Skip the admissions game

Skip the admissions game, writes Kevin Carey on the New York Times’ Room for Debate. Four out of five students attend colleges that are easy to get into and not well resourced. With a little research, they could find high-quality community colleges that offer good teaching at a reasonable price.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Thanks to Skype, a professor in Finland is teaching German to students in Minnesota.

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  1. Oh, please. Send a kid to community college when he’s eligible for a 4 year? That’s moronic. He’ll be surrounded by kids who don’t care.

  2. What’s moronic is to pay anywhere from 3x to 20x more for two years to be taught by TAs in classes with 5x more students. The content is the same and on the whole I think the standards are the same.

    I taught a calculus class one summer with a large transient population from the premier state university near us… the withdrawal rate was much higher on the transient students with complaints of “I thought it would be easier taking it here”. Our remedial classes may be filled with students that don’t care and won’t try but the bulk of our core classes have students who are trying to get an education (as opposed to seeing how much they can drink and how many coeds they can bed at Big State U.)

  3. Even if the other kids at a CC are hardworking, there may be a real knowledge and skills gap, especially in areas where very few of the top students attend a CC, even during their HS years. The area where my oldest kids went to HS was like that; the calculus course (and most others) at the local CC was far below that of their local HS. The kids taking honors and AP classes at their school, and others like it in the area, would be attending highly competitive colleges or getting academic scholarships to the honors program at the (highly ranked) flagship state university or its equivalent.
    The kids at the CC would not go on to 4-year schools at that level; they would be more likely to go to one of the other state schools or their equivalent and the CC courses reflected that.

    However, one of my other kids did attend a CC (diffferent state) during HS and had an excellent experience. The German course at the HS was weak, and we were told that the CC had an excellent professor, so my child transferred and was very happy with all three classes. Of course, the kids in upper-level German were academically strong and very motivated.

  4. Let’s not kid ourselves, if a student is capable of going to a top-notch academic school then they should go. There may be 100 universities worthy of this distinction though.

    A freshman at a flagship state university may never speak with an actual professor and they will surround themselves with other students whose priorities begin and end with what happens after dark. Most private schools aren’t on the academic level of a Duke, Case Western, Southern Cal, and you end up paying 20k a semester for the non-academic periphery.

    It could be there is a radical discrepancy between the quality of a CC education from region to region but I think it is irresponsible to eliminate a segment of higher education because some people think you can’t get a good education if the school doesn’t offer 4000 level courses.

  5. A freshman at a flagship state university may never speak with an actual professor and they will surround themselves with other students whose priorities begin and end with what happens after dark.

    This is idiotic. First, almost all the UCs are in the top 100 schools, as are most of the flagship state universities.

    Second, it’s simply not true that UC classes, outside the courses that any good student has tested out of through AP, are not taught by professors.

  6. I know graduates of the University of South Carolina Honors College, which has honors classes even in upper-division classes and all are small and taught by full-time professors. It was not uncommon to have classes of less than 10 kids, some of whom might have been grad students and their faculty members all knew them personally. The education was top quality and a senior thesis is required by the Honors College. The Columbia campus is lovely, and the dorms on the Horseshoe are reserved for the Honors College. The last I heard, it was hard to be admitted with less than a 1400 SAT (old scale)- most had 1500s – and most/all had honors scholarships. For out-of-staters, that pretty much meant in-state tuition levels. Most also had lots of AP credits and started with the next-level courses.

  7. Michael E. Lopez says:


    Thomas didn’t say that the courses aren’t taught by professors. He said that a freshman may never speak with an actual professor. That’s not the same thing, and Thomas isn’t entirely wrong.

    Now, the problem with the UCs isn’t the access to professors — at least not in our department. Out of a class of 150 students, there are usually about 20-30 who come to the professors office hours over the course of the class. These are usually the same 20-30 who come to the TA’s office hours, and the same 20-30 who speak up in class unbidden. So you might think that the problem isn’t the UCs, but the students: why don’t they take advantage of the resources around them?

    The answer, however, is that there just isn’t an intellectual climate among the undergrads at the UC campuses. (Maybe there is at Berkeley… I’ve heard rumors.) The UC’s are great — sublime, even — graduate institutions, but their undergraduate programs are inconstant at best. The hard sciences tend to be pretty good, but the intellectual community for studying the humanities simply does not exist. You may be able to find one or two friends with whom to talk about your work and your classes, but you can sit at a campus cafe all day long at a UC without hearing a single undergrad talk about anything from any of their classes.

