Vocab notes for anyone unfamiliar with this stuff: ( Quick and subjective glossary )
So I wrote a few days ago about how disappointed I was by the apparently low standards of teaching at Ohlone (the local community college) along with how incompetent many of their administrative employees seemed to be. Today I was thinking about why I was so bothered that all of jenniferward
's and siderealengine
's classes base their grades mostly on tests, with no papers or anything. I was wondering if I was just being a snob or if it was a case of "I went through it; now you must suffer too!!!"--as is all too typical in academia. But I've seen some of their homework assignments, and honestly, it's not even preparation for the California State University system (based on the undergrad classes I've seen at CSUEB). For Berkeley, which is where they want to go? Forget it. It's almost like deliberately preparing students to fail. I had more advanced assignments in seventh grade, and I'm not exaggerating even a little. I am really hoping that this is some bizarre fluke and things will improve, because I can't imagine being lulled into thinking that college = multi-choice tests and end-of-chapter questions straight out of the textbook, and then transferring into university only to be hit with research papers, open-ended projects, and critical essays.
Part of the reason I'm so stunned is that I've always been a big advocate of community colleges, since my mom taught at one and assaultdoor
's parents both do. I think the various role they fill are extremely important. In California, the system is thought of somewhat differently than in most of the rest of the US; CCs are viewed as natural steps to 4-year colleges/universities for anyone who's somewhat thrifty, for one thing. Compared to some other areas, there's less of the attitude of "it's for people who barely passed high school and couldn't get accepted into any college anywhere."
That said ... one of the big roles of CCs here really is getting students up to a minimum level of competence in English and math, the level they should have been at when they graduated from high school. I was shocked by the lack of grammar, sentence construction, and logic skills in many of my English 3000 students at CSUEB, and at the time I said I was appalled that they had been allowed to graduate from high school--and they were juniors in college!. Well, having heard more about the way high schools work in California (and Arizona), I understand better now. For many of the students, K-12 simply failed. Whether you want to chalk it up to funding, ill-prepared and uninterested teachers, underpaid and overworked teachers, or whatever, the fact remains that the educational system isn't working for many students, especially those without educated parents. It's not exactly fair that they were allowed to graduate without the minimum skills, but it's not exactly unfair, either, since I don't believe they were presented with a genuine opportunity to learn. This is an extremely complex problem that needs to be fixed.
For college, including community college, it's a different matter. There is no free pass. Today there was a headline in the Fremont Argus
reading "Colleges opt to raise standards: English, mathematics requirements increased for associate's degree.
" Well, good, I thought. Maybe we'll get fewer ill-prepared students at the 4-year level. What are these standards? "Beginning in fall 2009, students will be required to complete [first-year] English composition and intermediate algebra before they qualify for an associate's degree."
What exactly was an AA before that? Your receipt for paying for two years of community college?
"I think it's hard enough as it is for students to balance studying, work and family," (an Ohlone student) said. "It's just not fair."
Okay, sorry. This time it IS fair. An AA is optional; it's something you choose to try for. If you can't pass those two classes, you haven't earned an AA. An AA is not a receipt. It is supposed to be proof to universities and employers that you have certain minimum skills. If you don't have those skills, you don't get the degree. Sorry. Since it is community college, and it is California, with the lowest CC tuition in the entire country, you have the chance to take plenty of developmental (remedial) math and English classes. Nearly every CC also has free math and writing tutoring. There is every opportunity to get yourself to that bare minimum level. If you can't, it is possible that you should pay attention to "work and family" only. (I admit that this would be a better solution if we had widely accessible trade schools in the US and more respect for trade certifications. Ohlone does have various certifications available, though, so students who can't qualify for an AA should at least consider those.)
"I came here because it's cheaper," said (another Ohlone student). "I think those kinds of (new) requirements should be at Cal State instead."
No, sorry again. The way transfer usually works is 2 years at a CC and then 2 years at a 4-year college/university (Cal State schools are universities). You can spend more than 2 years getting ready to transfer, but you can rarely spend more than 2-3 years after you transfer. At the CC, you're supposed to get rid of your general education requirements and any developmental classes you need to be able to pass the GE classes. This is good for two reasons: 1) it's a lot cheaper to pay the CC tuition rate if you have to take a lot of catch-up classes, and 2) you get to take your major courses at the 4-year institution, which will probably be in greater depth, with more opportunities for research, better libraries and other facilities like labs, etc. If you have scholarships or grants, you probably won't be allowed to spend more than 2-3 years at the 4-year institution. Those 2-3 years are supposed to be all higher-level courses, junior and senior classes that are more advanced and focus on your major. By the time you get there, you had better be ready for university-level work right off the bad.
This attitude may not be the student's fault, though. Very little about college is intuitively obvious, and if you don't have parents and siblings who have gotten their bachelor's degrees, it's hard to know how things work. CCs need to clearly articulate the system, procedures, and jargon to new students.
That would be assuming that the school itself is taking its transfer preparation task seriously. Obviously, many of the students don't take it seriously or don't understand the stakes, but community college staff and faculty must do better than that. The impression that I'm getting from Ohlone is that they are not focused on university-level academic preparation. I'm not sure what to do about this, not counting complaining in my blog, but I know this is not an acceptable situation. I'm hoping it's temporary and unusual and there won't wind up being anything that needs to be done other than encouraging siderealengine
to write some accurate complaints on the end-of-the-semester evaluation forms. If it continues to be the case, though, something will have to be done.
(I don't think our roommates would take too kindly to being assigned research papers by assaultdoor
and me, do you? No, I don't think so, and I wouldn't blame them either.)