Tuesday, August 21, 2007

 

Peers

In an unrelated discussion with the registrar at my cc, I learned that her previous college – a respectable-but-not-elite four-year private college – wouldn't give credit for college courses taught at a high school.

“Dual enrollment” courses are a popular way for cc's to pick up enrollments of some students who might otherwise skip us altogether. Essentially, they're cc courses taught at local high schools. They follow the cc curriculum, use the same textbooks and syllabi, and are held to the same grading standards. They receive transcripted credit that typically counts for both high school and college, which explains the 'dual' part of dual enrollment. They give high-achieving high school students a chance to see what college level courses are like while still living at home.

I see a lot of upside to dual enrollment. It can help fight off 'senioritis' in high-achieving high school students. It makes college courses accessible to students who can't afford cars. It gives the students a taste of what's to come, the better to avoid the dreaded freshman wake-up call.

But according to some colleges (though not my own), a college course taught at a high school isn't a college course. The reasoning, apparently, is that the other students in the class aren't college students.

Hmm.

An alert reader sent me* a link to a post at the Freakonomics blog at which a well-meaning writer made the point that the difference between teaching at an elite college and teaching at a cc is that the content actually matters at the cc. According to the author, the students at the elite college are inherently equipped for success anyway, so the coursework is largely beside the point. They're busy networking with each other at keggers. The Admissions office pre-screens, so the professors don't have to. At the cc's, the students don't have those contacts, and networking with each other won't have the same payoff, so for them, the quality of instruction actually matters.

It struck me as much the same point, if with the goalposts moved.

There's some truth to this. When I was in junior high, my Mom moved my brother and me to a different and much more competitive school district. Academically, I went from 'always standing out' to 'one of many.' When I went to my Snooty Liberal Arts College, I spent my first semester getting my ass handed to me over and over again. It took several months for me to step up my game to the level of my new peers. In each case, an initial humbling was followed, eventually, by greater effort. The long-term effect, I think, was generally good, even if it was sometimes a bumpy ride.

One of the uncomfortable truths of education in America is that educational outcomes track incredibly cleanly with the socio-economic class level of the students. To get a distressingly frank assessment of this, talk to a Realtor. When you buy into a 'good' school district, you aren't buying into better teaching; you're buying into better peers. The same is true of 'exclusive' colleges and universities. The point of a Princeton degree is that not everybody gets one. The implications for an open-admissions college, I think, are clear.

Although the narrow mission of a typical cc – teach the first two years of college, and don't focus on anything after that, or on research – can (and does) allow for the benefits of specialization, the open-door mission means that most of the time, the academic quality (and/or family income) of peers will be scattershot. Some cc's have Honors programs to mitigate the problem, and I support that wholeheartedly, but there are real limits to even an Honors program in a commuter environment. We can try to improve the peer pool by attracting more high-achieving students; some states have even formalized this with scholarship programs, if with mixed results. But at the end of the day, we can't sell exclusivity. It's not our mission. As long as 'caliber of peers' is part of what high-end schools can sell, we'll be at a handicap.

On a day-to-day level, I don't worry too much about this. My job is to ensure the best educational environment possible for the students who are here, within the resources the voters are willing to provide. (And yes, my job would be easier if the voters would provide more.) And in a perverse way, cc's are reaping some benefit from the absurd escalation of tuition elsewhere – the average age of our students is actually dropping, as we're getting more 18-year-olds who could have gone elsewhere but didn't want (or whose parents didn't want) to pay the premium. As our student body captures more high-achievers, the caliber of classroom interaction slowly improves, to the benefit of all.

But there's a frustrating circularity to the argument from exclusivity. No matter how well our professors (or the dual enrollment teachers) teach, there's still a 'not quite' that some will attach. We can do only what we can do. No matter how well we teach, or how indifferently some of the senior research machines at R1's teach, they'll have a cachet that we just won't. I just hope we do a good enough job that our graduates can eventually make up the difference.


*FYI, I've moved my email. I can be reached at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com. Please direct any “Ask the Administrator” queries there.


