Community Colleges in America are well on their way to being institutions that provide no real “college” education at all. Thus insuring that low and middle income students who have no choice but to attend community colleges, will have an education that increasingly below the standard of four year college education.

My friends who teach in community colleges acknowledge that already their courses really do not measure up to those at four year colleges. These faculty know that they simply cannot get low income students who work full-time jobs, are married, have small children, and who lack adequate college preparation (many of whom have never read a single book cover to cover), to read the same amount or level of material, such as the primary sources and research articles typically assigned to four year college and university students.

But in recent years things are getting worse, the gap in what community college students and those in four year institutions learn has gotten wider, and current trends in developmental and technical education threaten to expand the divide to a chasm rivaling the Grand Canyon.

The emphasis in Community Colleges is on developmental education (what we used to call “remedial” before that became politically suspect) and on technical education or narrow job training. In other words, Community Colleges, rather than providing the first two years of a college education, are doing the things that American secondary schools no longer are able to accomplish.

Across the nation, Community Colleges have seen the state tax money available to them decline, if not in absolute terms, certainly in terms relative to the cost of the education they provide. As a result many community colleges, like four year colleges, have raised tuition rates, and instituted a variety of cost saving measures to make up for lost funds, as well as amping up efforts to attract grant and corporate money.

In true political contrarian fashion, states and regional accrediting bodies have increased demands for accountability at the same time that they have decreased overall state tax support for community colleges. The demand for accountability focuses on three things – assessment of learning, increasing retention and graduation rates and the employment of students exiting community colleges.

Rising tuition costs and pressures to improve retention and post-degree employment, push Community Colleges to bow to the short-term, often short-sighted, pragmatic goals of their “customers” – the potential college students and their parents (who rarely have college educations themselves). Colleges scramble to come up with new programs to meet current, localized job demand, with little thought to long range trends or life time career paths.

As a result community colleges crank out graduates that have practical skills but no liberal educational content behind those skills. As a result occupational graduates in fields like real-time closed captioning where the graduates can type as a fast as news anchors can talk, but lack a liberal education with the humorous result that the ancient runner “Pheidippides” turns into “three fip disease” during Olympic coverage, and a commentators view that British youth’s rioting as “inchoate” (August 12, 2011) turns into rioting “in Kuwait”!!

In doing so, they shift resources (classroom space, computer labs, faculty lines, technology funds) away from traditional college instruction and to meeting the needs of technical programs. Classes like literature, mathematics, history, communications, psychology, and political science can share the use of standard classrooms, most of the allied health professions and technical fields require dedicated classroom and laboratory space, removing those facilities from the pool shared by all the other regular college courses.

To meet the stringent demands of national accrediting bodies in allied health and technical fields, colleges must staff these programs (new or old) with a core of full-time faculty. There are no such accrediting bodies to make sure that the faculty teaching history, communications, or college math, are up-to-date in their fields, or certified (once they earn the minimum graduate hours), and certainly no oversight bodies to require that courses in history and literature are taught by full-time faculty rather than part-timers and adjuncts. So full-time faculty lines shift to the allied health and technical fields, while instructional needs in traditional college liberal arts and even basic sciences classes are more and more often taught by a growing army of temporary and part-time instructors.

Pressures for both accountability and the need for tuition dollars have placed more emphasis than ever on retaining students, and the research is very clear, the students most at risk for failure and dropping out are those that come to college under-prepared – the students needing multiple developmental/remedial classes. Colleges are motivated to retain developmental students, and the recent flood of grant funding for improving and experimenting with developmental education (see previous post), has placed developmental education at the top of community colleges agendas.

Good, thoughtful, educators and liberals who care about inequality in the schools like developmental education. On its face, developmental/remedial education is an opportunity to reverse educational inequalities, to provide the background and support that able but ill prepared students need to “make it” educationally. If remediation were happening in high schools, if high schools all over the country were seriously addressing the college readiness of all their students, than I would applaud that unreservedly. However, as needed as developmental education is, the attention and dollars available to community colleges for it, are like allied health and technical fields pushing real college instruction to the side lines.

Whole computer labs get removed from use by statistics classes, computer science classes, political science classes, physics classes, etc. and become dedicated laboratories in which developmental math and reading students can spend their days learning the things they should have received in high school. Technology and instructional money comes from grants, but when grants run out, colleges are heavily pressured to continue funding for developmental needs, and faculty lines are shifted from traditional college level classes where adjuncts can fill in the gaps to developmental instruction.

In the quest to retain developmental students, subtle shifts in course designations begin to take place. New “college” credit bearing courses are invented to provide ways for developmental students to work towards graduation requirements while struggling to bring their skills up to college level, and instructors in traditional college classes are pressured to become part-time developmental instructors by adding “supplemental instruction” to their college courses and allow marginal students in before they are able to meet testing guidelines.

Thus the gap between the quality and content of the community college education drifts further and further below that of the four year college or university.

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I accompanied my significant other to the doctor yesterday, and found the waiting room conversation quite fascinating. By late in the afternoon, only a small number of patients were left, most of whom were women over 60. As is often the case in waiting room, one particularly vocal person holds forth (loudly) on her (or his) views about what’s wrong with people today, and what should be done about it.

