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In Richard Vedder’s column (College is not the place for remedial education, 9/17/12), colleges that provide remedial education, or developmental education as we refer to it, are complicit in a fraud. Vedder claims that remediation is a “big broken system.” He cites studies that claim one in 10 students needing developmental coursework as they enter community college will graduate within three years.

I teach developmental reading and writing at Southeast Community College. I am aware of Complete College America and see the private push to eliminate developmental education. We at SCC are changing how we deliver developmental education, but not because of CCA and people such as Vedder who call students “sub-par” and “marginal.” We change because we want to serve our students and our communities in ever-better ways.

Meet “Joe.” He started at SCC in 2006 in developmental English coursework while working at Farmland Foods. Joe stopped studying in 2008 and started back up in 2010. He puts his hand over his heart every time he sees me in the mornings in the library. He graduated recently and is now attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Joe would be a “sub-par” student and counted as a dropout in most studies that don’t understand the lives of our students.

Many on the outside of developmental education see numbers such as the ones Vedder quotes and shout “fire,” calling for privatization and out-sourcing while making further claims that bad teachers and seniority are barriers to change.

If a person did more than look at this data, she would see that there are changes always occurring in education. Anyone walking into SCC today would see several new initiatives that were not forced -- as Vedder demands of colleges -- on our administrators and teachers. We are working to bridge the path from adult education to college completion by streamlining the process, making it more efficient time-wise and less expensive for students. SCC is part of a consortium of colleges across Nebraska doing similar work.

Course design, curriculum, and student support services targeted to under-prepared students are based on innovations occurring at colleges across the country. Such initiatives are designed to improve success rates of students, prepare students for successful transfer to other colleges, and provide local business and industry with a well-prepared workforce of skilled problem solvers.

I have worked in developmental education and secondary education for 17 years, the past nine at SCC. I am always working to know who our students are and how they learn. A quick survey would show that most students in developmental courses are working, many have families, and many are from backgrounds that one could consider socially and economically disadvantaged and marginalized. Such students would fit into the profile of the “Achievement Gap” traced through K-12 schools which associates income of families to performance in schools. The “Achievement Gap” is still an over-simplified view of a complex problem that has roots in our country’s political, economic, and social history.

The truth is that very little is known or understood about developmental education, especially by folks such as Vedder, who gloss over their lack of understanding. Its history runs deep and is largely ignored. One only needs a bit of digging to find a few clues: half of Ivy League students failed entrance exams early in the past century; in the mid-1860s, more than 87 percent of students admitted to the University of Wisconsin were enrolled in college preparatory coursework. Claims that suggest a sudden panic in our educational system may be in style with the political rhetoric of our day, but we need people engaged in deep study of societal issues that still face us, including education.

What critics like Vedder propose to do is close the door to thousands of students who want to enter college. Fortunately, for those of us in Lincoln, my college reflects my belief that a college education is a not-for-profit endeavor. It’s about people and opportunity for everyone. We work every day toward offering that reality to every student that walks through our doors.

Phip Ross lives in Lincoln.


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