Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cooling out in higher ed

The "cooling out" function of higher education is visible at the community college. The multiple missions of the community college such as transfer, vocational training, remedial education, and community engagement make an easy argument for some campuses to deflect from a transfer curriculum to that of a vocational degree. Specifically, Burton Clark in The "Cooling-Out" Function in Higher Education defines "cooling out" as the deflection from transferring from the community college to selecting a vocational training career. Students may voluntary choose to change their career choice to a vocational degree because of less rigorous academics, time of completion, etc. In Clark's argument reorienting students from a transfer track to a vocational track is still a success because the student will still have a return to their education and in his words, "the effect is to let hopes down gently and unexplosively." A student discouraged by grades and the length of transferring and completing a four-year degree may choose to complete a shorter terminal vocational degree and be "cooled out" from their original goal. The idea is keep the students by all means possible.

Arum and Howt in The Early Returns argue that in respect to economic return of vocational degrees, the time to degree and specialized training reflect the rate of return. Vocational degree recipients would earn less than a Bachelor's recipient but greater than a recipient of only a High school diploma. All in all, vocational degrees have positive labor market outcomes and increase social mobility.

A great community college culture accommodates to all its missions and creates a campus culture that is fluid and open to the mission's cross-sections. I heart the community college and its web of complexity and majesty!



Jeramiah Johnson said...

This article can be seen in light of the Brint and Karabel paper on community colleges. Perhaps the schools are "cooling out" because it is smart business. I think it is ironic that this strategy is referred to as anticipatory subordination: where the junior colleges diversified to include vocational education because they lacked the resources to compete with four-year schools in the traditional academic realm. Ironic, because one that chooses to go the vocational route perhaps does so realizing that he/she too will be subordinate to one with a four-year degree in terms of SES. In both instances there is a compromise of sorts taking place.
The notion that junior colleges are striving to make their mission statements a reality, by providing their students with more options than just transfering, is really more of a reaction to social constraints, than to fulfilling the ideals of democracy and freedom of choice.

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