Enrollment patterns are ‘chaotic’

Community college students enrollment patterns are “chaotic,” concludes a Community College Research Center study at five colleges in the same state.

Only 1 percent of first-time, full-time students completed a degree in four semesters (fall-spring-fall-spring), and less than 4 percent completed a degree within the two years generally assumed in the college catalogue, the study found.

Thirty-five percent of students dropped out after one semester.

“Continuous and intense enrollment” was most likely to lead to success.

Flexibility encourages students to take “meandering” paths through — and out of — college, researchers said. “More structured programs—coupled with advising to help students choose and map out an efficient plan for completing these programs—would encourage students to make enrollment choices that will ultimately help them achieve their educational goals.”

Universities welcome transfer surge

Jasmine White

Jasmine White transferred to Morgan State University, where she’s majoring in actuarial science.  (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Maryland universities are welcoming — and even recruiting — more transfers, reports the Baltimore Sun. Half of state university undergrads started somewhere else.

Jasmine White was accepted to Morgan State University, her dream college, almost 10 years ago. But the New Yorker discovered she could not afford the out-of-state tuition.

“I just started crying because I had no idea where I was going to get [the money] before class started,” White recalled.

Instead of coming to Baltimore, she earned an associate’s degree at a community college in New York, and served five years in the Army Reserve.

Now 26, she is finally enrolling at Morgan State this fall. With the experiences she has had, she believes she will be able to better focus on her studies than she could have when she was fresh out of high school.

Students are choosing community colleges to save money, said Janet L. Marling, the director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Georgia. “In the past I think there was the assumption that students were starting at community college because they weren’t ready to go to a four-year school,” she said.

Four-year schools have fewer doubts about the caliber of community college students, said Andrew Flagel, the senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis University. “The shift that you see is the recognition by even the most elite institutions that most of the talent in higher education is sitting in community colleges,” he said. “There’s a tremendous opportunity to bring in diverse students by establishing community partnerships.”

Maryland’s universities are establishing pipelines to allow students to transfer more easily, said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. More universities are guaranteeing admission to community college graduates who meet academic requirements.

In 2011, Frostburg State University began offering scholarships for graduates of any community college in the state who earn a GPA of 3.0. Frostburg officials say they enrolled their largest transfer class ever last fall.

New University of Baltimore President Kurt L. Schmoke said last week that he plans to visit every community college president in the state as he steps up recruitment from the two-year colleges.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County has focused on retaining and graduating the transfer students it already has. About half of the students at UMBC transferred there from another college.

Diane M. Lee, UMBC’s vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, says the university is working more closely with community colleges to ensure class credits will fulfill core requirements, so students don’t end up taking classes at community college that will be counted as electives, or not at all, by UMBC.

Transfer students are “more mature, they have different experiences, but they still have needs that we need to address,” Lee said. “When we talk about the importance of welcoming transfer students, it’s real on this campus.”

Today, one-third of all students change schools at least once in five years, and a quarter at least twice, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks this. Of those who ultimately earn degrees, nearly a quarter finish somewhere other than where they started.

For-profit students borrow more, but don’t earn more

For-profit college students borrow more than community college students, but don’t earn more, concludes a Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE) working paper.

Six years after enrollment, for-profit students are more likely than community college students to have earned a certificate or associate degree.

They have lower employment rates and earnings compared to all college-going students, but those disadvantages are “linked to their prior academic record and disappear when compared to community college students.”

However, in comparison with similar community college students, for-profit students borrowed about $13,300 more for their higher education. “This borrowing most likely reflects the higher tuition at for-profit colleges, which in turn may be driven by the students’ greater access to federal student loans.”

Textbook companies offer online classes


Community colleges and universities are offering online college classes developed by textbook companies, writes Gabriel Kahn on Slate. Faculty members can modify the courses, but usually don’t.

This summer, Chad Mason signed up for online general psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This spring, Jonathan Serrano took intro to psychology online at Essex County College in Newark, New Jersey.

Though the two undergraduates were separated by more than 600 miles, enrolled in different institutions, and paying different tuitions, they were taking what amounts to the same course. That’s because the course wasn’t produced by either school. Instead, it was a sophisticated package devised by publishing giant Pearson PLC and delivered through a powerful online platform called MyPsychLab.

Both students worked their way through the same online textbook, watched the same series of videos, and took automatically graded quizzes pulled from the same question bank. All the teaching that might have taken place in a classroom was handled by the MyPsychLab software.

Jamie Wingo, a student at  Odessa College in Texas, took Pearson’s online algebra class based on its MyMathLab. If she was stuck on a problem, she could click on a video of someone working out the equation. “The videos would actually show you how to do the examples from the book,” she says.

“MyMathLab took care of the whole course, from illustrating thorny concepts to correcting online quizzes, even spitting out their grades at the end,” writes Kahn.

At Arizona’s Rio Salado College, more than half the students take classes online. Despite its team of online course designers, Rio Salado can’t keep up. “We’re very much a Pearson school,” says Jennifer McGrath, the vice president for academic affairs. Student retention and completion rates are high, she says.