Comments:
Dean Dad, you don't address the quality of instruction at the SLAC you attended. Was it high quality (and how might we define this precisely), or was your increased achievement due only to an increase in the quality of your peers (and how might you define their improved [?] "quality" except "priviledged" or "elite")?

I ask because I myself teach at a SLAC, and part of the way I get to sleep at night--being the product of public education from kindergarten to Ph.D.--is that there is some increase in quality of instruction over other places in our region. Well, that and the need to make sure my child and I eat.

Thoughts? Thanks in advance.
 
Well, this has been an issue that has come up at my school in regards to our first year writing program. Basically, a local high school wanted to teach a course like our first year composition class in their school and have it count as FY Comp.

We saw a variety of problems with this, one of the most significant being the physical location: simply put, a college campus is a different community than a high school, and this idea of "community" is really important to the curriculum in this program. And it is worth noting that the university I teach is hardly an elite one.
 
Not all "dual enrollment" courses are taught IN high schools; at my local CC, dual-enrolled HS students take classes at the CC, mixing with CC students.
 
This is sort of related to the first anonymous...You say, "When I went to my Snooty Liberal Arts College, I spent my first semester getting my ass handed to me over and over again. It took several months for me to step up my game to the level of my new peers."

I wonder if you can blog more about that. I think that there's probably a big divide between professors who were like that in college, and those who weren't (that is, those who were adequately prepared and so didn't have the catch-up experience in college). Why were you unprepared? What in particular caught you offguard at college? I think that professors in the latter category could benefit from understanding why some students--who aren't necessarily slackers--don't always do well in classes.
 
My campus has recently begun to dabble in Dual Enrollment. My take is similar to that of the Freakonomics poster- in high school you're not a "real" college student, especially if you aren't taking the course on a "real" college campus. The argument I hear is that it's still "real" college level work- but to my mind it's still not the same.

I'm in student services and I'm the "bad guy" because I want to make it clear to the dual credit students (regardless of location) that they are NOT real college students with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities granted there unto. I can envision a scenario where a dual credit high school junior uses their "college ID" to get into a local nightspot on "College Night" and... We don't need that kind of publicity for our college.

C1
 
I said Freakonomics poster- I meant Steve (response number two, above.)

C1
 
Dean Dad said: "One of the uncomfortable truths of education in America is that educational outcomes track incredibly cleanly with the socio-economic class level of the students."

If only it were that simple. Consider, for example, the recent
Sacramento Bee article
that begins:
Whether they are poor or rich, white students are scoring higher than their African American and Latino classmates on the state's standardized tests, results released Wednesday show. And in some cases, the poorest white students are doing better than Latino and black students who come from middle class or wealthy families.

The so-called achievement gap -- the difference in performance between groups of students -- has long been chalked up to a difference in family income. It makes sense that -- regardless of race -- students whose parents have money and speak English would do better in school, on the whole, than students whose families struggle with employment, food and shelter.

But this year's test scores show that the difference in academic achievement between ethnic groups is more than an issue of poverty vs. wealth.

On the standardized math tests that public school students take every year from second to 11th grade, 38 percent of white students who qualify for subsidized lunch scored proficient or above, compared with 36 percent of Latino students and 30 percent of black students whose families made too much money to qualify for school meals. On standardized English tests, poor white students did about the same as non-poor Latino and African American students.

"These are not just economic achievement gaps," state Superintendent Jack O'Connell said in announcing the test scores from an elementary school in Inglewood.

"They are racial achievement gaps, and we cannot continue to excuse them."

 
Interesting discussion.

I'd largely agree that at SLAC's and Snooty U's, the most important part of one's education is the interaction with other students. Your social network is what you're really paying for. I think I wrote in an earlier comment a while back that the difference between a CC and a private SLAC is where your friends vacation...

I think one of the issues surrounding CC's is the movement towards "practical" academic programs: mechanics, nursing, cosmetics, etc. One result of this move towards early professionalization in CC's is that local high achieving students don't take the liberal arts programs of the CC very seriously. Is this a fair judgement? Probably not, but it exists. Students would rather spend their time around other students studying history or philosophy than the girl who's taking that 2 year paralegal degree, or that not-too-bright guy who studies marketing...

