Community college leaders want more students, more graduates and more money, a professor tells Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews. More doesn’t always mean more learning, says “Nancy.”
While 85 percent of new students say they want a four-year college degree, only 15 percent will earn one in six years, writes Mathews. Colleges are trying to lower the dropout rate by creating special courses for first-year students.
At Nancy’s college, faculty chose “a textbook that would help students look at reasons why so many classmates skipped class and didn’t complete assignments. They also asked the students to write about their college experiences.”
A new supervisor told instructors to “eliminate the writing assignments and choose a different textbook,” Nancy said.
The seminar instructors were told: “Our current ninth-grade reading level textbook is too difficult for our incoming students. Make the course have a 100 percent pass rate, no matter what,” Nancy said. She said this last bit of advice eliminates the usefulness of the course as a tool for helping students adjust to college expectations and reduces it to social promotion.
The instructors were told to “make the course more tangible,” she said. “Students like practical advice, like how to register for classes. They don’t like introspection and they should not have to write.”
Some community colleges are placing fewer new students in remedial classes. Instead, unprepared students are allowed to take college-level courses with access to remedial help.
Colleges have a financial incentive to lower standards, Nancy said. They fear that colleges with very low graduation rates may lose eligibility for federal student aid. “It is difficult to achieve a higher graduation rate honestly, and it is relatively easy to cheat, or at least to bend the rules.”