The level of faculty involvement can vary considerably, even with prefab courses. Chad Mason, the UNC­–Charlotte student who took general psychology, said he had only glancing contact with his instructor. Even his essay was automatically graded, giving him machine-generated feedback on voice, sentence structure, and the depth of his ideas.

But Jonathan Serrano, who took the similar course at Essex County College, said . . . that his professor acted as a guide and at times cheerleader for those in the class. Serrano also received personal feedback on his essays and interacted with classmates through an online discussion session, which the professor monitored closely. He says he felt he grew as a writer during the semester.

The professor, Thomas Page, also holds two conference calls each semester with all his online students. “I think it’s really important to guide them through the process,” he says.

Page had “created his own online class, making videos of his lectures and uploading his slides and other materials.” But he decided Pearson’s MyPsychLab was better.

Publishers started with introductory courses often taught in a lecture hall to hundreds of students at a time, writes Kahn. But they keep expanding.

McGraw Hill’s SmartBook technology—which allows an entire course to be created online—is now available in more than 400 titles in 68 different course areas, including organizational behavior and organic chemistry.

Pearson’s MyLab series now has products in criminal justice and Jewish thought and culture. The MyPsychLab line offers six different topics in psychology, including abnormal psychology and clinical psychology. Its Mastering series for science topics has courses in the geography of climate change and microbiology.

If college faculty don’t design courses, teach them or evaluate students . . . What’s left? Publishers stress the courses can be customized, but “just about 99 percent . . . take it right out of the box,” Christine Higgins, a former Pearson account manager, tells Kahn. “I worked with the largest universities in the country, and that’s what they do.”

Mastery + modules = job training revolution

Online competency-based education is the most “disruptive” innovation in higher education, write Michelle R. Weise and Clayton M. Christensen in Hire Education.

Online competency-based providers create cost-effective, adaptable pathways to the workforce by breaking learning into competencies rather than courses, they write.

The fusion of modularization with mastery-based learning is the key to understanding how these providers can build a multitude of stackable credentials or programs for a wide variety of industries, scale them, and simultaneously drive down the cost of educating students for the opportunities at hand. These programs target a growing set of students who are looking for a different value proposition from higher education—one that centers on targeted and specific learning outcomes, tailored support, as well as identifiable skillsets that are portable and meaningful to employers. Moreover, they underscore the valuable role that employers can play in postsecondary education by creating a whole new value network that connects students directly with employers.

Strong partnerships between online competency-based providers and employers will become more important than college rankings and accreditation, Weise and Christensen predict.

Competency catches on

Competency-based education isn’t an experiment at Bellevue College near Seattle, writes Paul Bradley on Community College Week.  The college’s first CBE program — a business software specialist certificate program — has proven very popular.

“The students seem to love it,” said Tom Nielsen, the college’s vice president for instruction. “We are seeing that most students are going through their course sequences faster.”

Western Governors University, which pioneered CBE, is helping 11 community colleges develop their own CBE degree and certificate programs. The U.S. Department of Labor and the Gates Foundation are funding the initiative.

Competency-based education flips “the time-mastery relationship,” Sally M. Johnstone, vice president for academic advancement at WGU, wrote in Educause Review:

In a classroom-based model, all students start and end their learning experience at the same time. During a term of study, some students will master most of the materials and earn high grades; others will master less of the material and earn lower grades; and still others will master only about half the material and receive a failing grade. So, while these failing students know a considerable portion of the material, their only option is to take the entire class over again. This is discouraging to students, and some might well give up on the whole higher-education experience.

In CBE programs, students work toward mastery at their own pace, within the constraints of financial aid, institutional, and state policies. When students demonstrate mastery of the skills and knowledge designated by a course’s faculty, they pass the course. Students can progress through courses either sequentially or take several at a time, depending on their study habits and time constraints.”

Community colleges have “close links with employers,” says Thad Nodine, who’s following the project. “Austin Community College has over 100 employer partners.”

Adapting the WGU model isn’t easy, says Nielsen, the Bellevue College vice-president.

Under the CBE model, assessments determine whether a student has mastered a specific competency before moving on to the next one. But some states require that colleges issue a letter grade. Reconciling the two can be an arduous task.

Colleges also must carefully craft the CBE programs to ensure that competencies are valid and robust and that diverse students studying at their own pace receive strong academic support. Academic support needs to be flexible, Johnstone said. Learning resources must be available anytime. Assessments must be secure and reliable, based on the expertise of industry and academic subject-matter experts.

Four Washington state community colleges are working on CBE certificates, but next year the stakes will be raised. The state will launch an online, competency-based associate degree in business at 13 of the state’s 34 community and technical college.  The degree program will include English composition, accounting, economics, business calculus, public speaking, political science, sociology and statistics. Fast-paced students will be able to complete the degree in 18 months.

