Tuesday, January 06, 2015

 

Farm Teams


Western Governors’ University is sending applicants who aren’t quite academically ready to enroll to StraighterLine to get themselves up to speed before coming back to WGU.

I won’t speak to that arrangement specifically, because I don’t know the details well enough.  But the concept strikes me as making all kinds of sense.  It’s setting up a farm system, like minor league baseball.

In a farm system, players who aren’t yet ready for the big leagues aren’t just turned away; they’re sent to the minors to develop and prove themselves.  The ones who succeed at the minor league level eventually make it to the bigs.

Like any system, it’s imperfect.  A very ready player can get stuck in the minor leagues if the major league team with which it’s affiliated doesn’t have any openings at his position.  (If you were an up-and-coming shortstop around, say, 1985, you really didn’t want to be in the Orioles’ organization, trying to wait out Cal Ripken.)  Talent evaluation is necessarily a function of human judgment, which is subject to the usual biases.  Players with unusual styles can be overlooked, despite their results.  All of that, granted.

But the basic idea makes sense.  When selective institutions -- especially public ones -- are physically close to community colleges, sending “near-miss” applicants to the community college to prove themselves and get up to speed offers a smart answer for everyone involved.  The elite public institution gets to manage the difficult trick of maintaining both standards and openness to the public at the same time.  The near-miss student gets a chance to prove herself, and at lower cost..  And the community college gets a pipeline of strong students with something to prove.  

It’s especially smart for students who have a distinct, isolated area of need, such as English language learners or students with math gaps.  In those cases, students would benefit from the relative specialization that community colleges offer.  For the strong-ish student who just needs a little more time to get to the next level, a setting with small introductory classes taught by faculty hired to do exactly that is probably better than a 300-student auditorium lecture in which the main interaction is with a t.a.  And I say that having been one of those t.a.’s.

A farm system is different from the “transfer” system we have now.  In the usual “transfer” system, a student applies first (or simultaneously) to the community college, and moves on when ready.  (Ideally, that’s at the point of graduation, though many students leave earlier and hurt our “performance” numbers even as they succeed at the next level.  But that’s another post.)  In a farm system, the student applies initially to the elite institution and is referred to the community college.  I see no reason the two systems should be mutually exclusive.

I’ve written before that we need to understand higher education not as a set of disconnected institutions, but as an ecosystem.  The farm team structure is one rational, student-centered way to do that.  And the cost of trying it is markedly low; it doesn’t require upending anything major.  It just requires acknowledgement from on high that we’re all in the same business.

Whether the WGU/StraighterLine arrangement will work, I don’t know.  But the concept is both good and easily replicated.  I hope more of us follow suit.

Comments:
"When selective institutions -- especially public ones -- are physically close to community colleges, sending “near-miss” applicants to the community college to prove themselves and get up to speed offers a smart answer for everyone involved. The elite public institution gets to manage the difficult trick of maintaining both standards and openness to the public at the same time."

That is exactly the relationship my college has with a nearby Wannabe Flagship. However, although it is mutually beneficial, it is not a solution to the problem you describe: " many students leave earlier and hurt our “performance” numbers even as they succeed at the next level. " In fact, it makes this problem worse for us! It is a huge win for them, because (1) this group is not in their IPEDS graduation data set and (2) the initial rejection of this cohort makes them more selective while (3) they still get three and a half plus ?? years of tuition from them.

The students who are, if you like, the nearest miss, can prove themselves after one semester and move on. (Must look horrid for us on the standard benchmarks.) I've seen evidence at advising that they can get a second chance, with some additional benchmarks, if they come up short in the first semester.

What do you think the odds are that we flag this cohort and track their success? Yep, zero. But they do show up when IR obtains data on successfull transfer before the AA to add to the ones that actually graduate.
 
I can't usually make a sports reference. In this case, though, here's the link that was missing in the Cal Ripken paragraph.

This farm system idea of being associated in some with both institutions may also be a way to help "wanting-engineering" students to obtain the 2nd-year courses that they seem to be lacking if they come to Compass Point State after 2 years at our nearby CC. For some reason it seems challenging to take courses at both Compass State and LocalCC simultaneously, though doing so would help a lot with satisfying missing prereqs.
 
Agreed, HSLPofDD.

There are two limits that affect the students at my CC:

1) The engineering school will not allow students to dual enroll, taking (say) the third semester of calculus at the CC and engineering mechanics at the university. They say that full transfer is required by their accreditation review, but it is unclear to me why they allow transient classes (after one semester in good standing) but won't let our best students take the same set of classes at a mix of institutions.

2) Many (most?) of our students start out way behind in math, so few are at the point where they have the necessary grounding in calculus and first semester physics that would allow them to take an engineering class before finishing the AA. Quite a few are past 60 credits and/or the AA before taking physics.
 
Why not start sooner with high school students? I envision a grant funded program called "College Ready" where students who are interested in college but behind are allowed to spend their summers taking classes to get up to speed to that come Fall of whenever they graduate they enter college. This could be structured as a morning class with afternoon internship with local business to give kids a chance to get work experience. Or you could offer this in an accelerated way to non-18-year-old high school grads. Structure this as some sort of stackable credential and you have something that might be "complete" when students move on.
 
The big issue I'm considering for all this is essentially about pride/palatability of this kind of arrangement.

Does the farm team setup address the issue of acknowledging that community colleges might be better at some things than universities. During senate and governors' meetings, every senior admin waxes poetic about how our uni is the greatest thing in the world at absolutely everything it does. Can a snooty comprehensive university (SCU) make such an arrangement voluntarily without damaging that image?

On the flip side, how do community colleges feel about picking up the rejected students from SCU and improving their skills? There are a lot of positive angles to that, but there's also the angle of playing second fiddle to SCU. Does the second fiddle angle become a hindrance to community colleges engaging in these kinds of arrangements?
 
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