Wednesday, November 18, 2009


A Correction

Yesterday a reader commented that "[y]our blog paints such a sad portrait of a cc."

I didn't think that was true, but if it is, then I need to issue a correction.

I'm glad, and proud, to work where I do. The college has its quirks, as all colleges do. It has the full range of personalities, some structural issues I may have mentioned once or twice, and some very real financial challenges. I tend to write about those, since writing (and getting helpful feedback!) is how I process my struggles. I don't write as often about the victories, since I don't struggle as much with those. But they're many and legion, and if it didn't fatally compromise pseudonymity, I'd happily portray them in loving detail.

Instead, I'll just do a few glances of what a victory looks like in my world.

When a department comes up with an innovative idea that I never would have, and presents it in a way that I could help make happen, that's a victory. (That was earlier this week.) Or when two departments with a history of tense conflict come together to create a joint program that resolves the conflict in a way that puts students first, that's a victory. (That was yesterday morning.) Or when a conversation that everybody thought would be fraught with anxiety instead goes well because everybody involved acts as their best selves, that's a victory. (Yesterday afternoon.)

When a single Mom who thought she'd be trapped in an hourly job she hated for the rest of her life transfers successfully into a ridiculously prestigious college, that's a victory. (Last Spring.) Or when a management-labor conflict gets defused in the early stages with good-faith gestures of mutual respect, that's a victory. (Two weeks ago.) When we get a higher percentage of low-income students than we've ever had and our attrition numbers don't budge, that's a victory. (This semester.) When we're able to find enough economies in the budget to prevent layoffs despite what seem like the state's best efforts, that's a victory. (Last Spring.)

Community colleges get less funding per student than any other sector of higher ed, and the difference is far more than research lab facilities. CC's take all comers, even when their preparation levels suggest real challenges. That can be read as misguided or quixotic, but I read it as noble and democratic. On paper, that single Mom I mentioned didn't look like much before she got here. Here, she got to prove herself. Second chances are worth something.

That's not even counting the little victories, like seeing successful alums return to show off and share what they've done, or overhearing an intensely focused conversation in the hallway between two students trying to understand a chemical reaction.

Yes, I sometimes get frustrated at irrationalities large and small. But if the frustration is the only thing that I've conveyed, then I've painted a misleading portrait. This is a good place, doing good work, and doing it well. The frustration is borne of a desire for it to be even better.

In times like these, hearing about your institution's successes inspire us all.
Well put, DD. And it's clean work, right? Creates positive energy in the world. And that comes for a WHOLE lot more than just "something."

Keep fightin' the good fight.
Thanks for posting this. It's so easy for me to get caught up in the frustrating aspects of my work that I can forget the positives. You've encouraged me to reflect on some of my department's victories as well.
Great post. I'm just echoing what previous commenters have said--we all need to take note of our successes from time to time in order to keep things in perspective.
I'll second (or fifth) the comments above. I've got dozens of stories like that, and blogged about one of them.

I had to look around to find that comment about the "speaking" blog from two days ago.

The author is correct to point out that "Poise" and "conversing" are no learned only or primarily in school. They are learned in he home and in all of life in human society. The author was quite wrong to think that this says anything about CCs in particular or higher ed in general, let alone the US in particular.

What works in small groups does not work for large audiences. What works with your (engineering) colleagues may not work when selling your proposal to a (business owner) customer. Parents might have encouraged you to speak eloquently, but never succeeded in teaching you to listen. [hand raised]

But even if a lack of appropriate interpersonal communication skills isn't new and isn't unique to CCs, I was glad to see you take offense and stand up for what we do in the trenches and remind those of us in the trenches of what you do for us.
I was a cc adjunct part-time while I taught full time for a school system. Then I returned to college and went to the same cc where I had adjuncted to complete my science prerequisites for my second career, nursing.

I loved teaching there. I love my cc as an alumna. I love the student diversity. I love that the teachers are there to teach students and they really care about students. In fact the whole cc is set up to care for students and help them become the best they can be.
I got admitted to a prestigious nursing school to complete my BSN. I already have a MA + in an Evergreen subject. The BSN will be my second bachelor's degree. My beloved cc prepared me well.
I think of my CC work as Quixotic--at any given moment verging upon the ridiculous, but in the last analysis somehow uplifting and sweet.
There are two people that I'm close to who have been given that second chance by going to a CC. When I worked at one, I was incredibly proud of the work that we did as an institution. Yes, I left, but I remain a vocal supporter of the CC mission. Good on you to think over the successes.
I went to our local community college to refresh my skills in math, science and computer science (I now know HTML and JAVA!).

I took a couple of science classes that I did not get a chance to take when I was an undergraduate at the Large Research University (Univ. of Washington, UW). This included biology (well, a good thing since changes in past 30 years!), and the third quarter of engineering physics (a class I kept dropping as an undergraduate, though I did get my science credits with a very nice ocean class).

I was very impressed with the science classes. The classes were small (my freshman/sophomore chem and physics classes were always over a hundred students), and the labs were actually conducted by the instructor (both with PhD level degrees). I thought they were much much better than the instruction I got during my first two years at the UW (well, except for the ocean class, the lab TA there was actually good, and the professor was a guy who had literally written the book "Ocean").

When my son was in high school he fulfilled one year of science by taking biology at the CC. The high school was having several issues with biology instruction, so he got a better foundation in that one summer than his friends did at a full year of high school biology (though bad teacher is now gone, daughter is getting much better biology class at high school).

Son refused to go to the CC for his first two years, opting to go to the UW. Fortunately the UW did take his biology and computer science classes taken at CC as college credit (and with those two, along with getting a 5 on the AP Calculus BC test, he walked in with 20 quarter credits).

He has a friend who took chemistry at the CC during the summer so that he could take both years of physics at the high school (and the computer class with my son). He was accepted into Purdue, which has refused to accept the CC credits. They claim that the CC courses are not at the level of a large research university course of the same type. They did give him credit for his multiple 5's on AP tests (well, he did get a full ride scholarship).

Is this a regional thing? Are community colleges different throughout the country?

Our local system is tied to the whole state post-secondary education system. The community colleges have the same course numbers throughout the state, and are synchronized to the various four-year universities, including the two large research universities. There is also a requirement that the four-year universities take a certain number of transfers from the community college system.

I found their mission statement: ... and it includes:
-Enroll more underserved populations.
-Improve academic achievement for all students.
-Ensure community and technical college is affordable and accessible, especially for basic skills and part-time students, by developing bold, creative and innovative methods, including low tuition, need based tuition waivers and restructured financial aid.
-Provide smooth transitions from K12 to colleges to universities.
-Expand the pipeline to associate and bachelor’s degrees, particularly in math, science, engineering and health sciences

In the news the community colleges are getting record high enrollments, and they are trying to accommodate all.

Sorry, I got long winded, but I enjoyed my time at the local community college. I wish I had not run out of classes to take (I am supposed to be doing my homework as a graduate non matriculated student at the UW!). My daughter is thinking of doing "Running Start", a state program where high school students can substitute community college classes for high school classes (she is mostly interested in foreign language and chemistry).

Ooops, I got so longwinded I need to restate the main question: Why would Purdue not accept community college credits, but the UW would? Lack of familiarity with the program several thousand miles away?
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