Equity and Community Colleges

Access to high-quality education is unequal from earliest schooling, and over time, those inequalities build on themselves. Community colleges have contributed to this problem, but they are also essential to the solution.

Regardless of previous academic achievement, low-income students are much more likely than higher-income students to attend community colleges than four-year institutions. And students who start in community colleges do not, on average, progress as far as those starting in four-year institutions; they are certainly less likely to complete a B.A. Thus, by starting at a community college, they may fall further behind more-advantaged students.

Research suggests that many low-income students are “underplaced”: They have the academic skills to gain admission to more-selective colleges than the ones they attend. Better counseling and financial-aid programs might improve equity by displacing some higher-income students from four-year colleges. But it is hard to believe that such efforts would make a perceptible dent in the current extent of inequality.

Eliminating community colleges, or encouraging every student to enroll in a four-year institution, won’t work unless four-year institutions are willing to take the students who now attend community colleges. But selective institutions are not about to open their doors to all comers. For the most part, they have used the growing demand for higher education to become even more selective rather than to expand enrollment.

The availability of low-cost, local, open-access community colleges is therefore crucial. As tuition at four-year institutions rises, and college degrees become a prerequisite for jobs paying a living wage, community colleges fill an ever more crucial role in our economy. Accordingly, their enrollments have steadily grown.

But fewer than two-fifths of students who start in community colleges go on to complete a degree or certificate within six years. Community colleges must find a way to increase completion rates without restricting access. (Read more.)

Via Thomas R. Bailey, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

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Posted in Commentary, Community College (13-14). Comments Off on Equity and Community Colleges

Learning That Works in Arizona

…Vocational education used to be where you sent the dumb kids or the supposed misfits who weren’t suited for classroom learning. It began to fall out of fashion about 40 years ago, in part because it became a civil rights issue: voc-ed was seen as a form of segregation, a convenient dumping ground for minority kids in Northern cities. “That was a real problem,” former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein told me. “And the voc-ed programs were pretty awful. They weren’t training the kids for specific jobs or for certified skills. It really was a waste of time and money.”

Unfortunately, the education establishment’s response to the voc-ed problem only made things worse. Over time, it morphed into the theology that every child should go to college (a four-year liberal-arts college at that) and therefore every child should be required to pursue a college-prep course in high school. The results have been awful. High school dropout rates continue to be a national embarrassment. And most high school graduates are not prepared for the world of work. The unemployment rate for recent high school graduates who are not in school is a stratospheric 33%. The results for even those who go on to higher education are brutal: four-year colleges graduate only about 40% of the students who start them, and two-year community colleges graduate less than that, about 23%. “College for everyone has become a matter of political correctness,” says Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University. “But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than a quarter of new job openings will require a bachelor of arts degree. We’re not training our students for the jobs that actually exist.” Meanwhile, the U.S. has begun to run out of welders, glaziers and auto mechanics–the people who actually keep the place running.

Unfortunately, the education establishment’s response to the voc-ed problem only made things worse. Over time, it morphed into the theology that every child should go to college (a four-year liberal-arts college at that) and therefore every child should be required to pursue a college-prep course in high school. The results have been awful. High school dropout rates continue to be a national embarrassment. And most high school graduates are not prepared for the world of work. The unemployment rate for recent high school graduates who are not in school is a stratospheric 33%. The results for even those who go on to higher education are brutal: four-year colleges graduate only about 40% of the students who start them, and two-year community colleges graduate less than that, about 23%. “College for everyone has become a matter of political correctness,” says Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University. “But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than a quarter of new job openings will require a bachelor of arts degree. We’re not training our students for the jobs that actually exist.” Meanwhile, the U.S. has begun to run out of welders, glaziers and auto mechanics–the people who actually keep the place running…. <Read more.>

Via Joe Klein, TIME Magazine.

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College-For-All Mindset Degrades Education System

Good commentary from a student. Austin Kocian is a senior attending IDEAS@North Eugene High School, where he was able to participate in advanced metalworking classes before the program fell victim to budget cuts.

While experts debate the best curriculum for students, career and technical education (CTE) classes have been removed from our schools due to budget cuts and a focus on college preparatory curricula.

CTE is a style and method of education that encompasses a multitude of subjects of academic and occupational study. CTE courses may include metal and woodworking, health care, early childhood education, computer programming and culinary arts. CTE classes prepare students for a sophisticated labor market and ensure that all students have an opportunity to gain contextual practice for the theoretical knowledge they are learning in their core academic classes.

Eviscerating classes that allow students to learn practical vocational skills while putting their academic studies into context is shortsighted and damaging to our kids and our economy.

The purpose of education is to prepare students for the “real world” by teaching them the skills and information necessary to succeed. Despite the necessity of applied skills, education currently focuses almost entirely on the teaching of basic knowledge that leaves students ill-prepared for life after school. CTE teaches applied skills necessary for postsecondary education and high-paying, high demand jobs that are essential to society.

