The Negative Commandments: Ten Ways Urban Community Colleges Hinder Student Success

Article excerpt

This article highlights ten negative operative principles identified through focus group interviews conducted on 9 urban campuses with faculty, students, and administrators. Together with its sister paper "The Positive Commandments", the list of operatives serve as an indication of appropriate practices.

Keywords: Community Colleges; Institutional Effectiveness

The community college is an American educational success story. Through their open-door admissions policy, community colleges admit and then remediate the under-prepared, provide vocational training for those in need of vocational or technical skills, and offer all curricula at varied times on weekdays and weekends. Community colleges provide convenient access to those with work or family constraints that would have prevented attendance under more traditional circumstances. Despite the documented successes of the American community college, critics maintain concerns about the quality of education students receive and the value of vocational training. For example, some have asked whether one institution can simultaneously prepare students for rigorous undergraduate study and train competent workers to pursue vocations not requiring a bachelor degree (Dougherty, 1994). Others question how one institution can provide both of these services to a diverse student population with complex needs while adhering to state budgets and remaining competitive with four-year universities in terms of resources offered.

One of the goals of the Transfer and Retention of Urban Community College Students (TRUCCS) project was to understand how the community college fulfills its multiple missions. This article uses qualitative data collected through a series of focus groups with students, faculty and administrators held at the nine Los Angeles campuses during the Fall semester of 2001.

In a sister paper, published in the Community College Journal, we described ten "positive commandments" or factors that promote student success (Hagedorn, Perrakis, & Maxwell, 2006). Here we took the opposite approach, highlighting ten negative operating principles found to be consistent among the focus group interviews we conducted. Thus this article takes the approach of what NOT to do. Taken together, these lists of positive and negative "commandments" formed the basis of ongoing research designed to illustrate the duality of institutional management.

While we identified the best practices and commend the community college system for its advocacy of student potential and development, we also found areas needing attention. Some of these flaws were inherent to urban environments, where issues of transportation, access, and diversity were pressing. However, other problems we identified were endemic to the larger, two-year system of education and speak to its shortcomings in areas of resource development, bureaucratic policies/procedures, and campus architecture.

The ten negative commandments detail what the community colleges should NOT do, practice, and create. We hope that combined with the positive commandments (Hagedorn, Perrakis, & Maxwell, 2006) this set of operatives gives simple guidance to community colleges. For the sake of convenience, at the end of this article, we have also included a list of the positive commandments as well as the negative ones discussed herein.

Commandment I: Thou shalt NOT underestimate the need for accurate and consistent general counseling services.

One of the most consistent complaints we heard from students was that general counseling services were inadequate. In some cases, students reported that staff counselors gave false or misleading information. For an academically savvy student, the issue of misinformation may not be significant because s/he is most often equipped to decipher accurate and misguided advice regarding major or transfer requirement; however, for a student without much experience, one wrong suggestion can lead to a string of problems that result in student apathy or even dropout (Tinto, 1987). …