The big mo

Momentum is the key to graduation, writes Syracuse Professor Vincent Tinto in Inside Higher Ed.  Students who earn credits quickly are more they’re likely to complete their degrees. Those who start in no-credit developmental classes or earn random credits rarely gain enough momentum to make it to a credential.

The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges identified “momentum points” that lead to completion, such as “successful completion of developmental coursework, the timely declaration of a major, and the earning, within a particular time period, of a number of degree credit hours.”  The state’s funding formula now rewards colleges for improving the number of students who reach these milestones. when they improve the number of students attaining those points of intermediate achievement.

Accelerating developmental education can help students gain momentum.

. . .  an increasing number of colleges, such as the Community College of Baltimore County, are turning to accelerated learning programs for those students who begin just one level below college-level work. In this case, rather than being placed in a stand-alone basic skills course for which students do not earn college credit, they are placed in the college-level course to which that course would have provided entry together with a study skills course that is directly connected to that course. In this manner, students earn college credit while acquiring needed basic skills.

Similarly, colleges such as the Community College of Denver have condensed what would otherwise be a two-semester sequence of either developmental math or developmental English into one semester in their FastStart program.

. . . Other institutions, such as Capital Community College and Kapi’olani Community College, have successfully employed summer bridge programs that enable underprepared students to get a head start of their first year of college and therefore move more quickly to earning college credits.

Students who haven’t selected a major may earn credits that don’t help them complete a credential. Many colleges are moving to ” intrusive first-year advising merged with career counseling” to push students to choose a course of study. Some colleges have web-based systems to help students set goals.

Working with the Completion By Design initiative, community colleges are developing “coherent course pathways” that  enable “students to move more quickly through the curriculum to the certificate or degree completion.”


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More than a quarter of students in remedial classes could have passed college-level courses, according to reviews of data from both urban and statewide community college systems.

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Community colleges could expand their online course offerings as well. Online delivery of class content renders the traditional limitations of geographic distance, physical capacity and time moot. Instructors can reach far more students online than in traditional physical classrooms, and online courses can start any day of any week and any week of the year. Online delivery would also significantly lower the costs of providing and attending courses for both community colleges and students.

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