“Access” has become a fraught buzzword in higher education circles. It touches on everything from diversity to financial aid to preparedness. That last one is the kicker, raising questions about where the positive good of expanding access to higher ed twists into the demonstrable bad of admitting students who are so unprepared that they cannot hope to succeed at college-level work. That’s where the ugliness sets in: Colleges see their dropout rates spiking, notice that the people who aren’t graduating are disproportionately made up of those who are beneficiaries of efforts to expand “access,” and have to strike an unholy balance between maintaining academic standards and compromising them in the name of making good on all that “access”: retention and remediation become terribly important; actual college-level learning becomes less so, though no one likes to say it.Yes, and U.S. News and the like sell more rating guides, as the flight from subprime institutions accelerates. Meanwhile, the subprime institutions blight the lives of people who have often suffered from not being members of the Lucky Sperm Club or parental disengagement from learning or whatever else might make people "too compromised to catch up academically, ever." The result: a permanent squandering of resources.
It’s a tremendous tragedy. Young adults are suffering the crippling consequences of failed, irresponsible public education where neither schools nor students are held accountable. We don’t want to write young people off–philosophically, many of us feel we can’t. But what we wind up doing instead is just sad. Too little, too late, too often, for too many.The "we" refers to higher education, specifically the community colleges. The ultimate responsibility rests with the common schools and their failures to inculcate the habits of successful people, which are emergent and beyond stereotyping as social constructions.