Sunday, April 20, 2014
Reform to What End?
Until we know what we’re trying to reform towards, progress will be sporadic when it happens at all. Right now we’re doing the equivalent of flooring the accelerator and the brake at the same time. Nothing good happens when you do that. But if we don’t know where we’re trying to go, there’s an argument for each.
If tuition only pays part of the bill, greater retention means you have more students in expensive sophomore and upper-level classes but their tuition does not cover all of those costs. That is particularly true if the State budget is fixed and tuition increases capped. (Your "cutting" scenario, which eventually hurts an open access college in significant ways.) On the other hand, improved retention can be of great benefit in an era with a declining population of HS graduates, perhaps even if State budgets decline. (The fixed costs of offering a particular required class are best offset if that class is full.)
My worry is that retention will occur regardless of learning, devaluing the degree in the same way the HS degree has become of little value in the job market.
What content do we teach? What is a "developmental student" and what is it that they really need to learn? If we address those questions correctly, then even if a student drops out early they will have gained some culture capital.
We went in the direction of more semester-length courses (which means more time) and that was a bad move. We are now moving in the direction of even more, but MUCH shorter and targeted courses, but it is too soon to tell how well that works. I expect the ones targeted at the "just missed" group will do better than the existing scheme because they are paired up with an actual college course in the SAME semester.
As for content, we are splitting off the track that goes through college algebra to the two calculus sequences (business and science) from the one that ends with life skills classes like you allude to. This requires really good career advising up front and is risky: it potentially adds several semesters to the path for a student who decides to switch from history or English lit to engineering.