Denver: ‘Early alerts’ raise pass rates

Student pass rates and grades are rising at Community College of Denver. More students are passing their courses with a C or better and more are earning academic honors for high grades.

All faculty members now use an “early alert” system to warn counselors when a student is struggling. Alerts go out at the third, fifth, seventh and ninth week of a semester — in time for the advisor to suggest ways to get back on track.


How to help students plan, succeed

More students are passing classes and staying in school at Florida’s St. Petersburg College. Writing in Community College Daily, President Bill Law credits an initiative launched two years ago, College Experience: Student Success.

A third of students were failing gatekeeper courses. Minority students, especially African-American males, were doing even worse.

The college added professional and peer tutors, made Learning Support Centers more welcoming, involved more faculty in tutoring and learning support and increased access to 24/7 online tutoring resources.

The number of students visiting learning centers more than doubled in the first year, writes Law. Most who use the centers do so at least five times a semester, significantly raising their odds of earning a “C” or better.

An online tool, My Learning Plan, gives students “up-to-the-minute guidance on where they stand in meeting graduation requirements,” he writes. Students can plan which courses to take several terms in advance and see the impact of dropping a class or changing majors.

College-success course instructors helped students complete a plan and the tool was available online for all students. Students who completed the plan had a significantly higher success rate than those who did not.

The college also helped students explore careers, use career-aptitude tools and set goals.

About a third of the first-time college students entered without a clear goal. Those who worked with an advisor to choose a career path were more likely to return for a second semester.

Online orientation wasn’t enough for poorly prepared students, writes Law. The college now requires an intensive advising session and face-to-face orientation for new students with low test scores. Advisors contact their advisees in the first weeks of class to offer help as needed.

Students assigned to the face-to-face orientation remained enrolled in 92 percent of their classes, the same rate as better-prepared students.

If a student falls behind in class, the instructor uses an “early alert” system to inform a coach or mentor.  Faculty teaching almost 1,000 courses — most for new or underprepared students — have gone through training on using the alert system.


Rethinking stress at test time

Developmental math students can rethink stress in order to do their best on tests, writes Jeremy Jamieson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, on Carnegie Commons.

Jamieson researches ways to help students deal with stress in partnership with Aaron Altose, an assistant math professor at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. They form an “Alpha Lab” team.

As a Quantway instructor, Altose tries to help students who’ve struggled with math develop a positive mindset. He’s learned that giving students information about how to prepare for tests doesn’t prevent test anxiety.

We talk about the proper amount of time to spend studying, finding the right environment, eating and sleeping well, and not cramming before a test. I’ve tried guiding students through progressive muscle relaxation before tests. I had a constantly evolving PowerPoint presentation comprised of information and articles I found online about understanding the ‘fight or flight’ response and high-pressure performers like Air Force pilots and emergency room doctors. But students sitting down to take a math test seemed to never take this information to heart.

Teaching people to see stress as a potentially useful coping mechanism can improve performance, research has found. Instead of trying to avoid stress, students can see it as a sign they’re ready for a challenge. In an Alpha Lab experiment, students were asked to inventory their feelings and emotions immediately before they take an exam. Then they read summaries of scientific articles highlighting the adaptive benefits of stress. “I know before a test, I just feel bad, but maybe what I really feel is determined,” one student said.


Bad credit? Proposal eases PLUS loan rules

People who’ve fallen up to $2,085 behind on their debts will be able to take out federal PLUS loans under a proposed regulation relaxing credit requirements reports Inside Higher Ed. In addition, the Education Department will analyze only two years of a prospective borrower’s credit history, down from five years.

In 2011, the Education Department tightened standards for the PLUS loan program, triggering tens of thousands of loan denials due to bad credit.  Leaders at historically black colleges and universities and their allies lobbied hard for looser credit rules, arguing that minority families were affected the most.

Low-income parents can take out Parent PLUS loans without showing their ability to repay the debt. Income-based repayment is not an option.

“The loans are both remarkably easy to get and nearly impossible to get out from under for families who’ve overreached,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education and ProPublica in The Parent Loan Trap. There’s no check on the borrower’s income, employment status or other debt. There’s no loan cap.

Many of the colleges where students rely the most on Parent PLUS loans specialize in art and music.

Consumer advocates worry that low-income families are taking on debts they can’t repay.  “This loan is not a safe product for low-income borrowers,” said Rachel Fishman, a New America Foundation policy analyst.

