Friday, July 17, 2009

Brooks on Obama and community colleges

Today David Brooks clarifies what was muddy to me about the president's new $12 billion plan for community colleges.

I'm no expert on retention policies in community colleges, and the way Brooks frames it, maybe nobody is or even can be, given the dearth of good tracking data. But the idea that while low tuition is probably pretty important, the biggest bang-for-the-buck vis-a-vis graduation is in policies that are more adaptive to students' needs really resonates. The $12 billion is apparently directed primarily toward trying to develop such policies and programs.

One sees vast heterogeneity in students' abilities probably at every stage of education. I certainly see it among undergrads at Queens College and among Ph.D's at the Grad Center. Some are so sharp they seem more in command of the material than the instructors, me included! Some appear to be in dire need of assistance. A vast middle doesn't give off much of a vibe either way. Community colleges are a natural place to really try to improve outcomes; high schools might be even better. Four-year colleges probably need something too. As to which provides a more fluid environment to try new things, again, I'm no expert.