Reporting from the League for Innovation in the Community College conference in San Diego, Community College Dean finds for-profit colleges and vendors are omnipresent, “reform” has replaced “community college movement” and women dominate many sessions. He also learned the word “stupiphany” — the sudden realization that you were an idiot for not knowing something before — from Myra Snell, a professor at Los Medanos Community College.

The major “stupiphany” she offered was the realization that the primary driver of student attrition in math sequences isn’t any one class; it’s the length of the sequence. Each additional class provides a new exit point; if you want to reduce the number who leave, you need to reduce the number of exit points. If you assume three levels of remediation (fairly standard) and one college-level math class, and you assume a seventy percent pass rate at each level (which would be superhuman for the first level of developmental, but never mind that), then about 24 percent will eventually make it through the first college-level class. Reduce the sequence by one course, and 34 percent will. Accordingly, she’s working on “just in time” remediation in the context of a college-level course.

Developmental ed is the “Bermuda Triangle of higher education,” especially for adult students for whom “time is the enemy,” said Allan Golston, who’s working for the Gates Foundation.

He (correctly) noted the irrationality of measuring learning in units of seat time, calling for diagnostic exams that are diagnostic enough to allow students to take only what they actually need. The highlight for me, though, was at the end, when he addressed the need to be “radically practical.” In that context, he noted that a failure to address cost when discussing possible improvements actually does real harm.

Past conferences have featured more nostalgia, more swing-for-the-cheap-seats idealism, and more clubbiness among members of the founding generation. This one is notably more focused on cost and practicality.

On day two, the dean concluded that abstract flow charts are useless.

“Culture” arrow to “Behavior” arrow to “Beliefs” arrow to “Culture.” To me, it just looks like a flashing neon sign that says I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY.

After a panel on improving student success, the dean concluded that ” late registration is of the devil.” Banning late registration will depress enrollment numbers briefly, but it will pay off in higher pass rates.

Two English professor’s from Chabot Community College in California argued for accelerating developmental courses, dovetailing with the “stupiphany” on reducing the levels of remediation.

Day three focused on embracing change.