Community College and Learning

Friday, May 11th, 2007

From the NYT (requires login):

The two-year colleges most committed to funneling students into four-year colleges tend to have some or all of the following: learning communities (in which students attend classes with the same small cohort of classmates), honors programs (noted for curriculum that crosses disciplines, teachers who hold advanced degrees and smaller classes taken with similarly talented peers) and articulation agreements with four-year institutions in the state (typically synchronizing basic courses with a university’s requirements and guaranteeing admittance to transfer students who have kept their grades up).

These colleges focus on liberal arts and the sciences, responding to increasing demand for math and science teachers, health professionals and high-tech experts. The best community colleges also have what experts call “a culture of evidence,” meaning they extensively assess students’ academic performance and adjust teaching practices accordingly, says Kay M. McClenney, director of the annual Community College Survey of Student Engagement, based at the University of Texas, Austin.

I wonder about the “learning community” part, but this section of the article makes sense at engaging obvious criteria: solid assessment practice, transfer responsibilities, and providing opportunity to changing demographics. At heart, flexibility and systems that innovate.

Then there’s this from our friends to the north east:

“It’s well known that there are many other colleges where students are much more satisfied with their academic experience,” said Paul Buttenwieser, a psychiatrist and author who is a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers, and who favors the report. “Amherst is always pointed to. Harvard should be as great at teaching as Amherst.”

As Professor Skocpol put it, “People at Harvard are concerned when they hear that some of our undergraduates can go through four years here and not know a faculty member well enough to get a letter of recommendation.”

The effort here comes as the federal government and state accrediting agencies, as well as students and parents, press universities nationwide to provide more accountability for how well their faculties are teaching. “If we don’t do it ourselves,” President Bok said of the government pressure, “they’re going to make us do it their way.”


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