“Not everyone should go to college,” writes Matt Reed. But “everyone should have the option — really have the option — so we don’t miss talent based on prejudice masquerading as toughness.”
Given real options, people will find the paths that are right for them. Some will choose paths far away from college, and that’s their right. But some will show up shaggy and unkempt, and shock the hell out of us. That’s why we’re here. It’s a valuable and worthy mission, and one that would be easy to violate in the name of a superficial rigor. The real rigor comes in creating, sustaining, and improving an audaciously egalitarian institution in a political culture in which the winds blow cold. It’s cold outside. Open the door and let people in.
Predictors of academic success often fail at the individual level, Reed concludes. “We don’t know who is worthy and who isn’t, so we’re better off treating everyone as potentially worthy.”
California community colleges could add courses in short summer and winter sessions — if students pay more, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. A bill that passed the Assembly this week would let colleges charge non-resident rates — $200 per unit — for new classes instead of the usual fee of $46 per unit.
Students who pay more for a high-demand class would free up spaces for other students during the regular semester, Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, said. ”We must recognize the reality that the existing system is not meeting students’ needs,” he said.
The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges and several community college districts opposed the bill, saying it’s unfair to low-income students.
“If you fear a two-tiered system, I’ve got to wake you up: It’s already here,” Williams said. “There’s one tier that can get in and one tier that is locked out.”
After years of cutbacks, two-thirds of community colleges are offering more courses this summer, according to the chancellor’s office. Last summer, enrollment and course offerings hit the lowest level in 15 years, but the passage of a state sales tax increase provided an extra $210 million to community colleges.
In recent years, the state’s community colleges have been hit by $1.5 billion in funding cuts and turned away 600,000 students, according to a report published in March.
The shortage of community college seats “could keep 2.5 million Californians out of the system over the next 10 years,” reports KPBS. Latinos, who are the most likely to attend community colleges, will be hit hard, said Deborah Santiago, who heads research for Excelencia in Education. “Community colleges are, from a sticker price perspective, more affordable and, because they are in the communities where these students live, therefore accessible,” she said.
Many Pell Grant recipients aren’t prepared for college and never complete a degree, writes Jane Shaw of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Instead of denying Pell aid to remedial students, she proposes requiring evidence of readiness, such as SAT scores of at least 850 (verbal and math) and a high school GPA of at least 2.5 (between a C and a B).
“Not only would this save taxpayer money, it would provide a positive incentive for students to do better in school,” write researchers Jenna Ashley Robinson and Duke Cheston. “Students with very low high school academic performance are unlikely to graduate from college regardless of financial aid.”
According to the College Board, in order to have a 65 percent chance of getting a B- average in college, students should achieve about 1030 on the math and verbal SATs and earn a B average in high school (taking courses of at least “average” rigor). Using this benchmark, only 32 percent of students taking the SATs in 2009 were fully college-ready! On the other hand, to have a chance at a C average in college, they can get by with a 730 score on math and verbal, says the College Board.
But even getting a C average would be a struggle for these students, and the possibility of failure or dropping is out is all too likely.
Universities may already be designating remedial courses as college-level courses, even without the incentive of qualifying students for federal aid.
Pell Grant recipients don’t get a tuition break at many public and private universities, according to Stephen Burd, a senior policy analyst at the New America Foundation. Instead, universities compete for “the ’best and brightest’ students—and the wealthiest,” he writes in Undermining Pell: How Colleges Compete for Wealthy Students and Leave Low-Income Ones Behind.
Pell recipients are forced to take on more debt and work more hours, reducing their odds of completing a degree, Burd writes. Nearly two-thirds of private colleges and universities ask students from families making $30,000 or less to pay more than $15,000 a year for college.
Is online learning for steerage passengers, while only the elite actually meet their professors? Peter Sacks worries about stratifying and standardizing higher education on Minding the Campus.
