Report: America’s Community Colleges are Failing

Mark Bauerlein comments on a recent report from the American Association of Community Colleges entitled ‘Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future.’

The report is highly critical of the colleges’ low rate of student retention and notes that only a small proportion of students actually go on to degree programs.   In addition 60% of community college students require remedial course work.

Walter Bumphus, president of the association said, “We’ve had our time in the sun. We’ve had a lot of recognition. With that has come more scrutiny and accountability.” The commission, co-chaired by three community-college veterans, disappointingly said, “The evidence on student success in community colleges is distressing. Six years after entering college, most students haven’t earned a degree or other credential.”

The 1,100 community colleges in the US account for roughly 44% of US undergraduates and have previously been widely regarded as a vital stepping stone for students on their way to a four year college degree.  They provide education with low-cost tuition and if working successfully would undoubtedly provide a vital service.

The report does offer some recommended responses to address results which would indicate the community college experiment is failing.   These include: focusing on student success, not merely student access; adapting the curriculum to be less fragmentary; and having faculty members think more collectively.  However, Bauerlein notes that these ‘solutions’ are all intramural.  His answer to the problems plaguing community colleges is simple; bring the workplace to the college and integrate it into the curriculum:

Let the students know a job awaits them after graduation, and accept the fact that for the majority of community college students, workplace readiness is the cardinal principle of learning.

Currently, as the report notes, the majority of students opt to enroll in courses for which there are very few jobs available and the courses which provide access high-demand fields are largely ignored.

“Estimates indicate employment opportunities for just 3% of students planning on enrolling in fields such as personal services, employment-related services, regulation and protection, crafts, and the creative and performing arts.”

Mark Bauerlein is a former Director of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts and current Professor of English at Emory University.  He is also author of ‘The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30)’.