Democracy’s college? That’s over

Community colleges were supposes to be “democracy’s college,” writes Keith Kroll, an English professor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan. That “grand experiment” is coming to an end, Kroll writes. From President Obama on down, community colleges are seen as job training centers providing workers for local employers, not as places where students begin higher education.

Within the next 20 years, 80 percent of classes will be taught online, he predicts. Ninety percent of faculty will be part-timers who may never meet their students or each other.

In the community college of the future each department will have one full-time “faculty manager,” whose responsibilities will include distributing prepackaged, business-driven curricula and course syllabi; selecting the common textbook from which all faculty members will “teach”; scheduling and assigning classes . . . and managing the online grading program that all faculty will use to assess student performance. There will no longer be in-person department meetings, faculty representation on college committees, shared governance, or professional development . . . (faculty) will no longer be teachers, but technicians with no say in what they teach and how they teach.

English instructors will teach writing solely to give students the practical skills required by employers, he writes. Literature — indeed all the liberal arts — will be eliminated on grounds they have “no economic value.”

The revised mission statement of the Association of American Colleges and Universities is “to make liberal education and inclusive excellence the foundation for institutional purpose and educational practice in higher education.” I’m not sure what “inclusive excellence’ means.


Two-year college students get no respect

Community college students get no respect, writes UCLA Education Professor Mike Rose in Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education. Adult students at community colleges and remedial programs want job skills — but they also want an education, Rose writes.

Self-improvement is an American tradition, notes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

. . . Rose crafts rich and moving vignettes of people in tough circumstances who find their way; who get a second, third, or even fourth chance; and who, in a surprising number of cases, reinvent themselves as educated, engaged citizens.

. . . Rose bristles at the way experts talk about students who drop out of community college programs. . .  “People will leave once they develop sufficient skill to get a job,” he says. “This has a positive economic impact [but] . . . is often cited as an illustration of poor people’s inability to delay gratification and form long-term goals. In my experience, most of the people taking those immediate jobs do so because the rent is due, children need to be fed, members of the family are sick.”

Rose worries that remedial education is turning to modules and computer labs, breaking academics into bite-sized skills instruction and multiple-choice quizzes. He wants community college students to “enjoy the best of a liberal education,” Mathews writes.

“Rose’s idealism is the best kind: informed, tough-minded, self-aware,” writes Jim Cullen in a review on History News Network.

(Rose) advocates a more richly contextualized approach attentive to the lived experiences, social capital, and intellectual curiosity even the least prepared students bring to the classroom. (Such an approach would require comparable attention paid to the faculty for such courses, who are typically poorly trained and compensated for such work.) He argues for a similarly integrated approach to vocational training, with literacy and numeracy woven into the fabric of instruction.

Rose ” insists on the civic dimensions of even the most utilitarian of educations,” Cullen concludes.

Great Books belong in community college classes

Community college students should study the great books of western civilization, writes J.M. Anderson, dean of humanities, fine arts, and social sciences at Illinois Valley Community College, in a Chronicle of Higher Education commentary.

President Obama’s stress on community colleges as job-training centers  encourages students to think community colleges are  “a means to a credential or a steppingstone to a four-year school,” not a place of learning, he writes. Colleges should provide a “streamlined curriculum centered around the great books” to establish “the unity of knowledge and purpose that is missing in community colleges.”

Now curricula are diffuse, and course catalogs encourage students to think of education as a smorgasbord rather than a holistic undertaking.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard students say, when they see literature under required readings on my course syllabus for Western Civ, “I thought this was a history class, not an English class.” A streamlined curriculum would highlight the interdisciplinary nature of great books while combining both the particular information and the general knowledge they provide.

A great-books curriculum enables students to connect ideas across curriculum areas, Anderson writes.

Because great books are inherently challenging and complex, they are well suited for developing cognitive abilities and stimulating higher-order thinking. They expose students to momentous ideas while teaching them how to penetrate to the root of things, follow their intellect, and acquire genuine understanding. They force students to stretch their minds by thinking through complex arguments in all fields of inquiry.

A liberal education isn’t a luxury, Anderson argues. Studying the great books teaches “all the skills that corporate America now clamors for in college graduates,” such as “effective communication, critical thinking, ethic and civic responsibility, problem solving, quantitative literacy. . . . In tough economic times especially, community college students need great books, not simply to train them for careers, but to train them for life.”

All students need liberal education

All students need a liberal education, whether they attend an elite liberal arts college or a community college, argues Mary Spilde, president of Lane Community College in Oregon, in Community College Times.

A liberal education teaches speaking and writing skills, critical thinking and problem solving, global awareness and the ability to understand public policy debates and be responsible citizens, Spilde writes.

A recent national employer survey commissioned by AAC&U (Association of American Colleges and Universities) found that employers believe that colleges — including community colleges — can best prepare graduates for long-term career success by helping them develop both a broad range of skills and knowledge and in-depth skills in a specific field. They are, in fact, now demanding that their employees use a much broader set of skills and have higher levels of learning and knowledge than in the past.

. . . With programs like learning communities, service learning, and cooperative education, community colleges are building ladders of opportunity that will allow students to quickly become prepared for today’s workplace while also being positioned for the lifelong learning they will need over the long haul.

Students need both practical, career and technical programs and the  knowledge and intellectual skills developed by a liberal education, Spilde argues.