On Wednesday Debra David and I attended a meeting of the Student Success Task Force, convened by legislation and hosted by the chancellor of the California Community Colleges. The two-year publics are at the halfway point in a year-long process to evaluate and propose changes to their organization, with an eye to improving efficiency and increasing the number of students who reach their educational goals.
It’s a tall order. The community colleges are open admission, by law serving “any who can benefit,” and the goals can be single courses, certificates, preparation for transfer, or an associate degree. 112 of these colleges serve the state, organized into 70+ districts that exert most of the influence.
Yet the conversations we heard were candid and bold. Everything is on the table. I think in the CSU, our own Graduation Initiative would benefit from such fearlessness. But I also know that Debra and I were privvy to essentially a brainstorming session, and the final recommendations are still up for grabs.
Sitting there I was struck by a challenge both our systems share: few of our students come ready for college.
As we focus on GE reform in the CSU, working with our faculty to make the curriculum more engaging, integrative, and purposeful, we should remember that for our students there’s a less visible difference between basic skills and lower-division GE. As currently presented, both are a slog that you drag yourself through, on the way to the career preparation you came for.
We should work with our basic skills departments, that is, English and math, to come up with a consistent hook for our students, one that uses the promise of a better future to pull students through basic skills and GE alike.
A Carnegie Foundation project called “Statway” may be a step in the right direction. It blends math remediation with college-level quantitative reasoning, flipping back and forth from week to week over a full year, to get students out of the rut of simply repeating math courses they didn’t understand the first time. The expectation is that, by flashing forward to the applications of the principles they’re learning, students will better understand and value the concepts they need for later success.
The project is new and the jury still out, but I think the premise that we should dissolve the walls between traditional stages of learning, and foreground the future relevance of all we do, has promise.