I’m involved with the honors program on our campus. Yes, some community colleges have honors programs. Our best students are as good as the best students anywhere.
Of course, the college has no admission requirements. We have to accept everyone who wants to attend here. So our weakest students can be orders of magnitude below the cutoff points established by our four-year brethren. People outside the community college sphere often seem unaware of our open admissions — and they’re certainly not thinking about the consequences. Allow me to illustrate…
Our honors program is run by volunteers from the college faculty and staff. It has no set curriculum, no dedicated support beyond a single three-credit release every semester, and its annual budget is a few thousand dollars. Better than nothing? Sure. I’ve seen “nothing” as an operating philosophy. But it’s hard for our top-tier students to see why they’d bother getting involved.
Our remedial/developmental/etc. programming has its own dean, half-a-dozen full time faculty, several times that many adjuncts, dedicated classroom space, dedicated office space, a person devoted entirely to retention efforts… it’s an entire academic division. And for good reason. Like most community colleges, we draw a lot of students who are unprepared for what the world considers college-level work. Without this extensive support system, many of them would sink below the surface and never be seen again.
But it points out a huge cultural problem. If you lavish care and resources on helping people reach the minimum acceptable standard, and you treat the people who excel as an afterthought, what are you saying? Because it’s not a subtle message.
People have this idea that it’s okay to ignore the high-performing students, on the grounds that those students are smart enough to figure things out for themselves. They are. For example, they can figure out that you don’t think they’re important enough to support, and that you aren’t willing to put resources toward helping them become the best they can be. As long as that’s our approach, community college isn’t living up to the “college” part of its title. Every student should get the necessary resources to improve themselves. Even the smart ones.