Why St. Paul College is "Shakespeare with power tools"

MPR/Alex Friedrich

Best in America

Washington Monthly'smethod of ranking colleges, preferred by one New York Times economics blogger for its emphasis on graduation rates, has championed one St. Paul community college -- but may have goofed the results for another.

The magazine had nothing but praise for St. Paul College, which topped its list of best community colleges in America:

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The ethos starts with the way students and faculty interact. About two-thirds of Saint Paul students are either first-generation college-goers, of color, from low-income families, or some combination of the three. Many are immigrants, reflecting the area’s high concentration of Somalis and Hmong. Students like that tend to drown in impersonal lectures. So Saint Paul classes are small, averaging nineteen students. Teachers roam the rooms, providing guidance as students work on individual assignments and group projects. “You have to be approachable,” says Penny Starkey, a chemistry instructor, “willing to work closely with students.”

In an essay on the best community colleges, the magazine highlights three findings:

  • Selectivity Does Not Equal Excellence

  • Money Isn’t Everything

  • Make It Harder and More Will Graduate

... Students at the top community colleges are more likely than their research university peers to get prompt feedback from instructors, work with other students on projects in class, make class presentations, and contribute to class discussions. Research universities too often subordinate teaching to research. At the best community colleges, teaching comes first.

An official from Concordia College in Moorhead, however, cast serious doubt on the magazine's list of "college dropout factories" when she said that a data error had caused the magazine to give Concordia a graduation rate of only 5 percent -- putting it right near the top of the list.

According to a report by the Minnesota Private College Council, Concordia's 4-year graduation rate is actually far above that: 59 percent overall, and 44 percent for all students of color.

Those much higher figures are supported by data on the Web site for the National Center for Education Statistics.

With such numbers, the college shouldn't be on the list at all.

Media Relations Director Amy Kelly said Concordia would be notifying the magazine of the "inaccurate information" on Tuesday.

"To the best of my knowledge, we never got a call" from Washington Monthly, she said.