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?

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON April 19, 2012

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[…] Community colleges should learn from two-year for-profit career colleges, which have nearly triple the graduation rate, argue analysts. No way, responds a community college chancellor. […]


I attended community college without graduating, by design, and then transferred to 4-year college, from which I graduated — back in the mid-’70s.

My parents, in their ’80s, even now often take community college courses. My stepfather has taken several ceramics and welding courses, and my mother tried steel drumming.

So am I and are my parents counted as non-graduates? But we didn’t even intend to graduate. I would say we’re fairly typical. What kind of sense does it even make to suddenly decide that community colleges on their graduation rate?

Joanne Jacobs

Your parents wouldn’t be counted as non-graduates because they’re not first-time or full-time or degree-seeking students. You would count as a non-graduate under the current measures because you didn’t complete an associate degree before transferring. This is a serious flaw in the federal stats which the Education Department plans to correct. They also plan to track part-time students. It’s estimated the completion rate for community college students will rise from 22 percent to 40 percent. That’s still well below the 68 percent completion rate for the for-profit two-year-and-less career colleges.

Online Educator

Graduation rates are not necessarily a good measure of the success of students or the institutions they attend. And, comparing graduation rates of institutions which serve dramatically different constituencies borders on being ludicrous.

Community colleges, in particular, fare poorly in such comparisons because they are open to all, do not have the funding to limit class size or hire full time retention counselors, and frequently serve those who are not looking to earn a two year degree.

The true measure of the value of community colleges is their willingness and ability to serve students who might not otherwise have access to post -secondary education.

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