I know that among non-academic people (and even among some academics), teaching at a CC is considered a second tier gig. CC Profs are seen as glorified HS teachers, as many students see CC's as "13th Grade", a.k.a an extension of high school. This judgement (that CC's make students feel like they're in high school) might not be far off the mark if, say, 80 percent of a student's graduating HS class enrolls in the local CC.

One possible solution is to retain open admissions, but begin enforcing a more strict policy on grades and remaining enrolled in the CC. So anyone can enroll, but must maintain a certain GPA, or show a certain level of progress, to maintain their enrollment status. This would discourage students from spending more than 2 years at a CC (which, understandably, happens for students who also work. Here in my affluent region, though, students often stay full time at the CC for 3,4,even 5 years. No one wants to be learning next to someone who has shown no capacity to want to do the same)...
 
I'm kind of sick of the generalization that being at a SLAC is all about interpersonal connections. I went to an "Ivy Sister" school, never having heard of it before I was searching for a very particular major (there were fewer than 10 schools that had that undergrad major at the time). My parents were solidly middle class (my father was in the Coast Guard). I met many students who were very similar to me.

I don't doubt that having the name of my undergraduate institution on my CV has helped me, although I have never intentionally worked that angle. I keep in touch with only one person I knew from college. I did not network, and don't even understand the kind of networking people keep saying is the main purpose of these schools. I also got a kickass education in my major, that prepared me very well for graduate school.

Also - that 38% versus 36% difference might not be statistically significant, and even if it is, I'm not sure that a 2% difference in test scores is meaningful. I absolutely don't doubt real and serious test performance differences between groups (racially-, or income-based). But I get tired of people presenting differences like that (ooooh, economic health marker X dropped .02%, we should worry/be happy!) as if they are to be taken for granted on their numerical basis.
 
The problem with not giving credit for dual enrollment courses is that you've broken a contract with the CC - essentially you've nullified your articulation agreement. I would argue that institutions need to have the freedom to choose the venue they will teach in and the students they will accept. When you disallow certain courses because of the location where they were taught or the students in the course being "low caliber" that rings all kinds of alarm bells for me.

My other question would be, does the school give credit for AP courses? If so, they are indulging in a ridiculous double standard and CCs offering the dual enrollment courses have every right to be furious.

This touches a nerve for me because I opted to take CC classes instead of AP courses in high school so that I'd get college credit without taking a high stakes exam and so that I could escape my high school for half the day. I hope this doesn't become a trend because I thougt I was more prepared for college by my JC courses than by my high school AP classes.
 
j wrote: "I'm not sure that a 2% difference in test scores is meaningful."

Oh, it's not. I was just pointing out that Dean Dad's statement that "One of the uncomfortable truths of education in America is that educational outcomes track incredibly cleanly with the socio-economic class level of the students" is not, strictly speaking, the whole truth. Rather, educational outcomes track incredibly cleanly with a combination of the socio-economic class level and the race of the students. And they're roughly equally important. I don't know whether this truth is more or less uncomfortable than Dead Dad's.
 
like ivory, I think my CC courses did more to prepare me for the four year college to which I transferred than my high school did.

also, it is true not all dual enrollment programs involve counting hs courses for college credit. I was dual enrolled for two years. I did all of my classes at cc both years and did everything I could do to blend in with the rest of the cc students except chain smoke. I even lied to everyone about my age. I was 18 three years running!

and yeah, it was better prep than high school but I went to a fairly crappy high school. Of course, I transferred to a bottom of the fourth tier liberal arts college and it was also better than that.

I'm a little bit put off by the shift of dean dad's comment about class over to race. I don't think we talk/think enough about the influence socio-economic factors have in determining educational success. race is a factor as well but it's particularly a factor in that lower socio-economic status is disproportionately correlated with being non-white, at least in this country.

I've said this on blogs and in comments many times before but I'll say it again. I am very aware in my current situation of how different my background is from my peers. In my current department, a top phd programs in my discipline, my peers are from the best of the best as far as undergrad and even high school education. private high schools, SLAC's like oberlin, colgate, swarthmore and then on to harvard, princeton and yale for a master's. They've had all the best money and privilege can provide educationally. not that they aren't smart, capable, hardworking but there is a kind of predictability to their academic success.

