• 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.


Notes from NEASC, Part One

Hits and a miss.

December 11, 2014

NEASC, the regional accreditor for the New England states, is having its annual conference this week. I couldn’t make it on Wednesday, but was able to attend on Thursday.  Some highlights for posterity:

Gillian Thorne, Director of Early College Experience at UConn, gave an overview of the concurrent enrollment program there. Apparently, it involves UConn partnering with several public high schools throughout Connecticut to offer college credit for courses taught in the high schools by high school faculty. The program uses NACEP standards for quality control, and relies on departmental liaisons at the university. She mentioned that the credits have transferred quite well, even when the students have chosen colleges other than UConn, which was encouraging.  

Concurrent enrollment remains largely a Midwestern phenomenon -- she showed a map of color-coded states that might as well have said “there be dragons” for New England -- but it’s catching on. She didn’t address peer effects, which was disappointing, but at least there’s a place to start. I was glad I caught the presentation.

Ed Klotzpier, from the College Board, followed. Predictably, given his affiliation, he defended some current high-profile tests (SAT, AP), though he conceded during q-and-a that some medical and professional schools don’t like AP credits. Putting the Thorne and Klotzpier presentations next to each other, it appears that concurrent enrollment credits transfer more easily than AP credits do. Good to know.

The NEASC conference is unlike many, in that it includes people from community colleges, four-year colleges, and research universities, and it covers both the public and private sectors.  I offer that as context for the next paragraph.

Klotzpier devoted much of his talk to the “undermatching” thesis, and even managed to use multiple pipeline metaphors while doing so. That is to say, he systematically insulted a significant chunk of his audience, and didn’t even seem aware that he was doing it. If you cast “attending a community college” as a “tragedy,” then I have no time for you.  

Reflecting on it later, his position was consistent with the interests of his employer. (To be fair, the same could be said about me.) If your solution to economic and racial polarization in America is to isolate and pluck the few worthies from low-income areas and send them to selective places, then standardized tests could serve that purpose. Conversely,if you believe that everyone deserves access to a serious education, then the “isolate and pluck” approach will strike you as offensively classist. You make the call.

The highlight of the morning, though, was a thought-provoking presentation by Douglas Shaprio, of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The Clearinghouse has access to the records of 96 percent of the students at Title IV eligible institutions in the US, including those who transfer across state lines. (In regions with physically small states, like this one, that matters.) It’s doing a project tracking student success at four-year colleges, and it’s planning to do a followup project on students at community colleges.

Shapiro pointed out, correctly, that the way that we count students often leads to falsely negative conclusions in the political sphere. Most of us are familiar with the arguments around transfer students, but Shapiro introduced a methodological adjustment that struck me as brilliant. Instead of counting students only as either full-time or part-time, he introduced a category called “mixed.” The way that IPEDS codes students, a student who enters college on a full-time basis is coded as full-time forevermore, even if she downshifts to part-time later. That means that a student who gets a job after a while and starts taking fewer classes shows up as an institutional failure.  Recoding students like those as “mixed” gives a more accurate picture. I’m eager to see that new category applied to the community college sector, where the miscounting issues are more acute.

He also shared some worthwhile data nuggets. In the four-year sector, he found that twenty percent of students who got degrees got them at colleges other than their first. And the relationship between student age and enrollment status was thought-provoking: apparently, older students do better than younger students among those enrolled part-time, but younger students do better than older students among those enrolled full-time. It make some intuitive sense, but I had never seen it broken out that way and empirically verified. Good to know. And I’m looking forward eagerly to the results of the Clearinghouse study on community colleges. For those wondering what effect a unit record system might have, it’s a tantalizing glimpse.

Finally, I caught a terrific talk by Scott Jaschik, but I’ll let him convey that.  He has a pretty good platform for that sort of thing…

On to Friday.


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