The Problem of Community Colleges

I recently came across this 2004 study by the Alabama Policy Institute that examines the cost of remedial education to businesses and institutions of higher learning.  (Here’s a link to the pdf)  I was particularly struck by the statistics related to students at Alabama community colleges.  I think a quick note is in order here as it concerns community colleges within the state.  My understanding is that the community college system in the state of Alabama was designed for a few purposes.  First, it was designed for adults seeking to switch careers or those needing to take some college classes without moving their families to the campus of a four-year school.  Second, the community colleges existed to provide job training and certification for blue-collar jobs that had seen a certain level of technological advancement.  I think it is fair to say that the current use of community college – a time to get “core” classes out of the way before jumping to a four year school – was not the original intention of the institutions.  Even if it were, my argument is that in Alabama today, students who attend community colleges are more likely to get a watered down education.

According to the API study, roughly 42 percent of all students who enter community colleges nationwide take a remedial class.  That figure in Alabama is on target, with our state seeing only a slight increase to 44 percent.  Keep in mind that this number applies to incoming freshman.  It does not include adults returning to school later in life. This in itself should give pause to educators, parents and students who see community colleges – either in Alabama or nationwide – as a viable option.  For those students who graduate from high school with high grades (A/B honor roll) and easy passage of state graduation exams, community college should be viewed as a last resort only.  The study suggests that even non-remedial courses may have been watered down to accommodate students.  The study notes one math instructor who mentions an algebra class being broken into two semesters so as to make it easier on the students.  I suggest that with this fact in mind, solid students who have a general idea of what they want to do with school should not be in classes were nearly half of their classmates – on average – were unprepared for college-level work.

That leaves us with two primary concerns.  First, what about those students who need remedial work in four-year colleges and universities?  Second, and very pertinent in our current economy, what about the cheaper cost of the community college?

Both are important points that I plan to answer in upcoming posts.