I wanna hold your hand

by Amy Barlow

Big news for two-year colleges: The New Community College at CUNY (NCC) is ready to open its doors on August 20, commencing its mandatory bridge program, which will prepare its first class of freshmen for their fall semester. Last week, the New York Times Education Life section ran an exciting story that highlighted CUNY’s experimental approach to community college education. The plans include:

  • A mandatory, non-credit summer bridge program.
  • An inflexible First-Year Experience curriculum, with flexible scheduling options (choice of either a 6 or 12 week “semester”).
  • Full-time enrollment status for all freshmen.
  • No remedial (e.g. developmental) coursework as prerequisite to college-level classes for students that test below Basic Skills Assessment cut scores.

For those of you that dwell outside of the community college world, as most of you do, I must emphasize the radical nature of NCC’s curriculum. It’s wild! All eyes are on NCC, watching and waiting to see if CUNY has developed a two-year educational model that will make things less bad for students, and for us: the educators, librarians, and support staff who root for students everyday. What’s so bad, you ask? Well, there’s the abysmal retention rates, a success gap between full- and part-time students, and significantly reduced federal funding for remedial coursework, to name of few of our challenges. Take a peek at the NYT article if you want data. Community colleges are busy trying to solve these problems, and will look to successful innovators for inspiration. Will NCC be a success? It seems to me that it very well may be.

I don’t doubt that NCC’s librarians are thrilled with CUNY’s “resource-intensive approach” to learning and student support services. Though NCC lacks a library website at present, I don’t doubt that research and instruction librarians will be playing an important role in each student’s first-year experience. NCC’s learning outcomes include information literacy competencies (see, Intellectual Skills for Life-long Learning), which will be looked at during the college’s first accreditation visit in 2013. There’s lots of potential here for embedded research instruction, library/faculty collaboration, and much more.

In his recent commentary for The Chronicle of Higher Education Innovations Blog, Richard Kahlenberg was ambivalent about NCC’s new model; he applauded CUNY’s efforts to bring about necessary change, while calling them out as patriarchs. I too question a community college model with a selective application process, but I am not opposed to the “highly directed education” described by Kahlenberg. At the community college where I work, we already do a lot of hand-holding, as is the case at many community colleges. Student support, whether it be academic, admissions, or advising, is a real strength at community colleges. I believe that we should own it, that we should tell our students: I want to hold your hand.

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