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Community college failings: Don't shoot the messenger

April 16, 2012|By Mark Schneider
  • Students gather outside the library at Santa Monica College.
Students gather outside the library at Santa Monica College. (Los Angeles Times )

Facts are stubborn things, and though throwing a hissy-fit in response to my Op-Ed article (“Community colleges' learning disability”) may give commenter "sportschic1900" some emotional satisfaction, it doesn't change the facts.

The reader wrote:

This article is so simplistic in its scope that it's scary. First of all, the "only 30% of students earn degrees at community colleges" is an old scare tactic that people use to try to make it look like these are institutions of failure. This doesn't take into account that many people go to CCs hoping to transfer to a 4-year college or just to take a few classes here and there. Not everyone goes in with the intent of earning a degree.

Second, when you are an institution of higher learning that has zero admission standards beyond being 18 years of age, you cannot expect everyone going in to be a Rhodes scholar. The CCs accept everyone. Yes, many need remedial classes or ESL classes. And yes, unfortunately many students become disenchanted with the system along the way and drop out. But that probably means they shouldn't have gone to college in the first place.

Third, what's with the push on private, for-profit schools? How much money is the American Institutes for Research and American Enterprise Institute getting from these schools to spout this [bleep]? Have either writers ever stepped foot into a community college classroom? Or any kind of classroom? When your credentials are from something other than a conservative think tank, call me.

Fact: Community colleges have low graduation rates. And even when we account for transfer students (which we should), far less than half of full-time degree/certificate seeking-students will complete their programs. Success rates -- including both completion and transfer -- for part-time students are far lower, as are success rates for students with remedial needs. Yes, it is far harder to get a student in a community college across the finish line than it is to get a student at Harvard to graduate, but there is substantial variation across community colleges in how well they succeed with their students -- and far too many community colleges fail with far too many of their students.

Because I cannot Google sportschic1900, I know nothing about his or her background. Had sportschic1900 bothered to check the facts about me, sportschic1900 would have seen that the rhetorical question about never having set foot in a classroom was totally off-base. I worked as a college professor for more than 30 years at Stony Brook University, which by the way had articulation agreements with the local community colleges, so that I taught thousands of students who transferred from community college to Stony Brook. I should also note that a few years ago, Stony Brook made a commitment to boost the quality of its undergraduate programs. Graduation rates moved up significantly. The lesson: Absolving institutions from having to shoulder at least part of the responsibility for low student success rates lets low-performing institutions off the hook,  something that we should not tolerate.

Finally, though many people, including sportschic1900, have a fundamental suspicion (even visceral hatred) of the idea of for-profit education, these institutions are a growing part of the nation's higher education system. Sportschic1900 probably feels that accusing me of being on the payroll of for-profit institutions will make the facts I cite in the Op-Ed article go away. But facts are stubborn things. And among those stubborn facts is that many for-profit institutions are delivering an education at least as good as community colleges (and with higher graduation rates to boot). The numbers I cite in the Op-Ed article are the official statistics reported by the U.S. Department of Education. Sportschic1900 could look them up. 


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Mark Schneider is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and vice president at the American Institutes for Research.

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