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Obama’s Community Colleges: An $864,000 Solution

Written by Gary North on February 21, 2015

I read this in The New York Times.

The Promise and Failure of Community Colleges From the article: There are two critical things to know about community colleges. The first is that they could be the nation’s most powerful tools to improve the opportunities of less privileged Americans, giving them a shot at harnessing a fast-changing job market and building a more equitable, inclusive society for all of us. The second is that, at this job, they have largely failed.

The article went on.

What the president chose not to emphasize is that precious few of the students at community colleges are likely to fulfill the promise and complete their education. Of all the students who enroll full time at Pellissippi, for example, only 22 percent graduate from a two-year program within three years. Just 8 percent transfer to a four-year college.

And that’s hardly the bottom of the barrel. There are many community colleges with much worse records.

What about elitism? College education has always been elitist. That’s what parents are buying: an edge for their kids.

Meanwhile, American higher education has become a preserve of the elite. Only one in 20 Americans ages 25 to 34 whose parents didn’t finish high school has a college degree. The average across 20 advanced industrial nations assessed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is almost one in four.

Everyone is blamed.

The primary solution, if there is one, probably lies further up the pipeline, in high schools, where the Obama administration is running up against political flak and parental objections to its push to establish a common core of proficiency to ensure the vast majority of high school graduates are indeed equipped for college.

Or perhaps the true challenge is even earlier, from birth to age 3 or 4, as the Nobel laureate James Heckman from the University of Chicago has been urging for years, when investments in cognitive and emotional capabilities have an enormous impact on children’s future development.

What’s the answer? Every government bureaucrat always has the same answer: more government money.

“Community colleges have the students with the greatest problems — yet they get the least resources,” said Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “It’s unrealistic to think we can have a better outcome without investing more money.”

Conclusion? The passive voice.

Better outcomes are sorely needed. That is, if education is to recover its role as a motor of opportunity for those who need it most.

I have taught at the junior college level. I have taken classes as a student at the junior college level after I earned a Ph.D. Not many people can make this claim.

According to this government report, “Community Colleges: Federal Resources supporting Local Opportunities,” there are 1600 of these institutions in the USA. If they have failed, why will more federal money fix them?

Most high school graduates are academically incompetent. They do not belong in college. The fact that about a third of them go to college indicates the nature of the problem. Of these people, about half of them fail to graduate in six years. Every dime that the government spent on these dropouts is wasted.

Most students do not belong in college. Most students do not want to go to college. Most students cannot be persuaded to go to college. In the inner cities, most students drop out before their senior year. Any bureaucrat who thinks that anything that the government can do to cure this problem is simply naive or else a person hustling government money. The government school programs have existed now for 150 years, and with every decade, student performance gets worse. There are no solutions to this problem that can be funded with more government money poured down the bureaucratic academic rat hole.

Let’s assume that a community college can motivate students who have never been motivated academically in their lives. What is the best way to get this motivation to the students? Simple: do what Salman Khan has done. Put all the courses on video. Post them on YouTube. Make it all free of charge.

A nonprofit foundation could do this. The person in charge of the project would select teachers who have reputations of being highly motivational teachers at a community college. In each field, choose three instructors for a particular course. Pay each of them $200 per lesson for 90 lessons. In an academic term, meaning one semester, there are at most 45 lectures. Then there are reading assignments. So, for one academic year, that is 90 lectures. In other words, pay a person $18,000 for a course. Then you pay two more instructors, just to make sure you have at least one professor who can teach well enough to motivate not very bright students.

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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