Online learning will reduce higher education costs without harming student learning outcomes, argues former Princeton president William G. Bowen in Higher Education in the Digital Age. Bowen estimates teaching labor costs could be cut by 36 percent to 57 percent and cites a study by ITHACA, a non-profit organization, which found online students earn similar scores to students in traditional courses. Furthermore, access to online courses “could reduce the average time it takes to complete a degree, making colleges more productive, affordable and efficient.”
However, cutting teacher labor costs means cutting “interpersonal interactions that are an essential part of an authentic education,” Sacks writes.
. . . we should let fast and cheap educational programs provide students with basic skills and have the universities provide the real education. Faculty will then take on a new role: Instead of lecturing large classes, they will become expert consultants who guide learners in the application of information for solving, creating and inventing. David Brooks recently cited one professor’s prediction that universities will eventually tell students to take certain college courses online, “and then, when you’re done, you will come to campus and that’s when our job will begin.”
Currently, online learning is primarily for lower-income, lower-achieving students, writes Sacks, citing federal data. In 2007-08, the most recent data available, 18 percent of college students were enrolled exclusively in online programs. These students were more likely to attend an open-admissions college and to be the first in their families to attend college. Online programs provide access — to not-so-higher education, concludes Sacks.
Well-off students will attend the few colleges and universities that are wealthy enough to eschew standardization and automation. They alone will have real relationships with great faculty. A second, less wealthy group of students will use online courses for their general education and attend “authentic” institutions for a short while. For poorer students, online learning could well become the main course. They will attend institutions that, strictly speaking, grant post-high school credentials to the coach class.
At San Jose State, which is experimenting with online courses to reduce costs, philosophy professors criticized an edX course on justice taught by Michael Sandel, a Harvard professor and an academic star.
In an open letter, philosophy professors said online courses from elite universities “would compromise the quality of education, stifle diverse viewpoints and lead to the dismantling of public universities,” reports the New York Times. “The thought of the exact same social justice course being taught in various philosophy depts. across the country is downright scary,” the letter said.
Provost Ellen Junn said nobody had told the philosophy department to use the Sandel course, however several professors said they felt pressured to offer it. Peter J. Hadreas, who chairs the department, “said that administrators had now arranged to offer it through the English department, reinforcing his concerns that it would be taught by professors who are not trained in philosophy and would be especially reliant on the edX materials.”
Sandel responded, writing, “I strongly believe that online courses are no substitute for the personal engagement of teachers with students, especially in the humanities.”
Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America has no courses — online or in person. It employs no teachers, just online coaches. Students complete assignments and projects to show their mastery of 120 “competencies,” such as distinguishing fact from opinion or conveying information through charts and graphs, reports the Boston Globe. Students can earn an accredited associate degree, then show potential employers an online portfolio of their work.
Last semester, Ashley Collins often faced a terrible choice: go to her night class, or pick up a waitressing shift to help pay her community college tuition. Class usually lost out.
As a former foster child with no family to help pay for college, the 21-year-old works three jobs while trying to stay in school.
This year, she switched colleges, and now does her schoolwork at home, in her pajamas when she feels like it.
Students move ahead at their own pace, paying $1,250 every six months. Collins is on track to complete a two-year degree in six months. If she’d continued working and taking classes at night, a degree could have taken 10 years, she told the Globe. She earns $9.91 an hour caring for developmentally disabled adults.
College for America started in January with 277 students enrolled through their jobs: groundskeepers, telemarketers, factory workers, gas station employees and caregivers at the nonprofit that employs Collins.
College for America passed a high hurdle in April when the U.S. Education Department agreed to provide financial aid to its students, the first time a program based on competency rather than “seat time” has been approved.
“The federal government is saying, maybe we should be paying for learning rather than time,” said Amy Laitinen, deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation, a prominent think tank. “I don’t want to be too hyperbolic about it, but it really could signal a new era in higher education.”
Southern New Hampshire, a private nonprofit, developed its online curriculum using online resources, including video lectures, readings and web sites, rather than writing its own study materials.
