by David Safier

Yesterday I posted a criticism of Ladner's Daily Email takedown of our Community Colleges. Today's Goldwater Institute Daily Email is Ladner's responding to criticisms of his takedown, which he says have come from "several people."


It's true, there was a lively discussion on Sonoran Alliance's comments section, and Ladner says he's received "an avalanche of email in response," but I suspect one of the important "several people" is me. And even if I'm not in the equation, I'd like to continue to be part of the discussion.

Ladner used to be a frequent commenter here on BfA. He doesn't drop around anymore. The main reason is, he knows I still want him to justify his contention that, in school districts, Bus Drivers are Bureaucrats, along with maintenance workers and cafeteria workers — one of the more ridiculous twistings of the language I've heard recently — but for some reason, in his understanding of the language, teachers aren't bureaucrats. By me, to be consistent, it's got to be both or neither — preferably neither. But Ladner and G.I. are sticking by the "Bus Drivers are Bureaucrats" assertion, and Ladner knows it's not something he wants to argue about with me.

So I'm going to quote from Ladner's email and let him have his say, then respond. But before I do, I need to point out, Ladner didn't address in his email, and to the best of my knowledge has never mentioned, the fact that Florida has a higher high school dropout rate than Arizona. If he's all about dropout rates in Community Colleges and Universities, he should also be honest about Florida's deplorable record with its high school dropouts since he spends so much time singing Florida's educational praises.

That said, here is what Ladner wrote:

Several people objected to the data, noting that many people take a community college course for various reasons – like receiving a certification or for personal betterment – but have no intention of graduating. This is true. But the federal data that I reviewed only tracks the academic progress of students enrolling in a fall semester as full-time students. Casual course takers are not counted in the calculation of dropout rates.

A number of readers also noted that students sometimes enroll in community colleges but transfer to a university and graduate from the four-year institution. This is also true. In Arizona, however, all three of our public universities are also dropout factories – with on-time graduation rates below 35 percent. While some community college students do transfer to universities and graduate on time, I haven’t seen data that show they are doing so in large numbers.

I stand corrected on one point. If Ladner only tracked people who enrolled as full time students, that gets rid of the casual course takers, who I thought he included.

But how about full time students going for some kind of certification that doesn't involve graduation? I admit my ignorance about the ins and outs of higher education, but I'm pretty sure lots of Community College programs are taken by people who enroll as full time students — that is, they're taking a full course load — but their intention is to be certified in a certain field, not to graduate.

Is there someone out there who knows more than I do and can clarify this for the readers and me?

If I'm right, that leads to the next question: does Arizona have more students in these kinds of non-graduation programs than Florida? If Ladner doesn't know the answer, then his comparison between the two states' graduation rates is pretty weak.

Ladner brushes away the idea of AZ Community College students transfering to universities rather than graduating, but it's a legitimate point. It seems he simply doesn't have any stats on that or how the numbers compare between Arizona and Florida, which once again makes his numbers questionable. (Arizona has recently made the transfer of units from Community  College to university easier, which could mean more people make the leap earlier here than in Florida.)

How about the percentage of Floridians in Community College full time vs. the percentage in Arizona? Again, if you're doing a comparison, that's important, but Ladner hasn't supplied the information.

Critical to understanding the motives behind Ladner's half-baked, half-studied analysis is that Ladner wants to limit the number of people who attend college. The man is an elitist, pure and simple. The fewer people who attend college, the more advanced degrees go to people from privileged backgrounds and to people who have parents with college educations, which is fine by him. The more people who have an opportunity to attend college, the greater chance people from less privileged backgrounds have of moving up the educational and the professional ladder, which means the meritocracy could make things more difficult for the less talented and/or less industrious children of the privileged and educated. Of course, the other side of increased enrollment is, it also increases the number of people who leave before they complete their educations. But if this country has a dual goal of democratizing education and having the most educated populace possible, a graduation certificate is not the sole criterion we should use to judge the success of our higher education system.

NOTE TO MATTHEW: If you decide to continue this discussion elsewhere — and I think it's a very interesting discussion — can you or someone else link me to it so I can read what you have to say? Please?