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October 25, 2011 2:48 PM Focus on “Success”

By Daniel Luzer

The rising cost of educating students, together with declining revenues from the state and increased demand, mean that California community colleges might soon have to operate a little differently.

What that means is a matter of debate. According to a recent report by the California Community Colleges Task Force on Student Success (a project of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office), the solution might be to change the way community colleges operate. The report recommends, among other things:

Development of structured pathways to help students identify a program of study and get an educational roadmap to indicate appropriate courses and available support services;
Enhanced professional development for both faculty and staff, especially as it relates to the instructional and support needs of basic skills students;
Revised financing, accountability and oversight systems to ensure that resources (both financial and intellectual) are better aligned with student success;
Better alignment of local district and college goals with the education and workforce needs of the state.

There are multiple components of this plan. One of the most important, however, has to do with the change to focusing on students who have a clear goal in mind when they begin community college. Since those are the students most likely to succeed, the task force says they’re the important students to serve.

Well yes, but they’re also the students who least need assistance, aren’t they?

According to an article about the report by Paul Fain at Inside Higher Ed:

In an ideal world, community colleges would grant equal opportunities to all students, regardless of their academic preparation, said David Rattray, a task force member and the senior vice president of education and workforce development at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
“In a real world,” Rattray said, “it’s not working.”

Well okay, but this is your system. The ideal world is totally yours to create by making learning a priority and targeting resources to make the community college programs effective as, indeed, the state did for many years.

Part of the reason the task force has decided to focus on the success of the students who want to earn a degree is due to the college completion agenda of the Obama administration and, as Fain put it, “powerful foundations, several of which helped pay for the task force’s work.”

But college completion is really about helping students who aren’t currently doing well in college to do better. College completion is not about targeting students who already want to succeed. Granted, the first group of students would be very well served by this agenda but the point of this is to help students who aren’t doing well. Implementing the task force’s recommendations wouldn’t help them much.

That’s the problem with this report. It’s billed as an agenda for student success, but really it looks suspiciously like an attempt to find a way for community colleges to graduate a higher percentage of students by turning others out. That’s not student success, that’s just institutional advancement.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer