Dear BI Career Consultants:What new pressures will community colleges experience when remediation is removed from four-year institutions?
Dr. James Anderson, vice provost for undergraduate affairs and professor of counselor education, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.
Today, a significant number of students who attend college need remedial courses. About one-third of the nation’s first-time, full-time freshmen in college need developmental courses before they are ready for college-level study. Policy-makers and educational leaders are engaged in a critical discourse about the policies and practices that are needed to prepare incoming students for college-level work. One of the most significant transitions that is occurring in higher education involves the removal of remedial/developmental courses and support programs from four-year to two-year institutions within several state systems. These programs have historically served the needs of select populations like at-risk students, students with developmental needs, students of color, nontraditional students, part-time and commuter students, rural students and learning disabled students.The catalyst for this reassignment of developmental programs has not resulted primarily from well-conceived research models or trend analyses. Rather, what underscores this decision emanates from several views and positions. The governing bodies of many state systems have become more politically conservative and are staffed by individuals who don’t completely comprehend the organizational and operational complexities of higher education institutions. Moreover, they exhibit little support for “access” and “diversity” since they equate neither with excellence. It is within these systems that four-year institutions are being urged to divest remedial programs, and sometimes that pressure is one-sided, politically charged and devoid of any concern for the needs of a large segment of the college-going population.The outcome of this scenario is obvious. Majority institutions will begin to experience less diverse enrollments while they recruit from shrinking pools of diverse students.Many proponents of the transition are influenced not by their political leanings, whether conservative or liberal. Instead, they emphasize what they feel is the true mission of their respective institutions. Their contention is simple: only college-ready students should be admitted to college. To these proponents, developmental students represent an academic and financial drain, and blight on the academic image. This position has been utilized to challenge the presence of developmental programs within four-year institutions, and to argue against increased diversity in general. The argument is quite simple: increased student diversity yields more students who lack college-level skills. This contributes to a decline in quality and a financial drain on the institution. It is assumed that two-year institutions handle this dilemma better than four-year colleges and universities. Two-year institutions have had little say in this evolving scenario. With their budgets already constrained and their staff members taxed to the limit, two-year institutions will be expected to assume heroic postures as they are “forced” to become the political boot camps for the waves of developmental learners.With constrained resources, two-year institutions will be unable to invest in the new technologies that will drive academic excellence. The digital divide between two- and four-year institutions will expand. But the most harmful aspect of all of this is that fewer students of color, especially African Americans and Hispanics, will move through the education pipeline and in the long run, it is their respective communities that will suffer. Dr. BYRon N. McClenney, presidentKingsborough Community College,The City University of New YorkBrooklyn, N.Y.
The primary pressure may be to perform at a higher level than ever before. Developmental education programs need to rise to the level of an institutional priority. Community colleges simply need to decide to do the job and do it exceedingly well. The best faculty and staff should be deployed and second-class status must be avoided for all concerned. In fact, people in all areas of college life should be pulling for those involved since the pipeline needs to supply competent students for all of the other programs. College leaders should be ready to respond to critics who say we should not need to pay twice to move students to the point where they can profit from college instruction. What is the alternative? We can pay the costs of welfare, costs of prison construction and money required to maintain the prison population, or we can invest in the lives of people we need for a healthy society.Along with the commitment to do this work must come the recognition that community colleges are going to be held accountable in the public arena. That may even mean that results will be compared. Leaders should not run from that possibility, but rather use the opportunity to document progress and request the necessary resources to do the full job. If students need more than a quick brush up, then community colleges are the institutions with the best chance to produce successful students. We cannot afford to lose the people who need this opportunity. Their options are severely limited if we fail, and our country will lose its competitive advantage.
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