In a classic case of dueling studies, the American Association of Community Colleges recently issued a report showing that most community-college students see a significant return on their financial investment. That was in response to an earlier report, produced by the American Institutes for Research, indicating that for some students, the value of a two-year degree is less than that of a high-school diploma.The release of those two apparently contradictory studies within a few months of each other prompted a fair amount of finger-pointing, thinly veiled accusations, and claims and counterclaims. In other words, it was business as usual in the dog-eat-dog world of higher-education policy debate.
I don’t doubt that both groups had the best of intentions, and that both reports make valid and important points that policy makers would do well to consider. I applaud both efforts to evaluate what community colleges do in concrete terms because I understand that in our current regulatory environment, such empirical measures are necessary.
And yet, as someone who has worked at community colleges for 27 years, I can’t help but think that neither study manages to tell the real story. Because the truth is, so many of the things that community colleges do for their students and communities are difficult to measure empirically. Here are a few of the things I have in mind: <Read more.> [Part 2 will be up later today.]