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August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

I Got My BA In IS From the CC
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President Obama was in Warren, MI today (not far from where I grew up) to give a speech about community colleges. Here’s the gist:

In a speech Tuesday in Warren, Mich., he proposed sinking nearly $12 billion into revamping the country’s community-college system. The plan would provide $9 billion in grant money to boost academic programs and raise graduation rates, plus another $2.5 billion to upgrade school facilities. It would also fund open-source online courses so that schools don’t have to build more classrooms to admit more students.

Community colleges have long been where the bodies are in higher education, but now it’s ridiculous. The economy’s collapse has sent college students’ enrollments rolling downhill – kids who would have gone to expensive private schools are enrolling in moderately priced public universities, the university kids are going to regional colleges, and the regional students to community colleges. If you want to get more students with college degrees, community colleges are a natural place to start.

Christopher Beam at Slate notes further advantages:

If the university system is an ocean liner, community colleges are the speedboats of higher education. If they get more money and use it wisely, the thinking goes, they can produce results in a matter of years. After all, they’re designed to respond to the needs of the local community. For example, LaGuardia Community College recently introduced a program to train designers in New York City. When the fishing industry started struggling in Massachusetts, Cape Cod Community College turned its focus to nursing and other health-care-related jobs. When Connecticut introduced its first casino, one nearby community college started training croupiers. For an administration looking for shovel-ready projects, community colleges can provide a lot of shovels.

Let’s imagine the community college in twenty years. It’s taken up a fair amount of the role once played by larger state universities. It offers a wide range of four-year and two-year degrees, plus some applied postgraduate degrees. What’s more, different community colleges, like different universities and technical schools now, specialize. Some are outstanding teachers’ colleges, while others train designers, still others business professionals. But the biggest boom is in information technology – info techs work in medicine, business, law, government… You used to go to a community college to learn data entry. Now you go to learn data management, analysis, and modeling.

Think about it. Community college students (and teachers and IT departments) today often aren’t as tech-saavy as their university counterparts, but they can innovate in the use of digital technology. In fact, they have to. They don’t have the same physical plant and infrastructure as larger, more expensive schools. They’re unlikely to have folks on campus doing original research. They’re not mainframes. They’re terminals. But there’s a difference between smart and dumb terminals.

A community college, with an instituional subscription to the Google Books of the future, can do without a substantial library; they can do without cyclotrons or football stadiums or anything else that drains dollars and energy, public or private; I don’t know, but it seems to me that we’re standing at a unique juncture. Just as many of our parents (and especially grandparents) often don’t quite recognize what schools are like today, those of us in our twenties might not recognize the delicate ecology of colleges and universities when our kids start filling out those applications.*


(Unless we’re in some full-on dystopia where they’re admitted on the basis of their genes, in which case, good luck.)

July 14, 2009 / Uncategorized

4 comments

I love this insight, and this direction, b/c it has such leverage. It seems analogous to the status of corn in the U.S. food system: “Oh, food policy? You’re actually talking about corn policy.” Likewise: “Oh, college? You’re actually talking about community college.” And so you’re absolutely right:

Community colleges have long been where the bodies are in higher education, but now it

I don’t know about innovative, but Tucson has Pima CC which intregrates with the rest of the Arizona university systems. Get some cheap intro courses out of the way and then get a full degree from the university. Most people don’t need to take intro composition and calculus privately at 50k/year!

Michael Sandel teaches 1000+ people in an auditorium and via video. Hubert Dreyfus has reached plenty of people through his podcasts. Imagine going to a class, getting all the slides and and audio/video copy w/transcript the next day. Relisten to classes while working out. Even today there aren’t many places you can do this easily and the lack of material is striking.

I would sit through a syndicated lecture and talk to my ta or adjunct during a small section; the piecemeal paid, nontenured worker might be better incentivized to make sure that I’m getting enough attention.

This is the kind of thing that makes me so sad that California has squandered its amazing potential; the California Master Plan for Higher Education was pretty genius in this regard, and still manages to limp along despite the problems of funding. The principle of keeping the community colleges open to anyone willing to try some more school strikes me as fundamentally redemptive and optimistic in the most democratic way—a standing declaration that the community as a whole believes in each individual’s potential and right to explore and adapt, regardless of their previous academic or career record.

