Friday, October 9, 2015

70% of Community College Students Fail

By Professor Doom

     It seems whenever I consider the “big picture” of higher education, community college comes out as the worst, most corrupt aspect of it. Yes, for-profit schools are more corrupt on a per-student basis, but somehow I find it more forgivable,  as a school billed as “for-profit” makes no claim about being “for-education.”

      Community colleges, however, are publicly funded, they’re not supposed to be about the money. Yes, “not about the money” is the most nonsensical phrase possible in American English, but, the fact is there is at least a claim that community colleges are there to help students get their start in higher education, and despite monetary reality, I feel that the claim should at least be attempted well enough that one can honestly say there’s an appearance of caring about helping people. 

    Community colleges, regrettably, seldom even have the appearance of being about anything but plundering the student loan and grant money. There are two reasons for first. First, they’re organized from the top down—the Poo Bahs that run such places don’t care about education, they care about growing the school, since large schools mean large paychecks and hugely billowing golden parachutes after a handful of years at the institution. I’ve covered this reason many times.

      The other reason is a bit more subtle. Community colleges are invariably “open admission,” allowing any student that wants to come on campus to take classes, paid for by various support programs. The typical community college student is, well, not a great student. He’ll typically come from a family that has never sent a child to college. Put together, these two things make the incoming student particularly vulnerable: he has no idea what higher education is supposed to be, has little personal understanding of education in general, and he’ll get no guidance from the family to let him know he’s being cheated. It’s easy enough to find graduate student protests about unfair treatment…but community college student protests seldom, if ever, get past protests about rising tuition (and even then, the protests aren’t nearly so extreme as an entire class walking out).

     So, community colleges, even though less expensive than the “more” corrupt for-profit schools, have much larger numbers of students, taking somewhat less from each of them. 

      The main support for these “cheap” schools is the Pell Grant scheme, where students get free money for college; any money not spent on tuition goes to the student. This scheme has allowed community colleges to bloat to ridiculous size (tens of thousands of students are common now, though in my day a university with so many students would be considered huge). Administrators, bent on growth over all, don’t even check to see if students have received their Pell Grants previously from another institution, so we have bands of students roaming from community college to community college, picking up their checks. I’ve been on campuses where half the students disappear the day after “check day.” I’ve written of the Pell Grant scam in detail already.

     The primary courses in these cheap so-called colleges are not college level. They’re remedial classes. Fully 90% of community college work is pre-college work, little different than the material students see in high school, or lower. 6th grade level work is actually quite common for a community college class, assuming the class has any material at all in it (quite a few classes are so devoid of content that a student can pass without even coming to class a single time, or submitting even a single assignment).

     A recent student shows just how many community college students are getting nothing from community college:

    Now, California’s a big place, and community colleges there have the same accreditation rules as most other places; what’s happening at community colleges in California is happening at many other places in this country.

      To be clear, this failure rate isn’t putting a timeline on graduation, this failure rate is over an infinite timeline. If you do put the timeline to something more reasonable, things get much worse—for example, a successful community, 2 year, college can have 0.6% 2 year graduation rates and this miserable performance is not a problem for admin as long as the school grows…it’s all about growth, not education. 

      So, the 70% failure rate isn’t on a timeline, that’s a failure rate if you give students fifty years to eventually pass. We’ve been running the “free college for all” experiment long enough that we know when students are gone for good:

These students typically dropped out – some with a significant amount of debt and no degree to help them. In addition, only 40% of community college students achieved sufficient credit hours in school to boost their potential in the workforce.

      These students are not transferring (the usual lie administration says to cover for the fact they have few graduates), nor are they learning any useful skills (the next most common lie, that any education is incredibly precious). These students are just acquiring debt and wasting time. Indirectly, these students are paying fat salaries for the administrators that shoved them into 6th grade level courses that couldn’t possibly teach anything useful to the community.

     Past this point is where the article addresses fixes to the disastrous failure rate, and runs astray. See, there are three big reasons for the high failure rate, and because nobody wants to consider the source of the problem, nobody will consider effective fixes. Let’s consider the three sources of the problem here:

1)    Students get free money for signing up.

     Honest, get rid of the free money and you’ll have quite a bit fewer students wasting their time on campus.

2)     Students don’t have to be interested in education to sign up.  
     Community colleges have no entrance requirements, so we’ve got lots of students on campus that have no interest in education—getting rid of the free money will eliminate most of these, I’m sure, but if community colleges only took students that actually wanted to learn something, and were able to demonstrate they were capable of learning, instead of wanting “some place to go,” graduation rates would go up.

3)    Accreditation needs to be legitimate.

As mentioned before, most students going to community college have no idea what college is. Community college administrators take this opportunity to rip these poor kids off, and rip them off as brutally as possible. Accreditation, a supposed regulatory agency that affirms community colleges are legitimate, does no such thing, since it is run by the same people that run higher education. Colleges with 90% of their coursework being below the college level should be shut down, and schools that offer coursework below the 9th grade are in violation of federal law, and should be shut down. Accreditation won’t do it, however. If it did, you wouldn’t have nearly all the students wasting their time on useless coursework.

     These common-sense solutions are not on the agenda, however. Instead, administration will just expand the plundering:

Community colleges are learning that they must provide more remedial services to students in the areas of math and English, if they are to raise their success rates in the near future.

     I’ve written before of the remediation scam, where administrators reduce standards to an ever lower point, and where ever more ridiculous plans for fixing remediation get proposed every few years. We’re already at the point where many community colleges offer 2nd-3rd grade material (I’ve taught such courses)…offering even more remediation isn’t going to help the graduation rate.

     No, getting rid of the free money, only accepting legitimate students, and only having legitimate schools are not on the table when it comes to reigning in the community college scam, although these are ideas any educator would suggest. 

     Keep this in mind: our administrators have been reducing standards year after year, in the name of “improving education.” What is the best our administrators can do, in the face of endless data showing that reducing standards doesn’t work? Reduce standards some more. With leadership like this, how is it a puzzle that higher education is such a mess today?