Life stories steer critics away from GC statistics

Gregg Aamot

Second-year student Tayha Anderson speaks of a personal history that in many ways parallels the lives of other students in the University’s General College.
A single parent raising two children, Anderson was out of school nearly a decade before she enrolled at the University in summer 1995.
Because of low math and science scores in high school, she was ineligible to begin her studies in the College of Liberal Arts. She thought about enrolling in a community college, but decided that wasn’t for her.
In General College, her grades have been solid and she hopes to study computer science in the Carlson School of Management or the Institute of Technology.
“I’ve had to work my butt off,” she said of her course work. “Many times I’ve slipped and fell behind, but like everyone else I’ve been able to get back ahead.”
More than 80 percent of the students who begin their University careers in General College never graduate. This striking statistic alone has prompted calls for the school’s closure.
Anderson, though, says the value of the college can’t be measured by the number of graduates it helps produce.
“Regardless of that argument, it’s really about lives and opportunity. You can’t look at it as a statistic thing,” said Anderson, 27. “It has really opened doors to my life.”
The percentage of General College students who ultimately graduate has changed little over the last two decades despite a significant investment in support services.
Reasons for the poor graduation rate are hard to pinpoint. Some critics blame the school’s curriculum; others say students in the college aren’t serious about getting a degree.
Anderson said student apathy is no greater in General College than elsewhere on campus. “I see it as about equal to the rest of the University, as far as effort and attitude go,” she said.
Serving nontraditional students has been a priority of General College since the 1960s, when administrators began recruiting more minorities, as well as older students with families.
Despite criticism surrounding the college, many of these students say it has served them well in their pursuit of a degree.
Trenese Bellamy, a 42-year-old grandmother scheduled to graduate from the University in spring 1998, like Anderson followed an indirect path toward a college education.
After enrolling in the University in 1977, Bellamy left school and started a family. Fifteen years later, after raising two children, she gave up a full-time job and returned to college.
“I felt like education was the missing link,” she said.
Bellamy transferred to the CLA after spending less than two years in General College. She plans to major in African American Studies and history.
Bellamy and Anderson utilized the federally funded TRIO program, as well as General College’s Student Parent Help Center and tutoring services.
Student Support Services — one branch of the TRIO program — provides assistance for first-generation college students. Tutoring in math and writing is available in General College’s Academic Research Center.
The parent center also helped Bellamy arrange financial aid for tuition, as well as day-care for her 4-year-old son.
“Without those, I wouldn’t have made it,” she said. “I would have been one of those statistics they like to talk about.”
Most General College freshmen take basic classes in mathematics, writing and humanities. Critics contend the curriculum fails to prepare students for the rigors of CLA or IT courses.
Bellamy disagrees.
“General College is not the dumb college. We have good, college-level classes,” she said. “Instead of bad-mouthing General College, the administration needs to see that we serve every student to the fullest.”