Tuesday, September 27, 2005

 

Purgatory

I was discussing my struggles with the honors program with a veteran professor recently, when he dropped a bomb. He said that we don’t get very many high-achieving students as a cc in an affluent area, and those we do get are usually there as punishment.

!!!!!!!!

Their parents punish them for (whatever) by sending them to cc until they’ve learned whatever lesson they’re supposed to learn, at which point they gleefully decamp for ‘real’ college.

As much as I’d like to deny it, it fits with what I’ve seen, and explains a lot.

I’ve heard of policymakers touting college as an alternative to jail, but apparently, parents do something similar. This is a morale killer of the highest order.

Obviously, the kids who are (quite literally) serving time don’t carry a lot of intrinsic motivation, so the argument that they should risk lower grades by taking harder courses is an absolute non-starter with them.

I’ve heard of safety schools, but this is much worse. We’re purgatory.

I’m not sure how to get past this reputation. As a cc, we reject selectivity, so we’ll never carry the cachet of exclusivity. Quite the opposite: we fall prey to Groucho Marx’ old line about never joining a club that would accept him as a member.

Has anyone out there at a safety school (or a purgatory school) found a way around this?

Comments:
we're considered grade 13 (even though we're nowhere near Montreal) by a lot of our students. it doesn't help that we have a fair number of PSEO (hs) students, esp in the morning classes.
 
Wow, when I was a PSEO student, I took all my classes in the evening. Made working a 9-5 job easier.

In all seriousness, you must first remember that any solution will require spending money. My suggestion is to rework the CC honors program and run it jointly with your neighbor, Big State University (BSU) (you do have a BSU neighbor, right?)

In my experience, a number of students at a CC are there because they had good grades, but can't handle the SAT/ACT. Or they didn't get into their BSU of choice. Or they just cannot afford a state school (I have talked to parents of 16-20 year olds who told me they didn't think they were eligible for aid because they were white!). For better or for worse, these are your best honors candidates. So partner with BSU and their honors program. Make sure anyone who graduates from the CC honors program can enter directly into the BSU honors program as a junior.

I am a relatively new reader, so forgive me if I rehashed old topics.
 
I've checked that option -- our closest four-year state schools each have different honors programs, and none of them is really built for transferring in. Good concept, though.

(BTW, welcome to all new readers!)
 
Saw this today and thought of you... and it's topical, too!

A long article from today's Globe and Mail (Cnd national newspaper) http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20050926/SRCOLLEGEINDUSTRY26/TPEducation/

Relevant quotes:

The skill-based college diploma stands in stark contrast to liberal arts degrees from universities. To a generation terrified by the possibility of joining the ranks of the unemployed, the lofty university degree may be losing its attraction.

According to Ontario College Application Services, the number of college applicants is on the rise. In 2000, nearly 129,000 people applied for full-time study for the fall term. Five years later, the applicants total about 136,000.

Sheridan vice-president Maureen Callahan chalks up the appeal of colleges to their job-driven education. "An increasing number of [students] are on student loans, are working during school, are finding the financial pressures are very difficult and I think a lot of them want the sense they will be able to find employment," she says.

"There are people who enjoy the exploration of knowledge by following the paths through the academic woods. Then there are the other students who want to know what they can do with it, those who want to know how to apply that knowledge."

...

The fact is that employers hire college graduates who are prepared to launch into the work force, says Sheridan president and CEO Robert Turner. And Sheridan reflects that need by routinely evaluating the more than 100 programs on offer and "constantly checking our education is relevant to the marketplace," he says.

"At the onset, we were designed to provide practical applied training that yields to an exciting career, and we still do that, that's still our strength. But be very clear, we have no aspiration to be a university, we have the aspiration to be the best polytechnic in the country."
 
Ack! Truncated the URL! Okay, DIY by stringing these together:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/
servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/
LAC/20050926/SRCOLLEGEINDUSTRY26/
TPEducation/
 
And this one, too!

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/
servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/
LAC/20050926/SRCOLLEGEMAIN26/
TPEducation/
 
RCU, while a 4-yr university, seems to be used similarly by parents, or to be used as a way to get general requirements out of the way before going to "real" school. We do, however, have a thriving honors program.

1. It's pitched not as being "harder" but as offering things that you can't get elsewhere (courses on superheroes, for example, or a writing course in which students plant a garden and write about it in the summer). In other words, it's a program that is built on doing cool interdisciplinary stuff that seems easier than regular classes because it is fun.

2. There is an honors course option wherein students can take care of both their requirements for English with only one course. You don't need to be enrolled in honors to do this - just have a minimum ACT score - and this can be a way of recruiting into the honors program.

