Faculty inspire them to meet their goals
We have been hearing lots of discussion lately about student success. Interestingly, in recent years, student success has evolved as a part of the “reform movement” in community colleges. Many so-called “reformers” have criticized California’s colleges for their open access and have wanted us to focus instead on success. But for most of us, I would venture to say that we teach in community college because we have a commitment to both access and success. For those of you who have lived in other states and other countries, you know that we are blessed to have the most open and forgiving higher ed system in the world.
We offer a second chance
In so many other places, if you are unfocused as a student when you’re 15, you have no second chance. But here in California, if you are unfocused as a student when you’re 15 and you come to your senses when you’re 25, 35 or 45, you have that second chance. I actually have a young relative who is currently working in a warehouse for $9 an hour. He was telling me just the day before yesterday that he was amazed that there were people working with him who had been there for 35 years, doing the same thing every day. This relative had tried college when he came out of high school, and just couldn’t stick to it, but now at nearly 22, he was beginning to realize that his current job was not what he wanted for life.
Now to “success.” Is that young man “successful” according to the community college “reformers?” Because he did not transfer or receive a degree or certificate, no, he is not successful. Fullerton College, where he attempted to take classes, suffered in its statistics because he failed classes and dropped out. But for me, and I suspect for most of you, the fact that he is now ready to go forward and work on a degree in engineering is just the success we look for.
In fact, when we hear the words student success, we think of as many meanings as there are students. I teach ESL, and I know that for some of my students, success is getting a promotion at work because they can communicate better in speaking and in writing than they could when they started taking classes. Success may be understanding the letters that come home from their children’s schools and being able to participate in parent conferences. In other fields, success may be completing a finance class so that they can run a business or taking an English composition or geometry class over the summer to make up for high school deficiencies.
In addition, success varies from college to college depending on the community. In communities with higher numbers of college graduates, we would expect a higher number of students to transfer. In communities where we have a high percentage of first-generation college students, we would expect a greater diversity of goals – some students will transfer and take an academic road, but others will choose those very important career-tech fields that we need to drive California’s great economic engine.
Reaching your students
So how do we define success as faculty? What I hear from you, and I share this sentiment, is that success is the joy of knowing that you’ve reached your students, that your students have grown intellectually from being in your class, and that you’ve facilitated the building of relationships in your classroom community that live on after the class is over. I recently attended the memorial of a beloved anthropology teacher at Saddleback College. The room was packed full of his colleagues and his students, who got up one after another and testified to the impact he had had on their lives – their careers, attitudes, and friendships. That is the kind of success that probably can’t be measured by Student Learning Outcomes.
So go forward, my brothers and sisters, and keep inspiring your students to higher goals. The Community College Association and the California Teachers Association are working to support you and to make your lives easier so that you can create “student success.” Many of you have joined us at our three conferences every year, in which we get together and talk about what we do and how to make it better and, I hope, have some fun and go home with new ideas. Some have participated in CCA committees and contributed ideas which have changed our association. And many more have served you locally and deserve your appreciation for the time they take doing what is sometimes invisible work. We all need to be acknowledged for what we do, whether it is teaching that pre-collegiate math class or the anatomy class – we are all part of that great institution called the California Community Colleges, and we are all devoted to the goal of student success!