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Can community colleges learn from for-profits?

When community college students drop out, they lose future earnings and taxpayers lose their investment in the heavily subsidized system, write Mark Schneider and Lu Michelle Yin in a Los Angeles Times commentary. Raising graduation rates would raise graduates’ earnings and income tax revenues. But how?

 One important step to reducing the number of dropouts would be to streamline remediation programs so that students can more quickly get to a level where the classes they take earn them college credits.

Expanding online courses would let instructors reach more students, allow courses to start  “any day of any week and any week of the year” and lower costs, they add.

Another way to reduce the number of dropouts would be to replace a system that awards degrees based on “seat time” with a system that rewards subject mastery. This would allow students to move at their own pace through a course of study, progressing from one concept to the next after passing assessment tests. Competency-based models would allow for the certification of prior learning, speeding time to graduation.

Finally, community colleges should learn from for-profit institutions, which are “leading the way in developing innovative online learning platforms and redefining an approach to curriculum development and faculty training to encourage uniformity in instruction across multiple sites and instructors,” Schneider and Yin writes. Graduation rates at two-year for-profit institutions are almost three times higher than at community colleges.

For-profits aren’t a model, responds Daniel LaVista, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, who complains that for-profit colleges charge much more than community colleges, burdening students with debt. (Of course. For-profit colleges are funded entirely by tuition, while community colleges are funded primarily by taxpayers.)

But LaVista doesn’t offer an opinion on whether community colleges could learn anything useful from for-profit colleges’ approach to online learning, curriculum development or faculty training and compensation.

Career colleges place students in the courses needed to reach their goals with no waiting and no wandering through electives. Many, many more students earn a certificate or associate degree. Nothing to learn or even discuss?