Community College Bowl

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Many years ago—16 to be exact—Saturday Night Live broadcast a sketch called Community College Bowl in which slow-witted contestants slowly answered simple questions normally asked of grade school students. The writers of that sketch may have been way ahead of their time.

Community colleges have tried just about every promotional gimmick short of a “Going out of business” sale. Ironically, given their increasing use of remedial coursework, that might be the most appropriate stratagem for them to use.

“Estimates vary, but many community-college educators and experts say that on average between 40 percent and 70 percent of new students entering two-year colleges around the country place into remedial math,” Debra E. Blum reports in The Chronicle of Higher Education. And the news gets even worse.

“There are students taking these courses three, four, five times before they can pass them, and many who drop out, give up before they do,” Barbara S. Bonham of Appalachian State said. Graduation hopes seem to fade with every repeat.

“No national statistics exist to track pass rates, but among a group of 27 two-year colleges participating in a foundation-supported effort to improve graduations and transfer rates, called Achieving the Dream, the data are grim,” Blum writes. “Fewer than one-quarter of the students at the 27 colleges who placed into a remedial-math course in academic 2002-3 had finished their pre-college math requirements three years later.”

It bears repeating that community colleges are two-year institutions of higher learning. Many casual observers think that this is the time it takes to earn a degree from one of these egalitarian institutions.

Not necessarily. “Students see that it’s all right to take more than two years to graduate,” says Walter Hunter, who teaches at Montgomery County Community College in suburban Philadelphia. “That’s critical because many of these students are also taking developmental courses in English and reading, and there’s little chance they can do that and finish in two years.”

“We don’t want to lose people because they are discouraged.” No, of course not.

MCCC is trying to boost its graduation rate to 23 percent. That’s right, less than a quarter of its students graduate.

An enterprising salesman may want to find these students and sell them a time share. Could this remedial bent be one reason why this generation is more in debt than any of its forebears?

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.