The surge in competency-based degrees is challenging accreditors, who “must seek to ensure academic quality without quashing promising ideas,” reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.  Guidance from the federal government has been “sluggish and sometimes confusing,” said officials of three regional accrediting agencies, who spoke at a meeting organized by the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

Competency-based education needs quality control to really take off, said Barbara Gellman-Danley, who became president of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools two months ago. That’s because the entrance of “bad actors” — low-quality programs that look like diploma mills — could trigger a backlash.

“Direct assessment” of students’ prior learning is especially challenging because “there are no courses, teaching professors or grades.”

Competency-based education works well for working adults, writes Julian L. Alssid, chief workforce strategist at College for America.

Keeping men of color in college

Many black and Latino men are dropping out of college, report diversity researchers in Advancing the Success of Boys and Men of Color in Education. They urge the federal government to “require all colleges to create early-alert systems that flag students with low test scores, missing assignments, or spotty attendance,” reports Katherine Mangan in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Only a third of black male students graduated from four-year colleges within six years, compared with 45 percent of Hispanic men, 57 percent of white men, and 64 percent of Asian men, according to federal statistics.For two-year colleges, the percentages who received a certificate or degree or who transferred to a four-year college over six years were 32 for black, 30 for Latino, 40 for white, and 43 for Asian men.

The Minority Male Community College Collective participated in writing the report.

Active learning helps first-gen students

Classes that require active learning — as opposed to listening to lectures — help first-generation and black students, according to a new study, reports the New York Times.

Active learning raised average test scores more than 3 percentage points, and significantly reduced the number of students who failed the exams, the study found. The score increase was doubled, to more than 6 percentage points, for black students and first-generation college students.

For black students, that gain cut in half their score gap with white students. It eliminated the gap between first-generation students and other students.

Disadvantaged students tend to have weaker study skills than other students, said Kelly A. Hogan, one of the study’s authors. They are less likely to participate in class and are more likely to feel intimidated and isolated.

The study compared student performance in an introductory biology class taken mostly by freshmen at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In three terms, Dr. Hogan used a lecture-based approach. In three other terms, she demanded more student participation.

The more active approach gave students more in-class activities, often done in teams, including sets of online exercises. There were similar online exercises assigned to be completed before class along with textbook reading, intended to force students to think about the material rather than just memorize it, and still others for review after a lesson. Many of the exercises were ungraded, but the instructor could tell whether students had done them.

. . . “In a traditional lecture course, they’re not held accountable for being prepared for class, and they really don’t need to be, because an instructor is going to tell them everything he or she wants them to know,” Dr. Hogan said. “Would you read a report for a meeting if you knew your boss was going to spend 15 minutes summarizing it for you? I know I wouldn’t.”

Students in the more active class were far more likely to say they did the reading. They also reported spending more time doing the work and participating more in class. They were more likely to see the class as a community.

Maricopa cultivates social media

Maricopa Community Colleges is expanding its social media presence, reports Independent NewsMedia. The Arizona district has been “liked” or “followed” more than 50,000 times across their top three platforms, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The district’s Facebook page had fewer than 1,000 followers in mid-2012. It’s up to 40,000.

Social media builds engagement, said Natalie Vaughn, online marketing and social media manager for Maricopa Community Colleges.

‘College of the future’ improves outcomes

“The college of the future is going to need to be more like this,” says Chris Bustamente, president of Arizona’s Rio Salado College.

The college — known for its online courses — is trying a “full slate of innovations, all at once,” writes Jon Marcus on the Hechinger Report.

There are 600 courses that start on almost any Monday of the year, for instance — not just according to a rigid academic calendar of two semesters. There’s an automated program that can predict, by the eighth day of a course, how well a student will do, triggering extra help if necessary — and a separate alert system that intervenes when faculty raise red flags, or a student fails to log into an online course, or makes an above-average number of calls to the technology help desk.

There are advisers who reach out to students at various stages and see how they’re doing, whether they ask for this or not. And there’s a tracking system that makes transferring to another community college or a four-year university much, much easier than the frustrating experience it is in other states and districts.

Rio Salado’s graduation rate is four times that of comparable schools, U.S. Department of Education figures show. It has “the best online outcomes of anyplace I’ve ever seen, by far,” says Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia.

The Maricopa Community College District, of which Rio Salado is a part, gets 1 percent of its budget from the state, down from 27 percent in the 1980s. Property taxes and tuition make up most of the district’s budget.

“Colleges are relying more and more on tuition, and the more they rely on tuition, the more they’re going to have to have programs that lead somewhere,” Jenkins said. “All of that is driving more customer-responsiveness like the kind you see there. Colleges have to act more like competitive institutions.”

Maricopa also has become more entrepreneurial.

The online courses at Rio Salado are offered to students in 46 other states, at nearly triple the price. Like community colleges in North Carolina, Ohio and Texas, the district has opened a freestanding corporate college to provide training services to employers — clients include Marriott, U.S. Airways and Walgreens — generating more than $4 million a year for itself, with hopes for much more.

Colleges and universities “need to adapt more quickly than they ever did before,” Bustamante said. “If they want to survive and continue to be relevant, they are going to need to be more nimble and more adaptable, and they’re going to have to serve their students rather than their institutions.”

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