• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Friday Fragments

Unintended consequence of free community college idea, a new social scientist in the making, standing with Ahmed, and more.

September 17, 2015

I heard a comment this week that made me wonder. Someone involved in higher Ed fundraising said that the "free community college" discussion is making fundraising harder, since people assume that donations won't be needed anymore.
Has anyone seen that?
Despite my best efforts, I may have passed on the social science gene. The Girl is the innocent victim. In the last week, she already showed disturbing signs.

At the first meeting of her school's debate club -- I don't remember a debate club in sixth grade, but hey -- the kids had to take a side on the eternal dogs vs. cats debate, just to warm up. TG did so well that the teacher asked her if she had debated competitively before. 

Then, last night, we had the following conversation:

TG: What's your favorite book?

Me: Now, or at your age?

TG: Both.

Me: Hmm.  In my twenties, I read one called The Lonely Crowd, by David Riesman, that I thought was pretty amazing.

TG: What's it about?

Me: Personality types, mostly.

TG: I like books that break people into groups. Like in the Hunger Games, where they have the different districts, or in Harry Potter, where they live in different halls.

Sigh.  "I like books that break people into groups." The signs are all there...

Speaking of amazing kids, I'm happy to stand with Ahmed. If you've ever been to a Lego League tournament, you'd know he would fit right in. Tinkering is one of the very best American traditions; racism is one of the worst. And kudos to President Obama for inviting him to the White House.  A future of multiracial tinkerers strikes me as our very best hope.

You know how sometimes you'll read something that strikes you a little bit at the time, but several days later, it won't let go? That's where I am with the finding in the Education Department's policy paper accompanying its scorecard that noted that at the community college level, completion rates and subsequent salaries are unconnected.

I don't think the policy community knows that yet.  It should.  And it should think hard about what it means.

From the vantage point of someone actually on a community college campus, I can offer a suggestion. It's about transfer.

I'm not shocked to hear that a student who does a year at community college and then transfers to get a bachelor's does as well as one who completes an associate's degree and then transfers for a bachelor's.  As far as IPEDS is concerned, the former is a dropout and the latter a completer, but in real-world terms, they're both completers. The earnings data are consistent with that. 

Among the many, many issues with the Ed Department data are that students who transfer either disappear or get mis-counted. Most students transfer. This is a data problem so severe as to be disqualifying. Dismissing it with an asterisk or a paragraph on page thirty doesn't do it justice. 

The single data point I've seen that comes closest to getting it right is the one that looks at the percentage of bachelor's degree grads in a given state with significant community college credits. It's usually about half.  That's hardly consistent with the idea that community college graduation rates tell you much. 


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