Tag Archives: professional

Coping with ‘Professional Students’ in Community Colleges

The party’s over for community college students in California, notorious for large numbers of young and not-so-young people using the low-cost system to drift in and out of classes, fill up their time while looking for something better, or simply find themselves. The Board of Governors of the state’s cash-strapped two-year system has decided to get rid of “professional students,” some of whom have amassed hundreds of  college credits without going anywhere academically.

Starting in 2014 the system will give enrollment priority to students who have set up formal plans to complete enough credits either to transfer to a four-year institution or to qualify for a vocational certificate—or to acquire certain basic skills such as learning English. Since California’s 112-college community system, which has lost $809 million in state funding over the past four years, has already had to pare down its total enrollment by nearly 500,000 students (from 2.9 million in 2008), “enrollment priority” means that the drifters and “lifelong learning” types probably won’t find places.

Many would say that it’s about time. A 1960 law requires California community colleges to accept all comers residing in the state, no matter how poorly they performed in high school or what their motives might be for taking up classroom space. California’s economy was flourishing fifty years ago, and brand-new community colleges were steadily opening their doors to accommodate a burgeoning state population. Tuition was free back then, and even now it’s a bargain-basement $46 per credit hour for state residents, or less than $150 per typical course. Graduation rates have been dismal, but that hasn’t mattered: Large numbers of students aren’t enrolled with any intention of graduating. Meanwhile, California’s community colleges this year had to turn away about 470,000 enrollees from taking classes for lack of funds.

The new rationing plan is still generous: Returning students will qualify for enrollment priority even if they have accumulated up to 100 credits—40 more than the 60 needed to qualify for a two-year community-college degree. Still, there have been complaints from the system’s most avid (if degree-less) users. One was William Walker, who has attended five different community colleges over the years and amassed 102 credits—but is still in the system, having re-enrolled this fall in the nearly bankrupt San Francisco City College with so much student cred that he is now the college’s student trustee. Fortunately, Walker told San Francisco Chronicle reporter Nanette Asimov, “there’s no centralized database for all colleges,” so no one might ever find out about some of the perpetual seat-warmers.

Meanwhile, a four-profit operation, UniversityNow, has, in the name of charity but also good public relations for itself, opened up some of its online classes to the 470,000 students enrolled in California’s community colleges who could not find seats—all at the same $46 per credit hour plus $40 for books. The classes, offered by the regionally accredited Patten University, which UniversityNow recently acquired, are in such solid academic subjects as biology, history, and college algebra. It appears that Californians who are seriously motivated to use community college to achieve a goal will still have the opportunity to do so.

Is Education Just Training?

When talking with prospective students who are thinking about attending college, I often engage in a bit of “bait and switch.” Many of them are interested in jobs that will come for them after college and so they look at what college is about in almost functional terms. “What job will I be able to get, and how much money will I be able to make?”
More than 45 years of teaching at the college and graduate school levels have taught me that they are really asking questions that are less important to them than questions they should be asking. Getting them jobs is not going to be the principal function of their college education. They need to obtain more than “training.” They need to secure an education. And the job they work at after graduation is less important than the things they will learn about life itself during their course of study.
At one point in time the distinction between the question they asked and the response I gave was well understood by those of us in the academy. The good life that the students were seeking had to have room in it for reflection and understanding about themselves. The liberal arts provided that framework for their study. Now during this so called “jobless” recovery, with jobs being lost at an accelerating pace, the prospect of failure confronts these graduates who have believed that their worth has to be measured in terms of their capacity to work and to earn a livelihood. Jobs are not unimportant things, but they are not the complete picture. They do not tell the story of what the college graduates need to be successful. And if the capacity to obtain work is critical to their sense of self, then we are going to see many unhappy people in the country during what will be a protracted period of massive unemployment.

Continue reading Is Education Just Training?

