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Tilting at Windmills

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August 22, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

COMMUNITY COLLEGES....How good are community colleges compared to 4-year universities? A few years ago a group of educational reformers created an annual survey (the NSSE) that measured how well universities implemented research-proven best teaching practices, and then followed that up with a similar survey for community colleges (the CCSSE). Kevin Carey writes in our current issue that the results were surprising:

On a number of important measures, the [community] colleges on our list outperform their four-year peers. More than two-thirds of the community college students ask questions in class or contribute to class discussions, compared to only half of the four-year students. Student-faculty interaction is also better — the community college students are more likely to get prompt feedback on performance and to interact with their professors during and outside of class. And the level of academic challenge is more than comparable — the community college students were more likely to work harder than they thought they could to meet their professor's expectations.

Four-year universities generally don't release their survey results, but community colleges do and we used the CCSSE data to rank the top 30 community colleges in the country. The complete list is here. Methodology is here and here. A profile of Cascadia College, the #2 community college on our list, is here.

Kevin Drum 1:25 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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Those are measurements of input, not of output, so the section quoted seems fairly meaningless.

That said, I think you can get a decent education at a junior college if you work hard and are reasonably smart.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on August 22, 2007 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

Uh, Cascadia is #2 on that list.

I can second the comment about class participation though. In the classes I taught at a top level (public) university the class discussion was mostly driven by community college transfer students. The "natives" rarely had anything to say.

Posted by: ogmb on August 22, 2007 at 1:57 AM | PERMALINK

There aren't any measures of output available, but Carey claims that these inputs are significantly correlated with higher GPAs (after controlling for previous academic performance). Not perfect by any stretch, but better than nothing.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on August 22, 2007 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

ogmp: Right you are. #2. Back to school for me.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on August 22, 2007 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks for this, Kevin. As a graduate of a four year school I had no idea what a treasure community colleges are. That is, until I started working at one. We see a good portion of remedial students who struggle despite all the help we give them, but there's also a high percentage of high achievers who either get professional degrees and enter the workforce or transfer to excellent four year colleges and universities. And we do this with a fraction of the funding we need, IMHO.

Posted by: edub on August 22, 2007 at 2:30 AM | PERMALINK

I am surprised that Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas is not on the list. It is very impressive. I say this as someone who has knocked around universities for practically my entire adult life. I went over there to cover some labs as a GA a couple of years ago. The students impressed me and so did the facilities. Later I had a couple of employees who were either trained there or going to school there, and they were fabulous assets to the care team.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on August 22, 2007 at 2:44 AM | PERMALINK

Community college teachers are paid to teach. University teachers are paid to research (or wank, depending on the department), and are forced to teach (though some do put serious effort into teaching; how many depends on the culture of each department and school). So why is it a surprise that community colleges are better at teaching?

And if you haven't done so, Murry Sperber's Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education is a must-read

Posted by: F. Frederson on August 22, 2007 at 2:56 AM | PERMALINK

I am retired professor of political science from a community college in Texas. The degree of dedication of most community college faculty and staff is outstanding.

Also, the math student gets a teacher who speaks English and the history student gets a degreed teacher in a class of thirty, rather than a TA in a class of three hundred. This allows for much more interaction between student and faculty.

In addition, the cost to the community college student is less than one-half than at a four year institution.

Having said that, I can tell you that I can list several community colleges in Texas that should rank higher than Frank Phillips, including the one from which I retired.

Thanks for putting the spotlight on the community college, a truly hidden treasure. More than fifty per cent of the college students in Texas attend community colleges.

Posted by: T. Spears on August 22, 2007 at 4:16 AM | PERMALINK

I went to a prestigious private university, one of the smaller state universities, and a community college for various parts of my education. And I have to say, of the three, the community college was by far the worst experience of the three. You will find some great teachers and great classes in community colleges, but it's a decidedly mixed bag, and you'll also get classes that aren't up to high school standards. A lot of the students weren't particularly committed to their academic careers, and the drop rate was easily 50%. Having dedicated students who really care about the classes makes a big difference to an educational environment.

