Wednesday, December 12, 2007
The Walk of Shame
This is a dirty little industry secret.
In some necks of the woods – moneyed ones, especially – this is the time of year when we start to see a parade of young men and women with hangdog expressions and very angry parents. The students went 'away' to expensive residential colleges in September, and partied their way to a GPA that starts with a zero. Come December or January, their parents drag them to the local cc as a sort of combination boot camp and purgatory, usually with some sort of “improve or else” mandate to the student.
(I've had some remarkably frank discussions with parents who say things like “I'm not paying twenty thousand dollars per semester for him to cut class! He can cut class here for much less!” It's hard to argue with logic like that.)
It's a delicate situation. We take all comers, including those who haven't quite pulled their stuff together yet. We're all about second chances, knowing full well that 18 year olds sometimes overdo it a bit when they get their first escape from parental supervision. Some will prosper with the second chance, and some won't. We know that from the start.
But there's really no graceful way to advertise this.
“Repent Your Sins! Start Over at Nearby CC!”
“What Happened at Snooty U Stays at Snooty U.”
“Dorm-Free since 1963!”
And it doesn't do much for office morale when students and their parents openly refer to enrolling at your college as a form of punishment. It's often followed by the always endearing “if you do well here, you can transfer to a real college.”
Serving these students is part of our mission. We're glad to do it, and I'm sure that some of these students actually use the second chance productively and get back on track. (I haven't seen any numbers on this group specifically, and I imagine the data gathering would be a bit delicate.) But it's a mission we really don't discuss much, and that few folks are comfortable embracing publicly.
So I'll just float it on the internet, and hope that readers who see students in this situation think of the local cc as a viable option for a do-over. Just be very, very diplomatic when you make the suggestion.
My point is that you and your staff have every right to be proud of the opportunities that you offer your students--whether they're "real" college rejects or people who are actually seeking an education. My local cc, to be blunt, saved my ass--and I'm not ashamed to admit it!
But most of them are pretty grateful for the opportunity and aren't treating it like a punishment. I get a pretty even mix of "I screwed up five years ago and had to do minimum wage jobs and/or a 12-step program to get back on track" and "I screwed up last semester and my parents are FURIOUS." But even with the latter, the experience has usually helped make them a little more self-aware and they're usually taking the opportunity to do at the CC what the state U doesn't offer -- study skills assistance, help acculturating to the higher level of work, a lack of dorm-based distractions.
CCs are so important in so many ways, so I'm with Jenny-- thanks for blogging from the inside :).
Maybe some of the students and parents you're seeing, Dean Dad, are still too emotionally burned to be able to put their experiences in perspective. But the students may become some of your best.
One thing we do market, with some success, is summer courses for students bound for - or already attending - 4 year schools. We focus on small class size, quality and credentials of faculty, transferability, etc. The last time I taught a summer course (intro stats), about half the students were enrolled here and about half were home for the summer from various state universities plus several private SLACs and Us as well.
2. We don't have to recruit those students because Wannabe Flagship U sends them directly to us. They can stay in the same apartment, drink with the same friends (they don't last long), wear the same colors, but drive to a different parking lot.
3. And, yes, they are generally surprised at the rigor here. Yes, we have our share of classes with extra credit, but it is impossible to hide behind a number in ones taught in classes that might be 1/10 the size of ones at a big school.
"To end up with 120 hours of credit (150 on the transcript) with an overall 2.5..."
To end up with 120 hours of credit (150 on the transcript) with an overall 2.0..."
Why? Smaller classes ('way, 'way smaller)and personal contact with experienced teachers, not TA's working on a Ph.D.
Of course, I can't prove any of this, but I hope my own 14-year-old son will attend CC after enjoying high school, rather than trying to get a 4.5 GPA while padding his resume with the Pep Club or student government popularity contests.
First, a major benefit of going to a research university is that on the whole the students are smarter, and have studied harder in HS. The interaction with other students is as, if not more important than the lectures.
