How to Escape the Community-College Trap

Ann Hulbert, Dec 28, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

One of the key lessons I learned teaching in northern Alberta was the role community support plays helping students overcome family and financial hurdles during their education. Life in the small towns and First Nations communities could be rough; I remember women showing up to class with black eyes. It was the outreach of programs like the Sunrise Project in Slave Lake that kept them coming back to class, and led them to future success. At Blue Quills, in St. Paul, without this support, almost none of the students succeeded. You don't forget lessons like that.

So this article resonates with me. It begins with the story of a student succeeding in college through the assistance of Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) in New York. It's an unusual accomplishment; more than half of community-college students in the system never earn a degree, and those that do take a long time. Those most in need of community support get the least, while students an institutions like Harvard are surrounded with support. "A surer formula for widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots—at least while still paying lip service to ideals like opportunity and meritocracy—would seem difficult to devise."

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