For the money, though, it's not a bad way to get some credits and later transfer to a four year school. But I don't think anyone should have any illusions that community colleges are hidden bastions of academic innovation.

Posted by: Royko on August 22, 2007 at 4:32 AM | PERMALINK

The University of Hawaii's community college system is one of the better kept secrets in higher education. They offer the same core classes, i.e., first two years, as the main U.H. campus in Manoa Valley, only without the large 150-300+ lecture sections that freshmen often find so intimidating in their first semester at college. And the best part -- the tuition is 25% of Manoa's.

Of course, I'm biased. My wife teaches Expository Writing and American Literature at Kapiolani Community College in East Honolulu. The campus is located on the east slopes of Diamond Head and overlooks the Kaiwi Channel and the Pacific Ocean, with spectacular views of the islands of Molokai and Lanai (and even Maui on an especially clear day). One would be very hard-pressed to find a more spectacular physical setting for a college campus.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on August 22, 2007 at 5:53 AM | PERMALINK

My son is attending community college and he loves it. The faculty are devoted to teaching, very accessible and the class sizes small. Interestingly, I live in an area where there are 4 private colleges - all very exclusive and expensive. Many of the adjunct faculty from the local private schools also teach at our community college. It's a good deal for us.

BTW, 10 years ago I was on the faculty of a large, highly regarded mid western university. I left that position because it was like serving fast food to the undergraduates. It's very difficult (not impossible)to be a major research facility AND provide quality undergraduate education. Sadly, the focus is on snagging grant money and graduate students. Those graduate students pick up a lot of the teaching load.

Posted by: ComfortablyNumb on August 22, 2007 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

I think community colleges are an excellent choice for many high school graduates. The students get more individualized attention, they are much more affordable, often closer to home and less intimidating than a big university.

In my opinion, just attending a prestigious Ivy League school doesn't mean a goddamn thing in the long run as everyone has to learn their specific job requirements on the job, anyway. In addition, many Ivy League grads aren't qualified to even be a pump jockey at the local Texaco, as the dipshit in the White House so painfully demonstrates on a daily basis.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on August 22, 2007 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

just attending a prestigious Ivy League school doesn't mean a goddamn thing

I take great umbrage at this comment and Kevin's absurd methodology. Any analysis championing community college performance is disaffirmed by the widespread negative impacts imparted by teaching illegal aliens english and electronic skillz.

Posted by: Princeton '14 on August 22, 2007 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

I'm glad to see my alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, is near the top. But a note about social mobility - shouldn't a school get points if it has a low tuition to begin with? Most "public universities" are now nearly as expensive as their private counterparts.

Posted by: keptsimple on August 22, 2007 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

Community colleges tend to have older students in the classroom. I loved teaching at a community college. In fact, I threw out my attendance policy and ended up having my best overall attendance ever. The students came because they wanted to, because they were paying for it themselves. In too many 4-year colleges, the students' parents are paying for their education, and so they don't have "ownership" of it. They don't seem to realize that missing a class or not doing the work is a waste of a lot of money.

Posted by: Wendy on August 22, 2007 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Right on Tiger '14 - Wouldn't want any "skillz" taken back to the 'hood, now would one?

Posted by: thethirdPaul on August 22, 2007 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

The research office at my community college tracks the students who transfer to the University of California. They do as well as students who enrolled in UC as freshmen (but they saved a cartload of dollars by substituting two years -- or so -- of community college education for two years of UC instruction). The big U does have some interesting opportunities for freshmen and sophomores that we can't offer because we don't have the budgets or facilities they have, but we can match them pretty well on instruction.

We have a much greater diversity of student preparation and aptitude at the community college because of our open admissions, but our mission is to provide higher ed to anyone who can benefit from it. And in our higher level courses, our students are as good as those at the universities. (I've taught many classes at both the university and my community college, so I have personal experience as well as the results from our research office.)

Posted by: Zeno on August 22, 2007 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Considering that it is whom you know and how corrupt you are that gets one to the level of CEO or federal department director, it is quite an advantage to graduate from a prestigious university. Being a roommate of a buddy of Bush always helps!

