at prep school do. That is part of their home life.

But many students who are struggling in college are struggling because their home life did not prepare them for the different culture, the different expectations, and the different rhetorics used outside their home. This is where English teachers, rhetoricians in particular, can offer a significant value-add.

Looking at logos, pathos, and ethos and how it operates across different cultures could be very helpful for many of our students. Discussing when and where to use them specifically could make a difference to them as well. And identifying what establishes credibility for different audiences would also be helpful.

For instance, in some cultures relationship is the main point of credibility. Students from those cultures attempt to develop a relationship within the writing that moves them away from the typically logical and external writing that academia prefers. They don’t understand why they have lost points, why “you” and “I” are unacceptable, and how they are not meeting the expectations for the composition.

Why adjunct is a dirty word

Adjunct is a dirty word.

caricature-teacherIf you didn’t know it was, you haven’t known any adjuncts personally. It is amazing what people will say about adjuncts, even to their faces.

But here’s why:

The average adjunct is not as qualified as the average new full-timer. (I’m not addressing the folks hired back in the 60’s, when the market was entirely different.) And I’m not just talking about them receiving less institutional support, though that’s certainly true. Full-timers are recruited nationally, and vetted by search committees, deans, and vice presidents. It’s not unusual to get hundreds of applications for a single position, even at the cc level. When we hire someone to the tenure track, we’ve chosen the best of hundreds. Adjuncts are hired locally, ensuring a far smaller pool. They’re often chosen based on their availability for a given time slot. Yes, some of them are excellent instructors. Yes, sometimes we luck out and find really good people whose life circumstances steer them to us. (That was me, back in the mid-90’s.) But the idea that, on average, the best of hundreds aren’t any better than the best who live within a thirty minute drive and are available on Tuesdays at 12:30 just doesn’t pass the sniff test.

Absolutely the chances are good that the best of hundreds will be better than the best who live within an hour and a half drive. (I’m in Houston, after all.) That does not mean, as Community College Dean makes clear, that some aren’t good. Some are good. Some are excellent.

But we are regularly treated as if we are “the one living within driving distance who agrees to go to X campus.”

Even when we are not. Even when we have a PhD and more teaching experience than the full-timers. Even when our evaluations are glowing and our classes fill up immediately upon opening.

It reminds me of how doctors often treat their patients. Many doctors routinely treat their patients as if they are idiots and do not recognize their own symptoms. This happens even when the patients are bright, well-educated, and self-aware. The doctors do it because they have the expectation that the patient won’t be intelligent.

Maybe the academy has that same expectation. They expect the adjuncts to be poor teachers, place holders, cogs in a giant wheel that are interchangeable… And they get those things, to the detriment of the students. Maybe the colleges should give more and expect more from their adjuncts.

If students perform well when confronted with high expectations, shouldn’t teachers work the same way? We’re just older folks (usually). If adjuncts are expected to be underqualified, high graders without significant content in their courses, then that’s who they will become.

I work at three colleges with very different community cultures.

At one college everyone is introduced as Dr. if they have received one and by their first name as not. This is even when you are giving your name to colleagues. At this college, my PhD counters my adjunct status, as does the fact that relatively few of the faculty are adjuncts.

At one college the twain do not meet. Adjuncts (60 or so) have a four computers/tables office in a building, while the full-timers have individual offices in other buildings. Both the adjuncts and the full-timers have a start-of-school meeting, but the adjuncts’ is at night and the full-timers’ is in the day. Even adjuncts who could attend the full-timers’ meetings don’t because it means coming back to campus without pay. And it just continues that way. They don’t interact. This is CC1, which has offered adjunct certification.

At my third college, the adjuncts are invited (as far as I can tell) to everything the full-timers are. The adjuncts have offices in the same area as the full-timers, though they share an office and the ft have their own. (That’s okay, though, since few of the adjuncts are in the office area at the same time.) People talk to the adjuncts, instead of ignoring them in the halls like at CC1 and CC2. It’s a much more comfortable school to be an adjunct at.

Why am I working at three colleges?

caricature-edwardian-teacherI have been away from teaching college for fifteen years, teaching my children. Now I am trying to get back into teaching. I’ve been working at the local college for a while, teaching a Saturday morning or a Thursday night class. But this year my youngest is attending the local college for dual credit, so I am teaching part-time at several places trying to beef up my experience and my skills. I know that colleges look more at presentations and publications and I have been working on those. I have eight presentations this school year and two publications.

So I am working at several places, getting my feet in doors, hopefully getting to know people, and, next time they hire, I want them to be looking at me first. But when people think of adjuncts as the sweatshop workers, as at one of the colleges I applied for a full-time position, where they never hire their own adjuncts for full-time positions, maybe more adjuncting was not a good choice.