08/18/2010 11:59 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

City Colleges Poised to Shut Students Out

The City Colleges of Chicago (District 508) are about to make a major academic change. The change is controversial and will probably be challenged.

The city college system is designed for a student to earn their first two years of basic academics and then proceed to a four-year college. The average community college student is there for six years. Students can learn technical and occupational skills; adult education is designed as enrichment, whereas occupational programs are designed to teach specific skills. The system is moving from general education to job-specific education; the programs range from Associate Degree courses to the culinary arts.

The system serves approximately 100,000 students per annum.

The college system, heretofore, has had an open door policy. With an open door policy, students are received as they are educated -- a student is accepted no matter the educational skill level. In addition, a remedial system was in place: if a student's reading and/or math skills were not up to par, they were brought up to the required skill set before moving on to the "college course " level. Which, in turn, helps a lot of students.

Recently the mayor and the Chancellor, Cheryl Hyman, announced an admissions policy change that suggests eliminating remedial programs. On average, they spend $30 million per annum on remedial education.

The policy change at the City College is not only a policy change, but also a mission change and perhaps a strategic plan change. The Vision 2011 strategic plan says this about admissions:

We work proactively to eliminate barriers to employment and to address and overcome causal factors underlying socio-economic disparities and inequities of access and graduation in higher education.

The plan suggests that students should be admitted as long as space for effective instruction is available. To omit remedial learning programs from City Colleges is to leave students hanging. Where do they go? What are the real options? Students should come to school ready to learn at their specific performance level, and that's what the City Colleges offered. You can't just throw them away.

Remedial learning is a necessary evil, preparing the student for the next educational level. If a student is not up to par, the community college brings them up to par. Usually, the remedial students come from the Chicago Public School System, where they are allowed to graduate without the proper skill sets.

That marks the genesis of the issue:
Why should a student be allowed to graduate from high school, if he/she is not at the appropriate skill level?

Where should the educational emphasis begin? Should it become a heavy focus at the college level or at the high school level?

To answer that frankly, level performance must be considered at all levels of the educational spectrum if it is going to be effective. It should begin at the kindergarten level. If you do not perform at the expected kindergarten level, you should not get out of kindergarten until you do!

That philosophy should travel throughout the educational system, and then there would be no problem at the college level. The problem should be addressed and solved at the very beginning. Third graders should not pass to the fourth grade reading at the first grade level. This is where the remedial learning should take place.

The mayor took on the responsibility of having the Chicago Public Schools report to him in order to get rid of the educational deficit. Did it happen? To change the City College admissions policy does not bode well. This is an important institution in that it is a point of transition for most. With tax paying dollars supporting this institution, an inclusion policy should be practiced.

They should not close the door to students who need preparation. At the same time, high schools need to be reviewed, to make certain that their students graduate only when they are prepared for the next educational level.

For too many students, the community college system is the entry level to higher education and opportunity.

It was for me, and it was for Chancellor Cheryl Hyman as well.