Completing College: Focus on the Finish Line
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This paper contends that, although there is much to commend in the remediation reform movement, it is unlikely to attain its goals. These goals include the Lumina Foundation’s target of having 60% of Americans attain a degree or certificate, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s goal of doubling the number of low income students who earn a post-secondary degree, and President Obama’s goal of the U.S. having the world’s highest percentage of degree holders by 2020. This is due to several factors including (a) the failure to distinguish between remedial and developmental education, (b) the limited focus of reform on remedial and gateway courses, (c) the mistaken assumption that there is a causal relationship between remediation and attrition, (d) the failure to address students’ reading problems, (e) the non- systematic nature of most reform efforts, (f) and the subsequent failure to address other causes of student attrition and the difficulties of many community college students’ lives. There are, of course, many commendable efforts to improve student performance in the community college. This paper describes the most popular of these efforts. It also discusses data on their effectiveness. In spite of their success, community colleges will need to do more if they are to dramatically enhance degree and certificate completion, particularly among minority, low income, and first-generation students.
The authors suggest that there are three phases involved in attaining the dramatic increase in college completion desired by foundations and government. The first phase is to improve the quality of teaching and learning in community college classrooms. This will require a substantial faculty development effort, particularly for adjunct instructors.
The second phase is to fully integrate courses and student support services. At present, the academic and the student affairs divisions of community colleges usually operate randomly and independently of each other. Their full impact cannot be obtained unless support services are more directly linked to course goals and objectives and courses are more directly connected to the services designed to support them.
The third phase is expanding the connections between community colleges, public schools, and community services. High schools and colleges need to collaborate more closely to insure that the exit standards of secondary education are more consistent with the entry standards of post-secondary education. In addition, community colleges need to establish closer ties and better relationships with services available in the local community to address the varying nonacademic needs of our least advantaged students.
The authors then provide concrete examples of how community colleges might implement all three phases of student completion. Some of these examples represent new thinking about how community college courses and services might be organized and delivered. Many, however, represent things we already know but have, for a variety of reasons, failed to implement.