• 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.


A Study I’d Like to See

It's time to challenge snobbery-based assumptions.


February 7, 2016

A few weeks ago I attended an orientation for parents for the International Baccalaureate Program at The Boy’s high school. TB is a bright kid, doing well in honors classes, and the school is offering a “pre-IB” tenth grade program, so I thought I’d check it out.  

The place was packed with a couple hundred Alpha parents, loaded for bear.  

A few administrators and teachers gave presentations on IB, then opened the floor for questions. More than half of the questions were variations on these:

  • Do IB courses actually count for credit?
  • How many credits?
  • Which credits?
  • Which schools accept them for credits, instead of just “placement”?

I was the one who asked about the degree to which IB kids felt isolated from the rest of the school. It was the only non-academic question. (It was also the one to which TB most wanted to know the answer.)

In the moment, I had two thoughts. One was that we may have a marketing opportunity for dual enrollment, since transcripted college credit carries weight that IB or AP can’t. And the other was that in my own case, AP credit only counted for placement. I didn’t save a dime.

I bring this up because Sunday’s New York Times had a piece about competitive college admissions and some efforts to make them less stressful. Among other suggestions, it offered:

“[C]olleges should say they’ll value community college courses just like A.P. courses in the admissions assessment. Even if their high schools offer few A.P.’s, most lower-income kids have access to community colleges.”

Wait, what?

Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

I was struck, and confused. The “should” implies that right now, competitive colleges value simulated college classes over real ones. Is that actually true?

I can suggest a host of reasons that it shouldn’t be: AP or IB courses stretch a three-credit class of content over a year, where community colleges teach a semester in a semester. AP and IB come down to a single standardized test; community college courses use multiple assessments, capturing variables like effort over time that don’t show on a test score. Community colleges are accredited to teach at the college level, with faculty who have master’s degrees or higher in the discipline. (Exceptions exist in some specific vocational or technical fields, but those are mostly irrelevant in this case.) Transcripted credit from an accredited institution is supposed to carry some weight; if it doesn’t, we have some much larger questions to ask.

But “shouldn’t” and “isn’t” are not the same thing. I don’t know how competitive colleges weigh dual enrollment classes, as against AP or IB. I’m pretty sure the Alpha parents would want to know that before choosing dual enrollment over either.  

Does anyone know, beyond anecdotally? Has this been studied?

And if the Times’ angle is factually correct, is there any decent reason beyond raging class snobbery?



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