Completing But Failing

Remember last week when I wrote about students’ lack of critical thinking skills and then again about their struggles to think creatively? Remember how I argued we need to make sure that at the college level we are encouraging both critical and creative thinking?

Well, as it turns out, I’m not alone: This article by Jeff Selingo of The Chronicle of Higher Education argues that “…colleges—and in turn their graduates—have shortchanged the valuable skills that employers seek: communication (writing and oral), creativity, adaptability, and critical thinking.”

Shame on us.


And it’s not just us educators saying this; it’s the employers hiring our graduates. According to a recent survey of the Society for Human Resource Management, “forty-nine percent of human resource officials polled by the professional organization said this year’s college graduates lack basic English skills in grammar and spelling” [emphasis mine]. They also identify poor basic math/computational skills and poor reading comprehension as areas in which recent graduates leave a lot to be desired.

So students are coming into college underprepared and they’re leaving underprepared. They are failing to acquire the foundational skills needed to succeed. Meanwhile, across the country, people (I’m looking at you Bill & Melinda Gates!) continue advocating for the reduction or elimination (rather than just the reform) of developmental education programs that seek to help underprepared students prepare, prepared students advance, and advanced students excel in those foundational skill areas.

This makes perfect sense to me. How about you?

Further, I have to wonder what effect the Community College Completion Agenda is having on our ability to provide students with these important life skills. After all, we all know what happens when the focus becomes quantity, right? And many states have already started tying college funds to graduation rates–and the rest are either already in the process of doing so or seriously considering it. Yet, we need only look to the K-12 system to see how well tying funding directly to graduation rates works. Heck, we need only look at the waves of underprepared students entering our colleges post-high school graduation to see how well that has worked.

So…following in that system’s footsteps also makes perfect sense. Right? Wrong.

At the college-level, we must take care not to rely too heavily on on-time completion as a measure of our effectiveness. After all, if our students graduate on time but cannot write, speak, or think clearly, we are failures. Sure, we may be able to boast about our high graduation rates. And we may secure appropriations tied to completion.

But make no mistake: we will have failed at achieving our mission. We cannot focus on quantity at the expense of quality. Period.

As always, I point you to my disclaimer lest you think these words reflect anyone’s opinions other than my own.

1 Comment

Filed under Community College, Developmental Education, Higher Ed, My Opinion

One response to “Completing But Failing

  1. Pingback: Not a Factory | Wider than the Sky

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