Acton Institute Powerblog

Community Colleges Lower Standards And Cheat Students

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Higher education is in serious trouble. Plagued with the pressures of escalating costs and retention challenges, all sorts of perverse incentives are being introduced that are changing the quality of the education delivered. In an effort to save money, many college students make the choice to spend their first two years at a community college and then transfer to a traditional school to finish out their college degree. Instead of being driven by education quality, students are making decisions on the basis of skyrocketing costs, but at what cost to the student?

The trade-off is that community colleges of today have lower standards which may compromise the ability of academic success in the future when students transfer for their junior and senior year. For those intending on a 4-year degree, going to a community college for two years might make them worse off in the long run.

Inside Higher Ed highlights new research demonstrating that “community colleges set a low bar for students during their first year of enrollment,” especially in academic standards in literacy and mathematics, according to a new study from the National Center on Education and the Economy. Moreover, the study reveals “disturbingly low standards among community college instructors,” said Marc S. Tucker, president of the center. “It’s clear that we’re cheating our students.”

For example, in mathematics, many community college career programs demand little or no use of mathematics and when they do require math, instructors are not challenging students to the competence levels presented in the textbooks. The researchers note, “judging by what is tested by community college teachers, they do not typically appear to be requiring students to apply mathematics or even to think mathematically when the text they have chosen for the courses uses math to explain relevant phenomena or presents mathematical skills as an important element in the skills required to do the work.”

In literacy courses there is no difference. The researchers found that “the reading and writing currently required of students in initial credit bearing courses in community colleges is not very complex or cognitively demanding.” In community colleges, according to the research, “most introductory college classes demand very little writing; when writing is required, instructors tend to have very low expectations for accuracy, appropriate diction, clarity of expression, reasoning, and the ability to present a logical argument or offer evidence in support of claims.”

This data should raise serious questions about how education should be funded in the future. It seems that publicly funded schools, and schools where students take out large federal loans, are driven by different incentives than private schools that receive either no direct or indirect funding from the federal government. If it’s true that “you get what you pay for” this may explain why the quality of education at these schools is so abysmal. A respect for human dignity and the appropriate role of government demands that we redesign how we fund education because cheap education seems to be doing nothing but cheapening students and sabotaging America’s workforce in the future.

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.

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