For non wealthy families without the means for Ivy League or graduate school, community colleges and two years at a state university can prepare one for a good career. Having experience recruiting and hiring for Texas Instruments, I have learned that a college degree does not insure that all graduates will find well paying jobs.

Posted by: Captain Dan on August 22, 2007 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

I went to Tarrant County Jr. College in Ft. Worth TX for two years after getting out of the Army. Current GPA 3.447. Started running my own business soon after. That was enough to get my current corporate job. All the MBA's around me cant stand it.

Posted by: elmo on August 22, 2007 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

I have never attended a community college, but my two middle sons did and my daughter just started. The attraction for my family is cost. It is damned expensive to send a kid away to a four year school, especially a 19 year old who is likely to spend all of his time "finding himself." My number 3 son, for example, jacked around his freshman year. Sometime around the middle of his freshman year a light snapped on and he became serious. I am glad I didn't waste $20,000 on his freshman year. The $3,000 or so at community college was far less costly. After the light came on, he finished the community college course and transferred to a four year school where he completed his undergraduate degree. After graduation he was accepted to several masters programs, but the lure of a job was too strong. He is currently working on an advanced degree in project management.
I was in bankruptcy court yesterday and heard one debtor tell the interim trustee that he and his parents were paying on a $98,000 student loan. Thank God my son and I won't have to pay for student loans for the first two years. If community college enables students to reduce the number of student loans they take by 1/2 then I am all in favor of community colleges.

Posted by: corpus.juris on August 22, 2007 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

I'm always surprised at how well community colleges do, given the constraints they're under. Here's one: the national average for full-time faculty at community colleges is somewhere around a third. That is, a large proportion of the teaching is done by part-time instructors who may be recruited for their expertise in some area, or perhaps who are moonlighting from other teaching jobs (e.g., high school teachers or university grad students). It seems to work, though I know a few part-time instructors who would like to be full-time (and would be good additions to a community college faculty) but just can't find full-time work.

Posted by: RSA on August 22, 2007 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

Undergrads really get screwed at many 4 year universities, even prestigous schools. Teaching becomes an afterthought, often done by grad students ill suited for the task, sometimes due to lacking proficiency in english. It's hard to have a class discussion when the teacher and students don't understand each other. The shame of it is that the quality of the instruction in no way correlates with the size of the tuition bill. What a racket.

Posted by: Will Allen on August 22, 2007 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

I've long thought that one of the main attractions to prestige schools (particularly at the very top) is not that they are such great shakes at teaching, but that they offer the chance to network with other students who, due to social connections etc., will be the movers and shakers of tomorrow. This is the dirty little secret of american higher education; get in socially with the right bunch and they will take care of you as they move up the ladder.

We see this effect really starkly with the Regent University grads currently infesting the Executive branch. Once W is out, most of those bozos will leave too, but then it'll just go back to the control of the various ivy league mafias.

Posted by: jimBOB on August 22, 2007 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

From my own personal experience at two different Community College, instruction has been as good and sometimes better than my experience at two different major universities. One private university, one public.

Posted by: phastphil on August 22, 2007 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

I think community colleges are great for many people, but I don't think this survey shows what its claiming.

"And the level of academic challenge is more than comparable — the community college students were more likely to work harder than they thought they could to meet their professor's expectations."

This doesn't tell us about the level of academic work, but what the students thought they could do. Or it could be showing that students in the community colleges have to struggle to meet expectations that are for high school level work. I would say that the survey shows that the academic level is appropriate to the students, but not what that level is.

Posted by: Cindy on August 22, 2007 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

On a side note, CCSSE doesn't like it when their data is used to rank community colleges. In fact, so much so that they state it on their home page.

Posted by: Bill on August 22, 2007 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

In olden days, I did witness the culling of first and second year students at a land grant university - The attitude was that "we have to take you, but, we do not have to keep you" - So, there were a lot of wash outs, left to wander off to either "teacher colleges" or pick up at Jucos - On the other side of the coin, many of those who had begun at Jucos, came into the University as juniors and preformed well.

