Which approaches work best to help community college students succeed? The battle lines have been clearly drawn between two factions: those who want to close the door on open enrollment and those who want to severely limit student choice once they are enrolled. The phrase “allowing them [remedial students] to use up financial aid dollars” speaks volumes, doesn’t it?
From a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed:
The most effective step colleges can take, the new report argues, is to create streamlined, highly structured academic pathways that keep students on track to graduation. And it requires the kind of commitment that Miami Dade College made in hiring 25 more senior advisers to guide students and keep them from falling off course, the report says. Advisers in community colleges typically are responsible for hundreds of students. Meanwhile, budgets have been squeezed by years of state budget cuts and, more recently, declining enrollment.
But unless structured pathways and other completion efforts are scaled up nationally and succeed, the public will lose faith in the open-door mission of community colleges, which educate about half of all undergraduates and 44 percent of low-income students, the report says.
That open-door policy is already being questioned by some educators who say the nation’s completion push assumes that everyone is cut out for college, and that some simply aren’t.
Accepting students who read and write at a middle-school level into a college program and allowing them to use up financial-aid dollars in a remedial sequence they’ll probably never complete is a “cruel hoax,” argues Juliet L. Scherer, a professor of English at St. Louis Community College, and Mirra L. Anson, director of retention and early intervention at the University of Iowa. They make that argument in a recently released book, Community Colleges and the Access Effect: Why Open Admissions Suppresses Achievement (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
“Enrolling seriously unprepared students in college-level courses when an institution’s funding is highly dependent on student performance and when academic standards are often enforced by unprotected adjunct faculty is perhaps the fastest way to improve completion rates,” Ms. Scherer said in an interview on Wednesday. At the same time, it “guarantees obsolescence.”
But Ms. Couturier, of Jobs for the Future, said that while completion rates for such students are distressingly low, “I’m willing to keep trying. I don’t see it as a cruel hoax at all to give people hope and opportunity.”
Programs like Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, or I-BEST, which is cited in the report, teach students basic skills in the context of trades they’re preparing for. Such programs demonstrate that, with the right interventions and support, students at all levels can benefit from a college education, Ms. Couturier said.