Trauma is part of the job for many community college instructors, writes Wick Sloane, who teaches writing at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. After the Marathon bombing suspects were named, Sloane checked his e-mails: Tamerlan Tsarnaev took his College Writing I class in spring 2007, cut frequently and failed. He’d sent a few e-mails excusing his absences before he quit for good.
Sloane has no insight into Tamerlan or his brother, he writes. But he’s often felt the urge to cry since “Bloody Friday” when police shut down Boston and Cambridge. Sloane lives a mile from the shootout and explosion that killed his former student. A few years ago, he ran the Boston Marathon.
Holding instructors accountable for students’ success “is fine by me,” writes Sloane. “The solutions just need a load factor for the days that community college teachers need a good cry.”
He’s experienced “secondary trauma” by reading his students’ essays.
. . . in a few short years: murder, rape, shootings; sudden and prolonged homelessness; memories of wars in Somalia, Eritrea, El Salvador, the Congo; a father killed in the civil war in Mali; a student for whom I was buying a sandwich at 5 p.m. saying, “I guess you could tell I haven’t eaten since yesterday.” Domestic violence. Stories from veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another student in that 2007 writing class, Cedirick Steele, was shot and killed for no apparent reason. “The shooters planned to kill someone, it didn’t matter who.” Sloane testified as a character witness for the victim when the murderers were tried and convicted four years later.
Community college officials were urged to commit to “beta-testing” the Voluntary Framework of Accountability at the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco. The new measure will be introduced in November. The federal data system tracks only full-time students, who make up a fraction of community college students. The AACC, the Association of Community College Trustees and the College Board are designing the VFA to satisfy demands for accountability and give colleges the information they need to improve, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The VFA aims to measure students’ progress not only in terms of who gets a degree, but, for example, if they pass out of developmental courses, how quickly they earn academic credit, and if they transfer to another institution. Beyond credit-bearing academic programs, the tool will track such data as students’ pass rates for licensure examinations and the employment rates among those who enrolled in adult basic education.
“If you’re going to measure us, measure us by what we do,” said Sandra L. Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County, which plans to start using the tool in the fall. Sinclair Community College also intends to sign on, said Laura Mercer, director of research, analytics, and reporting at the Ohio institution.
About 80 colleges are testing the VFA. Pennsylvania adopted it last year to assess its 14 community colleges, and other states may follow suit. But some college officials worry about the cost of collecting data — or what the numbers may show.
For now, the development of the VFA has focused on student progress and outcomes. Its two other components, tracking community colleges’ performance on “work-force, economic, and community development” and on “student-learning outcomes,” are in their early stages. Collecting state wage data and defining learning outcomes have proved difficult, presenters at the meeting said.
The VFA will track the progress of all students in credit-bearing courses, not just those who are seeking a degree, said Karen A. Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College, in Pennsylvania, and co-chair of an AACC accountability team. That may depress completion rates, she conceded.
Community colleges are in the national spotlight, said Richard Rhodes, president of Austin Community College, at the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges in San Francisco. ”The expectations are higher than they’ve ever been before, but legislators are beginning to understand the trajectory and pathways of our students.”
In addition to tracking the three-year graduation rates of first-time, full-time students, a small minority of community-college students, new accountability measures look at success rates in remedial classes and the number of students complete 15 or 30 credit hours.
One challenge facing two-year colleges, according to the speakers, is that colleges are having to educate more students from more-diverse backgrounds with less money.
At Northern Virginia Community College, for instance, the college’s enrollment has grown by 28 percent over the past four years, while its state budget allocations have shrunk by 20 percent.
Panelists also discussed reforming remedial education, including placing fewer students in non-credit courses and embedding remediation in college-level courses.
The new federal College Scorecard will let students and parents see “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck,” said President Obama in his State of the Union speech. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office will launch its own community college scorecard, reports EdSource Today.
The federal scorecard is “very four-year centric data,” explained Patrick Perry, Vice Chancellor for Technology, Research and Information Systems for California Community Colleges. “It tracks first-time, full-time freshmen degree-seeking students. That’s a small percentage of who’s coming to us.”
The community college scorecard, known as AARC 2.0, will track six “momentum points” correlated with student success. These are based on progress over six years.
