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Community college students need structure

Design community colleges for the students they enroll, writes Aspen’s Josh Wyner in the Chronicle of Higher Education. That means structure, block scheduling and a stress on teaching.

At residential colleges and universities, students are expected to figure out which classes to take and do most of their academic work independently, he writes. But most community college students have weak academic skills: Up to two-thirds need remedial education.  Many are the first in their families to go to college, but get little guidance on which courses to take. Most work, leaving less time for homework.

. . .  a re-envisioned community college would offer far greater numbers of block-scheduled programs. Rather than selecting courses, most students would be directed to enter comprehensive programs built around specific degree goals and schedules.

So students would choose (1) a program such as an associate of science or arts aimed at eventually transferring to a four-year institution or a vocational program like welding; and (2) a block of time to attend full or part time (mornings, full days, or evenings/weekends). Blocks would include homework time, when students would practice what they learn with the help of tutors and technology rather than squeezing it between class and work.

This system would also be geared to serve students who begin in remedial education, to allow them to see the length of time and the cost associated with various degree and certificate options. Instead of the uncertainty of many years of semester-by-semester course selection and scheduling, students would know that if they showed up and did their work well, they would earn a degree in a specific period of time.

In addition, community colleges should hire professors “solely for their teaching ability and willingness to continually improve their craft,” Wyner writes.

New Community College at City University of New York, which just opened this fall, is trying out some of these ideas, including block scheduling and time for study and tutoring.