Second, the courses at research universities are closer to the state of the art and the faculty has a greater range of expertise. The links of the faculty to others in the field on the national and international level are much stronger. Students who are doing well will quickly get picked off for undergraduate research opportunities and be linked into these networks.
Third, when community college students matriculate at four year schools they compete with students who have had two years to establish relationships and learn the lay of the land (such as which professors to avoid).
There is no question that the "fellow student" effect is a big plus at a major university, if you happen to fall in with the right crowd. Even more so if everyone else was a valedictorian also, if you can handle going from star to below average. The biggest challenge at a CC is to build those study groups, but it is a problem we can work on. We are fortunate in that enough of our students transfer to the same programs at Wannabe Flagship that they can carry solid study groups with them.
Faculty expertise can indeed be more of a crap shoot at a CC, but there are plenty of R1 schools that save the best for the grad students.
I disagree on the point that the R1 faculty are better connected to anything other than their research, but then I am looking at it from the perspective of a service course (physics) that feeds into an engineering college. I know that I am better connected to the faculty in that college than the physics faculty at that same university.
"should teach at a third level comm college"
What's a third level CC? Is that some sort of odd, Dungeons & Dragons for undergrads reference I am unaware of???
Or did the little snowflake mean "third-rate"? Of course, this was meant as a snark against my teaching ability, but the comment leads me to think said student needs what CCs can provide what I could not at the R1: remedial reading & composition classes.
I have an AA from a CC and I think many undergrads need to start there instead of wasting time and money skipping classes at $20K a semester. Hell, my CC would drop us for poor attendance if the prof reported us...wish the R1 would've let me do that!
It was geared at a different kind of student, with a different kind of educational background. And for someone like me it wouldn't have been the right place to stay. So I have to agree with Eli: It's not right for everyone. Some people need that atmosphere of high expectations that you get from a tier-1 school.
(as a footnote, my auditorium-size physics classes at the CC were larger than any of my classes at my Ivy. But my friends at state schools have classes several times the size of either.)
At the community college in a city of half a million people, I found myself in classes with people I had last seen in my gifted ed classes in elementary, junior high, and high school. We were in an "honors" program, and I suspect many of the students were there because they didn't get into the schools of their choice, while others scored well on the SAT and had good HS grades (and thus could get into the honors program) but didn't do well in the big wide world of the university.
While it was kind of a treat to be in classes with other refugees from four-year colleges, it was frustrating that the honors program required us to take specific honors classes, even if they repeated courses we had taken elsewhere (e.g. intro geology) or classes in which we had little interest (e.g. music theory). The goal of the counselor was to get us all into UCLA as juniors. When I said I didn't want to go to UCLA, the counselor asked, "then why are you in the honors program?" *sigh*
Yes, exactly. If you are ambitious to make high-level research science your career, it's almost mandatory to undergrad in a good place. A major player who is impressed by an REU student will be able to help him or her get a first publication, and get into a world-class lab for grad school. I know a few "constellations" of laboratories that serve as feeder systems for each other, all with high-profile PI's; a student will often be picked up as an undergrad, and after several rounds of training and relocation, become the youngest member of the constellation.
If you don't get into a competitive graduate lab, on the other hand, you will wind up with fewer and lower-status publications than your peers, and you won't make the valuable connections/give talks at the right conferences/get your first student grant/etc. That means that your shot at an academic post that's primarily about research is just about nil. It can be done, but boy does it take effort.
Now, if you want to be a teaching professor, or work in other areas, none of this is necessary. Depends on your life goals, really.
I did not use ANY of my credits form the wasted year...re-did English etc. I didn't want to remember it ever happened.
But now when I apply to the four year schools (as I have earned my Associates and have a 3.8), do I have to report my first screwed up year since I didn't use any of those classes? Is there SOME way around this...otherwise, I am going to get a job at a gas station and give it in...