15 credits for the price of 12

Community College of Philadelphia students can 15 credits for the cost of 12, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Pay for 12 credits – the equivalent of four courses – and the college picks up the tab for the fifth, worth about $555.

. . . To become eligible, students must have completed 24 credits, taken no fewer than nine and no more than 14 credits the previous semester, and have a grade-point average of at least 2.5. They also must be Philadelphia residents. To stay enrolled, they must maintain a 2.0 GPA, have no course withdrawals or failures, and pay their college bills.

Upper-division courses typically have space for more students, so the college can offer a deal without running up costs.

Mai Nguyen, 19, an aspiring nurse, will graduate in two years.

“I didn’t have the money for the fifth class,” said Nguyen, who gets federal financial aid and works in the college’s financial-aid office to pay for her books. “I would have had to save up my money to take it. Now, I’m saving money, and at the same time saving time.”

Federal financial aid programs count 12 credits as a full-time load, even though it takes 15 credits to graduate on time, points out Complete College America’s “Full Time is 15″ campaign. One completion strategy is to to “ensure that taking 15 credits per semester costs no more than the current 12-credit standard.”


Open-source textbooks lower costs

Free “open-source” textbooks are lowering students’ costs at Tidewater Community College in Virginia, writes Laura M. Colarusso for Hechinger Report.

Tidewater’s “Z Degree” program guarantees “zero cost” for learning materials, which can cost students’ more than tuition at community colleges.

The cost of new printed textbooks continue to rise—up more than 7 percent last year alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 82 percent between 2002 and 2012, as calculated by the Government Accountability Office, the non-partisan research arm of Congress.

However, students are spending slightly less, estimates the Department of Education. More are renting textbooks, buying used books online, sharing with a classmate or using the library.

“Textbook rental programs …[have] created a lot of residual competition and forced publishers to sell digital products at better prices,” said Richard Hershman, vice president for government relations at the National Association of College Stores.

Some students try to get by without access to the textbook, said Nicole Allen, director of open education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.

“There is a really alarming trend of a lot of students not buying their textbooks because the price is too high,”Allen said. “Overall student spending on textbooks may be down, but the question is how much of that is because students haven’t bought the books they were supposed to because they can’t afford them.”

Late last year, PIRG surveyed more than 2,000 students at 150 universities. Sixty-five percent said they’d decided against buying a textbook at some point because it was too expensive. Of those students, 94 percent said they’d done worse in the course.


Employers, colleges try German-style job training

Germany’s job training model — a mix of vocational classwork and on-the-job apprenticeships — is catching on in the U.S., reports Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.

Students at Indiana’s Ivy Tech community colleges will be able to spend three days a week in class and two working — for pay — at companies such as Industrial Electric.

Ivy Tech plans to add programs in advanced automation and robotics, collaborating with employers who run assembly plants.

Students at Ivy Tech Community College. (Photo: Ivy Tech Community College)

Ivy Tech students practice welding skills. Photo: Ivy Tech Community College
In addition to Indiana, German-style job training programs are in the works in more than a dozen states.

The Obama administration is promoting academic credit for apprenticeships.

However, funding apprenticeships is expensive. “In Germany, employers pay 75 percent of the $19,850 annual cost of each trainee, and the government covers the rest,” writes Marcus. Ivy Tech is trying to get employers to cover the cost for trainees they hire.

Only about 10 percent of American 18- to 22-year-olds get on-the-job training, the OECD reports.

High youth unemployment and a shortage of skilled workers is a problem in Europe too, except for Germany, reports The Economist.


Skills are better than degrees, say workers

When it comes to career advancement, skills training is more important than a college degree, say workers who responded to Glassdoor’s Q2 2014 Employment Confidence Survey.

“While education is still valued as one piece of the puzzle for a successful career, we’re seeing a shift in the workplace,” said Rusty Rueff, a Glassdoor career and workplace expert, reports eCampus News. “Most employees feel gaining the latest skills relevant to their job and industry is more valuable to help advance their careers.”