When students submit assignments, graders provide feedback within 48 hours. If it’s not good enough, students are told to try again.
Many of the assignments are practical. One presents students with hypothetical proposals for a vending machine contract for the employee lounge and ask him to write a memo evaluating the vendors. Then, a grader determines whether the students’ work demonstrates they have mastered five competencies, including writing a business memo, using logic, and making calculations in a spreadsheet.
Paul LeBlanc, Southern New Hampshire’s presidents, hopes to offer a bachelor’s degree and enroll 350,000 students by 2018. In addition to working with employers, the college may partner with churches and community organizations to offer support to independent students.
Western Governors University, an online nonprofit created in 1997, offers competency-based, self-paced bachelor’s degree programs.
Northern Arizona University and the University of Wisconsin system also are experimenting with competency-based programs, reports USA Today.
KnowledgeWorks looks at the federal role in competency education, focusing on K-12 schooling.
Can “novice learners” succeed in all-online courses? Many believe remedial and entry-level students need lots of personal attention to succeed. But San Jose State is working with Udacity on three online basic math courses that include round-the-clock online mentors, hired and trained by the company, reports the New York Times.
The tiny for-credit pilot courses, open to both San Jose State students and local high school and community college students, began in January, so it is too early to draw any conclusions. But early signs are promising, so this summer, Udacity and San Jose State are expanding those classes to 1,000 students, and adding new courses in psychology and computer programming, with tuition of only $150 a course.
San Jose State professors provided lecture notes and a textbook for the three basic math courses. Udacity employees wrote the script. The nonprofit also supplies online mentors who answer students questions immediately.
The Gates Foundation is giving grants to develop massive open online courses to teach basic and remedial skills, said Josh Jarrett, a foundation officer.
“For us, 2012 was all about trying to tilt some of the MOOC attention toward the more novice learner, the low-income and first-generation students,” he said. “And 2013 is about blending MOOCs into college courses where there is additional support, and students can get credit. While some low-income young adults can benefit from what I call the free-range MOOCs, the research suggests that most are going to need more scaffolding, more support.”
A bill in the state Senate would let wait-listed students earn credit for faculty-approved online courses, including those from private vendors such as Udacity and edX. The bill is controversial, especially with faculty members.
San Jose State President Mohammad Qayoumi favors blended learning for upper-level courses, “but fully online courses like Udacity’s for lower-level classes,” reports the Times. Online courses can be expanded easily, eliminating wait lists.
“If the results are good, then we’ll scale it up, which would be very good, given how much unmet demand we have at California public colleges,” said Ronald Rogers, a statistics professor. “I’m involved in this not to destroy brick-and-mortar universities, but to increase access for more students,” Rogers said.
California community college students will continue to be able to take as many credits as they like at the state’s low rates, reports the Sacramento Bee. Gov. Jerry Brown had proposed limiting students to 90 units, then requiring them to pay more than four times the current $46-per-unit price. Budget committees in both houses of the Legislature said no.
The governor hopes to increase access to the crowded community college system and improve graduation rates by encouraging students to develop an academic plan and avoid lingering.
Lawmakers said capping units is not the way to increase access or success. Assembly Budget Chair Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, called the unit cap proposal inappropriate and off target.
“The administration proposals simply stick it to students who have already had to contend with fewer classes and massive fee increases,” Blumenfield said. “They respond to symptoms of a much bigger problem. Even if the administration could offer evidence showing a budget savings associated with these proposals, they are bad policy choices to make today.”
Critics said unit caps would hurt double majors and laid-off workers who’ve earned a degree but need new skills.
Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said unit caps would create space for new students.
Students need 60 units to earn an associate degree. In the 2011-12 school year, nearly 95,000 students at community colleges had earned 90 or more degree-applicable units.
The board of governors voted last year to “give priority enrollment to students who have developed an educational plan, taken a diagnostic assessment and have earned fewer than 100 units,” notes the Bee. “That’s a much more nuanced way of addressing it than a straight 90 unit cap,” said Theresa Tena, vice president of Community College League of California.
