February 2013 Issue • Volume 41 • Issue 2

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ASA Forum for Public Discussion and Debate

As someone who teaches in a community college and attended one back when it was a “junior college,” I read the November Footnotes article “Beyond One-Size-Fits-All,” with great interest. I am very pleased that our beneath-the-radar colleges are receiving some attention. Nonetheless, I have some objections to points in the article.

asa forum

My first problem with the article is the impression given that a community college has only “transfer” programs that prepare the student to move on to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree. On the contrary, we all contain technical programs in automobile repair, welding, secretarial, and so on. Those programs are organized the way the “occupational” colleges Rosenbaum and Rosenbaum are, with the same positive results.

Our colleges differ from the “occupational” colleges in the study, in that all of our technical students must take a reading and math placement test along with the “academic” students. The technical students are required to take remedial courses if they test at the middle-school level up to the 11th-grade level in reading and mathematics. Even brick masons have to read, and those math problems in the electricity courses can be undeniably difficult. Students going into the “regular” college courses must test at the 12th-grade level. That seems reasonable to me.

When I first came here, the “regular” students were not required to take the remedial classes into which they had tested.  I worked hard with the students who tested below the class level, but you have no idea how draining this can be. Many of these students could not and did not do the work. They did not come to class. I even made wake up calls. They either stopped coming to class or failed. Today, they have to go through the remedial courses and those who finish succeed. I understand that 70 percent of our graduates began in those courses.

I bristle at the phrase “classes that don’t count.” They do count. If low-scoring students don’t enter them, they fail.

It is well-known that technical students perform better than “academic” students anywhere. Technical students are better motivated, focused, and eager to get going. And try talking a failing “academic” student into going into a technical program. When they come here they know the difference between the two types of programs. Nobody hides from incoming students the fact that technical programs are there and that the graduates do well. They know the difference and they have made their choice. If they’re aiming for a degree, they are seriously insulted if someone tells them they should be aiming at a certificate in plumbing. We don’t have college.  Only blinders on — they do.

On the other end, I have had the interesting experience of trying to talk a technical student into getting a degree. A student from the electrician program was in my class, and I realized he was conspicuously brilliant. His instructor, an electrical engineer, agreed with me. We both went to great lengths to get the student to go to the university in engineering, but nothing worked. I even talked to his mother. He would not go.
An academic student does not want to be a truck driver and a carpenter does not want to be a teacher.

Our college now has one full-time English instructor and one full-time mathematics instructor working with the local high schools to improve the preparation of their students. Maybe this will make a difference in the future.

I am proud of our community colleges. We give the poor and under-prepared students a second chance. We give the talented and wealthy a good start, and we have both “college” and technical programs.

Phyllis Puffer, Big Sandy Community and Technical College

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