Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Academics vs. Enrollment

A number of things have been in my Inbox at work lately illustrating the competing interests we have to balance here at a community college.

New York State has recently tightened up their requirements for students receiving TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) financial aide.  Obviously, quite a few of our students receive TAP and may not be able to attend college without that assistance.  I don't know all the details (we have a Financial Aide Office for that) but students have to maintain a "C" average, earn a certain number of credits each semester, and make satisfactory progress toward a degree.  Some of our administrators appear very concerned about this because we have students who will not be able to meet these requirements (especially those requiring remedial classes which aren't credit-bearing and don't count as progress toward a degree).  Less students means less money which affects all of us.  As a taxpayer in the State of New York, however, I have to wonder why I'd want my tax dollars funding a student who can't maintain a GPA of 2.0 ("C").  In addition, taxpayers should be furious that their always-increasing school taxes are funding high schools graduating students that then require remedial reading, writing, and mathematics classes at the local community college.

One big topic at our school is retention.  I've been on committees and even a retreat to discuss this issue ad nauseum.  Each semester, we lose a certain number of students who never return and the college is obviously interested in trying to improve that by understanding why people leave and what we can do to prevent it.  Unfortunately, I believe some things are not really solvable by us, such as students who just don't want to be here.  They're attending college because their parents told them they had to go to college.  These students don't show up for class, don't turn in assignments, get failing grades on exams when you know they're capable of better, etc.  Faculty recognize them right away and most of us think these kids shouldn't be here - they should go out and get a job for a couple of years (there's something to be said for 2 years of mandatory service - military or otherwise - after high school).  I also have had students transfer to four-year schools before completing their two-year degree at our school.  The administration views this as a failure, we've lost a student, while I view it as a success for the student who is moving on to a program that excites them at a four-year school.

Also received an email that our department is slightly down in spring 2011 registrations compared to this time last year.  Somehow, it's implied, this is our fault - we don't outreach to students enough.  Nevermind that there are signs all over campus saying REGISTER NOW! and targeted announcements and emails and announcements in classrooms.  I'm not sure what they want, a visit to the student's home to drag their lazy ass into my office to register?  Enrollment has been up but it seems to me by personal observation that we also have a lot more weaker students.  Students who feel they're in danger of failing a class (or two) often want to wait until the end of the semester before registering.  Other students simply don't have the money and don't know if they will for spring.  Others just procrastinate (like they do with their assignments) and then complain in January when registering that so many classes are closed.  The problem with many of us in the math and sciences is that there aren't enough math/science majors to go around (by contract, we each need 25 advisees) and therefore we all have 50% or more Individual Studies majors and they're often (not always, but often) the worst students.  They have no idea what they want to do and many of them really could care less about anything.  I've had advisees sit in my office and I tell them they need an open elective (i.e. any course at all) to round off their schedule and they're lost - "What should I take?" or "What's easiest?"  No interest at all in anything academic.  Damn shame and they certainly don't belong in college.

So, while complaining that certain students should just drop out and go work for a living, I also realize the more students we have, the better off we are financially (although it's not that simple - county and state budget cuts have far outpaced modest increases in enrollment).  Sometimes I feel as if I'm asked to make a choice between doing what's best for the student (sometimes failing them is best for them) or sell my soul to the Devil and only work toward higher enrollment numbers and damn academics or any insistence on personal responsibility from people who claim they're adults.  Since selling my soul to the Devil in this regard gives me absolutely nothing in return (it's not like I get a cut of student tuition - I didn't even get a salary increase this semester and am working under an expired contract), I think I'll stay the hardass academic and insist that students have responsibilities as well.

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