Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ask the Administrator: Are Your Alums Good Enough to Teach for You?

A new correspondent writes:

I'm a sophomore at a snooty-but-trying-not-to-be Private Liberal Arts
College who has recently discovered your blog and is tearing through
the archives. I'm afraid I'm one of the folks from the kind of town
(bedroom community where all the parents have grad degrees) where
people only go to CCs to get ahead in high school, for summer credit,
or because they didn't get in anywhere else. After reading, however,
I'm starting to understand the idea of getting cheap Gen-Ed credit and
then transferring.

I'm wondering, however, how much this is an ideal than common
practice. Did any of the faculty at your school, for instance, start
their higher ed at a CC?

I like questions that get at what William James called the "cash value" of an abstraction. Okay, you say your cc does a good job? Does it do a good enough job that you'd hire your own grads to teach?


Several of our faculty are also alums here. (Interestingly, all but one of the names I can rattle off are women.) They started here, transferred to four-year colleges, then went on for graduate work. The fact that they came back here strikes me as a vote of confidence. I've also noticed a significant number of "faculty brats" among the students. As a parent, I know I wouldn't send my kid to a school in which I lacked confidence.

One of the benefits of hiring alums is that they often have a very good sense of where the students are coming from. One of my favorite people here actually attended here in her thirties before moving on and eventually finding her way back. She has emerged as a wonderful resource for returning adult students, since she has been one herself. (She once explained to me that adult students like to sit in the front row so they don't have to see all the young faces behind them. I hadn't noticed that until she pointed it out.)

More broadly, transfer from here to a four-year school is quite common. At my cc, the generic 'transfer major' is the single highest-enrollment major. (Admittedly, this isn't true at all cc's. Some of them are much more vocationally oriented than we are.) The local four-year colleges have consistently found that our graduates actually graduate at higher rates, and with higher GPA's, than their 'native' students. I suspect that partly reflects pre-sorting (our weakest students don't even make it to graduation, so the four-year schools never see them) and partly reflects the fact that we put resources into Intro courses and they don't.

Interestingly, the average age of our students is dropping, and we're getting more full-time (and fewer part-time) students than in the past. The working-adult-at-night group is shrinking, and the full-time-just-out-of-high-school group is growing. We spend a lot of time trying to crack the nut of shrinking adult enrollment, but I think the growing traditional-student enrollment is largely a function of cost. As the tuition rates at the four-years have risen beyond reason, and the success rates of our grads becomes better known, the argument for saving some money by coming here first becomes more compelling.

It's not for everybody. We don't have dorms, or football, or some of the trappings of a residential college. Most of the students live at home. Growing up in Northern Town, one of my priorities, upon graduating high school, was to get the hell out of Northern Town. I desperately wanted the dorm experience (as I imagined it), and the stamp of approval of a name brand college. But if the choice isn't between, say, Swarthmore and a cc, but between Nothing Special State and a cc, I wouldn't rule out the cc without taking a serious look first.

Wise and worldly readers – what do you think?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.