The level of homogeneity is worth noting, I think.
 
I think part of the issue is peer group, certainly...potential connections and all that... but I think the most important difference for SLACs and other prestige places is a cultural one. A place that's invested its identity (and money) in being a place where students succeed academically feels different than a place that's invested its identity (and money) in being a place where students do really well in sports, which of course feels different than a place where the big sell is that it teaches everyone.

It's a difference in student culture as well as faculty feeling, and sometimes (though not always) shows up in the level of complexity and whatnot in the syllabus. I think that, more than the 'quality' of the peer population, is the important social difference. (Though yes, peers do have something to do with it - are they going to mock you for studying while they booze it up, or are they going to compete with you for top standing in your class? Not that both don't happen in every environment, but the proportions differ wildly.)

Because of that, I can see how a class taught at a High School (but otherwise no different) might have a very different feeling (to students and professors alike) than one taught at the CC campus itself. The CC has the trappings of a higher ed place, while the HS doesn't. It's harder to get your mind out of the HS mentality when you're surrounded by the posters and windows and friends from your HS life. That's not to say that it's impossible by any means, but that environment is important.

That said, I don't think that tone really matters if the course is really the same. If you can do the work and prove that you've mastered the information, you deserve credit for so doing, no matter what the environment.*

My grandfather is a professor at a number (2? 3? I didn't say it was a high number ) of local CCs, and he also teaches the occasional CC-class-at-a-high school. I help him prepare his syllabi for each one (he's a good educator, but typing isn't his forte), and get a sense of how things go. I think that there's a big, mostly unconscious, tendency to change the course a little. Not the difficulty, exactly... but to succumb to the High School tone. Because it looks like High School, and the kids all look so young, and they're not in the headspace of this-is-a-college-class, and you're not in that headspace either.

I don't think it's crippling, really... and if the kids come out of it able to do the work and move on, that's great, I think they deserve the credit. But I do think that one of the other things that CC classes (college courses in general) teach you is how to be in college. How to behave in a place that expects you to be able to police your own attendence, to be able to go to the bathroom and come back in a timely manner, to do the reading even if there isn't a quiz immediately following it ... how to be a college student. (I'd argue 'how to act like a grownup' as a major part of that, but I know that's touchy) And due to, again, all of the environmental stuff (not to mention the fact that these classes often have to accomodate regular HS schedules, and thus are ringed with bells and all the rest), it can be hard to really work that aspect.

It's not important the same way the coursework is, of course, but I do think it's an important aspect of what one gets out of college in general (snooty or not), and that those behavioral/environmental issues can play a part in the perception that what happened wasn't really class.

----
* I do understand with some kinds of credit and focus that this isn't always possible. Math, for instance, was taught very differently at my SLAC than at many - you started by proving that you could add (I mean, the mathematical proof that addition was, indeed, possible; not demonstrating that you personally could do it), and then went on to prove every other function all the way up to calculus before you actually did anything. It was math for math/philosophy majors (no non-major classes in that field), and just saying "oh, I passed calculus already" wasn't going to give you the information you needed to succeed in the department. So the solution was to offer general credit toward graduation for courses taken, and then have the student take the course anyway for division/major credit. This was how our college approached IB/AP credit and most transfer credit at the lower levels, excepting language classes and some humanities and arts courses. Higher level coursework was easier to transfer.
 
I'm a little bit put off by the shift of dean dad's comment about class over to race.

Well, there's one answer to which "truth" is more uncomfortable. I find it more uncomfortable to ignore the obvious racial issues in education.
 
Like Ivory, I also would like to know if this same college accepts AP credit. If not, sounds like serious class discrimination, as we all know wealthy high schools are able to offer a much greater AP (or IB) curriculum than poorer schools. At least in my area, it is the poorer high schools that partner with the CC for dual enrollment partly to make these opportunities available to students who DON'T have the wide array of APs available to them.
 
