For my postsecondary reading course, we listened to this interview about the effectiveness—or lack thereof—of the community college system. In the interview, Chancellor Jack Scott introduces a shocking statistic that I have seen many times before, but it never seems to stun me: 75-80% of students entering community college require a “remedial” course in either English or Math. While the problems facing the community college are many, this fact forced me to realize a huge flaw in our conversation about public education. We seem to analyze primary, secondary, and postsecondary schools as separate entities; however, if that many students are coming to their community college’s footsteps with a lack of basic skills, the problem is occurring much earlier than the postsecondary level. So when do these issues start? Or is it the entire process that requires a revamping?
I recently read about a study about the value of early childhood education; in a Chicago preschool, the students enrolled had greater academic success, less need for remedial coursework, and fewer arrests during young adulthood than students who were not enrolled in any preschool. The statistics clearly demonstrated the relationship between a fully-funded pre-school experience and academic success later in life. Sadly, we all know that higher education isn’t the only budget that is being slashed. Public education at all levels is being sacrificed in our state budget, and the lack of available early education, especially in poor communities, is creating a domino effect of academic struggles. While we need to continue striving to improve institutions of higher education, we also have to recognize our interdependence with other levels of education and other social institutions.
The problems we face are bigger than simply public higher education. As social services get eliminated, poor families are watching their basic needs slip further and further away. We can no longer ignore the connection between basic needs and educational progress. How can a child do well in school if he is hungry? How can a teenager study her English textbook if her family is facing foreclosure? I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I know that the community college serves many students from disadvantaged and marginalized communities; they faced a lack of resources throughout their childhood, and yet we are shocked when they require remedial coursework and extra mentoring. This is why people are occupying. We can no longer afford to look at social injustices as isolated cases. Please note that I am not suggesting we should ignore the problems community colleges face and only focus our energy on a wide-scale revolution instead. The woes of the community college are present and real: we need more full-time instructors and counselors, lower tuition, and more extensive mentor programs in order to help our students reach their goals. However, as soon as we forget the big picture and how our politics affect every stage of human development, we let down our students and our communities.