California’s plan to focus community colleges on student success is “pure behaviorist claptrap based on fictional students being taught in fictional ways by fictional teachers,” writes David Clemens in California Dreamin’ on the National Association of Scholars blog.
California’s system — 2 1/2 million students at 112 community colleges — needs retooling, writes Clemens, an English professor at Monterey Peninsula College. Thanks to the taxpayers, students pay only $36 per credit hour, soon to rise to $46. Many receive fee waivers. Some are there to take lower-division courses before transferring, learn trades or take remedial courses, but colleges have been unable to resist the temptation to “turn everything into college and rake in the dough,” he writes.
Tiny tot swim club members and geriatric flamenco dancers: college students! Fourth grade level readers and doodad ceramicists: college students! Ellipticals, Yoga, Weaving Practicum, Volleyball Practicum, fitness, fitness, fitness: count `em all and hear that cash register ring! Cheap golf, cheap tennis, cheap swimming pool, cheap fitness center, cheap kilns and studios, all subsidized by taxpayers. And with dozens of financial aid options available under a blizzard of acronyms, often these “students” pay nothing at all. Too many are not students at all either, but attend classes only to collect edu-welfare, to prevent deportation, or to maintain athletic eligibility.
. . . A nearby community college offers 31 courses in Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Astronomy combined. The same college offers 13 flavors of remedial English and over 200 courses in Art, PE, Physical Fitness, and Theatre Arts, most of them repeatable. Cha-ching.
Only 25% of community college students ever earn a degree, complains Gov. Jerry Brown. This is “mission failure,” responds Clemens. “Many students aren’t there for college.”
California taxpayers aren’t willing to fund that model any more. The new plan caps enrollment and closes “enclaves of dubious academic merit.” In addition, the task force called for standardizing course names and numbers, descriptions, outcomes, placement and assessment.
But it’s all based on a fantasy, writes Clemens.
“There’s a story that each member of this Task Force wants to be true . . .” and a gauzy fantasy unfolds. Imaginary students are college-ready upon high school graduation and eager to learn (because we so want it to be true!); students have a major and an academic plan after one semester and are upper-division-ready after two years of community college (hurry, please!); students are job-ready upon college graduation (it has to be!); and remediation is trimmed and/or accelerated (the 33-year-old student who struggles to read Harry Potter will be soaking up Joyce and Heidigger in a matter of weeks).
All this will be done with software — placement software, instructional software, assessment software — the task force dreams.
The plan maintains “the poisonous fiction that college is for everyone,” Clemens writes.
In grand behaviorist fashion, the recommendations obsess over inputs and outcomes, testing, benchmarks, loss points, and scorecards, virtually ignoring the greatest influence on student learning: the student.
Will a “data-driven culture of evidence” produce a new kind of student? “Dream on,” writes Clemens.