Persistence Rate – the percentage of students seeking a degree or transfer to a four-year school who remain enrolled for three consecutive terms,
30 Unit Rate – the percentage of first-time students seeking a degree or transfer who earn at least 30 units,
Student Progress and Attainment Rate – the percentage of degree-or-transfer seeking students – separated into cohorts of those who start in basic skills and those who begin in college-level classes – who earn a degree, earn a certificate or transfer to a four-year college or university,
Basic Skills Progress Rate – the percentage of students who start out in remedial classes who go on to succeed in college-level courses,
Career Technical Education – the percentage of students who complete a career technical education program and earn a degree, earn a certificate or transfer, and
Career Development and College Preparation Rate – the completion rate for students in non-credit career development and non-credit college prep courses, such as English as a second language, which are offered at about a third of the state’s community colleges.
In addition, student progress data will be disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender.
California’s community college faculty wield too much power: Regulations which let academic senates veto decisions by elected boards are invalid and illegal, complains a legal challenge by California Competes, a nonprofit group of business and civic leaders.
Robert Shireman, the group’s executive director, said that the regulations create a tangled, dysfunctional bureaucracy that does not respond to the needs of students. “It creates a situation of gridlock instead of cooperation,” he said. “In order for any large organization to move forward, somebody ultimately has to make a decision.”
Under the proposed changes, local governing boards would be required to seek input from the faculty, staff and students prior to policy decisions. However trustees would have the final decision-making power.
Divided governance has given California’s community colleges a “national reputation for dispute and dysfunction,” said Shireman.
Massachusetts “lawmakers are tightening state control over community colleges, tying budgets to academic performance and giving education officials greater say over choosing and evaluating college presidents,” reports the Boston Globe.
Nearly half of public college students in Massachusetts attend the state’s 15 community colleges, but graduation rates are low.
The plan comes with added financial support. The state will increase spending on the two-year schools by $11 million, including $5 million for a grant program focused on raising graduation rates and consolidating administrative tasks across campuses. Another $2.3 million will help schools develop job-training programs to meet changing workforce needs.
Gov. Deval Patrick pushed for the measure, but didn’t get state control over college fees which will continue to be set locally.
Radio Boston asks whether the legislation will improve accountability or add another layer of bureaucracy.
Very low completion rates at Chicago City Colleges will improve or college presidents will lose their jobs, reports Inside Higher Ed in a look at Chancellor Cheryl Hyman’s “reinvention” campaign.
Measurements of the plan’s goals – more credentials earned, increased transfer rates, improved remediation outcomes and better success numbers for adult students – were written into the presidents’ job descriptions. And the board has required that campus chiefs provide “strong, decisive leadership” toward “dramatically” improved student success.
Faculty also are feeling pressure to improve completion rates, reports Inside Higher Ed.
“We’re the enemy. That’s the way we feel,” said Polly Hoover, president of the district-wide Faculty Council, and a professor of humanities at Wilbur Wright College. “We have been represented as the problem.”
Only 7 percent of full-time, first-time students at Chicago City Colleges complete a certificate or associate degree in three years. But that U.S. Education Department metric excludes nearly two thirds of students. Tracking all degree-seeking students over a longer period doesn’t improve the numbers by much.
When part-time students are included, the graduation rate bumps up a tick to 8 percent. And when time to degree is doubled, to six years, still only 13 percent of City College students make it to graduation.
More than half of degree-seeking students leave City Colleges after six months, and only 16 percent of students transfer to four-year institutions.
Most City College students are graduates of Chicago’s public schools. More than 90 percent need remediation.
Under the reinvention plan, City Colleges have hired more counselors and opened wellness centers. Colleges also are partnering with employers on job training programs.
High schools should track graduates’ college experience to see whether they need remedial courses and whether they earn a degree, argues the Data Quality Campaign. The group co-sponsored a meeting in Washington, D.C. last week with College Summit to discuss the role of data in advancing the college- and career-ready agenda.
J.B. Schramm, CEO of College Summit and E. Kinney Zalesne, released a paper, Seizing the Measurement Moment (pdf), reports Education Week.
