Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Access to College

Stumbled on in a comment in Dean Dad's IHE blog. That comment on aligning college and high school expectations seemed like it really belonged in a different thread (probably the one on the high school college gap, but also relevant to the role of CCs in the STEM area) but it pointed to something I think is really useful. The connection is the point that CCs are often the major route out of poverty, which can include the STEM areas related to medicine (including nursing) and engineering, but this depends heavily on using a CC to make up for what you can get out of a failing school system.

Check out the documents developed by the League of Women Voters of California to advise parents on the value offered by the community college system in California and how to help their children benefit from it. Their "College Access for Everyone: Removing Early Barriers" report is also a succinct analysis of key problems, such as socialization, poor counseling, and the old standby in discussions on Dean Dad's regular blog, articulation.

It struck me that these documents could help us with some of our advising and institutional challenges.

On the advising side, they are targeting our audience: the kids with a marginal education who can't get into a "real" college, the kids who dropped out and earned a GED (perhaps at a CC such as ours), and the students who are not kids anymore (parents of children currently in the school system). I really like their data on pay levels and, more importantly to many of our students, public assistance rates as a function of education. I wonder if we put enough of a carrot out there to help convince them that there is a payoff for the work we are telling them they need to do.

But I digress. The strongest point is on pages 6 and 7, concerning the lack of information on how to proceed if they want a career in a STEM area or the technical or manufacturing spinoffs from those fields. They literally have no way of knowing what to do. I was particularly struck by the cuts in counseling in CA high schools, but I also remember that the well-staffed counseling office in my (well funded at the time) midwestern HS was of zero help to me. I was mentored about preparing for college by my father and a couple of teachers. The pointer in the parent's guide to a web-booklet called "First in the Family" available from an organization called What Kids Can Do.

Side comment: I also stumbled on some good advice from kids on helping them get their homework (and knowledge) organized so it becomes a useful study tool. If they aren't getting those ideas in HS, we need to supply them in our CC programs.

The other was a strong point about the lack of rigor in their classes and the need to develop study skills and self discipline if they wish to succeed in college. That is the area our STEM programs are attacking, and that I emphasize every time I advise students about their plans for next semester's classes. But we still need to do a better job of "connecting all the dots", as they put it, for kids still in HS. I've run on long enough, so I will save my biggest peeve (what passes for a passing knowledge of math) for a later article when I can do a better job of locating some sample tests.

One other detail that jumped out at me was that the number of non-graduates from HS jumped significantly when California added its "CAHSEE" exit exam. Not news to me, but then I read what Sherman Dorn writes about how it is possible to get a 100% graduation rate while half your students drop out, as long as the administrators launder the kids through an exit to GED program.

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