Monday, October 12, 2015

Really want improvement SUNY?

The two-year community college where I teach (which I do NOT speak for in any way, shape or form) is part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

There has been a lot of talk (and policy) lately from SUNY and the Governor's Office about time to completion and retention. Students often take more than two years to complete the two-year degrees and many never graduate. SUNY and various politicians (both local and national) want to improve those numbers.

Of course, most of the time, people who talk about such things are surprisingly clueless about facts on the ground.  Let's start with time to completion first.

A typical two-year degree is 60 credits or so.  That's 15 credits each semester for those of you poor in math.  That assumes no need for developmental classes.  Unfortunately, a significant number of our local high school graduates come into college requiring developmental writing before getting into Freshman English 101 or developmental math (sometimes several of these) before getting into a College Algebra course (the bare minimum math needed).  Depending on what they want to major in, they may need a number of math courses (Want to go into science? You need several courses beyond even Calculus I).

Also, virtually all of my students work - some work full-time.  They have to because college is expensive (yes, community colleges are cheaper, but for some of us, even cheaper is too expensive).  Many of my students don't do well because they don't have time to do well.  Between working, family obligations, life stresses, etc. they simply can't do a minimum of 15 credits each semester successfully.  So they take longer.  If they eventually graduate, I consider that a success, even if it takes them 4 years.  SUNY considers them failures.

Want to fix that SUNY?  Make college cheaper so students don't have to work outside jobs for more hours than they attend classes.

Retention - keeping a student until they graduate - is also problematic given two factors SUNY also appears to be clueless (intentionally or not) about.  First, we're open admission.  We take anybody who can write a check (or fill out the financial aid forms).  I've had severely autistic kids in my class. I've had people who I'm convinced have IQs well below the norm in my class.  These kinds of cognitive deficiencies can't be addressed by better teaching or increased tutoring.  They're real barriers.  It's tough watching these kids crash and burn because they come to class and often try hard but I'm not making up special grades for them because they're good kids.  They're going to fail and I'm not the one who set them up for that.

At the community college level, we don't give everyone a degree, we give everyone an equal opportunity to earn a degree.  SUNY considers us a failure because we can't graduate all of these kids.  We could improve our statistics by becoming selective.  But that just defeats this mission of us as a community college with equal access.

 Another problem, which I've written about before, is that many of our students transfer before earning a degree with us.  If a student starts at our school, and transfers to a four-year university after their first year, and later earns a bachelor's degree, they are counted as a failure at our institution since they attended but didn't earn a degree with us.  It's absolutely ridiculous and needs to be changed.

So, Governor Cuomo, NYS Legislature, Chancellor Zimpher, and the SUNY Board.  Want to improve education at the SUNY community colleges?  STOP CUTTING OUR FUCKING FINANCIAL SUPPORT AND SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS!  Make college (especially community college) CHEAP and students will be better able to succeed and graduate on time.  Get us money for the auxiliary support these students need with English and mathematics.  Get us funds to hire more full-time faculty instead of having MOST courses taught by part-time faculty who are not invested in the institution and are afraid to uphold academic standards (a whole other issue).  Change your statistics to reasonable measures (transfer out of a community college to a four-year institution is a SUCCESS, not a failure).  Get your heads out of your asses and visit community colleges and talk to faculty and staff (not presidents and Board members).

Enough ranting for today.

No comments:

Post a Comment