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My first impulse, after yesterday’s comments, is to say–smug, self-important, smirking student government types?  Exactly–that’s Sarah Palin to a T.

And that would be truthful, from my experience, which did not include any contact with student government at all after ninth grade, and that only included contact with jocks in graduate school, when I taught a few.  They gave me an abiding love of ice hockey, no matter how dysfunctional it gets. 

But New England is not big on jocks.  At least in this state, when school budgets get tight, sports are the first to go, ditched without ceremony in order to preserve academics.

The thing is, however, that I don’t really care about jocks or where anybody went to school.   I do care about whether we present ignorance or knowledge as the preferred state for our public officials and our children, Lady Gaga or Mozart, Chicken Soup for the Soul or Sense and Sensibility. 

Climate matters. 

That said,  I want to address something else, and I’d be interested in input if anyone has any.

Robert says he’s on the side of Tunxis, but my guess is that he’s really on the side of UConn–the University of Connecticut will provide you with a first class education, fully equal to Yale’s, if you pick and choose your courses right.

Tunxis, however, and the other community colleges in the Connecticut system will not.  There’s a reason why employers do not send recruiters for their upper-track employment programs to places like Tunxis, and it’s not because they’re being snobbish about the name of the school.

In Connecticut, the community college system provides what is basically a remedial course for students who did not do well enough in high school to get into a “real” college.  This is the case even where the student is not in remedial courses, and is supposedly getting “college credit” for his coursework.

To start with, there’s the math problem–most real colleges, be they  UConn or Yale, expect freshmen to be able to start calculus when they enter, and often advanced calculus.  Calculus is not offered in the community college system, which provides “college algebra” instead.

In case you’re wondering what “college algebra” is, it is, as far as I can tell from looking at my students’ textbooks, exactly the same elementary algebra course my sons were required to take in ninth grade. 

What this means is that even those CC students who transfer into good four year colleges–and the CC system here does a good job of that, getting the very best of their classes right into the Ivies–will be, at a minimum, a year behind when they enter.  And that’s just in math.

Because the second problem is the workload.  Where UConn and Yale will expect students in freshman English to produce a five page paper a week and a ten to fifteen page term paper at the end of the semester, the CCs will require one and a half to two pages papers a week and maybe (and not always) a five page “research project” at the end. 

The disparity in expected reading is just as large, or larger.  Students can get through the CC system here without reading a single whole book.  Go to UConn (never mind Yale) and you find students required to read three or four books (or more, in literature classes) during the semester, and for each course.

The problem with the workload is so pressing that my old college has a special program for CC students who might want to transfer in, providing them with residential summer courses run at the Vassar College level to get people used to the pace, then granting them admission as sophomores (rather than juniors) when the program is done.

The result is that most employers know what each level in the system teaches, and so do most graduate and professional schools.  That’s why a C from Yale can get you into the Harvard Business School, but you need an A from Western Connecticut State. 

That does not mean, of course, that people from the CC system never break out and make good.  Of course they do. 

And it’s my personal opinion that if what you’re looking at is the top ranks of anything–law, finance, even movies–the people who make the most spectacular successes will not come from the Ivies, but from the bottom of the first tier to the top of the second.  In fact, the phenomenon is so pronounced, it’s got a name in sociology–the second tier advantage.  Steven Spielberg went to Long Beach, not Berkeley (and he dropped out).  The boardrooms of the major banks and financial companies are littered with gradustes of the University of Nebraska and Penn State.

The problem is not these people, because people with extraordinary talent and drive are going to get where they’re going no matter where they start.

The problem is with the next set of students down, the ones who are good but not great, the ones who are essentially middle of the road, good kids, bright enough, conscientious, but nothing really special.

For those students, where they go to college can easily be the ballgame.  They’re not going to found their own companies.  They’re going to work for other people, and those other people have recruiting programs that quite definitely distinguish between colleges and universities to decide who will and won’t get hired for which employment track. 

That’s a fact of life, not the way things should be but the way things are. 

I’ve had people tell me that this situation is not the same everywhere, and that California in particular has a CC system that deliberately provides education on the same level as the rest of its system, so that spending a couple of years at a CC does not have the stigma there that it has here. 

I don’t know enough about California to know.

And now, excuse me, but I’ve had virtually no sleep, I have a full day, and the Visigoths have just sacked Rome.

Written by janeh

February 3rd, 2010 at 4:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Communities'

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  1. Nothing against UConn, but my point was that the employer needed his new hire to have intelligence, education and dilligence. A diploma–ANY diploma–may indicate this, but “the map is not the territory.” Even the best schools have given out some diplomas to students without those qualiies, and not everyone who has them has paperwork to match.
    But if the degree is from Tunxis–or Joe’s Night and Weekend Law School–you’d best avoid companies big enough to “track” new hires.
    Palin struck me as the cheerleader type–annoying, certainly, but not intrusive. Student government types are attention vampires. You can’t just ignore them–pretty much the definition of the modern American liberal.


    3 Feb 10 at 6:17 am

  2. I spent my entire university student years ignoring student government types (we didn’t have them in high school). Well, except at the beginning, when everything was new and fascinating and I noticed their existence. I pretty soon figured out that their interests and mine never coincided, and ignored them thereafter.

