Community college budget cuts hurting students: canned tests are not a good solution

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The community college that I currently attend has seen dramatic budget cuts with entire departments decimated, full-time administrators either forced into part-time positions or eliminated and some relocated/repositioned. Our student activities’ office is comprised of a single part-time secretary. The student advising department head is now a part-time position.

One of the biggest stresses resulting from budget cuts I have seen are professors who are forced to take on more classes. This means a couple of issues that affect students:

1. Professors are less available to participate in and oversee student clubs and activities (we have no student newspaper right now); and
2. Professors are using new curricula that come with canned quizzes, tests and PowerPoint lectures.

The first is a travesty, and the second hurts students terribly, directly affecting the quality of instruction.

I am taking two courses this semester that are utilizing canned content (quizzes, tests and PowerPoint presentations as lectures). This canned material makes professors’ jobs so much easier. They don’t need to spend precious time constructing quizzes and tests, or preparing lectures. The problem with this scenario is that they are less familiar with the content of the material, and they cannot tie tests to lectures easily. Most students expect NOT to be tested on material that is not taught. Textbooks are frameworks, starting places, reference books. They are not meant to be read, studied, memorized and every fact and concept within their covers learned. Yet this is what is expected in publisher-prepared curricula.

I have always tested well. I typically get an A and even often A+ on any test. Granted, I am challenged with memory issues from chronic Lyme disease (which I attempt to offset by days of study and preparation). I read each chapter and take detailed notes. For my environmental science class, each chapter in the textbook is comprised of 25-28 pages. We are expected to read and know every single definition, fact, scenario, idea, concept in each chapter that we cover. I reread each chapter and study. Our first exam covered 5 chapters. I received a 90.49, the lowest grade on any test in my two years of college so far. My test score revealed the average and median test grades to be 76 and 80, respectively. I am not sure if this is normal for college exam grades, but I personally think they are low.

Another class I am taking is using canned material. The grades from the first test have not been returned to us yet, but the professor informed us that the grades were not good even for A students. She is concerned. This is the first year the college has used this particular text and canned content, but apparently it is not looking positive.

The goal of any professor is to teach and train students, to prepare them for more complex coursework, or at the least provide a survey of a subject, as is the case with the environmental science course.

I will get a chance to share my thoughts and concerns about the use of publisher-prepared material in course evaluations, and I will be very honest about my experiences. The sad part is that the grades and GPAs of this semester’s students could easily suffer due to overly heavy faculty course loads, the need to use canned tests and other available content in lieu of having the time to prepare lectures, write quizzes and tests, and teach what students need to know instead of getting through a course. I haven’t even mentioned how well or poorly I feel I am being taught the subject.

For the first time since I started school, I am thinking about not continuing. College budget cuts not only stress faculty and staff, they seriously hurt students and affect the overall quality of a college education. Let’s see: outrageously-high tuition costs and poor quality of course content. This does not speak well for the college experience at all. Not at all.

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