    A fictional but accurate illustration, compiled from several experiences I had at these two institutions:

    At Wesleyan:
    Student 1: Hey… what’s your major?
    Student 2: English.
    Student 1: Oh? What sort of work do you do?
    Student 2: I’m really into 18th century French literature, particularly the depictions of Eastern European subcultures in the big cities. Though I’m taking this class with Professor Xavier about fictional images of Mutants throughout the 1900’s that’s really great. We were talking about Nightcrawler the other day.
    Student 1: Nightcrawler? Really? We were just talking about that over in the physics lab. Teleportation like that seems to be exothermic…..

    At UCLA:
    Student 1: Hey… what’s your major?
    Student 2: English.
    Student 1: Oh? What sort of work do you do?
    Student 2: Oh, you know… we read books and write papers.
    Student 1: Yeah. We take a lot of test.

    Now at Wesleyan, there’s an expectation that you’ll be able to have conversations like that. If you can’t, people think you’re dumb. There is, in short, social pressure to be engaged with your studies at schools like Wesleyan. There is no such general pressure at UCLA. The shared cultural element of the discourse of learning is a very, very big part of the undergraduate experience to be missing.

    Now, you might say that some of that pressure is “fake” or “pretentious”, and I’d be a fool to disagree with you. But it also is very real, and its effects are very real. And if there’s no social pressure to be engaged in your studies, and you can pass your classes, get your degrees, and still have time to party all without ever talking to your professor… where’s the motivation?

  8. Michael E. Lopez says:

    tests. With an s.

  9. Note that Carey is talking about the NON-flagship state colleges and lower-tier privates when he recommends considering the CC alternative. I can vouch that those non-selective colleges do not offer a rigorous education, but they extract a high cost both in dollars and in the very uninspiring preoccupations of the students.

  10. Crimson Wife says:

    @ Michael Lopez- here’s a fictional but accurate illustration from experiences I had at Stanford and as the spouse of a Harvard student.

    At Harvard/Stanford
    Student 1: Hey… what’s your major?
    Student 2: English.
    Student 1: Oh? What are you planning to do after graduation?
    Student 2: Oh, you know… I’m also pre-med and I did a summer internship at my father’s consulting firm- you may have heard of it, it’s [oh-so-casually name drop] -so I’m trying to decide between med school, consulting, or law school. I just am having such a hard time choosing that maybe I’ll just do a joint MD/JD and then start my own consulting business. Oh, and of course, that’ll be after a stint in the Peace Corps since you know how good that looks on a med school application.
    Student 1: Yeah, I’m spending Spring Break as an apprentice midwife in Bhutan. Dzongkha is such a challenge to learn. Why, I had to skip my a capella group practice twice this week just so that I could squeeze in more time with my tutor. In fact, I have to go now or I’ll be late.

  11. Michael E. Lopez says:


    It’s pretentious.

    But who are you going to hire? Mr. overbooked and pretentious, or Mr. doesn’t remember what he read last week?

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mr. Lopez,
    How about the vet who is too mature to try to be pretentious and knows what hard work is?
    Not enough of them to go around.

    My wife taught in a CC, and a for-profit business college. I would say the professional atmosphere was substantially more pronounced in the latter.
    One reason for being in a CC is to stay eligible for welfare, under some regimes. I think that happened before welfare reform. Other than those folks, the students in both CC and biz college were pretty dedicated. Not much partying.
    Then she taught as an adjunct at an urban campus of a flagship U. Highly-educated colleagues, approximately as mature as the younger freshmen. The students were pretty good, although some hadn’t expected the level of work required. Wonder how they got the grades….
    Not everybody is ready for college at eighteen or nineteen, even if they might be later on. Better to find it out at CC. It was interesting when I was a frosh at Enormous State. There was no drinking in the dorms, but the cards and other kinds of time-wasting went on from approximately the first week of school. Big turnover going into the second semester. Lots more room in the dorms.
    If you can stand to live at home, the temptations will be less. Your no-‘count high school buddies will still be around, but they’ll probably have jobs. Sobers a guy up pretty quick. But they’d visit you at college, anyway. I didn’t lose track of some of my non-college high-school acquaintances until their particular friends had flunked out.
    CCs, like everything else, differ one from another. Ought to be possible to find one with solid classes. Lots of advantages if you do.
    I’m not saying i wish I had. The road I took diverged from that possibility going on fifty years ago. No idea what would have happened otherwise.

  13. What is idiotic is to put yourself in debt for two years of classes that mostly have nothing to do with your major.

    It’s lovely that that most of the UC schools are in the top 100… but only about half of the flagship universities in the county are in the top 100. I stand by the statement if you can go to a premier institution (without being indebted to a degree that your job won’t cover your loan payments) then go. With that said, only 10% or so of the students can go to these schools and according to last year’s Labor Department figures 70% of high school graduates went to college. Far too many of these students are paying a ridiculous amount of money for core classes that differ little from MOST two year colleges.