I attended a SLAC that called itself the Harvard of CUNY. It had NYC honors high school students attending freshman 101 classes along with college kids and they handled it well. It was a little unsettling for college students to see the h.s. kids get better grades. The college was also a melting pot of the brightest kids from many cultures and is extremely competitive due to low cost and hihg number of applicants. Looking back I think most people networked within their own major or ethnic groups, but in a big city that happens anyway. This college did not have the atmosphere of Princeton since it was a commuter school, but it has landed me two jobs with alumni bosses. People like to hire graduates from the alma mater since they know the school and have a personal connection.

On another note, I remember people constantly criticizing open admission policies at CUNY colleges from the 1970s. In my experience the professors still teach the same whether there is open admissions or not. I have taught at open admissions ccs and still teach to a high level and most students improve their academics. The one that drop probably were not ready in the first place. I fully support open admission because I have seen a multitude of students that need a second chance.
 
I'm stunned that a university, private or not, would dare reject transfer credits from a (presumably) regionally accredited college. And some private schools that can't or won't seek regional accreditation complain when their courses aren't accepted by regionally accredited universities? Give me a break.

We teach some dual enrollment classes in a high school. They are taught by the same instructors on the same schedule (typically 3 days a week to fit the 50 min period) with the same syllabus as that instructor uses on campus. [At first, I am told the kids think those 2 days off are a good deal, but then they discover college homework expectations that use up that time.]

I have a cousin who works as an advisor in a dual enrollment program at a CC far from here where they go a step further. They bring the HS to campus. That is, their students primarily take college courses (english, etc) but they bring in HS teachers to teach specific classes required by the state, like government or doing drugs. They graduate with a HS diploma and an AA at the same time, much like an IB program.
 
On a separate topic.

I'll second the observation that content matters more at a CC than at an elite school, but that only means a student like "W" might just as well have sent in the $$ and gotten his Yale degree by return mail with a right to "network" for four years if he felt like it.

I object strongly to the claim that only a CC has a problem with being treated as a 13th year of school. Are you telling me that people teaching freshman english or history at one of the top 20 party universities don't have that problem? Does a kid start reading the book before class just because she went from HS to the U of Minnesota? I don't think so.

Read what Steven Zucker at Johns Hopkins says about it from the perspective of someone teaching calc 3 to freshman with AP credit for two semesters (taught over two years in HS) of calculus. [Google steven zucker jhu to see links some of his publications as well as his college web materials.] Same problem, just manifest at a different level.

I don't think any of the things I listed when blogging about freshman orientation would be out of place at any university. After all, Zucker actually covers them at orientation at Hopkins, which is definitely not a CC.
 
This is not how dual enrollment works in our state. Here, high schools propose courses, and they get an institution of higher education (almost always a community college) to certify them as college level. The certifying institution receives a payment for each high school student enrolled in a class it certifies--a bit of a conflict of interest, you might think. Our experience at the state university is that students who have taken such courses, and duly received college credit for them, have learned very little, certainly now what they would get in an introductory courses at the university.
 
For Ianqui: I'm not Dean Dad, but I had a very similar experience when I started college. In my case, it's because I had been intellectually skating through high school---getting good grades, but not having to work for them. Then, I started sharing classes at You've-Heard-Of-It Gearhead School with people who were not only just as smart as me, but who worked hard, too. Took me a couple of semesters to learn how to do things like, you know, study.
 
Wow--where to begin? I feel so strongly about CE that any of my colleagues reading this will know it's me. I am Director of an Honors Program at a public institution in the rocky mountains. Our state relies on a CE system that is, in effect, broken. Earlier posters have touched on the nature of instruction and I agree completely with In The Provinces, that the outcomes from CE are not consistent with the outcomes we see in intro level courses on campus. (I wonder if ITP is in the same province as me?)

One thing no one has mentioned is how CE hurts students. CE is treated as a college class (albeit a very inexpensive one) and thus becomes part of the students permanent academic record. That is, these grades are treated as transfer grades and stay with teh student forever. A 16 or 17-yr-old does not have (even) the maturity level of a college freshman (in general) and, IMHO, needs to have the safety net of HS to screw up. I see too many students come in with grades in CE that are not A's. This will bring down the college GPA FOREVER, and can disqualify them from scholarships later. (for example, I have a 3.7 min GPA for Rhodes/Marshall internal competition, so a bad week or trimester in HS can exclude you from that, no matter how you have mended your ways).

