In his last State of the Union message, President Obama announced a plan to make community colleges tuition free to students who made decent grades and who graduated within three years. I believe that this is a good idea to help middle class families provide higher education to their children. However, I agree with David Brooks that free tuition alone will not help stem the 60 – 80% drop out rate from community colleges around the country. Community colleges already provide free tuition for most poor and working class students who qualify for Pell grants and other aid. Any one who has gone to college, or has sent children to college knows that tuition is only part of the cost. In many states tuition for a three credit academic course is under $1000.00 dollars. Throwing money at the situation sounds good, but money alone is not going to reduce the drop out rate, nor, in the long run, help middle class families provide their children with a college education.
The establishment of community colleges in the 1960’s did, and still does help families provide higher education and better paying jobs to those who meet the requirements for graduation in a timely manner. To meet those requirements, students must complete the academic courses in their respective curricula. However, over the years, more and more poor and under achieving students use their college money to take non-credit basic skills courses. Too often their “college” money runs out before they take any courses for academic credit. When the money dries up, these students drop out. There are ways to resolve this problem.
One step to helping students attending community colleges succeed is to not allow any high school graduate to put one foot on a college campus until he/she meets this criteria: a. each student must have achieved no less than a “C” in all high school academic subjects b. each student must pass a High School Proficiency Test in at least the 75th percentile in all academic subjects c. each student must demonstrate through attendance records that he/she has not missed more than 15 days of school for each year in high school. Students must understand that higher education is not a right. It is a privilege. Any student not meeting those requirements and who wants to go to college, must, at public expense, spend up to one year at a separate facility (not at the district high school, nor at a community college campus) intensely studying for the High School Proficiency Test. The student may take the test up to four times during that year. When the student has passed the test in the 80th percentile in reading and the 75th percentile in math, he/she may qualify for free tuition at his/her local community college. If the student does not pass the test in that year (12 months), at his/her own expense, may take non-credit courses on line to help pass the proficiency test. Those students may take the proficiency test as many times as they wish until they pass the test meeting the same criteria stated above.
Once the student qualifies to enter a community college, faculty members and guidance counselors must be available to help each student take the appropriate academic subjects in his/her selected field.
If the above were put into place, I guarantee that the student drop out rate would fall. More importantly, students would take pride in the fact that they took their portion of responsibility in getting a college education.
Many may think that the above step to reduce student drop out rates is naïve. Simple steps can be very effective. The Jesuits have known for centuries that, “Repetition is the mother of learning.” We live in an age of instant gratification. Our children have convinced us that doing the same thing over again is “boring”. Athletes know that repetition leads to muscle memory. Our brains work in much the same way. “Use it, or lose it”. As a nation, we cannot afford to have our young people “lose it”.