To reclaim the dream, look off-campus

Community colleges aren’t living up to their promise, writes Mark Bauerlein, an Emory English professor and author of The Dumbest Generation, on Minding the Campus. The solution lies in alliances with local employers, he argues.

The American Association of Community Colleges’ new report, Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future, details the problem:  Only 46 percent of credential-seeking community college students will reach their goal,  transfer or remain enrolled in six years. “Nearly half of all community college students entering in the fall term drop out before the second fall term begins.”

The report develops several recommended “institutional responses” to improve these abysmal results, including focusing on student success as well as student access, making faculty members think less individualistically and more collectively, and making the curriculum less fragmentary and more cumulative. But . . . the best driver of improvement is, in fact, off-campus . . .

. . . City Colleges of Chicago works directly with Rush University Medical Center and Midway airport to provide a pipeline of graduates tailored to their needs. Jefferson Community and Technical College in Kentucky has teamed up with UPS, the latter helping cover tuition and textbook costs while the former provides coursework designed to meet UPS’s job openings. And Walla Walla Community College has altered its curriculum to match the region’s tremendous growth in wine-making, the College now operating a commercial winery run by the students themselves.

South Carolina’s manufacturing boom relies on close cooperation between employers and colleges, according to the Wall Street Journal, Bauerlein notes.

“The area’s manufacturers have built a symbiosis between factory and school. Walking through GE’s gas-turbine plant some months back, I asked the factory manager how she coped with the nation’s shortage of engineers. ‘We don’t have a shortage,’ she said. She gets plenty from Clemson University, Greenville Technical College and other regional schools.”

. . . “Charles Wilson, who teaches at Greenville Tech, says GE is priming the pump with a new apprentice program. Students will study at the school and work at GE, and the company will pick up the tab. GE also sends some of its new hires to the college for a crash course in hands-on manufacturing, he adds.”

Greenville Tech and two other schools mentioned, Tri-County Technical College and Spartanburg Community College, are two-year public colleges, Bauerlein writes. “That’s the answer to low student performance: bring the workplace into the curriculum, let the students know a job awaits them after graduation, and accept the fact that for the majority of community college students, workplace readiness is the cardinal principle of learning.”

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