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Monday, January 12, 2015

How to be Educated

How to be Educated
Subtitle: I'm gonna try to weigh in on #FreeCommunityCollege


Today's post comes mostly at the request of friends. As a lifelong educator and now an education professor I have very strong opinions on what works mostly based on two things. 

1) Empirical Research 

and 

2) WHAT I HAVE ACTUALLY SEEN FOR 15 years. 

So, when Obama rolled out his proposal that the USA offer Community College free to all who would "work" for it, my friends started asking. I will admit at this point, because January is a crazy month for me, that I have not looked into it much but I plan to. There is though, one glaring problem that the president is overlooking. 

No one takes Community College seriously. 

Before anyone explodes, let me explain. 

I love the Community College system. It's affordable as it is now, offers complete and comprehensive programs, has support systems that many four year colleges and universities lack, and training programs for students who want to learn a trade. It's staffed by competent and caring individuals that are experts in their field, who do not get the credit they deserve from their academic peers. 

Ok, then, so what's the problem? 

Unless you are going for a trade that has a license at the end, you can't do anything with a community college degree. Sure, I bet someone reading this blog is going to be the exception to the rule, but remember, I do education for a living, so I work with HUNDREDS of students each year, at grades K THROUGH College Senior, whether that is teaching, volunteer work, or tutoring. I also have friends at varying levels of education who come to me to ask what they should do because I know. It's like calling your buddy the mechanic if you have to buy a car. Wanna know what classes to take? Ask the lady who has made education her career. 

The thing is that the Community College degree is useless unless you ARE getting that specific certificate. While the advocates claim it "transfers" to four year colleges and universities, what they don't tell you is that classes many Community College students think will count as Gen Ed requirements are called "electives" when they transfer these grades to the four year program and their GPAs do not move over. Imagine going to Community College for two years, thinking you have finished your Gen Ed requirements and only have to pay for two years at the more expensive State University only to get there and discover, nope, not everything transferred and you will have to go three more years, maybe even start over. 

That's the dirty little secret that nobody tells. 

But I've seen it happen over and over and over, to STRAIGHT A students majoring in DIFFICULT subjects. 

Furthermore, as our still weak economy is recovering, many of my friends, family members and neighbors have lost their jobs due to the typical economic issues: downsizing, closures, etc. They rush home to retool resumes and there has been one pattern that I have witnessed as consistent among their successes in finding new jobs. 

Those with 4 year degrees or higher = find a job, and usually a comparable one. 

Those with 2 year (Community College degrees) = don't. 

Or, if they do, they take a pay cut or are putting themselves into a risky position that may result in another job hunt a few months later. 

Is it fair? HELL NO. But that's what is actually happening in the trenches, in the real world, to real people I interact with on a daily basis. 

So, I laud the president for making education more accessible because I myself was a student who could not afford an education. Fortunately, I had the grades and the drive to make it happen regardless, but I don't think killing oneself for simply the right to earn a degree is what a first world nation should have as the norm. 

Instead, I propose the following: 

Use some of that money to:

a) Raise the salary of a K12 teacher to attract more individuals to the profession. And make sure that is salary to veterans, not just to entice new teachers. Many new teachers come for the idealism, but once they realize it is VERY difficult to raise a family on the meager cost of living increases, great teachers leave the profession. 

b) Offer this free college education to more than students at Community College. Maybe start partnering with business to get a program that offers this education at 4 year universities. Personally, two years at a Community College would have done me NO GOOD, in fact, it would have extended my college career to longer than it needed to be. 

c) Put money into online education. The world is mobile. People have to move for work, sometimes out of the country. Online learning, when done correctly and structured based on peer-reviewed empirical research has been proven to work, time and time again. 

Then again, maybe this program could help with the poor image that Community College has, as it should. It's a great program that deserves better. 




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