White House promotes college counseling

Helping low-income and first-generation students enroll in college was the focus of a summit that brought experts on college counseling to the White House, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The White House’s January summit focused on encouraging low-income achievers to apply to selective four-year universities. This time around, James Kvaal, the deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, emphasized that “college” includes two-year colleges and job training programs.

“Four-year college degrees are important but so too are two-year college degrees and occupational training programs. Certificates often have great value in the workforce. So we’re talking about all of that.”

College counseling “is a key leverage point,” Kvaal said, because it touches on the academic, financial and informational barriers that students – especially low-income and first-generation students – face in going to college.

The Obama administration has put information online to help prospective college students research college costs. But web sites can’t do it all, said Mandy Savitz-Romer, the Harvard education professor who organized the conference. Students and their parents need help understanding and using the information, she said.


Teaching grade 12½


Instructor Fabiola Aurelien (left) helps Atlanta Metropolitan College student Shaundraey Carmichael.

The first year of college has become grade 12½ writes Rick Diguette in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Once he taught college English at the local community college. He’s still teaching composition, but it’s no longer “college” English.

Every semester many students in my freshman English classes submit work that is inadequate in almost every respect.  Their sentences are thickets of misplaced modifiers, vague pronoun references, conflicting tenses, and subjects and verbs that don’t agree―when they remember, that is, that sentences need subjects.  If that were not bad enough, the only mark of punctuation they seem capable of using with any consistency is the period.

I often remind them that even the keenest of insights will never receive due credit if it isn’t expressed in accordance with the rules of grammar and usage.  Spelling words correctly, as well as distinguishing words that sound the same but are not, is also a big plus.  “Weather” and “whether” are not interchangeable, for example, but even after I point this out some students continue to make the mistake.  And while I’m on the subject, the same goes for “whether” and “rather.”

A state law called Complete College Georgia now links college funding to student performance, writes Diguette. Georgia Perimeter College faculty have developed testable “Core Concepts” students are expected to master in freshman English.

Early in the semester we must first assess their ability to identify a complete sentence ― that is, one with a subject and a verb.  After that, somewhere around week five, we find out if they can identify a topic sentence ― the thing that controls the content of a paragraph. Then it’s on to using supporting details by week eight and creating thesis statements by week eleven.

It’s a low bar, he admits.

Is this grade 12 1/2? These were elementary and middle-school skills when I was in school, admittedly in the Neanderthal era. I remember learning “weather” and “whether” in fourth grade. I guess we didn’t learn to create thesis statements supported by details until ninth grade.


New outcomes measure draws 2-year colleges

“Dozens of community college leaders, dissatisfied with how the federal government measures graduation rates at their schools, have signed up for an alternative reporting system that provides more information about student outcomes,” reports the Washington Post.

The Student Achievement Measure site tracks the share of community college students who earn an associate’s degree or certificate within six years, transfer, remain enrolled or are “status unknown.” There are separate readouts for those who started full time and part-timers.

Federal graduation rate data for community colleges typically focus on the share of first-time, full-time students who complete an associate’s degree within three years. Often, the federal data also show the share of those who transfer out. The trouble with those metrics, according to community college advocates, is that many students take longer than three years, and many start as part-timers.

The federal government plans in the 2015-16 school year to start collecting data on what happens with students who transfer into a college or who start as part-timers.

Most SAM’s 508 participants are four-year colleges and universities, but 65 are community colleges. The SAM data tell “a more complete story,” said Kent Phillippe, an associate vice president at the American Association of Community Colleges.

For example, the federal government says Northwest Vista College in San Antonio has an 11 percent graduation rate and a 20 percent transfer-out rate for first-time, full-time students who started in 2010.

The SAM readout gives a rundown of what happened to 871 students who started as full-timers at Northwest Vista in 2007 and 1,454 who started that year as part-timers.

Among those who started full-time, 22 percent graduated within six years, 3 percent were still enrolled and 43 percent transferred out (before earning a certificate or degree). Among those who started part-time, 13 percent graduated, 5 percent were still enrolled and 41 percent transferred out.

SAM doesn’t report whether transfers went on to earn a credential elsewhere.  With so many students “swirling” from one college to another, that would be very useful information.