3. Honors has the best classrooms, smaller class sizes, etc.

4. It is advertised as something that will help students transfer into a better university or - and this is key - into the university they want with more scholarship opportunities(i.e., you're more likely to be selected for an academic scholarship if you are enrolled in an honors program).

I have some problems with some of these strategies, but RCU does have a thriving honors program because of them.
 
Dani -- that reminds me a lot of the proprietary where I used to work. The irony is that 'applied' education dates much more quickly than general education does. Much of the computer education my old school did in the late 90's has either been rendered obsolete or outsourced to India.

I read somewhere that the engineers who sneered at the liberal arts crowd in the 80's and 90's have been downsized, but blogging is a growth industry. Revenge of the English majors!

Dr. C -- I like the interdisciplinary angle, and the acceleration angle, but they both run into transfer issues. If a class doesn't have an obvious disciplinary home, it gets shunted into the dreaded "free elective" category, which effectively makes it worthless. We could do it if we kept our own students for four years, but we don't. Cool idea, though.
 
Maybe there would be a way to skew the courses toward more interdisciplinary or "fun" things even while retaining a general education sort of course number. What I'm thinking of is a course like intro to lit. everybody takes it, right? So what if you had a an Intro to Lit - H, and students would be guaranteed a small class size, and readings that don't come out of a traditional reader. So, for example, you're still covering the genres, which is all intro to lit is supposed to do ultimately - there's no law saying you've got to read Bartleby the Scrivener and Trifles - but you're doing it with cooler stuff. The book and movie "Fight Club" for example could cover fiction and film; for poetry you could do something like Eloisa to Abelard (yes, hard) but pair it with Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind.... You see where I'm going with this. Cool, contemporary stuff, or if not contemporary with a contemporary edge. Wouldn't there be a way to do this with many classes, particularly in the humanities? Of course some courses wouldn't lend themselves to this approach, but if there are enough courses like this within the honors program, students might take an honors biology, say, even if it is just "harder" because they've had a good experience in another class.

I think an honors program is a hard sell if ALL there is to define it is more work. There's got to be something that makes it seem like fun, too.

Whew. Sorry to be long-winded. I do love to discuss things curricular (because I'm an idiot :) )
 
As a recent graduate from a state university in a state with GREAT universities and also fabulous community colleges, I can maybe shed some light on why this might be true. In our state, there are certainly a lot of people who attend community college for a terminal degree, but I think -- in my area, certainly -- more people intend to transfer after two years so that they can finish a four year program.

There are many students who need a four-year degree in order to have the career they intend -- and I certainly hope it doesn't sound like I'm slagging off community colleges. The problem with being a "high-achieving" student attending a CC for two years is that many have already completed college credits in high school, through AP courses. I started school with almost 60 credits of the 120 I needed to graduate, most of them gen ed requirements. And because I was a physics major, I was in upper-level courses that I wouldn't have been able to take at a CC before two years are up. So the advantages of a CC -- cheaper tuition in the first two years when you're not "supposed" to be taking anything a small department can't offer -- don't apply to lots of kids who are graduating from high schools with AP or IB programs.
 
Annie, forgive me, but I think you exemplify one problem in a way you didn't expect. AP classes allow students to complete up to two years (the highest of my friends had 54 semester credits!) without being placed through the rigors of an accredited program. As students mount more and more AP credits in high-school, the target demographic of the community colleges falls further and further behind the curve. Suddenly, what's the point a CC honors program?
 
Yup. I've seen this in action. One of my little brothers is being sent as "punishment" to the local cc in the hopes he'll straighten himself out so it becomes "worthwhile" to send him elsewhere. Also in a very affluent area. The kind of area where parents will spend big bucks on tuition to never-heard-of-it-and-accepts-anyone private 4-year school because it sounds better.

I shake my head everytime they have the conversation, but ...
 
James,
That's actually entirely what I DID expect and what I was trying to say, although I don't think it's necessarily true that students who don't have access to AP courses are falling "behind" the curve. From my experience, which is of course limited to my state and my university, these students actually make up the bulk of the curve, and students who are going into college with 20, 30, 40, 50 credits are ahead of the game. Going in with the number of credits I had allowed me a lot of academic freedom, so I could take classes in both of my majors (one art and one physical science), and work on several research projects to help me get ready for graduate school, but I could have done those things by taking an extra semester as well even if I'd gone in with no credits. As far as the rigors of an accredited program . . . do I think my AP Chem course taught me as much as I would have learned at, say, MIT? Probably not. But was it more rigorous than the corresponding course for which I got credit at Large State University? Absolutely -- and that goes double for classes like World History, which at LSU was often taught in a curriculum based on reading 3 historical novels over the course of the semester.
 
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