. . . when asked what’s most important to advance their career and earn a bigger paycheck, more than three in five (63 percent) employees report learning new skills or receiving special training, compared to those who report receiving a college or graduate degree (45 percent), transitioning careers or looking for a new job or company (38 percent), and networking with professionals (34 percent), among other options.

. . .  three in four (74 percent) employees believe their employers value work experience and related skills more than education when evaluating job candidates.

Almost half of college graduates say their specific degree is not very relevant to the job they do today.

However, 56 percent say they’d be more successful in their career with a higher level of education.

“Going back to school may be one way to learn and improve, but there are also non-traditional ways, such as certificate programs, boot camps, webinars, online non-degreed courses, conferences and more,” said Rueff.

Community and technical colleges are seeing more “skill builders,” students who take one or two courses to build marketable job skills but have no interest in earning a degree.


CCSF evaluators proposed probation

City College of San Francisco, fighting to remain accredited, received a boost this week with news that all 15 members of the accreditation commission’s evaluation team recommended a lesser penalty.

The recommendation for probation was revealed in a documented filed in connection with a lawsuit against the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Instead the commission told CCSF to “show cause” why it should retain accreditation in 2012. A year later, it moved to revoke accreditation, which would have made students ineligible for financial aid.

Last month, the commission gave CCSF two more years to improve its management and governance.

The panel, which wields enormous power over all community and junior colleges in California, has come under increasing scrutiny from educators, teachers unions and state and federal lawmakers who contend that it lacks transparency, operates with little oversight and relies too little on students’ academic progress when meting out sanctions

. . . U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) has criticized the panel for “potential intimidation and overzealousness,” and a state bill is pending that would require more “transparency, accountability and due process” in accreditation reviews.

The California Federation of Teachers and San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera, meanwhile, have separately filed suit against the commission alleging political bias and conflict of interest.

Trustee Rafael Mandelman called the revelation “completely outrageous and unforgivable,” reports the Times. “This should remove any doubt that this is an irresponsible group of people who cannot be trusted to accredit our community colleges.”


California: CCs plan huge growth

California community colleges will try to increase degree completion and transfers by nearly a quarter of a million students over the next decade, reports the Sacramento Bee.

“This is probably the most ambitious goal-setting effort ever undertaken by our system,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said.

Currently, 48.1 percent of students complete a degree or transfer; the completion rate for vocational certificates is 53.9 percent. The new targets call for raising the completion rate for degree programs and transfers to 62.8 percent and for career technical education certificates to 70.3 percent.

California’s entrepreneurial economy requires a skilled workforce, writes Chancellor Brice Harris in the Los Angeles Daily News.

The new goals aim to increase the number of students who successfully complete remedial instruction, which unfortunately 75 percent of our students need when they arrive at our campuses. And we’ve set targets to increase the number of students who prepare educational plans at the beginning of their academic careers as well as the number of students who earn degrees under the Associate Degree for Transfer program, which has improved transfer with California State University.

The system’s “Student Success Initiative” calls for “giving priority registration status to students who participate in orientation, assessment and education planning; redesigning our student support services to help them stay on track academically; making it easier for students to transfer to CSUs; and collaborating with K-12 institutions to ensure that students come here ready to take college-level math and English courses,” writes Harris.


Grad rates double at Chicago City Colleges

Graduation rates have doubled, at City Colleges of Chicago, since Cheryl Hyman launched a “reinvention” drive, reports PBS NewsHour. The segment will air tomorrow night.


Community colleges should be free


Following Tennessee’s lead, several states are considering free tuition for community and technical college students.

Community Colleges Should Be Free, editorializes Scientific American. Community colleges train technicians for jobs in leading-edge industries and serve as gateways to higher education for first-generation, minority and working-class students.

The Tennessee Promise is showing the way. Starting next year, high school graduate will pay no tuition at two-year community colleges and technical schools.