Ivies get the ink

The New York Times wrote more about Harvard last year than about all community colleges combined, reports Vox. The same is true of Yale and Princeton. Harvard, Yale and Princeton enrolled fewer than 30,000 students, combined, while 7 million attended community colleges.


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Books are way more likely to deal with Ivy League schools than with community colleges, according to Google’s Ngram Viewer:


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Success courses become mandatory

More community colleges are requiring first-year students to take a success course, according to the American Association of Community Collleges’ 21st Century Virtual Center.

At Durham Technical Community College, in North Carolina, students map their academic goals, says Gabby McCutchen, assistant dean of student engagement and transitions. “They can set goals for themselves based on what their strengths and interests are, as well as what careers are available to them and what careers are growing, versus what careers are being outsourced or replaced by technology.”

At Oklahoma’s Tulsa Community College (TCC), remedial students and those who receive free tuition through Tulsa Achieves are required to take the success course.

“We try to look at, in goal setting and time management, ‘What are the obstacles you can see to being successful?’” explains Lori Coggins, who runs the school’s Academic Strategies program. “How can we problem solve in advance, so that when that problem — your child gets sick or you get behind in your coursework — comes up, you don’t panic.”

At TCC, nearly 86 percent of the students who took the Academic Strategies course persisted to the next semester compared with 64 percent of those who didn’t take the course.

Retention rates also are up at Durham Tech: 85 percent of students who took the success course persisted compared with about 70 percent of students who did not enroll in the course.


‘When you struggle, you’re growing’

Developmental math students often expect to fail, writes Gay Clyburn on the Carnegie Commons blog. Many believe in gender or race stereotypes about who’s “a math person” and who isn’t.

Carnegie’s alternative math pathways — Statway in statistics and Quantway in quantitative reasoning— teach students that ability is malleable. A “Starting Strong” exercise is designed to mitigate what David Yeager calls “learned helplessness.” Students read an article explaining that neuroscience shows that, with enough effort, they can grow their brain.
brain-workout

Just reading this article on brain growth has shown a significant  effect on student persistence and success in a randomized trial, says Yeager.

Statway and Quantway have tripled success rates for remedial math students in half the time, reports Clyburn. “Carnegie has been able to maintain this level of student accomplishment, even as the initiative has grown to include new colleges, new faculty, and many more students over the past three years.”

At the annual Community College Pathways National Forum,  Yeager urged instructors to create a class culture that expects success. Students need praise after accomplishment (not before), frequent encouragement and continuous feedback, he said.

Students should be told the brain is like a muscle, Yeager said.  “The more you use it, the better it works.” Or, “the more you practice, the smarter you become.”

He recommended phrases to use, such as “when you struggle, then you’re growing.”


Closing the skills — and earnings — gap

Jassiel Aguila uses an arch welder to merge two pipes together as he continues his education as a pipefitter at the Air Conditioning, Refrigeration and Pipefitting Education Center on Jan. 5, 2012, in Opa Locka, Fla.

By 2020 there will be a shortage of 875,000 machinists, welders, industrial-machinery mechanics and industrial engineers, according to a Boston Consulting Group report

Manufacturers are working with high schools and community colleges in hopes of closing the industrial skills gap, writes Katherine Peralta on U.S. News.

Unlike other teenagers’ summer jobs, Brett Fledderman’s begins at 6 o’clock in the morning, has him programming metal stamping equipment and pays $9 an hour, well above his home state Indiana’s $7.25 minimum. The 17-year-old is part of a new job training program in Batesville in which local businesses, the community college and the high school collaborate to ready a new field of talent for jobs in manufacturing.

“I learn a lot faster with hands-on work, so stuff like this really makes me learn a lot faster than I would in the classroom,” says Fledderman, who’s working this summer at Batesville Tool & Die, a 400-employee company that makes and supplies metal stamping components for the car, appliance and industrial sectors.

Nationwide, most machinists, welders and industrial maintenance workers are “50-something,” says Gardner Carrick, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Manufacturing Institute , a research arm of the National Association of Manufacturers. Companies need to build a pipeline of skilled workers to prepare for the coming “retirement crunch,” he says.

Most manufacturing areas have enough skilled workers now, but five cities – Miami, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Wichita, Kansas – have “significant or severe” skills gaps already.