“Only states have the incentive, the means, the impartiality, and the stamina to get this information in the hands of educators,” he said. Some states, with significant federal support, have made progress in building these data systems in the past six years, but more needs to be done, he said.
States must measure students’ postsecondary success, make the data available in a user-friendly format, help schools use the information to improve and reward districts that improve students’ college enrollment and performance, Schramm said.
Only 13 percent of high school educators said they know how their graduates do in postsecondary institutions in a 2010 Deloitte survey.
Knowing how students fare in college can help K-12 identify weaknesses in curriculum, such as the need for more math requirements or more rigorous writing instruction. That information can also relieve colleges from having to invest as much in developmental education and, ultimately, fortify the workforce, the College Summit report suggests.
Most states now have the ability to link K-12 and higher education data.
This year, New York City’s school report cards will show graduates’ college readiness, acceptance and retention.
What Gets Measured Gets Done concludes a Jobs for the Future policy brief, which calls for adding a measure of high school graduates’ college-course completion to K-12 accountability systems.
Another JFF publication, Testing Ground, looks at Florida’s use of a new college placement test to create a sense of urgency for college-readiness reforms.
Education Sector also endorses using outcomes data to measure high school success.
In California, however, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have added graduation and remediation rates to the state’s high school accountability system. Measuring performance doesn’t improve performance, wrote Brown in the veto message.
After years when policymakers weren’t paying much attention, community colleges are on the political radar, writes Rob Jenkins, an English professor at Georgia Perimeter College,at the Chronicle of Higher Education. That’s good — but there’s a risk that community colleges will be judged unfairly by the same standards as selective four-year colleges.
An institution with an open-door policy, accepting high-school dropouts with GED’s, students returning to school after 20 years, and nonnative speakers, is simply not going to have the same output . . .
. . . for community colleges, graduation rates are not the sole indicators of success. Many of our students just take a course or two, or transfer after a year. Even those who do stay two years sometimes leave without bothering to pick up an associate’s degree.
The demand for “accountability” could lead to a national curriculum, Jenkins fears. That would make it hard for colleges to serve their communities. In Britain, “further education” colleges, which primarily offer vocational training, must wait years to get curriculum changes approved to meet local needs.
Jenkins also worries that community colleges have gained national attention as job training centers, not as places that teach the liberal arts.
Liberal-arts instructors “must make it clear that community colleges exist to educate the whole student, not just to crank out human widgets for the economic machine.”
Tennessee’s state colleges and universities were told to raise graduation rates or else, reports The Tennessean.
Campuses are bringing on extra advisers, bulking up tutoring and remedial classes, fast-tracking majors and cramming extra-credit courses into the gaps between semesters, all in an attempt to lock students on track to a degree.
For DaMicheal McLean, 25, “the road to a degree has turned into a bullet train.”
Enrolled in an accelerated degree program, he rocketed through Nashville State Community College in one year and is set to earn his bachelor’s degree from Tennessee State University by next spring.
. . . He’s taking 18 credit hours this semester, including a three-credit course he fitted into the week of spring break. Last year, he loaded his schedule with the maximum 21 credit hours while working full time.
Less than 30 percent of Nashville State students earn a degree in three years. Taking the wrong classes or switching majors can make graduation seem so remote that students give up.
“Time is your enemy,” said Ellen Weed, vice president for academic affairs at Nashville State Community College. “We’re trying a little bit of everything” to cut down on the time it takes a student to graduate.
Seventy percent of students need remedial classes. The college’s new Learning Support Math lab lets students move quickly through catch-up lessons.
One student breezed through a semester’s worth of lessons in the space of three weeks and resumed her regular course work. The community college expects almost two-thirds of this class to finish their course work this semester, compared with just half under the old tutoring system.
Accountability works, argues The Quick and the Ed. Tennessee colleges didn’t lower academic standards or restrict access to the best students. They adopted common-sense ideas — “increasing advising, assisting students in need of support, cutting bureaucratic requirements, and updating their course calendar” — that are known to work, especially for at-risk students. “For-profit institutions have been doing many of these things for years,” but “it took outside pressure and a budget crisis” to push colleges to “start doing the things they should’ve been doing all along.”
To increase graduation rates at community colleges, the Tennessee Board of Regents has eliminated graduation fees.