Just got the assessment scores for this fall’s online Eng. 102 section. These tell you how your new students did on the various reading, writing, and math tests they’re subjected to, and also what remedial and regular courses they’ve taken and their grades in those courses. When you see these things, you realize why so many community college students never make it even to the AA, and what an unholy challenge it is to bring a large body of low-SES students up to par.
I forget where I read it — saw it just recently — but studies show the single most accurate predictor of academic success (or lack of it) is socioeconomic status. Poverty breeds failure in school. For a variety of reasons, of course: broken families, parents who themselves are uneducated and so have no academic cultural capital to pass to their kids, hungry children, abused children, children growing up inundated in violence, poor medical care, substandard ghetto schools, kids having to work to support themselves or to help support their families, unwed mothers, and on and on.
Heavenly Gardens Community College is far from the lowest-SES school where I’ve taught. But it has its share of classmates who come from working-class or true poverty-level backgrounds. Most of these are bright young men and women: they’re smart, they’re usually hard-working, and they would not be here if they didn’t want to get ahead.
At this age, of course, the “hard-working” part works against them: many have to work so hard at surviving, there’s no time or energy left to succeed in college courses. Some are very smart, but not sophisticated in an academic way and so are stymied by the cultural barriers we erect around higher education.
And I’m afraid that often our well-intentioned efforts to break down those barriers and help them get ahead just make things harder for them. Here’s some poor soul who has taken a barrage of fifteen assessment tests in math, writing and language! Imagine the stress and frustration…heaven help us.
Of thirty classmates, five have taken one remedial course; three have taken two remedial courses, one has assayed five remedial courses. That’s almost a third of the students.
Understand that each of these things delays the student by a semester, or at least by a summer session. Think of the sheer persistence entailed in sitting through five of them!
Not to be outdone in the persistence department, four people enrolled in Eng. 101 twice, one person enrolled three times before passing, and another four times. Three people have tried twice before this semester to pass Eng. 102, and one rugged soul has made five runs at this course.
So, a fifth of the classmates had to make more than one try to pass first-semester composition, a course that requires nothing more than four short essays. And more than a tenth have tried to pass the present course more than once.
I’ve said before that attrition rates in a typical Heavenly Gardens course can run as high as 30% to 50%. If half of these folks drop — which I sincerely hope they do not — only fifteen of them will make it through their two required freshman comp courses. Little wonder that so few of our students, especially those who need remediation, ever make it all the way to a diploma.