Where college dreams go to die

Community college remediation is Higher Ed’s Bermuda Triangle, writes Camille Esch in the Washington Monthly.  “Vast numbers of students enter, and for intents and purposes disappear.”

Community colleges are required to accept virtually anyone interested in higher education, no matter how unprepared, and today an astonishing 84 percent of incoming California community college students don’t qualify to take college-level math classes that can count toward a four-year degree (in English, it’s over 70 percent).

We don’t know what works and what doesn’t, though she suspects better remediation for the top half of remedial students could make a difference. The ones with elementary reading, writing and math skills — and poor work habits — may be a lost cause.

In Silicon Valley, middle-aged workers are using short-term vocational programs at community colleges to train for new jobs, reports the San Jose Mercury News.  Duane Bjerke, a 47-year-old construction worker, is studying energy conservation.

Late at night, often sharing a table with their own children, these older students hit the books. Many say their reading, writing and arithmetic skills are rusty; others admit that this is the first time they’ve focused on academics. But they bring extra motivation to the classroom. “I’m Steady Eddie. A person like me is on time, ready to go,” Bjerke said. “Some of the young kids — they show up late, don’t bring a pencil, don’t do their homework.”

Even those who start at four-year colleges often fail to complete a degree. Crossing the Finish Line by William Bowen, Matthew Chingos and Michael McPherson looks at which students earn a diploma — who doesn’t — at public universities. Undermatching — qualified students choosing less-demanding universities or two-year colleges — depresses the graduation rate, they write.

They may have had their reasons, such as staying close to home or lack of money (though more selective schools aren’t always pricier). But the authors argue bigger factors are “inertia, lack of information, lack of forward planning for college, and lack of encouragement.” The data suggest low-income and minority students, and especially those whose parents don’t complete college, are especially susceptible.

In North Carolina, “undermatched” students earned higher grades but took longer to get through college and were graduated ” at a rate 15 points lower than comparably prepared students who went to more selective schools.”

Between the overmatched and the undermatched, it’s a miracle anyone earns a degree.

About Joanne


  1. Cardinal Fang says:

    Is there a trick to actually getting Esch’s Washington Monthly article? When I click, I get the title but no text.

  2. And let’s not forget how hard, in California at least, it is for any student to amass the credits needed to transfer to the UC system. The CCs schedule required classes once a year or once every two years, but boy! are there lots of fluff classes. Can’t imagine why.


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  2. […] Where college dreams go to die – “Between the overmatched and the undermatched, it’s a miracle anyone earns a degree.” […]