Some middle-income parents are deferring retirement to repay their PLUS loans or going into default, the New York Times reported in 2012. Children can’t help out in many cases: Some have dropped out and others have taken low-paying jobs.

The default rate for Parent PLUS loans has tripled in recent years, according to national data. However, remains below the default rates for other federal student loans, reports Inside Higher Ed.


Community college students are mobile

Nearly 12 percent of community college students attend another college in an academic year, reports the American Association of Community Colleges. That’s a much higher mobility rate than four-year students.


Higher ed a la carte


Should students loans be available for job training?
Accreditation is a higher ed cartel, argues Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, on The Federalist. He proposes letting states accredit alternative postsecondary programs, such as job training, apprenticeships, hybrid on-campus/on-the-job models and distance-learning options. People seeking skills — but not necessarily a degree — could assemble the education they need, a la carte, using federal aid to pay their costs.

Under the federal Higher Education Act, students are eligible for Title IV student loans and grants only if they attend formally accredited institutions. That makes some sense, for purposes of quality control. Except that under the law, only degree-issuing academic institutions are allowed to be accredited. And only the U.S. Department of Education gets to say who can be an accreditor.

By blocking new competitors, the system drives up costs, argues Lee. That prices most Americans “out of the post-secondary opportunities that make the most sense for them” and plunges “most of the rest deep into debt to pursue an increasingly nebulous credential.”

The Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act would give states the power to create their own, alternative systems of accrediting Title IV-eligible higher education providers. . . . State-based accreditation would augment, not replace, the current regime. (College presidents can rest assured that if they like their regional accreditor, they can keep it.) But the state-based alternatives would not be limited to accrediting formal, degree-issuing “colleges.” They could additionally accredit specialized programs, apprenticeships, professional certification classes, competency tests, and even individual courses.

States could allow the Sierra Club to accredit an environmental science program, a labor union to accredit its apprenticeship program and Boeing to accredit an aerospace engineering “major,” Lee writes. Professors — or others with expertise — could go freelance, offering their teaching talents online.

In today’s customizable world, students should be able to put their transcripts together a la carte – on-campus and online, in classrooms and offices, with traditional semester courses and alternative scenarios like competency testing – and assistance should follow them at every stop along the way.

Employers already have shifted a lot of job training to community colleges. Now they could keep it in house — if their state agreed — with federal taxpayers footing the bill. Smashing the cartel could make today’s quality control problems even worse, responds Jordan Weissmann on Slate.

The entire point of requiring schools to be accredited before they can become eligible for federal aid is to make sure students don’t take out loans for a worthless education while burning taxpayer money in the bargain. As the rise of unscrupulous for-profit colleges demonstrates, the accreditors have basically abdicated that responsibility. Adding yet more accreditors into the mix, and making more programs eligible to profit off of loan dollars—without making it easier to kick schools out—would only worsen our problems with predatory colleges.

“Agencies might be more willing to punish a bad actor if they could downgrade its accreditation status rather than revoke it entirely—which is the only option available to them right now,” writes Weissmann. That’s one of the ideas proposed by New America policy analyst Ben Miller on EdCentral.


Transfer ed is workforce prep too

Community colleges’ workforce training mission is getting lots of attention since the Great Recession, writes Matt Reed, the Community College Dean. But educating students for transfer and an eventual bachelor’s degree is workforce development too, he argues.

. . . I’m happy to support the development of well-designed, stackable programs that meet job-seekers’ needs quickly.  We’ve even developed programs with multiple on- and off-ramps, so people who need to can stop out to make money for a while, and return when they’re able, without losing credits.  It doesn’t fit cleanly into most “performance metrics,” but it’s what many students need.

But community colleges also are “the most accessible on-ramp” for the journey to a bachelor’s degree, which is required by many higher-level jobs, writes Reed.

It takes time to see the payoff and feeder colleges rarely get any credit, he writes. “The student who graduates with a bachelor’s in engineering and makes a good salary is attributed to the university; for the community college at which she started, she doesn’t count.”


Student aid funds most job training

Most federal support for job training flows through student aid, not workforce development programs, writes Mary Alice McCarthy on EdCentral. Federal student aid provides $150 billion a year to college students in vocational certificate and associate degree programs, while only $20 billion goes to all federal workforce programs.

Nursing students at Cuyahoga Community College train on a mannequin named "Steve."

Nursing students at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland train on a mannequin named “Steve.”

Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity and What Works in Job Training: A Synthesis of the Evidence, both released by the vice president’s office on July 22, lay out the federal workforce development system.

While there are 47 employment and training programs implemented across ten federal agencies, most federal funds  come from four agencies and a few programs, McCarthy writes. Including the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, $18 billion is spent by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (CTE), and military tuition assistance programs financed through the Departments of Defense and Veteran’s Affairs.

These days, community college is “where people go to get skills for work,” she writes. Yet there’s “minimal accountability” for the large and growing share of federal student aid for college students in job-training programs. Many programs don’t fit the administration’s call for “job-driven” training designed with employers to fill high-demand jobs.

Federal student aid “is oddly exempt from national discussions about how to improve America’s job training programs. Until those dollars are truly on the table, we’re not talking about the federal policies that can really make a difference in connecting postsecondary education and work.”

Job training is very hard to do well outside the workplace. . . . Engaging employers, identifying in-demand skills, accelerating learning, designing programs to meet diverse and non-traditional learners, providing effective student supports – it all works and it’s all hard.

Job training can’t do it all, writes McCarthy. “Globalization and technological change are transforming production processes and disrupting labor markets around the world, generating profound changes in how firms hire, compensate, and train employees.”

On the education front, we need policies that will make schools – particularly institutions of higher education – more responsive to the needs of students for concrete skills and transparent credentials. On the employer front, we need policies that promote firms to either invest directly in the skill development of employees (apprenticeship programs, on-the-job training) or that enable their workers to more easily combine work and learning (better leave policies, tuition assistance, etc). Policies also need to recognize that people will be moving in and out of jobs more often, and will need support for up-skilling and periodic bouts of unemployment.

And, “it doesn’t matter how good your job training programs are if there aren’t enough jobs to go around.”


Illinois: CCs hope to add 4-year degrees

Illinois community college leaders tried to add four-year degrees eight years ago, reports The Southern. Now they’re trying again, arguing that offering four-year degrees at two-year colleges will enhance access and affordability.

Robert L. Breuder, president of College of DuPage, is leading the campaign.

“We spend time, money and effort recruiting and retaining students and then we ignore how they can best contribute to their local community’s economy and quality of life,” Breuder wrote in a March 26 letter published by the Chicago Tribune.

“We shouldn’t lose them because we couldn’t offer the baccalaureate degree in a field that no public university cares to offer despite a documented need within the districts the community colleges serve.”

Nursing, construction management, electronics and healthcare administration would be possibilities at John A. Logan College, says President Mike Dreith said. But he doesn’t want to endanger the college’s “extremely sensitive” relationship with nearby Southern Illinois University, which strongly opposed a baccalaureate option at community colleges eight years ago.

It’s time to let community colleges offer four-year degrees in technical fields, writes Jim Nowlan, a retired senior fellow with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs, in the News-Gazette.

A full-time community college student pays about $3,500 a year in tuition and usually lives at home, he notes. A state university student pays  $10,000 to $14,000 — before room and board fees.

College of DuPage enrolls 28,000 students — more than any campus in the state other than the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Students take courses in 90 certificate programs and 59 associate degree occupations.

Breuder wants to take advantage of COD’s strong position to offer low-cost, four-year degrees in fields like information technology, public safety management, advanced manufacturing, auto technology management and, especially, nursing.

Twenty-two states have approved four-year degrees at community colleges, writes Nowlan. Illinois should too.


Too much information

College students get more information than they can handle, concludes a report by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Streamlining consumer information regulations — and eliminating some requirements — would help students focus on what they really need to know, advises NASFAA.

“The number of disclosures students receive from their institutions is overwhelming,” said NASFAA’s President and CEO Justin Draeger. “Today’s disclosures aren’t just unhelpful, they may actually hinder students from deciphering what is truly important when making college-going and financial aid decisions.” The report recommends:

Enhancing the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) College Navigator to make it the primary tool for disseminating college information,

Making ED and loan servicers responsible for developing and distributing loan-related consumer information, including debt management, and

Repealing the ban on a federal-level student unit record, to develop a limited student unit record that collects more accurate and comprehensive data on contemporary student behavior.

Required information includes a Campus Security Report, Fire Safety Report and the Fire Log, Drug and Alcohol Prevention Information, notices about Constitution Day and Voter Registration and Athletic Disclosures, the report notes. It suggests studying whether these reports are useful to students or could be eliminated.


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