In Indiana, machinists, tool and die makers, welders, cutters, solderers and brazers pay a median wage of at least $17, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At Batesville High, 70 to 80 percent of students plan to go to a four-year college or university, says Jim Roberts, the school corporation’s superintendent. School administrators have had to “redirect to a more practical approach” in educating students about realistic job market prospects, he says.

Jody Fledderman, Batesville Tool & Die’s president and CEO and Brett’s uncle, says the program in his community is possible because of the cooperation between the high school, the community college – Ivy Tech – and area manufacturers, including Batesville Casket Co., Heartwood Manufacturing Inc. and Virtus Inc. Students in the co-op program, who enter as juniors, split their weeks between classes at the high school and Ivy Tech and on-the-job at one of the four businesses.

Fledderman hopes students will graduate one semester short of an associate degree. The company hires some four-year graduates, but primarily is looking for workers with a technical associate degree and industrial skills.


Obama signs workforce training bill


President Obama spoke at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College on Friday.

Last week, President Obama signed the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act , which reauthorizes federal job training legislation. He also announced executive actions to implement a review of job training programs released by Vice President Joe Biden. The report calls for working more closely with employers and presents a “job-driven training checklist” to ensure programs lead to jobs.

The president and vice president have been talking up job training in visits to community colleges, reports Community College Daily.

President Obama said the Department of Labor no longer will give waivers for a requirement that federally funded training programs make public how many of their graduates find jobs and how much they are paid, reports Inside Higher Ed.  “That means workers, as they’re shopping around for what’s available, they’ll know in advance if they can expect a good return on their investment,” Obama said.

Community colleges may not have access to employment and earnings data for former students, said James Hermes, associate vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges. “It’s not a question of them not wanting to be accountable,” he said. “It’s a question of them not getting the data in the first place.”

The administration also announced a $25 million competitive grant to create an “Online Skills Academy” that would help students earn credentials from accredited institutions.


How colleges can prevent default

Protecting Colleges and Students looks at how nine community colleges are helping student borrowers avoid default. The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) and The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) collaborated on the report.

CDR Report Cover Small for WebNot surprisingly, borrowers who left college without earning at least 15 credits were much more likely to default than more successful classmates at the nine colleges.

The default rate for low-income students varied. For example, Pell Grant recipients — typically with family incomes below $40,000 — were four percentage points more likely to default than non-recipients at one college, while the gap was 20 percentage points at another college.

Only 17 percent of community college students use federal loans, but more than a third of graduates “needed loans to get to graduation,” said J. Noah Brown, president of ACCT.

The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Education provide guidance on colleges’ options for managing student debt, make the National Student Loan Data System more user-friendly, improve counseling tools and streamline loan servicing.

Community colleges should  analyze who borrows and who defaults to inform their default-reduction strategies, the report recommends. In addition, colleges should provide counseling and information to borrowers when they need it and participate in the federal loan program.


Feds will test aid for competency programs

North Carolina community colleges and state universities will award college credit for military training and experience.

Hoping to speed older students to a degree, the U.S. Education Department will allow some colleges to award credit — and student aid — for competency and prior learning, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. The “experimental sites” will be announced this week.

Traditionally, federal student aid has been limited to programs that award credits for hours of instruction, known as “seat time.”

Starting last year, the department has allowed a handful of colleges to provide federal financial aid to students enrolled in direct-assessment programs, notes the Chronicle.  “If the experiments prove successful, they could make it easier for competency-based programs to qualify for student aid, opening the federal coffers to a much wider swath of nontraditional programs”

The Education Department’s announcement was followed by unanimous House approval of HR 3136, which would create a competency-based demonstration project. The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Rep. Matt Salmon, an Arizona Republican, and Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat.

“It is common sense to evaluate students on what they know rather than how long they spend in a classroom, but years of government regulation have created a system that places more value on credit hours than years of actual experience,” said Salmon. Veterans and other adult students should benefit, he predicted.

Giving colleges and universities more flexibility will “shorten the time it takes to earn a degree and reduce college costs,” said Polis.

The White House issued a statement supporting the bill.

“Competency” programs really are testing for “mastery,” writes John F. Ebersole, president of Excelsior College, in an Inside Higher Ed commentary. Graduate schools and employers want to know what candidates can do, not just what they know.


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