The hard work of making sure that the three tiers worked together–that it was not impossible to transfer between them–helped make Cal State/UC into amazing engines of upward mobility, an oxygenating churn that allowed/allows students to accelerate from dire lack of privilege to top notch academia. It also made the adult reentry/transfer system at UC realistic–and this benefited the traditional straight-out-of-high school students as much as anyone. As a naive 16-year old who had been madly prepped for college as long as I could talk, going to school with people more than twice my age who had all kinds of experiences–everything from military experience, being parents, homelessness, careers in things like blacksmithing or call-center-operators or back-up singers–was one of the best things that ever happened to me. For physics majors, the power of the system was particularly striking. I had friends who had had been abysmally home-schooled or even abysmally regular schooled, but who put themselves, slowly but surely, through the CC grind (one class and one job at a time) until they could apply for transfers to Cal. Next thing they were doing research alongside Ivy-league graduate students and brushing elbows with multiple Nobel laureates, oftentimes kicking the asses of or tutoring those of us who had had the shiny SAT scores and parental nagging required to get in directly as freshmen. Thinking about this system in its ideal form–about how virulently it advocates second, third, fourth chances, how much it recognizes maturity and growth, how hard it tries to be available and accessible–is one of the best ways to make me tearyy-eyed about America.

Buried in the Slate article is the fact that Bill and Melinda Gates turned their attention to this leverage point a while ago; their list of initial awardees and their partner the Lumina foundation might provide at least one set of answers to Robin’s first question. In 2007 The Washington Monthly released a ranking of Community Colleges, though the principal source of the data objected vociferously; in California the state-wide oversight system ranks CCs by their transfer rate (admittedly, a skewed measure.)

Regarding Robin’s second question, I’m envisioning a Lever to pull that is pretty simple and actually applies across the board, though I am totally extemporizing: fund partial three-year sabbaticals with curriculum development grants that have built-in validation systems, and reward successful programs with sustaining funding. A staff professor/teacher applies for a grant, proposing a specific experiment that affects half their teaching load and involves minimal changes of funding beyond the “start-up” capital. (I.e. once built the new program could, in theory, scale up and swap in for the existing program without a major change of funding.) The grant would fund half their salary, the start-up capital and (this part is crucial) the money required to hire a post-doc to teach the other half of their teaching load at an entry-level full-time salary. The experienced teacher would be required to spend an hour a week mentoring their temporary replacement post-doc. This would allow the institution to be unafraid of the process, because all classes would be taught, no institution money would be spent, and the new kid on the block would be under less pressure than most new kids. The teacher doing the research would actually get a little breathing room to do it in, without a loss of salary. The post-doc would get teaching experience, with a little breathign room to learn, and mentorship. They’d be in a much better position to apply for a staff position after this. Half the students would get a new, enthusiastically developed program and the other half would get a new but well-mentored and reasonably well paid teacher. The government would get program development without cripping the system that its trying to help, as well as teacher training. At the end of three years, the pilot program either works (the grantee goes back to their regular life, but with the new program in place) or it doesn’t (the grantee goes back to their regular life, having made a valuable contribution to the global literature on what doesn’t work). IF you use information technology to streamline the grant-writing process (forms with lots of short questions, say, instead of one long proposal) I bet there are a lot of teachers and professors out there with ideas they’d love to work on—it would be shovel ready within a school year. Teaching is innately creative.

I think the real educational secret sauce will be helping local teachers a) find/build open source intelligent/interactive curriculum based on universal design principles and b) adapt and focus that curriculum to take advantage of local, physical resources and address local (and possibly physical) issues/needs. The real community development secret sauce will be giving CCs the facilities to be true community learning/research resources. Bring back machining classes! Now computer controlled, of course. Have workshops (actual, physical shops) where microentrepreneurs can work on products, marketing materials, or new services, perhaps networking with short term student apprentices. You don’t need fancy specialized facilities, just a lot of good, modular blackboxes that have lots of outlets and storage. Adult education is really the fourth tier of this system,and by mixing it in and giving it real facilities, we essentially give our population the ability to adapt at will.

Finally I think that communities need to be able to fundraise for their institutions (CCs, state schools, state Universities) with the assurance that successful fundraising won’t lead to a cut in funding. This will allow the more open-access public institutions to better compete with lavishly endowed private institutions (whereby compete I mean in the job market not for students).

This is exactly the idea that I wrote about in my book ‘The Creative College’ – which was all about a networked approach to education that a group of colleagues and I undertook in east London – building bridges between high school, community and higher education – and it worked well (still is!!) . Different country, same set of issues, particularly about how widening access and participation is in itself a critical form of pedagogic research., and how colleges can become really powerful hubs for community regeneration, For ideas about how to make this work have a look at the book ‘The Creative College: building a successful learning culture in the arts (Trentham Books, 2005) – published by Stylus in the US.

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