However, no one had addressed the funding of community colleges by our government to be training programs for specific needs of corporate America - This money is being taken from the larger universities, especially from more generalized liberal arts programs. The Repuglican based Work Force has been involved in this training ground - Sorta like a type of Professional sports minor league - Oh, we need computer types, well, let's give the money to Chenoweth and not the University of Oregon, or Johnson County Community and not the University of Kansas.

Yes, after Sputnik, money flowed into Pell Grants - But, one could use them for courses they wished to follow, not into a farm team concept of education.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on August 22, 2007 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Community colleges are the dirty little secret that over-priced four-year schools don't want you to know about. You get just as good (and in many cases better) of an education at a fraction of the cost. It makes all the difference in the world to have small class sizes and teachers focus on teaching instead of research.

Posted by: mfw13 on August 22, 2007 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

To some extent this may not be so much about how well community colleges are doing as it is about how bad most four-year schools are.

I teach at a top-ten "regional" university (so, not a national research university, but a good, solid "comprehensive" university, one that allegedly emphasizes both teaching and research (figure that one out...))...

Anyway, the point is that it's a very well-regarded school...

And let me tell ya, most of the students leave here knowing approximately jack shit.

Part of the problem: they are being snagged by the ever-growing array of sexy new majors, ranging from old new ones like business (esp. "marketing"), through the train wreck that is "communication," to (Lord help us) "leadership studies." Then there is the cornucopia of bizarre "multi-disciplinary" ("inter-disciplinary" is passe...) majors that I won't even go into.

They come out of these majors just better than illiterate, incapable of reasoning, and knowing nothing of any importance.

Add to this that they spend most of their time drinking, and...

Sheesh, kids these days...

Posted by: Winston Smith on August 22, 2007 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

"communication and leadership studies"

Sounds like the introduction of the starting line up from the University of Southern Cal.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on August 22, 2007 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry all,

I am going to have to agree with Royko, and disagree with just about everyone else. I am reading through this thread and it is just astounding me. I attended a community college in Northern California, then transferred to the University of California. I have to say that my experience at junior college was one of the worst educational experiences of my life. I mean, people talk here about the quality of community college instructors, and I am going to disagree. Some teachers were ok, but most were not, and many were just plain awful. Some were even outright condescending ("If you were smarter, you would have gone somewhere else."). The amount of work that was assigned at a community college was not even close to the amount that you would do in a similar course at UC. In fact, I probably worked harder in high school. And I completely disagree with Kevin Careys comment that "the level of academic is more than comparable." I could hardly study at all and get an A at a junior college, but I would have to work my butt off to get the same grade at UC. The level of intellectual rigorousness and workload is far greater at a four year institution than at a community college (and yes, I did work every year I was in college).

Regarding the students, that's a mixed bag. There were some smart kids who couldn't afford to go to a four year institution - but they were few and far between. Many students were recent high school grads who just did not want to be there and just did not care about their studies.

Which brings me to another point. Kevin Carey states, "More than two-thirds of the community college students ask questions in class or contribute to class discussions, compared to only half of the four-year students. Student-faculty interaction is also better." I don't know how he got this statistic, or what it is supposed to measure. But I just want to make a comment regarding this. There is a difference between the quality of participation and the quantity of participation. In my experience, community college students ask a lot of questions, but, in my opinion, the questions are not very good (to clarify, some questions can be answered if they had just done the reading, other questions are more analytical).

The only good thing about community colleges is that it is a cheap way to get some credits for core courses. I like the IDEA of community colleges - which allows people who are working to go to school, that allows people who can not afford a four-year institution to complete credits at a reduced cost, which allows a lot of people a second chance, and trains people who do not need a four year university. But the actual execution falls short of what the ideals are. I would be more supportive of community colleges if the level study and quality of faculty were similar to a University of California school, but they are not. It is not even close (of course, this gets into a lot of funding issues in California education politics).

