California’s Community Colleges comprise the largest system of higher education in the nation. Since opening the first college in 1910, the impact on our state’s economy and cultural life is immeasurable. The quality of education provided to 2.1 million students by 114 colleges matters.
Yet, I am alarmed by changes being legislated in Sacramento.
I attended community colleges, eventually earned a Masters Degree and have been a college instructor for 30 years.
I teach a transfer course for students wanting to attend the University of California, for which college-level English is a prerequisite. A genuine college education requires reading complex texts, understanding them and expressing ideas about them in writing. But less than 50 percent of students show proficiency when asked to read a brief editorial then write a summary.
Changes being proposed in Sacramento include curtailing remedial education and forcing students to choose majors then not waver. Brown’s proposal ties a part of a district’s funds to the number of students completing programs. Finally, Brown wants to create statewide all-online certificates and degrees.
These initiatives include politically correct terms like “equity,” “access” and “student success.” The stated goals are increasing the number of certificates and degrees conferred. However, once in place there will be little difference between a community college degree and one from a for-profit diploma mill.
The University of Phoenix comes to mind, but the leader is Arizona State University. ASU infamously grants online degrees to anyone foolish enough to think they will be respected by employers down the road. ASU is ranked high in US News and World Report for innovation. But their 47 percent overall grade regarding academics suggests they are failing.
The Guided Pathways initiative is advertised to help students attain goals more efficiently. It actually herds them through the system as fast and inexpensively as possible by forcing them to choose majors rather than encouraging them to explore options during their first years of college.
Supporters of AB-705, the Seymour-Campbell Student Success Act, argue students are held back by placement tests that show they need remedial English and math prior to taking college courses. Students who take remedial courses attend college longer and drop out more.
Now, students can bypass remedial courses based on high school transcripts. The problem is they didn’t test well because they graduated from high school being nearly illiterate. They register for college courses though they can’t read a textbook or write a proper paragraph. This means they either fail, or teachers will dumb down classes so they can pass.
Strangely, offering remedial math and English to help students catch up became “unfair,” while cutting resources and herding ill-prepared students through our courses makes us good.
The dumbing down will be complete once funding is tied to the number of students who complete programs. If money is tied to how many we pass, we will pass them. Soon enough, employers and four-year colleges will realize the diploma is a piece of paper signifying nothing.
Brown’s desire for an online community college to help those who can’t attend classes is unnecessary, as colleges already provide online courses. Online courses don’t work for our students because of the lack of language skills. Online courses lack controls for cheating or knowing who is actually taking a class.
If Republicans were in charge, they might admit these cuts are to save tax dollars. From Democrats, we get the same cuts packaged in doublespeak. Ironically, higher education was an anecdote to this kind of deception.
Keith Law is an instructor of philosophy at Merced College; he wrote this for the Merced Sun-Star.