Think, Know, Prove: College to Careers (The Mayor’s Thing)

Ok, so I tried to Don’s thought experiment and I read the Mayor’s press release, and I read Mayor Emanuel’s speech after my dad’s boss (who was there, I think) sent it to him to send to me. And, even though I flinched in spots (e.g., “Riding the El six weeks ago, I met a young man who was commuting from Harold Washington Community College where he studies business and computers to his job at a Target warehouse. That young man is doing everything right. He’s studying, he’s holding down a job. He is doing everything we can ask of him to give himself a better shot at a future. So when he puts Harold Washington on his resume, that should mean something to his employer. It should have economic value to him. The basic agreement is you take responsibility, and we’ll provide you opportunity. That young man is taking responsibility but we are not living up to our side of the bargain. Can we honestly say to ourselves that we are doing everything we can for him, that he is getting the best from us? When he walks into a job interview, and it says Harold Washington or Malcolm X College on his resume, his hard work should pay-off. If we work together, starting tonight, it will.” Oh! Nice to know that those degrees will mean something in the future, you know, once the Mayor and his people are “doing everything we can for him.” Grrrrrr. But I digress.), when I got to the end, I thought, “O.k. It’s not the speech I would give, but, well, maybe some good will come out of it.”

And over the next couple of days…weeks…I kept thinking about it. I kept talking myself out of being annoyed, even outraged, at aspects of the thing, saying to myself, this whole plan could very easily be in addition to our college credit/liberal education mission. Certainly, it must be a buffering of resources, and not merely a trade out. It’s not politically viable, I reasoned to myself, to close the doors to affordable college in this day and age to a huge swath of under-served citizens. I tried to live by the Principle of Charity and hear the whole thing generously, considering the audience to whom the Mayor was speaking and so on and so forth, and still, I couldn’t quite put my doubts to rest.

Then I talked to a friend of mine who is close to someone who worked on the Mayor’s transition team and apparently has been making suggestions about the City Colleges. My friend started asked why there shouldn’t be a community college level charter schools. There was more, which I’ll spare you, and the evening is somewhat fuzzy due to the blood pressure spike, but suffice it to say that the whole thing has been gnawing at me for weeks now.

I recognize that EVERY community college is a multi-missioned institution and that at HWC, we tend to think of the City Colleges as college-credit institutions because that’s primarily what we are (whereas Daley, for example, has almost as many Adult Ed students as credit students), and  I know that CCC credit faculty tend to be a bit myopic about our mission (as in it is THE mission). I know these things and I love them, since they, as Metoyer once put it, are the indicators of how invested we are in the success of the college and the students who go here.Furthermore I recognize that there is probably a lot that can and needs to be done at every level and toward every aim of the college (pre-credit, adult ed, career skills, and college credit) to improve both our numbers and the community we serve. I know all of this, and yet. And yet.

It bothers me that in the Mayor’s speech about the City Colleges the word he used in reference to what we do was “train” not educate (see page 6 of his speech). Educate, famously, is derived from the Latin word for “leading out.” I’ll let you work out the rest.

It bothers me that he (and the CCC administration) toss around that 7% graduation number as if it tells the story of the institution’s effectiveness when it clearly doesn’t if subjected to the mildest critical scrutiny.

It bothers me more that the local press is willing to repeat that number and the associated claims without even bothering to so much as reword the sentences from the press releases a little.

Then, it really bothered me to read THIS crap (we’re number LAST in the state!):

Almost a million students enroll in Illinois community colleges each year, seeking a more affordable and accessible alternative to traditional four-year universities, to try to learn new skills, or to brush up on old ones.

But fewer than 1 in 5 first-time students who take full loads of classes graduate with associate degrees within three years — a statistic Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon says creates “revolving doors to the unemployment line.”…

Among the colleges that graduated the fewest students within that time period are the City Colleges of Chicago. Malcolm X College fares the best out of city schools with 11 percent of full-time students completing a degree within three years, while Harold Washington College ranks last in the state, with just 4 percent of students reaching that goal.

City Colleges spokeswoman Katheryn Hayes said those kind of numbers are why the system has embarked on a plan to reinvent itself. The administration searched for new presidents at many of the schools.