Anyway, my experience at junior college was just awful. For those who had better experiences at a junior college, I am happy for you (actually, I am a little envious). But from my experience, I can not defend these institutions.

Posted by: Former Community College Student on August 22, 2007 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

I've done both, first getting a four year degree at a major university and then taking classes at local junior colleges.

The junior colleges were a joke. While the 4-year university often provided horrible graduate assistants as instructors and the junior colleges often provided far superior faculty, there was simply no competition or discipline in the junior colleges, which translated to students doing no homework and learning nothing. Only the self-motivated came out of a junior college class with anything, and there were vanishingly few of these. I started one class and had to quit because of other demands on time; but attending the first class session was enough to earn me a C for the course as I found when my grade was mailed to me months later!

Posted by: Luther on August 22, 2007 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

I've now experienced private liberal arts, community college, and big 10 business schools. Out of the three, the private liberal arts was far and away the best experience, especially in terms of preparing me to adapt to new situations. The community college was the least challenging (I completed all the work for one 8-week class in about 5 hours once because I wanted to focus on the GMAT), and had the lowest level of teaching quality.

Posted by: Hillary on August 22, 2007 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Twenty three years ago I attended a meeting on college alternatives for parents of high school seniors in California. The most persuasive speaker represent the community colleges. He pointed out that a student could take the same general education courses given at the State Universities for his/her two years at community college, but at far lower cost. The student then would get priority in transferring to Berkeley, UCLA or other State Universities. These universities would give full credit for courses taken at the community college/

Posted by: ex-liberal on August 22, 2007 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Keep in mind that both the NSSE and the CCSSE are surveys of student opinion and self-report of activity. They are intended to provide information regarding students' perceptions of their educational experiences, and to indicate to what extent students are engaged with various and multiple academic and social activities at their at their institutions.

Student opinion is important, but primarily to the individual campuses. The surveys' presumption, based on prior research, is the more engaged a student is with her campus, the more likely she is to succeed, stay enrolled, and graduate. The institution needs to know what it's doing well, and continue doing that, as well as what it's doing poorly, so it can improve - ultimately helping more students to succeed.

As a general consumer, I'd be more interested to know that my local campus is holding high result steady over a multi-year period, or is showing steady improvements. Given the purpose of the community college to serve the local population, knowing that students enrolled at a community college in Georgia have the highest opinion of their campus doesn't do much for me if I'm looking down the road at my CC in Illinois.

Posted by: sdc on August 22, 2007 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting study. As a student, I went to two major state universities, and I am now a tenured professor at a major private university. While in graduate school, however, I taught for four years at the local community college, and comparing my students there to my current lot today, I would say that the biggest difference between the two groups is that the variance in performance was far greater at the community college (the average performance was definitely lower, however). I had some absolutely stellar students there (and of course, some who really didn't belong in college). I don't know if any other former or current community college instructors will agree with me, but I found that my best students at the community college were the returning students - conscientious as all get-out, and motivated by "real life" experience. One of my favorite stories about my days there: when I was writing my dissertation, I thought the best way to handle the four hours of office hours I was required to hold was to do a three-hour block on one day and a one-hour slot on another. My decision came to haunt me - I had a returning student, whose lowest grade on any test in my class was 97%, who nonetheless would come sit with me for three solid hours that one day to ask probing questions that at times even I couldn't answer. It was frustrating and wonderful at the same time.

Posted by: Trent on August 22, 2007 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

When my wife decided she wanted to attend medical school, she took the pre-med class at Austin community college. She says the quality of the intructors and lab facilities was at least as good as at Harvard, where she'd been an undergrad.

That said, I'll accept that many JuCo students are poorly motivated and arrive with crappy HS backgrounds that end up giving them lesser educations than what a more driven student at a 4-year school might receive.

Which raises an interesting question: Are JuCO students who usually work to afford their tuitions more (or less) likely to study hard than an undergrad at a 4-year private college whose sky-high tuition is paid for by mom and dad?

Posted by: Auto on August 22, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

It's not a surprise that better teaching methods are practiced at community colleges. Faculty at universities are focused on research. Many faculty only teach because it is required.