However, many community college entrants have weak basic skills. Only 32 percent of Tennessee students complete a credential. Gov. Bill Haslam’s program includes “mentors” to help students succeed.

 To ensure that the newly enrolled reach graduation day, administrators of community colleges must emphasize accelerated remedial programs to get students through the basics and into career-related classes quickly enough to avoid the frustration and despondency that lead to elevated dropout rates.

The two-year colleges should also give serious consideration to new teaching methods that could maximize the time teachers have to interact with their students. Bill Gates, whose foundation has contributed tens of millions to remedy the failings of two-year schools, recommended in a speech last year that community colleges experiment with “flipped classrooms.” Students watch lectures from MOOCs (massive open online courses) at home. In class, instead of getting lectures, they complete homework-like exercises, with personalized instruction from professors and teaching assistants.

Oregon plans a Promise bill.  Mississippi legislators rejected the idea, but may come back to it next year. Now a Texas politician has proposed making community and technical college free to high school graduates in her state.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, wants the state to invest $2 billion in a Texas Promise Fund modeled after the Tennessee plan. “It is time to get Texans prepared for the jobs of the future,” said Van de Putte. Students would have to exhaust their federal grant aid and pay for their non-academic fees, books and living expenses.

In Michigan, the Kalamazoo Promise — funded by local philanthropists – guarantees college or university tuition to graduates of district-run public schools. Grades and AP enrollments are up and suspensions are way down, reports Politico. But, nine years after the Promise was announced, college dropout rates remain high for Kalamazoo students.

Brian Lindhal, a 2012 graduate of Loy Norrix High School, had a rocky start at Kalamazoo Valley Community College last fall. After earning a B in English and a D in history his first semester, he didn’t sign up for the winter term. “It didn’t click,” says Lindhal, 20, who works full-time at a company that restores garments after fires and floods. He plans to go back next semester. “I know a lot of people in other places would kill to have what I have,” he says sheepishly.

Rochester, New York also has a Promise program, writes Michael Holzman on Dropout Nation. Very few blacks — and even fewer black males — read proficiently in ninth grade and go on to earn a diploma at Rochester’s high schools. Only nine percent of blacks earned a degree in six years at Monroe Community College. The completion rate was five percent for black males.


College costs go up, up and away

College tuition has increased by 1,225 percent since 1978, according to Bloomberg News. In that time, medical costs rose 634 percent and the consumer price index increased by 279 percent.



When students default, colleges pay

If too many students default on their loans, colleges risk losing access to federal student aid, writes Heather Boerner in Community College Journal.  As open-access institutions, community colleges enroll many low-income, first-generation and underprepared students.  So community colleges are developing default management plans.

If students can’t get Pell Grants, “You might as well close your doors,” says Anthony Zeiss, president of Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in North Carolina.

Kathy Blau, director of financial aid at Garden City Community College (GCCC) in Kansas, starts the year with a game of financial Jeopardy. Students know Justin Beiber’s ex-girlfriend, but not their credit score, she says. Then she asks how student loan debt can be discharged.

Bankruptcy? Nope. Only permanent disability, death or loan forgiveness through public service apply. And if you don’t pay, the government can garnish your wages.

“That usually hushes the room a little,” she says.

Only about 17 percent of community college students borrow money to attend college, but they’re more likely to default than borrowers who start at four-year colleges and universities. Twenty percent of community college borrowers default estimates the Education Department, compared with 14.7 percent of all student loan borrowers, and that number is rising.

Default isn’t the only problem, says Zeiss at CPCC. “If a student leaves before the end of the semester, the college has to reimburse the Department of Education for the loan.”

CPCC and other North Carolina colleges left the federal Direct Loan program in March to avoid federal penalties for defaults. CPCC hopes to replace federal loans with grants from its foundation’s endowment fund.

“Default rates aren’t destiny,” says Debbie Cochrane, research director at The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS). “There’s a lot you can do to bring them down.” A new report by the Association of Community College Trustees and TICAS, Protecting Colleges and Students, looks at how nine colleges are reducing defaults.


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