“We are working to shift the paradigm around our community college system from an institution focused solely on access to one that couples student access with success,” Hayes said in a statement.

Setting aside the fact that the story buries (at best) or ignores (at worst) the reasons behind the statistics and seems to endorse the Lt. Governor’s (partial at minimum) attribution fallacy, I am reminded that whenever John Wozniak mentioned that stat, our state low or near-low graduation rate, which has been true for us for quite awhile, he could and would always say that we ranked right at the very top of student transfers. I don’t know what his data source was, but I don’t think he’d have said it if it weren’t true. Of course information like that would disrupt the narrative and that wouldn’t do, I guess.

Finally, it bothers me to read THIS:

Addressing mayors from across the country, Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel on Friday touted his plan to transform the City Colleges of Chicago by tailoring the curriculum at individual campuses to meet employers’ needs for workers in fields such as health care, computer science, transportation, hospitality and manufacturing…

Talking about Chicago, Emanuel said the CEOs of companies large, medium and small were so enthusiastic about the program that he has trouble absorbing “all the enthusiasm.”

He said at the end of four years, six of City College seven campuses would see their curricula revised and tailored for specific growth fields.

And so, I am left to wonder, what the hell does all of this mean? What is this thing, this “College to Careers” program, all about?

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

5 thoughts on “Think, Know, Prove: College to Careers (The Mayor’s Thing)

    • Thank you, Kamran. And nice work in the IHE comments–I could not have managed to be so informative with such restraint. Well done.

  1. Thanks to Philodave for putting a summary of all the sad ideas mixing the “value” of education to “training skills” based limited concepts of education. Developing any kind of skills is crucial to everyone, but what about when those skills need an abrupt change because of “economical” shifts??? Would we need to go ahead and deal with new “re-inventions” generated again by those with $$$ power? Wouldn’t be easy (and less cost-effect) to offer a (brain active- critical thinking approach) valuable education that could surpass the momentary training needed for specific current jobs? Considering our job as skills’ trainers would diminish our main role as educators building future well-rounded citizens, while in a certain way tends to discriminate the potential of our students.

    At the same time, all this business of education based on students as “customers” contributes to jeopardize the main goal of education. Take into account that a customer is “free” to decide what to do with the product they buy, right? Continuing on this idea, aren’t the customers free to decide if they want to graduate with a 2-year degree or transfer? How can we make a customer accountable for their success in education?

    Just thinking about how much I love teaching and helping our students (never considered customers!! – as I respect them too much to avoid selling our classroom experience to them) to succeed. . . vis-a-vis whatever is going on today in the “business of education”. . .

  2. Thank you for writing this piece, PhiloDave. I experienced similar sensations upon hearing Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon’s executive view on the state of community colleges:

    I know this is has been repeated by many, but I’m still very frustrated and insulted by the fact that high ranking elected officials regularly -and perhaps purposefully- overlook and/or ignore the rate at which community colleges successfully transfer students, thereby acting as an indispensable link to any degree later received. Community colleges are not, and never have been, an institution built to dispense those degrees required for most gainful career tacks; they were born out of sensible and righteous intentions to create accessible pathways to those successes, acting as scaffolds that aid students as they make their way upward to an intended goal. The degrees most people need almost exclusively can be acquired from four year, accredited institutions, with only some exceptions. If critics and developers truly knew how utterly and consistently successful we are/always have been with regard to our intended purpose, their relentless campaign to overhaul community colleges would emerge as null and void. With that in mind, it is infuriatingly narrow-minded to dismiss our successful transfer rates and incessantly point to the infamous 7% figure without discussing the social, academic, and economic context in which community colleges were born and currently exist. Why is the act of attending a community college to complete core curriculum requirements (and successfully transferring into a four-year degree program) a dismissible function in the eyes of the Mayor, Lt. Governor, Chancellor, and hosts of others insistent on denigrating community colleges as unsuccessful? Clearly there are ulterior motivations, pressing the matter from the corporate and private sector, determined to invade and marshal the next “business” frontier.

  3. Most alarming…funding based on graduation rates would put us…gulp, last in line. If I have to stay here 3 more years…I will see that green roof built.

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