Some California community colleges want to charge higher fees for high-demand courses. Newly appointed Community College Chancellor Brice Harris opposes differential fees, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.
In an open letter to leaders of the system’s 112 colleges, Harris last month made clear that he is opposed to attempts at charging “differential tuition.” That includes the controversial two-tiered pricing structure that Santa Monica College proposed last year or the online bachelor’s track Coastline Community College has been developing with three public universities in other states.
Harris supports tuition increases, but opposes charging some students more than others for the same courses.
“I strongly believe that charging different students different fees depending on demand, ability to pay or program of interest would ultimately be devastating to open access and has the potential to undermine a system that has been the gateway to a better life for all Californians regardless of their background.”
Many California community colleges are putting students on wait lists for high-demand entry-level courses. ”A recent report found that budget cuts, and resulting faculty layoffs and hiring freezes, have forced the system to turn away 600,000 students in recent years,” notes Inside Higher Ed.
Coastline Community College’s proposed online partnership with four-year institutions was rejected by the chancellor’s office earlier this year.
California’s community colleges — the nation’s largest public higher education system — have cut as much as 20 percent of courses since 2008, driving enrollment to its lowest point in two decades, concludes a Public Policy Institute of California report.
A half-million students have been shut out in recent years, reports the state community college chancellor’s office. Enrollment fell from 2.9 million students in 2008-09 to 2.4 million students in 2011-12.
Rigo Navarro, a second semester student at Chabot College in Hayward, wants to major in criminal justice and engineering, but hasn’t been able to take math or a criminal justice, reports the Oakland Tribune. In the last two years, Chabot has closed 12 percent of classes.
Statewide, the number of for-credit classes fell by 14 percent between 2008 and 2011, while non-credit classes, such as English as a Second Language, dropped by more than a third.
New students must wait to register until continuing students have chosen classes. That’s made it hard for recent high school graduates to get started at community colleges.
The number of young, first-time community college students in California fell even further behind the number of recent high school graduates between 2008 and 2011 — a trend that, combined with lower CSU and UC enrollment, “does not bode well” for the state’s workforce, the report’s researchers concluded.
The state and the colleges must come up with a long-range plan to restore the system, concluded the report, which listed raising local parcel taxes, increasing tuition significantly, helping more students get financial aid and charging more for high-demand classes as options. In addition to raising revenue, online education and larger classes could reach more students.
Senate Pro Tem Leader Darrell Steinberg has introduced a bill to let state college students shut out of classes receive transfer credits for some private-sector online courses.
California college students could bypass wait lists and earn credits online under a bill introduced by State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, reports the Oakland Tribune. “This is not technology for technology’s sake. It addresses a real challenge.”
State colleges and universities would be required to accept credits from faculty-approved online courses for about 50 high-demand, lower-level classes with long wait lists. The access problem is especially acute at community colleges: More than three-quarters are putting students on wait lists.
“For a long time students have really suffered from a lack of access to the courses they needed to succeed,” said Rich Copenhagen, president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges.
The bill would help the many students who end up taking frivolous courses just to keep their full-time status and financial aid, backers say.
Still the move will ease pressure to provide more funding to hire instructors and add classes.
Faculty would decide which online courses would provide credit, notes Inside Higher Ed.
Likely participants include Udacity and Coursera, two major massive open online course providers, sources said. Another option might be StraighterLine, a low-cost, self-paced online course company.
Those online providers are not accredited and cannot directly issue credit. But the American Council on Education (ACE) offers credit recommendations for successfully completed StraighterLine courses and is currently reviewing MOOCs for credit recommendations, with five from Coursera already gaining approval. Potentially credit-bearing MOOCs will likely include efforts to verify students’ identities and proctored exams.
“A source familiar with the bill said it would require online providers to charge no more than the tuition rates of the colleges students attend,” reports Inside Higher Ed. At California community colleges, that would be $140 per three-credit course, though many students qualify for fee waivers.