Nassau and Suffolk Community Colleges, SUNY
Humanist, Fall 2008, Vol. 29, N0.4 .
At last there are signs that some folks who care about Community
Colleges are pushing back against the insistence upon singular
measures of "success" for students. For years I have spoken and
written about the need to be more truthful and accurate and
realistic in reporting on community college students and their
genuine success stories. Now some states are doing just that (see INSIDE
“Different Measures of Community College Outcomes”, September 11,
Despite the apparent fixation with single quantitative measures for
assessing the value of public institutions we who teach in the
public community colleges of this nation know that there is more to
determining the “success” rate of our efforts than the 4 or 6 year
graduation rates. Whenever a student fulfills the academic
objectives with which they enter the college or formulate while with
us that would be a “success” for us. Whether it is transfer, a few
classes for career advancement, a few classes to determine what
their abilities and preferences are or completion of a certificate
or degree, their accomplishing their own goals are instances of
"success". While many who are responsible for our public funding
are still keyed in to graduation rates that does not necessitate
that we ourselves truncate our own reporting of what is actually
going on and the genuine success of many community colleges in
providing assistance to human beings in their efforts to improve on
their lot in life, be it financial or intellectual. Perhaps
sustained efforts to tell our story which is telling the stories of
our students will bring about yet another change in the public
measure; after all, the current index has been changed from a two
year graduation rate to substantially greater periods of time. This
acknowledgement of the changes in socio-economic circumstances needs
to be made once again. The current imposition of the graduation
rate as sole or main indicator is cruel and misleading and insulting
to students whose real lives can not conform to the model that
served as the basis for the two year curriculum design and insulting
to ourselves as professional educators who teach human beings and
courses and do not dedicate our lives to boosting the single
anecdotes indicate that a degree from my university, the City
University of New York (CUNY), changes the lives of many people who
attend classes and even for the next generation of their
families. There are many who value CUNY for this. For those wishing
to appraise the effectiveness of Open Admissions in CUNY that each
year sends tens of thousands of students to the community colleges
in CUNY and the import of such a policy on the lives of individuals
and their families the recent research of Professors Paul Attewell
and David E. Lavin of the CUNY Graduate Center provides data in
support of those impressions and beliefs as it presents data that
challenges some of the assumptions underlying recent conversations
concerning the need to improve upon graduation rates. The most
recent work of Attewell and Lavin presents some of the most basic
and dramatic findings of their research in their new book,
Passing the Torch: Does Higher Education for the Disadvantaged Pay
Off Across the Generations? (Russell Sage Foundation, 2007)
It is possible that
recent data concerning the persistence of open admissions students
in CUNY cast doubts on the need for a campaign for improving
graduation rates predicated on the acceptance of a national norm of
4 or 6 years. Problems related to graduation rates may have more to
do with conceptual blinders than with what is actually going on.
Students entering college immediately after high school and
graduating in 4 years constitute less than 25% of those attending
college. Delayed graduation has become the national norm.
The authors think
the data, if examined, can dispel three key misconceptions or myths
about open admissions and increasing access to higher education: 3
1. Weaker students
are not good students and they will not graduate; i.e., the Open
Admissions Policy was not a good idea because students are poorly
prepared and not fit for college.
2. If students do
not graduate in 6 years they seldom ever do.
3. Weaker students
are not good students and they will devalue college degrees and the
institutions that grant them, i.e., in New York the value of a CUNY
degree has been devalued by the Open Admissions Policy.
The basic idea was
that weaker students can not do college work .
Admissions students graduated than what was commonly
believed. If one examined the rate of graduation out beyond
six years the data indicated that
70% of CUNY
students graduated with a degree and three fourths of them
with a four year degree. The national average is 60%.
weaker CUNY students do graduate (more than 50%) over time.
low rate of graduation after 6 years includes those who are
weak in preparation and many poor and minority students.
It is the
case that the economic value of a baccalaureate degree has
grown in time. Minority students will earn more than those
without a degree. Minority students who enter with weak
academic preparation will also earn more than those without
a degree. Minority students who enter with weak academic
preparation who have some college credits will also earn
more than those without a degree.
According to the
previously mentioned story in INSIDE HIGHER ED there are now people
in Connecticut, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Virginia
who are attempting to record and report the more complete story of
the success of community college students. One can hope that in New
York and in CUNY what constitutes "success" for students at
our community colleges will be brought closer to the real story.
There are special
programs at community colleges that provide support for select
groups of students who are expected to obtain an associate degree in
two years. Such outcomes are not the typical outcomes for community
colleges nor could they be given the diversity of students who enter
community colleges, their own goals and the real life situations
that include poor academic preparation, economic hardships, family
responsibilities and a myriad of other factors that preclude
completing 15 credits per semester. Yet for those of us who look at
the human beings we serve we realize that in time most students do
achieve and do succeed and we work very hard to support their
efforts to do so. In fact most of us have dedicated our lives to
that end. We should work equally hard to tell their stories.
“Success” is written all over those tales left untold and uncounted.