Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Apparently the University of Tennessee at Knoxville has discovered a fairly obvious way to do that. It’s offering 75 students who were waitlisted for admission a chance to prove their mettle. They spend their first year living on the UT campus, but take classes at nearby Pellissippi State Community College. If a student earns at least 30 credits with a gpa of at least 2.5, then s/he is admitted to UT for the sophomore year.
The community college serves as a sort of purgatory for the marginal-admit, giving the four-year college a chance to see if the student can be academically successful in college.
This kind of thing has happened informally for years. Students who more or less coasted through high school have a hard time convincing their parents to shell out big money to go away to college, so they strike a deal: spend a year at the cc, and if you show you’re serious by doing well there, then transfer. What’s new in this program is that the four-year college is initiating it, and blessing it with both its imprimateur and an explicit promise of admission.
I hope that the aboveboard nature of this project will prevent the participating cc’s from being penalized for low graduation rates when the students leave after one year. Under the current reporting rules, those students count as attrition, even if they earn their four-year degrees on time. That’s an asinine artifact of lousy bookkeeping, but it’s also a fact of life.
The other innovative element of it is that the students actually live on the campus of the four-year school. They can participate in almost all aspects of student life there, except for certain athletics. (Presumably that’s to prevent the program from becoming a work-around for NCAA athletic eligibility rules.) The idea is to give the four-year school the purest possible sample, and to give the students the strongest incentive to stick around.
Obviously, the program relies on geographic convenience, so it’s not easily replicated everywhere. But I like it a lot, and wish it well. If it succeeds, it could become a model for similar programs in plenty of other places.
One endearing element is that it recognizes that nothing predicts success in college quite as well as success in college. At my cc, we have stats going back years showing that our grads graduate their four-year destination colleges at higher rates than “native” freshmen; it’s heartening to see some recognition of that. Say what you want about community college stereotypes; anyone who has seen the 300-person Intro lecture at State U knows that the caliber of teaching is nothing to shout about. 100-level classes aren’t hugely different wherever you go, and it’s nice to see that recognized formally.
I also like the implicit recognition that an associate’s degree is not necessarily in the plans for every student at a cc. Some of them only ever intend to do a single year before transferring. To count those students as institutional failures when they achieved their own goals is silly. A structure like this makes it easy to identify students who never intended to get a two-year degree. If they succeed in getting four-year degrees, then the argument for ignoring the “attrition” strikes me as obvious.
It’s possible, of course, that not all will be sweetness and light. If the academic performance of the program grads isn’t up to snuff, then the community college will have some work to do. That’s fair. And funding will clearly become an issue one way or another; it always does.
But I tip my hat to UT and Pellissippi State. This is a genuinely nifty idea, and it has the potential to bring some fairness and legitimacy to the netherworld of the waiting list. Purgatory may not be anybody’s first choice, but it beats being consigned to the flames altogether.
It's a good idea if geography and circumstance allow.
I wonder how much the cc was included in the planning for this program? Who will provide the resources for these students when they need remedial or other support services - the cc or UT? If these things are worked out in advance by the two institutions, it could be fantastic. If not, it could easily lead to a situation where the student falls into no-man's land and can't get adequate help from either institution.
At worst, it could look like a feel-good program for UT that shifts all the actual costs and burdens to their neighboring institution and leaves the students high and dry.
Finally I'd want to know what support UT will offer these students once they complete a year at cc. Programs I've been involved in that target marginal admits (at my 4-year institution) have often failed to provide support AFTER the initial trial period ends. So students go from a fairly intensive support environment, to nothing, over the course of a few weeks. But most marginal-admit students have educational or personal deficits that take much longer to address, and simply dumping them into the general population after a successful trial period results in very high attrition.
So I'd love to see more info about how this is structured.
So, if there are students they would like to take a chance on, despite lowish SATs and/or class ranks, admitting them as freshman will cost them in the USNWR formulas.
Admitting them as transfers a year later, those students never show up in the USNWR formulas.
Their SATs and class ranks don't get included (because they are transfers, which USNWR doesn't track.)
They also don't count against the university in the USNWR's variable for "percentage of entering freshman who return," because transfers don't count there.
They also don't count against the university in the USNWR's variable for "percentage of students who graduate within six years of entering" because--again, you guessed it--transfers don't count there.
The strongest point of this plan is that they can't join "greek" organizations, although dorm life can bring its own distractions. It would be nice to have a matched control group of students at that CC who live in apartments along with one that is enrolled at UTK. It is supposedly well documented that campus involvement helps retention. This would make a great study population. It is a perfect example of the kind of "experiments" that go on all the time but, as DD noted recently, don't always get properly assessed.
It always seemed like a very nice program to me, and I know many other departments do similar things (some more informally than others). This sounds like a similar idea but for undergrads -- I like it!
On a personal note, this is just about the same deal my parents struck with me when I went to college :-)
That party situation was what I was alluding to in my comment @5:47, but I don't know enough about UTK to even guess if dorms and greek housing offer a similar density of distractions.
It is entirely possible that the CC students living in the UTK dorms might do worse than a matched group that lives in apartments (or at home?) while going to the CC, but better than marginal admits who are in the dorms and taking classes at UTK.