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Readers React: Why graduation rate is the wrong way to judge a community college

Students work in a study hall at Hartnell College Alisal Campus in Salinas in 2016.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: The op-ed article by David L. Kirp points to an abysmal failure of community colleges to succeed within the parameters of the prevailing definition of “success” — graduation rates or how many students continue on to a four-year university.

As a community college teacher, I appreciate all of the problems that Kirp points out. But I feel we should consider augmenting his standard to include the degree of success in the labor market of those who fall short of Kirp’s metrics.

A relevant complementary study on the effectiveness of California’s community college system would be to gauge the degree of success of those not meeting the prevalent standard in the labor market — success that can be attributed to even their limited experience in the community college system.

As an academic, I feel upset hearing education talked about as mere fodder for the labor market. But as a taxpayer, I understand that success in the labor market is an indication of the effectiveness of our community colleges.

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Jack Kaczorowski, Los Angeles

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To the editor: There is a much quicker and more certain path to increasing the fraction of students receiving community college diplomas: Increase the pass rate in individual courses.

I teach math at El Camino Community College, and my pass rate hovers slightly above 50%. This is characteristic of many courses in science, engineering and math, also known as STEM courses — and STEM courses are required for graduation.

There are two ways of reducing this roadblock: Put pressure on individual teachers to pass more students, or ease the STEM course requirement. While these would certainly raise graduation rates, the net effect almost certainly would be counterproductive.

But I’m guessing there will be a lot of pressure placed on administrators, and through them on individual instructors, to do one or the other.

Jim Stein, Redondo Beach

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To the editor: We needn’t be so concerned about the graduation rates at community colleges.

Many students enter with no degree objective. They take short, non-degree programs (a great feature of community colleges) or even just a course or two to help them achieve career objectives, or even to complement earlier education.

For instance, my master’s in business administration is almost 50 years old, and I recently took a community college class in political science just because I wanted to. In this regard, community colleges could simplify their application and registration procedures for non-degree-oriented students.

Donald J. Loundy, Simi Valley

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