Faculty at community colleges are there because they love to teach. I've been to both types of institutions, and the best classroom experiences came at the community college.

Posted by: Ed on August 22, 2007 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

I went to Cascadia shortly after it opened, and left two quarters later because they were so understaffed I was unable to get into the classes I needed. I earned my associates degree elsewhere, looks like I should have stuck it out. ;)

Posted by: Everblue Stater on August 22, 2007 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

The "academic challenge" comparisons are meaningless. The student bodies at 4-year universities, particularly *highly-ranked* universities, will on average be smarter, better-prepared, and more motived than those at community colleges. Regardless of what you think about their relative educational quality, universities are simply more prestigious (and expensive) and will draw in the top students.

So even if community college classes are much easier and less objectively challenging than university ones, their worse-prepared / less-able students might find them substantially more challenging.

Posted by: Damgo on August 22, 2007 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK


I love your comment about people returning to college. My brother went to work out of high school. He worked hard and built a small retail business. A larger competitor offered him more money than he could pass up. Suddenly with a pile of money and nothing to do, my then 33 year old brother, with a wife and two kids, decided to go to college. He blew the hell out of the curve graduating from his state university in 3 1/2 years with a 4.0 grade point average. I asked him why he did so well. He said that he viewed college differently than his 19-22 year old competitors. First, he didn't have to go to school. He wanted to go. Classes were a challenge. They weren't a chore. Second, he knew who he was and didn't need to "find himself." He had spent his early 20s partying hardy. At 33 he hardly needed to party. Third, he approached school the same way he approached his work. He knew how to organize his time. He knew when to apply himself. He knew when to spend time with his family.

I have a hunch that the young men returning to college after WWII had more in common with my brother than fresh faced recent high school gradutes. Many of those young men going to college on the GI Bill did very well indeed.

Posted by: corpus juris on August 22, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

I've taken more than one class at the following colleges:

University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
University of Texas - Arlington
Richland CC in Dallas

The top two are obviously fairly prestigious. UT-Arlington is a mid-range state school. Richland CC is a CC with a good area rep. If I were to make lists of the best and worst classes in terms of quality of instruction, class size, etc., school reputation would have no bearing on the reality.

The five worst classes I've taken, by far, were all at U of Michigan. Almost all Penn courses were very good. UT-Arlington was solid save one course.

I recently went back to school at night to take the pre-med prereqs at my CC. Classes are small with no TAs. Of the eight I've taken, six were great and the other two taught me what I needed to know. A four-credit science course with lab costs $150 versus $1k at a state school or $3-4k at a private.

Posted by: Mike on August 22, 2007 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

This isn't a knock on Community Colleges because there are plenty of good ones and plenty of good faculty there. However, people keep stating the following as fact when it simply isn't true:

1) "Community College professors are there because they love to teach".

This is really no more or less true than it is for people at 4 year universities. Especially once you factor in that gigantic research institutions are a minority.

Many people at Comm Colleges are there because they weren't lucky enough to get one of the ever dwindling full time jobs at a 4 year institution, not because they chose to focus on teaching.

Also, teaching loads are much higher. Someone who *loves* to teach who has 5 classes a semester to deal with may not be better than someone who "doesn't mind" teaching who only has 1 or 2.

Many people at CCs are just adjuncts, who have to put together an absurd amount of teaching at various schools for crap pay and no benefits. Bitterness is in no short supply, and for good reason. 4 year schools are in no way immune from this either and its getting worse all around.

Posted by: henrietta on August 22, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Heartening post in honor of my first day teaching freshman composition at community college. I've had the chance to meet staff, observe classes, and look over syllabi, and so far I am pretty darned impressed with the intellectual content of the courses. People are teaching gender issues, myth, ethics, Shakespeare, war, philosophy - all in Freshman Comp. They are making the students do a great deal of writing (8 - 10K words in a semester) and reading.

I have no idea what the students will be like. I assume I'll find the whole range, from completely unmotivated to desperately driven.