Greg Marx’s article “Vocational Education’s Moment in the Sun” poses the well-supported notion that students are “constrained by an assumption that career success in the modern economy depends on higher education.” This assumption that anything short of a bachelor’s degree is failure continues to be pressed upon students by the fact that our system focuses too narrowly on core academics.

Many organizations are beginning to promote the idea that college is not for everybody and the fact that alternate pathways are necessary. They support their claim not by questioning the worth of a college education, but by stating the facts: The Winter 2009-10 Occupational Outlook Quarterly published by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that “27 percent of our workforce between now and 2018 will need an associate’s degree or higher.” Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 68.6 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college in 2008.

The current manufacturing crisis is a prime example of the negative implications of the college-for-all mindset and the loss of CTE. John Ratzenberger, a representative of Center for America, says that “government policies that drive young people into a ‘college or failure’ mindset make skilled work career choices a practical impossibility.” The U.S. Labor Department suggests that somewhere “between 3 and 15 million jobs go unfilled due to skilled worker shortages.”

At a time when unemployment hysteria has all but consumed us, millions of jobs are going unfilled simply because of a lack of qualified applicants. According to Ratzenberger, the current “average age of a skilled worker in the U.S. is 55” — meaning, in the coming decade, nearly half these workers will be available for retirement.

College-for-all is simply unrealistic and has negative implications. In the current budget crisis, schools are forced to make decisions. With the focus on “college-for-all,” CTE programs are the first to be sacrificed for the “core” curriculum. According to Robert Schwartz, the academic dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education, “unless we are willing to provide more flexibility and choice in the last two years of high school, and more opportunities for students to pursue program options that link work and learning, we will continue to lose far too many young people along the path to graduation.”

The availability and support of CTE programs is not an either-or situation. Jeremy Ayers, author of “College for All or College for Some,” recognizes the fact that “schools can provide career and technical education to students without sacrificing academic rigor” or degrading the college track. As stated by the Oregon Department of Education, individuals “need both theoretical and applied skills to reach their full potential as students, workers, and community members — skills they can acquire only by exposure to both academic and technical curriculum”.

One of the most important aspects of CTE is the connection made between academic studies and real-world, career-related applications. Despite the positive impact and the necessity of technical education, we, as a country, have stood idly by as CTE programs have all but fallen to ruin. Marx notes that today’s “secondary career education in America is more exploratory than preparatory,” and asks, “Why should American students — almost uniquely among the children in the world’s developed economies — have to wait until after high school to receive serious vocational education?”

In the Eugene, Bethel and Springfield school districts, five high schools (Churchill, North Eugene, Willamette, Springfield and Thurston) still offer hands-on industrial arts programs, but these programs are shadows of their former selves. (Click here to read or comment on the original article).

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Tuning In to Dropping Out

Rick ScottFlorida’s governor, created a firestorm recently when he suggested that Florida ought to focus more of its education spending on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and less on liberal arts. Scott got this one right: We should focus higher-education dollars on the fields most likely to benefit everyone, not just the students who earn the degrees. Scott, however, missed another part of the equation: We need to focus more attention on the students who are being left behind, the millions of college and high-school dropouts.

Over the past 25 years, the total number of students in college has increased by about 50 percent. But the number of students graduating with degrees in STEM subjects has remained more or less constant.

Consider computer technology. In 2009 the United States graduated 37,994 students with bachelor’s degrees in computer and information science. That’s not bad, but we graduated more students with computer-science degrees 25 years ago!

The story is the same in other technology fields such as chemical engineering, math, and statistics. Few disciplines have changed as much in recent years as microbiology, but in 2009 we graduated just 2,480 students with bachelor’s degrees in microbiology—about the same number as 25 years ago. Who will solve the problem of antibiotic resistance?

If students aren’t studying science, technology, engineering, and math, what are they studying?

In 2009 the United States graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math, and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual-and-performing-arts graduates in 1985.

There is nothing wrong with the arts, psychology, and journalism, but graduates in these fields have lower wages and are less likely to find work in their fields than graduates in science and math. Moreover, more than half of all humanities graduates end up in jobs that don’t require college degrees, and those graduates don’t get a big income boost from having gone to college. (Read more.)

Via Alex Tabarrok, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Posted in Commentary, CTE, Postsecondary (13-18). Tags: , , . Comments Off on Tuning In to Dropping Out

Good News … Bad News

Today, our fearless leader, Bob Hawkes, brings us a bit of good news and … a bit of bad news.  First, the GOOD News.

Congratulations to Burroughs High School and the students and teachers who competed and won in the Region 6 SkillsUSA competition. Jim Hackney and Ireneo Rey won gold medals in the carpentry competition. Arielle Rey and John Quinene brought home gold medals in the automotive contest. Read more here.

Now the bad news: California Community Colleges Chancellor, Jack Scott, Sounds Alarm at the Additional $149 Million Unexpected Budget Cut the System Will Sustain this Academic Year. California’s disinvestment in higher education will have a lasting impact on an entire generation of students. Read more here.

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