When my colleague in Humanities sent an e-mail with nothing but the link to the Civil Beat article to a mailing list subscribed by some 641 employees and students at UH Maui College this past Monday April 21st, my immediate reaction was “don’t they teach family planning to avoid unplanned pregnancies?” My second reaction was “maybe that’s a taboo subject.”
Others who read the article more thoroughly had more substantive things to say. Two days later, my colleague Stephen Fox who teaches “Experiences of Music” rebutted in Huffington Post.
For me, these two articles and the long e-mail trail of first-person testimonies to their own experiences to appreciate the community college system caused me to ponder if I might have been too tunnel vision in my initial attempt to “fix” it.
I arrived in Maui with no experience of attending community colleges and only a brief teaching spell at a university that was a former polytechnic in London — the closest equivalent to a community college. It ranked last place out of 122 institutions of higher education in the UK at the time. My probability and statistics students were struggling in class and juggling work and family commitments. I often excused myself from class to scream silently into the empty hallway, to regain my strength and composure.
I did not understand what it meant to be struggling and juggling, until I decided to pursue a full-time degree in music as a mature student. Among talented kids half my age, I felt inadequate and old. Every day I’d spend half an hour grooming myself to look young and fit in. It might have been easier if there were other students my age. But life-long learning at a conservatory was unheard of.
Still, now I teach and study part-time at a community college in Hawaii, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do both. Not everyone is here to get a degree. I’m taking a class to improve my writing and conflict management skills. I would love to take art history and all these other courses I never could afford the time to take during my undergraduate years because I was so intent on getting my degree in engineering.
I am sure there are others in the community that would take courses for personal enrichment and self-interest. Unfortunately, accreditation agencies don’t assess on that basis. They measure how long it takes to graduate, how many graduate, how many transfer, how many complete their courses, how many part-time students become full-time degree-seeking students.
On those bases, I would be a poor statistic, for I’m not taking classes to pursue a degree. I have students and classmates who are former combat soldiers, retired financial analysts, former prisoners, grandparents, working adults, and full-time students that fit the traditional profile.
Not everyone is here to get a degree.