Community Colleges Must Focus on Quality of Learning?

Community Colleges Must Focus on Quality of Learning?

Teaching and learning is "The Heart of Student Success," says a report described in a Chronicle of Higher Education article. The complete report is well-done and worth the read, but there are several problematic sticking points...

[NOTE: I tried to post this comment on the article's web site itself, but I got a "page not found" error for some reason. I will try to post later if the problem is fixed.]

Community Colleges Must Focus on Quality of Learning, Report Says is an article in today's Chronicle of Higher Education which describes the finding of a report "The Heart of Student Suceess" by the Center for Community College Engagement. The complete report is well-done and worth the read. The directions it proposes are valuable and worthwhile for the most part. However, both the article and the report have several sticking points which are problematic:

1) Required support services such as required "success courses": this is also related to "intrusive advising" programs, which I just recently learned about. (more info about "Intrusive Advising") Intrusive requirements sound like a bad form of engagement to me. I would recommend allowing students to opt out, especially since a sizable proportion of entering community college students have demonstrated their success capacity by earning prior degrees or by earning college credit while in high school (the latter of which 20% of all entering cc students have done according to the "Heart of Student Success" report).

2) There is a disconnect between a key issue identified in the report's introduction and the proposed solutions:

"Not only are many students still alarmingly underprepared for college, but they too often have developed an active aversion to mathematics, English, and the educational process more generally. This poses a double whammy challenge for instructors, who must then address not only skill deficits but students’ lack of confidence in themselves as learners and a pervasive sense that what students are asked to learn — particularly in developmental and introductory college courses — has little to do with what really matters to them in their lives."

It's not entirely clear to me how engaging students in the academic process addresses their concerns about "what really matters to them in their lives." The report dances around this issue, but IMO it needs to be addressed head-on by making an explicit effort to show the connections between education and their lives. No amount of "deep learning" will address this disconnect for most learners, but we continue to act as if the connections are obvious, yet no one ever really says what they are. Why is a certain level of math required, for example? My own view is that it is a combination of basic math skills and development of thinking skills which is what makes math worthwhile. Applying the formula for quadratic equations is a useless life skill for most people, but the thinking skills you develop in the process are valuable for your life for reasons x, y, and z. If this is true, then why not explicitly say so?

3) This whole "heart" thing (or "heart-and-soul" in the report) also bothers me. You can't mandate or exhort heart; the private sector has been trying to do this in customer service for a couple of decades now, and it didn't work very well there either. Telling not-handsomely-paid employees to add heart and soul to their full plate of duties does not sound a winning strategy to me.

4) Finally, while others may applaud this strong emphasis on learning, be careful what you wish for. Is this what most of the key stakeholders (students, employers, parents) really want? Or is it more the case that employers still value the meta-skills (persistence, showing up on time, following directions, etc.) which degree attainment represents more than they value the actual learning itself? And that students don't really appreciate the value of what they're learning in most cases? And parents just want their kids to lead happy, successful lives and the learning is ultimately incidental to that? To the extent that these observations are true, will "deep learning" simply deepen the disconnect?

This may sound like a highly critical post, but my view is that if can resolve these issues, then we really are on to something...

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