Decoding Teacher Training

Thanks to the efforts of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education—and a rare, if welcome, instance of Congress standing up for students’ rights in higher education—the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) abandoned its de facto “social justice” criterion. Yet while the development made it harder for Education schools to use “social justice” and “diversity” to demand ideological fidelity from students, the ideologues that populate such programs have hardly ceased their efforts. Only now they must take accountability for their actions.
A good example of the continuing problem is the renewed emphasis on “cultural competence”—a term, much like “dispositions,” which is meaningless to anyone outside the academy but has a specific, and ideologically charged, designation to those familiar with Education code. Take, for instance, the Education Department at the University of Minnesota whose activities were exposed by Katherine Kersten in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Kersten uncovered a report prepared as part of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative, which is reorienting the U of M’s teacher-training curriculum.
The intellectual interests of the report’s authors not only preview the group’s recommendations but also give a sense of what passes for the ideological mainstream in Education departments on the nation’s college campuses. The work of Professor Tim Lensmire, who says that he uses the classroom to promote “radical democracy” through embracing “various progressive, feminist, and critical pedagogies,” sets the ideological tone: Lensmire notes that his “current research and writing focus on race and education, and especially on how white people learn to be white in our white supremacist society.” The report’s other authors include Bic Ngo, whose research examines “the ways in which the education of immigrant students are shaped by dynamic power relations as they play out at the intersection(s) of race, ethnicity, class and gender” using “critical, cultural and feminist theories” to explicate “the role(s) of critical multicultural education”; committee chair Michael Goh, whose research explores “multicultural counseling”; and two non-tenure track figures, Mary Beth Kelley and Carole Gupton.

Continue reading Decoding Teacher Training

How Mismatches Devastate Minority Students

By Gail Heriot
(Ms. Heriot is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This piece is adapted from Ms. Heriot’s Commissioner Statement for the Civil Rights Report on Affirmative Action at American Law Schools released last fall.)

I have no doubt that those who originally conceived of race-based admissions policies – nearly forty years ago – were acting in good faith. By lowering admissions standards for African-American and Hispanic students at selective law schools, they hoped to increase the number of minority students on campus and ultimately to promote minority integration into both the legal profession and mainstream society. Similarly, however, I have no doubt of the good faith of those who opposed the policies. Indeed, their warnings that academic double standards cannot solve the nation’s problems and may well exacerbate them seem especially prescient in light of recent research.
The real conflict over race-based admissions policies has not been about good or bad faith or about whether we should aspire to be a society in which members of racial minorities are fully integrated into the mainstream. There is no question we should. The conflict is about whether racial discrimination – something that nearly all Americans abhor – is an appropriate tool to achieve that end. Put starkly: Should the principle of non-discrimination be temporarily sacrificed in the hope that such a sacrifice will, in the long run, help us become the society of equal opportunity that we all aspire to?

Justice Stanley Mosk warned of the risks associated with such temporary compromises with principle over thirty years ago, when, writing for the California Supreme Court in Bakke v. UC Regents (1976), he held racially discriminatory admissions policies to be unconstitutional:

To uphold the University would call for the sacrifice of principle for the sake of dubious expediency and would represent a retreat in the struggle to assure that each man and woman shall be judged on the basis of individual merit alone, a struggle which has only lately achieved success in removing legal barriers to racial equality.

Continue reading How Mismatches Devastate Minority Students

Creating Activists At Ed School

In 1997, the National Association of Social Work (NASW) altered its ethics code, ruling that all social workers must promote social justice “from local to global level.” This call for mandatory advocacy raised the question: what kind of political action did the highly liberal field of social work have in mind? The answer wasn’t long in coming. The Council on Social Work Education, the national accreditor of social work education programs, says candidates must fight “oppression,” and sees American society as pervaded by the “global interconnections of oppression.” Now aspiring social workers must commit themselves, usually in writing, to a culturally left agenda, often including diversity programs, state-sponsored redistribution of income, and a readiness to combat heterosexism, ableism, and classism.

This was all too much for the National Association of Scholars. The NAS has just released a six-month study of social work education, examining the ten largest programs at public universities for which information was available. The report, “The Scandal of Social Work,” says these programs “have lost sight of the difference between instruction and indoctrination to a scandalous extent. They have, for the most part, adopted an official ideological line, closing off debate on many questions that serious students of public policy would admit to be open to the play of contending viewpoints.”

Continue reading Creating Activists At Ed School