If a student in Seattle did not value their high school classes, why should they value their community college classes just because Mayor Durkan wants to make tuition free?
I retired as professor of humanities from South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia in 2006 after 20 immensely rewarding years teaching writing and literature classes. Like my dedicated colleagues, I encouraged hundreds of nontraditional students to strive for personal and intellectual excellence. Because of this extraordinary experience, I strongly oppose Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal to offer all graduates of Seattle public high schools free tuition at a city community college regardless of their high school GPA.
First, free tuition regardless of students’ GPA cheapens their high school classes. Students would have little motivation if they knew that they could receive free community college tuition regardless of their academic effort. An indifference to classes could also discourage high school teachers who legitimately believe that their instruction is inherently valuable and intended to prepare students for college. Why make these instructors’ work more difficult by signaling to their students that their grades have no effect on securing funding for college?
Second, all community colleges have extensive pre-college curriculum for students whose entering test scores mandate that they initially take pre-100 level classes in math, writing and reading. While these classes normally fill with recent immigrants, under Durkan’s plan pre-college community college classes may explode because many more entering students may lack necessary skills to take 100-level courses because they did not achieve proficiency in high school.
Further, how should current community college faculty respond when told that students who had no incentives to perform well in high school can now take classes at their institution for free? Such students will effectively be given scholarships with little effort — a D average? — and if they did not value their high school classes, why should they value their community college classes?
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Third, while I applaud the goal of increasing academic opportunities for all Seattle students, removing incentives to intellectual achievement undermines the moral value we have always placed on personal motivation and educational excellence. We should certainly encourage all students to attend college, but do not use public money on a plan that devalues the entire educational process.
I propose instead that students offered free tuition at Seattle’s community colleges have at least a 2.00 GPA, a C average, in high school. That way they will have achieved their scholarship the old-fashioned way: They will have earned it! And having earned it, they will respect it.