California community college tuition is $20 a credit, so my English 1A students will pay $80 to take my course, which is fully transferable to the UC and CSU systems (or any other university nationwide).

Posted by: Leila on August 22, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sorry that "Former Community College Student" has such a bad experience at a northern California community college. (I teach at one and have a passing familiarity with the others, so I'm a bit surprised.) I think few people have such a uniformly bad time. Our primary criterion for hiring and retaining faculty is teaching ability, so it's unusual to find a department full of losers in that regard. Most of us also take seriously the responsibility to teach courses at a level sufficient to justify transfer credit to UC or CSU (here in California) when courses are college level, but we also teach a whole bunch of courses (remedial or "developmental") that you'll never find at the university. That's our job.

Especially at the larger community colleges, you have options in choosing instructors for each class, so you have a better change of finding a teacher on your wavelength. Some of my colleagues are more focused on getting students to pass at any price, but more of us take standards seriously.

Frankly, we do a pretty good job of doing more with less, and money spent on a community college education is seldom money down a rat hole.

Posted by: Zeno on August 22, 2007 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

I'd like to second the comments by Trent and corpus juris. One of the great strengths of the community colleges is that they accomodate "non-traditional" students -- folks getting out of the armed forces, women returning to school after raising their children, mid-career and post-career people in their 40s and 50s -- who tend to pay their own way, work hard, organize their time, and contribute readily to class discussions. This, more than teacher quality, probably has a lot to do with the strength of cc classes, including for the more traditional students. Community Colleges also provide a way for those bright but lazy high school students to repair their academic records before applying to traditional four-year colleges.

Of course there are knuckleheads in many cc classes, but there are also plenty of knucklehead athletes and legacy students at major four-year colleges and universities. But there's also a greater diversity of ability and effort in cc classes.

That being said, I learned a great deal in my undergraduate classes at an Ivy League school, but that was because of the quality and competitive nature of my classmates, not because of the professors themselves. I've also taught at a couple of main campus state schools and a private liberal arts college, and I'd have to say that the educational experience for the average student was probably poorest at the big state schools, especially in introductory classes. They often had a large number of terrible students, and faculty who were not committed to teaching.

So, would I want my kid to choose Douglas County CC over the Univeristy of Chicago? No. But I might encourage a kid who was planning to attend KU or KSU to go to Douglas County CC for a year or two before moving up to the main campus...

P.S. to Donald in Hawaii. If you live in Kailua, you should know that WCC with its views of the Ko
'olau mountains and Kaneohe Bay has a more striking and attractive campus that KCC!

Posted by: keith on August 22, 2007 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

Just for the record, I teach at regional public comprehensive university and we post assessment data (including NSSE) online for all to see.

And, as one earlier poster noted, NSSE is about a student's perceptions of his or her college experiences (data is collected from first-year students and seniors for comparison), not actual learning. So it shouldn't be used alone to evaluate teaching practices.

Posted by: Jonathan Tankel on August 22, 2007 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

Way to go Sothwestern Community College #4.

As a graduate of SCC, I loved it. The instructors were great. I was so scared to go to college and SCC made it such an easy experince.

Posted by: Heather on August 30, 2007 at 11:38 PM | PERMALINK

Community colleges accept all students, regardless of preparedness. As a result, many students who would otherwise be unable to do so now join the workforce and contribute to their communities and society in general. Universities would not teach them how to weld or cut hair. It's important that we recognize what contributions community colleges make that cannot be made by the universities instead of trying to compare the two.

I am a cc graduate and an administrator at one of the colleges in the top thirty list. When I moved into administration, I demanded that I still be allowed to teach at least one night class. I am surrounded by people who love to facilitate learning and who believe in the personal touch.

That personal touch is what got my college on the list, but more importantly, it is what gets our students to reach their goals. Each and every one of them is important to us, and no matter what their skill or ability, we treat each of them with respect and kindness. There is no weeding out at a community college. If a student can't make it through a program, we find a program in which he CAN succeed.

Posted by: advocate for all on August 31, 2007 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK



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