Trends at Community Colleges Analyzed at Teachers College Panel
By Jennifer MacGregor
[See the cover article on Cornell University, an ivy-league college that has 25 percent or 600 students transferring from community colleges].
Tom Jones, the provost and dean of Teachers College, introduced Tom Bailey, the director of the Community College Research Center (CCRC) and professor of economics and education at Teachers College.
Bailey started off his remarks on the state of community colleges by acquainting the audience with some of the basic statistics of the population, and then discussed the trends found by CCRC.
He said that 40 percent to 50 percent of the undergraduates in the country are in community colleges, and most of those students are taking classes part time. One-third of community college students have dependents at home, and about 60 percent of students end up taking one remedial course. When tracked for six years, only 40 percent of students end up with a degree from the community college — a statistic that is troubling to many academics.
When CCRC started in 1996, there was little interest, academic or otherwise, in studying these schools, but since then, there has been a groundswell of support, partially due to President Obama’s commitment of $2 billion to community colleges in the hopes of garnering more graduates.
Bailey said the goal for community colleges will be to focus on increasing the number of graduates they produce. “The needle hasn’t moved” on graduation rates in 20 years, despite efforts to increase them, Bailey said.
Generally, students who enter community colleges tend to come with weak academic skills and don’t have the resources that the typical, more affluent student attending a private, four-year college might have. Most community college students work; many have dependents, Bailey emphasized.
The students who come to community colleges, while also coming with less academic preparation, don’t have the same direction as peers in four-year schools might have — they often enter the school only taking only a course or two occasionally. At a four-year school, students have the first two years to dabble in multiple subjects before declaring a major. Bailey said that the job of community colleges should be to turn students who are only “course takers into program takers,” thus increasing graduation rates.
Another issue that affects community colleges disproportionately is that the nation doesn’t have a national consensus on college readiness. Students who graduate high school with a B average end up needing to take remedial courses at the community college because of poor scores on placements tests. These remedial courses offer no college credit and do not end up helping the student once they are in the college-level course, according to studies the CCRC has conducted. Add to that the fact that less than 50 percent of students who start the remediation sequence ever finish it.
“Developmental education is a mess,” Bailey said. There’s a severe error rate in placement of students in remedial courses — over 25 percent of students were severely misplaced. Assessment tests just don’t work, and it’s a serious problem, he said.
Another impediment to the success of community college students who wish to complete their degrees at a four-year college is the inconsistent transfer policies in place from school to school and state to state, an issue that could be solved by streamlining the transfer process.
For the most part, community colleges are local institutions that serve the community at the local level — Bailey emphasized that most nurses were trained at community colleges.
Bailey then praised the efforts of CUNY’s New Community College Initiative, which he said were based on research that has come out of the CCRC. Students will be required to attend full time and declare a major after their first year, and will take a class to help them decide on a career path.
After Bailey finished delivering his findings, the floor was open to questions. Dr. Rachelle Goldsmith, the director of the honors program at Kingsborough Community College and a TC alumna commented on honors students at community colleges, saying that this cohort often graduates and continues their education. She said that she’s encountered many bright and highly motivated students in the 40 years she’s been working at the college, and feels increasing honors programs will increase graduation rates.#