Lindsay Topmiller – College of Arts & Sciences
About 40 percent of UNM students took classes at CNM during their 2009-10 semester. Over 2,000 students participated in this shared enrollment in 2010, according to a UNM research report called “The Education Impact of the APS/CNM/UNM Partnership.”
I spoke to some of these students and asked why they chose to take an equivalent course at CNM rather than UNM.
Almost all of them said it was because they believed or were told that CNM is easier.
A pre-med student said she refused to take core-courses related to her major at CNM because she did not want graduate schools to see that in her transcript.
“I didn’t want to do chemistry or biology classes [at CNM] because it looks bad. Graduate and medical schools don’t like to see that you took classes for your major at the community college,” she said.
Department of Biology Chair, Richard Cripps, assured that graduate schools probably won’t pay much attention to where a student took intro-level courses. Since CNM only offers up to 200-level classes, a student’s upper-level course grades from the university will be a more effective indicator of how well the student will perform in graduate school.
Both UNM and CNM faculty said the belief that CNM is easier is only a perception, not the reality.
An interim associate dean from CNM’s School of Math told me with firmness, “I strongly believe that our classes are not any easier than the equivalent courses offered at UNM. We maintain the same rigorous standards as any college or university in the US. I suspect that smaller class sizes and more personalized instruction may make the classes seem easier, but in reality, our curriculum is virtually identical to UNM’s. In fact, we specifically ensure that our curriculum adheres to UNM’s since we know that many of our students do transfer to UNM and we want them to be prepared for their UNM classes.”
A math lecturer at UNM, who taught classes at CNM as well, said CNM is simply more accommodating in many ways to their students which allows them to learn better, therefore making it “easier.” Because class sizes are smaller, there is more one-on-one interaction between student and teacher.
She also mentioned that the entire culture at CNM is different. More students work full-time, have children, and shuffle multiple activities at once while going to school. So at CNM, she was much more accommodating to the personal lives of her students. She said she allowed many more make-up exams and assignments for her math students at CNM, than those at UNM.
Kevin Stevenson is an associate director at the Center for Education Policy Research at UNM and says this issue is in its early stages of research. He says it is difficult to compare how classes at CNM educate students in comparison to the same courses at UNM, but it’s an issue they want to dive into at the research center.
Stevenson said the fact that UNM is a research university, rather than solely a teaching college like CNM, there’s a huge difference in the teaching styles of its instructors. At UNM, faculty is focused on more than just their students. There’s a triangle of purposes for UNM faculty including teaching, research and service. Many lecturers are working on their thesis and tenure. There are few who are simply teaching.
At CNM teaching is the whole purpose. Teachers are able to invest more time into the curriculum and pay more attention to their students. They are more willing and available to work with individual students outside of class to ensure they understand the material.
Stevenson says that it’s because of this that many students feel as though they are receiving a better education at community colleges.
UNM student Hannah Burt took the majority of her core courses at CNM. She said the key difference between CNM and UNM is how much is left up to the student to learn on their own.
“UNM definitely does strive to challenge you. Some of my classes at CNM were just as challenging, but I could go directly to the teacher or sometimes, the teacher would come to me, and we would figure out what it was exactly that I needed to do. UNM challenges you to find the answers on your own and go much further to find the answers. And as a generality, UNM doesn’t accept any excuses. Where at CNM, the teachers now and then were a little too understanding.”
From what I gathered after all of my interviews with students and faculty, CNM and UNM teach the same exact material. There’s nothing easier about what is being taught.
However, it seems as though it is “easier” to pass a CNM course.
So my question was no longer if CNM courses are easier. My next question was whether or not there was a difference between an A+ in a CNM course and an A+ in a UNM course?
If one course was more “challenging”, is it more impressive for a student to get an A in that course, rather than the other one?
If the more challenging course required a student to make the extra effort to learn the material, is he or she more likely to retain the information?
If the professors at UNM are more strict and CNM professors are “too understanding,” does it say a lot more about a student’s work ethic and discipline to earn an A at UNM?
I do not know. But it is a question those at the Center for Education Research Policy want to find out as well.
I think it’s important for students to question their motives for taking a class at one college or the other. Although many do it for financial reasons, too many are doing it to take the easy road through college.
Think about it. First, if you’re taking Biology 101 at CNM because you’re under the impression that the instructor will ask you to name the six animal groups on the first quiz, and the UNM instructor will ask you to write out pages of genetic code, you’re only fooling yourself.
Second, if that is your motivation for switching over, you’re cheating yourself and you’re not cultivating a healthy character that will affect your study habits, and therefore, your likelihood of success in the future.
However, there is absolutely nothing wrong or unwise about getting an education at the community college. First, it’s cheaper. Second, as many students have pointed out, CNM can provide a more effective learning environment where students don’t feel like a number and can learn one-on-one with the teachers.
Plus, CNM only offers lower-level courses. It is not like you are choosing to take an important 400-level course related to your major at a college you are not earning your bachelor’s degree from.
Take the course at the college that best accommodates your learning styles and study habits. If you do not like feeling lost in a 500-person classroom at UNM, take the course at CNM. If you retain information better by forcing yourself to understand it on your own, rather than with assistance, take the course at UNM.
Truly, it does not matter as long as you know you are earning the best possible A+.