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Danehy

Pima Community College's admissions changes deserve a hearty round of applause

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College isn't for everybody.

According to a friend of mine who is a reading specialist, someone with a seventh-grade reading level would struggle with that sentence. "College" is a word that isn't easily sounded out; "isn't" is a contraction; "for" has multiple homonyms; and "everybody" is a compound word. However, for someone at, say, a 10th-grade reading level, that sentence should be cake.

And yet, according to a chorus of protests emanating from a collection of professional do-gooders, a local college is supposed to admit just about everybody who applies, whether they can read that sentence or not. Of course, it's better to be a do-gooder than a Republican any day, but gee whiz, people; there are limits. You're not going to clean up every crackhead; you're not going to straighten out every knucklehead; and you shouldn't support the notion of every single person being admitted to a college—without exception—just because the idea of matriculation happens to strike their fancy at that particular point in their lives.

After a bit of wrangling and, quite frankly, a shocking amount of public wailing and gnashing of teeth, the Pima Community College governing board voted last week to raise admission standards, and to restructure and redirect its efforts in the area of remedial education. For those of us who are fans of the community-college system (and of education in general), please allow me to say, "It's about damn time."

I am indeed a huge supporter of community colleges. Despite being the occasional butt of jokes from the snob crowd, they serve a great many needs, and they do so almost universally well. Community colleges provide two-year programs that can serve as the base for a lifetime career in a well-paying job. They offer a wide variety of specialty classes for part-time and returning-to-education students. And, perhaps most importantly, they offer the financially strapped student the opportunity to take and pass fully transferable general-education classes for a small fraction of what those same classes would cost at the university.

What community colleges shouldn't do is be forced to attempt to provide college-level instruction to people who read, write and/or do math at a seventh-grade level.

One person I talked to tried to offer up as an analogy that of Jesus leaving the flock and going off in search of the lost sheep. Well, Jesus did mad tricks with food and wine, so we'll shrug on that lost-sheep thing. I'm sure Jesus had his reasons, but a lot of His stuff was bewildering. (For example, if I were relating that one parable, I would have had the returning Prodigal Son pimp-slapped and forced to sleep in the barn.)

I was discussing this with my neighbor the other day, and he said, "Wow, Tom, that's rather un-liberal of you." I replied, "That would be 'illiberal,'" which pretty much ended the conversation, but his point struck me as odd. When, exactly, did liberals cede the concept of personal responsibility to the Loud Talkers on the Far Right? Personal responsibility should be the guiding principle and personal mantra of all people, not just those on one side of the political spectrum.

Personally, I believe that college freshmen should be reading, writing and doing math at the bare-minimum level of college freshmen! What a concept, huh? Of course, if that were strictly enforced, you'd be able to find parking at any time of day on the UA campus, and Arizona State University would look like The Rapture had hit Tempe. However, in this kid-coddling culture of ours, that's probably expecting too much. But, at the same time, isn't allowing someone with a seventh-grade-level of education to enter college expecting way too little?

Now, I'm sure that there are a few good reasons why an adult would be employing those vital skills at a seventh-grade level: a crappy home life, a lack of parental support, a transient lifestyle, an astronomically improbable unbroken series of bad teachers, knucklehead friends and so on. But there are also the kids who chose to go to the charter school in the shopping mall because it allows them to smoke between classes. Or the guy who can read and understand every word in an instruction manual for the latest blood-and-guts video game, yet has never in his life picked up a book without having been forced to do so. Or the girl who can text 140 characters in under 10 seconds, but doesn't know that "Ur" was an important Sumerian city-state, and instead believes that it's a correct way of conveying the meaning of "you are."

Those in the latter group shouldn't be cut any slack at all. Those in the former group who have a sincere desire to pursue a college education should be given a hand up— and Pima will be doing that with its Pathways to Pima program, offering remedial education (without college credit) to those who want and need it. It's in the best interest of those students and of the students who arrived at Pima capable of performing at a college level.

Three cheers for Pima Community College and its newly adopted higher standards. There's nothing wrong with having people earn that which they desire.

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