    In my part of Canada, I don’t think the community colleges ever went the college-prep route in a big way. I vaguely remember that at some point during their development from Trade Schools to Community Colleges, there was some talk of students being able to transfer credits back and forth, and a quick online search reveals detailed information about how such transfers work now, but it doesn’t seem to be a big way of getting a step up to university. Then again, we don’t have extremely selective universities. Programs, yes; some programs are very difficult to get into. And students transfer the other way, from university to colleges, to take shorter programs with more potential for quick employment.

    I’m sure employers consider which university their applicants went to when hiring. Universities certainly know the relative skill levels of students from various secondary schools; at least, from the ones most of their applicants come from. And there’s public information available to the student – and annual report detailing the employment status of students after completion of the programs. Oddly enough, too few people seem to want to use this information to decide on whether or not a particular program offers the kind of success the institution promises. People follow odd processes when making decisions.


    3 Feb 10 at 7:22 am

  3. You people don’t know how to have fun. Ignore student government? When I was an undergraduate we used to have active write-in campaigns. Usually our candidate won, so when I was a junior the candidate with the most votes for student council president was Mickey Mouse. When I was a senior it was Bombo Rivera, an outfielder for the Twins.

    Palin is, perhaps, an example of the student government type, or a cheerleader, if Robert’s right. But ignore her? Today, yes, I can and do. But not if she had become vice-President with an elderly and not particularly healthy McCain in the Oval Office. The idea still makes me shudder.

    As for the importance of where you go to school – I’ve begun to agree with Jane, based on my recent experiences hiring people. My examples are all Midwestern schools, though, not East Coast. The last three people I’ve hired graduated from the University of Minnesota – and both of them are the kind of guys who would have been active in their own education, and worked hard to GET an education rather than just a diploma; and the third is a graduate of Marquette who had a 3.97 GPA. She’s three years out of college but her ability to think and evaluate and write all mean that she’s outperforming my other two people with twenty years of experience.

    All of which means that I will probably pay more attention to education in future than I have been in the past (and if we make it past budget review I’ll be hiring two more people next fiscal year! Imagine, I’ll be able to do just one job.)


    3 Feb 10 at 10:51 am

  4. Having had two children in the California CC system, one still there, I can answer that part of the question. Here, the CC system’s academics are designed as feeder schools/substitutes for the first two years of the much higher-priced state universities, either the CalState or UC systems, each of which have 30 or more campuses.

    Academic credits transfer directly, if one can get admitted to the uni. Used to be automatic, but CSU Long Beach, particularly, has so many applications they’re down to admitting only 15% of applicants. (which is too bad, they’re about 2 miles away)

    And there is no stigma as to whether someone attended a university for four years or just two. The degree is the same. As far as I know, no remedial classes are required or offered. Students are expected to transfer with no problem. My son’s coursework and papers certainly struck me as university level.

    However, this is not the only path through the CC. Each of them also has some vocational speciality programs that can be very high quality. LBCC, where my son attends, has a 4 year Electrical Engineering program that is apparently tops in the nation. Don’t ask me how. He is currently enrolled in a two year (post academics, he’s already done those) program for FAA certification as an airplane engine and airframe mechanic. This program is rated second in the US to the Air Force Academy’s program. He’s in class 7:30-2:30 five days a week, hands-on, for 2 years.

    In some places, CC’s are dumping grounds for failed teachers who couldn’t get tenure or positions at an actual university. Not so here. Daniel has had some darn fine teachers.

    That said, without some certification like Daniel is working for, a degree from a university is undoubtedly more prestigious and more likely to lead to employment than an AA from a CC. Except for that Electrical Engineering thing. Those graduates are apparently snatched up coming out of the graduation ceremony.


    3 Feb 10 at 2:15 pm

  5. Back in the early ’70s when I was beginning college, I attended a community college for two years. My education was somewhere between Connecticut and California, leaning closer to Connecticut. There were remedial courses offered and very little math required (which I was thankful for at the time.) Some of my instructors were excellent and the quality of teaching was quite good. Some weren’t. My grades were quite good when I was student there but not as good when I transferred to the University of Alabama.

    In the late ’60s, the community/junior college system in Alabama was designed by then Governor George C. Wallace to fill the pockets of his cronies. Salaries were a lot higher than at state colleges and universities. I don’t know what kind of connection faculty members had to have to be hired or if their qualifications even played a part in it. These institutions were regulated separately from state colleges and universities as well. It has changed and I don’t know about the quality of education received now.
    Being hired for well-paying positions, I think, depends on where you’re applying. If an applicant who attended a community college for two years and graduated from a state school with a decent GPA and good recommendations, she might be hired quickly in state but not so in another part of the country.


    3 Feb 10 at 5:56 pm

  6. One of my email friends is on the faculty at one of the California State Colleges. The entire faculty has been placed of “furlough”. Working hours and pay cut by 10%.

    She wrote about trying to help a student who needs one specific course in order to graduate and the course isn’t offered this year because of the budget cuts.


    3 Feb 10 at 6:02 pm

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