Measuring student success by speedy degree completion could hurt students who combine part-time studies with jobs and family responsibilities. write Susan Bernadzikowski and Jennifer Levi in an Inside Higher Ed op-ed. Both teach English at Cecil College in Maryland.
While “many students are wandering around college campuses lacking motivation and wasting resources,” others will persist until they earn a degree, they write.
When standing at the front of the class room, we don’t have to look beyond the first row of students to encounter the combat veteran who juggles two jobs just to pay for housing in the projects; a so-called traditional-age college student who at 17 is struggling to raise a child of his own; a bright, multilingual immigrant who is in the U.S. for political asylum; a young woman who, since her youth, has been the sole caregiver of a parent disabled by an accident.
. . . financial needs necessarily trump educational ones as they struggle to fill their tanks with gas to get to campus. They skip class to attend job interviews, they pick up extra shifts at the expense of homework, and they disappear mid-semester to take a temp job because they have to.
Many faculty aren’t aware of the completion agenda, they write. Those who are aware fear unintended consequences.
What if the rush to accelerate completion waters down curricula and generates a population of people with credentials, but no real education? What if faculty jobs, government funding, student aid, and so forth are tied to the number of students we get through, rather than the number we educate? And as Jonathan Lightman of the California Community College system asked in Inside Higher Ed, what if acceleration comes at the expense of bright students who need “time with exploration … before they know what their talents are.”
Bernadzikowski and Levi are collecting short stories of student successes and struggles for a book entitled Why My Story Matters.