HS in my area offer so much CE that students routinely come in with 12, 15, even 30 credits of "college work" that, again IMHO, does not come close to even AP, let alone IB (yes, I do think IB outweighs AP fairly significantly, but that's another issue).

What's more, I believe pretty strongly that the students in the class make a difference. Know how fun it is to have non-traditional students in a class b/c they bring their experience with them? Ever have the perfect, magical class? That only happens in college, and the level of discourse/discussion is going to be raised in a college class. Even intro classes have sophomores and upperclassfolks in them, which further raises the bar. In HS, you've only got HS students.
 
Part of the problem with excluding all dual enrollment courses is that dual enrollment means different things at different places (as this discussion has shown). That said, I would take exception to another institution dismissing a class because of the location it was taught (off-campus) or because of the perceived lack of sophistication that certain participants in the class have because of their age.

The contract piece of this still bugs me - if you have an articulation agreement with a school, that is a contract and those courses should be accepted regardless of venue and enrollment. My perspective on this may be skewed by the fact that I teach in the sciences and a person’s ability to dissect a frog or name the different parts on a flower is not significantly impacted by their “life experience”. But where does this end? Would you give less credit to students who take a distance class because their experience is less “sophisticated”? Would you discount the credits students earn at Cheap State U compared to those obtained from Elite University of State So-and-So because the entering SAT scores at CSU are lower and therefore the class discussions would be less rich? To me, this smacks of snobbishness.
 
In my state, we have two different types of dual credit. One, which I (CC instructor in the Social Sciences) and most of my colleagues have no problem with involves advanced high school students taking courses on our campuses, mixed in with all of our other students. They tend to be high acheivers to begin with (there is a minimum GPA/class rank requirement for admission to this program), and most do quite well. The high school administrators and teachers, however, hate this, because (a) the school district pays for the student's tuition and books; (b) the school tends to lose its best students to the CC in their junior and senior years; and (c) they actually lose "head-count" in the state funding formula, and thus lose state allocations (which adds insult to injury when combined with having to pay the student's college tuition).

The other program involves a high school seeking out a sponsoring college (almost always a CC) to allow it to offer a course with the CC's title, and for credit. The course is taught by the High School faculty member (almost none of whom have the required Masters degree or higher in the discipline that the CC instructor teaching the same course on campus has to have). The CC assigns a faculty member to "mentor" the HS teacher. Because many of our state's CCs in rural areas are losing enrollment, and the state allows these students to count for the CC's allocation formula, there's been a race to the bottom in terms of how lenient CC administrators are willing to be in terms of the quality of instruction. We CC instructors who mentor are caught in the middle: academic integrity should have us demanding more rigor from these HS teachers, but the economic realities of the funding formula, and our ultimate job security, encourage us to push back as little as possible.
 
I don't think this is right, whats there whether college courses taken in the school or college. Until, they learning well, it should get approved by the colleges...
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I took classes at a CC while I was a student at a small alternative high school and recently to work on my French before starting a phd in the humanities. As a high schooler, the real benefit wasn't in taking advanced classes of subjects my school already taught, but in being able to take things outside the ordinary high school curriculum, like geology and anthropology. I think the greatest strengths of cc is that it is the one place that people from so many different backgrounds come together: recent high school graduates, re-entry students, retired people, homemakers, bored office workers. It is very different from taking advanced courses at a high school. Community colleges are a wonderfully democratizing institution, which I'd say is better for society overall (but might not be as great for individuals looking to network).

Not all classes transfer between different colleges and universities anyway, especially not for major classes, so I don't think it is an especially big deal if a specific cc class doesn't transfer, at least from the student's perspective. It's annoying, but not catastrophic. The student already got high school credit for the class. Besides, those students will usually still be starting as freshmen and will probably take many more classes "just because" in the course of their studies. They haven't really lost anything.

One other issue is that high school students get extra grade points on their high school transcripts for AP classes, but not for cc ones, which can have a big impact on college admissions. I'd say that is the biggest reason I would tell an over-achieving high schooler to take AP over cc classes when they appear to have similar content.
 
Interesting debate but one which will never have a conclusion.....
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