From the frontlines of teaching in community colleges
My hard lessons teaching community college
If I didn't think that community colleges could save plenty of people, I could not do my job. But I don't think they can save everyone, and I don't think that everyone is in need of salvation. They are expected to fill an enormous void in our culture and in our educational system, to bridge a gap that in many cases seems unbridgeable, to break down barriers of race and class. And at their best, they do every bit of that.
An acquaintance who teaches at the nearby private university once asked me if I'd like to trade my tenure and my associate professorship for a crappy adjunct job at a four-year institution, as though any university position were better than what I do. Many people ask me how I do it -- how I handle all of the challenges of dealing with a sometimes difficult, frequently underprepared and often (as we like to call it) "at risk" student body. And the frank answer is that I don't. I don't always "do it." I don't always have the patience or the time these students need, but I do what I can. Sometimes the best kind of doing is just teaching.
In his last State of the Union address, Obama trotted out community colleges once again as the great hope. The place where "every American" can have access to an affordable, quality education. Access isn't completion. Completion isn't success. As much as we tell ourselves otherwise, college isn't for everyone. Safety nets fail. Bootstraps break.
But the beauty is, sometimes they don't.