Her sermon yesterday was prompted by another woman in waiting room talking about how hard it is to keep up with her great grandson, whom she takes care of while her daughter and granddaughter are at work. This touched off a diatribe about how young people today are lazy, and expect their parents to take care of them and their children. The sermonizer started describing in detail what her life as a mother had been like, and all the work that she did, cooking, serving, cleaning, washing, gardening, canning, and so forth. The other older women in the waiting room, accompanied each addition to this litany with some secular version of “amen.”

The speaker declared that she didn’t care what kind of paid job a person had, there was no job on earth that was harder than being a stay at home mother raising several children. Moreover, she declared that the job was so hard, and so important, that women ought to be given a pension just like anyone with a paid job. This received a very enthusiastic chorus of approval.

So it was fascinating that less than two minutes later, the same woman was talking about how awful it was that women were able to stay at home and take care of their children and get welfare. They were lazy she said, and ought to be out earning a living.

Given that she’d just said that taking care of children was more difficult and more important than any paid job, and that women who did it ought to be paid by the government in the form of cash pension; her lack of awareness that welfare did exactly what she said she wanted — recognized the importance of mothering, and gave women (technically their children) a stipend to stay at home and do this important job.

It’s just all part of making “the poor” into “them,” who don’t deserve the same as “us”.

Both right-wing and left-wing extremes (I’m part of the latter) do agree on one thing, we’re “on the wrong track” and going “to hell in a handbasket” if we don’t make some serious changes. Other than that basic agreement these two ends of the political continuum fail to agree on anything else — such as what the wrong track is, why it is wrong, and who is responsible for us being on that mistaken track, and what we should do about it. This is why the typical opinion poll which simply asks the bald question “is America on the right track?” gives us such a deceptively high percentage of people (64 percent in a March Ipsos’s poll) saying that we’re on the wrong track.

As a left winger, I think we’re on the wrong track because: 1) we keep reducing taxes on the rich and corporations when we ought to be increasing them, 2) we keep cutting programs for the poor, disabled, elderly, students and children, when we ought to be increasing them, 3) we keep giving subsidies to gas, oil and coal companies when we should be eliminating them and investing heavily in hydro, wind, solar, and everything else renewable, 4) the rich are getting richer while the poor (and the middle class and, well, everybody except the very rich) keep getting relatively poorer, 5) we’re not closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, and we’re not getting out of Afghanistan, and 6) we’re letting evangelical Christians impose their version of Biblical law on us. And the cause of all these problems is unrestrained, unregulated capitalism, and unfettered capitalism is beginning to collapse from its own internal contradictions, just like Marx said it would (he was only wrong about the timing).

Anyone with half a brain knows that the right-wing version of we’re going down the wrong track is almost exactly the opposite of every point on my list.

The power elite/corporate class got scared. President Barack Obama got himself elected without PAC money, without corporate money. He did it with millions of little donations (like mine).

Keith Olbermann got it wrong, corporatocracy isn’t any thing new, it’s been with us for at least half a century if not longer. But Obama showed a different way, a way of getting elected without corporate financing. That scared them.

So the corporations and the power elite turned to the Supreme Court. A court that was stacked by the previous corporately backed and funded presidents. And the court did their masters bidding. They made the political process safe from democracy again.

This is getting old — it seems like this happens every year at this time. Some new, extremely violent video game with a released timed to take advantage of Christmas buying, makes headlines for its shockingness and lawlessness; headlines that just serve to boost the sales of the game.

Well I have a proposal for a new game that could be ready for the Christmas 2010 season. I call it “Call of Duty: Class Warfare.” It will involve lots of gun play and blood and gore, and its scenarios will all be set in high-rise corporate headquarters and bucolic corporate campuses of America — and maybe some exclusive resorts and golf courses.

The targets will be the overpaid CEO’s and CFO’s of Americas top 500 corporations, especially those that ended up needed federal bailouts in 2008 and 2009. The players as “class warriors” will carry automatic weapons and earn points for kills — the higher the salary of the corporate head the more points. For example knocking off Laurence J. Ellison of Oracle who currently makes $557 million a year would be worth 10 times as many points as a hit on Mark V. Hurd of Hewlett-Packard who is only taking home $51 million this year.

Given the class warfare theme, there would be loss of points, or potential loss of play for collateral deaths of class comrades including secretaries, janitorial workers, or other working class stiffs that might be in the same locality as the “capitalist pig” targets.

Now this is a computer/video game I would buy — and I bet I’m not alone. None of those T-Partyers seem to be particularly fond of Wall Street and the corporate elite and they love guns!

One of the blogs that I read regularly is written by an articulate political and economic conservative. For more than a year now, I’ve been concerned about this fellow’s false consciousness. He was just so deluded about so many things. He seemed like a nice guy, smart too. Sometimes I wondered if he just acted clueless to generate discussion. Then the other day, the other shoe dropped. He’s not one of us, he’s one of them. He’s an owner of capital, an exploiter of labor – albeit petite bourgeois. Suddenly it all makes sense. He’s not suffering from false consciousness, he has excellent class consciousness. His positions all make sense now, they serve his class interests. I still think he’s totally wrong about just about everything, but now I can see that those positions are consciously taken to serve self-interest. I no longer worry about him, only about those he employs.