A closer look at the Academically Adrift study, which found “limited learning” on campus, shows a brighter picture, argues Sara Goldrick-Rab. College students made significant learning gains, she writes on Education Optimists.
First-year students with a high school-educated parent start out well behind (.47 standard deviations) students whose parents completed graduate school, she writes. “The learning gains made during college are equivalent in size to the advantage that a student from an educationally-advantaged family holds over a first-generation student.”
Advantaged students make bigger gains during college, so the gap increases slightly. But all students end up ahead of where they started.
Social inequalities are very hard to close—we won’t be reassigning children to new parents anytime soon. But four years of college clearly raises student achievement, and it is an intervention we can promote and can afford.
“College is transformative for learning,” for most students, Goldrick-Rab concludes. “The real tragedy is that higher education does not focus more attention on the neediest students in order to close the gaps that affect the stability and fabric of our everyday lives.”
Learning online is especially difficult for lower-achieving students concludes a working paper by researchers at Columbia’s Community College Research Center. Younger students, males and blacks also did worse in online courses than in traditional face-to-face courses, researchers found after analyzing nearly 500,000 courses taken by more than 40,000 community and technical college students in Washington State.
“Low-cost online courses could allow a more-diverse group of students to try college, but . . . also widen achievement gaps,” notes the Chronicle of Higher Education.
All students who take more online courses are less likely to attain a degree, the study found. But it’s worse for more vulnerable students.
“We found that the gap is stronger in the underrepresented and underprepared students,” said Shanna Smith Jaggars, one of the authors. “They’re falling farther behind than if they were taking face-to-face courses.”
Online learning can still be a great tool, she said, particularly for older students who juggle studying and raising a family. For those students, as well as female and higher-performing students, the difference between online and physical classrooms was more marginal, according to the study.
“So for older students, you can sort of see the cost-benefit balance in favor of taking more courses online,” Ms. Jaggars said. “They might do a little worse, but over all it’s a pretty good trade-off for the easier access. But where a student doesn’t need online courses for their access, it’s unclear if that is a good trade-off.”
Writing courses attracted many poor learners, the study found. Online students had the grestest difficulties with social science courses, such as psychology and anthropology, and the applied professions, such as business and nursing.
Researchers suggested screening out students likely to do poorly, providing early warnings for struggling students, teaching online learning skills in some courses and/or working to improve the quality of online courses.
These colleges improved graduation rates, closed achievement gaps and changed lives, said the nonprofit. For example, Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas strengthened remedial education coursework and increased the college’s three-year completion rate to 24 percent from 10 percent over a four-year period.
Unless the K-12 achievement gap narrows, it’s unlikely that many more blacks and Hispanics will earn four-year college degrees, writes Emily Badger on Miller-McCune. There is potential for “middle-skill jobs” that require two-year degrees or certificates.
Only 15 percent of Hispanics and blacks, a growing percentage of the workforce, hold a four-year degree, compared to 32 percent of Asians and whites.
A high school diploma isn’t enough for workers and a four-year degree is unrealistic for many, says Alan Berube, who contributed to a new Brookings Institution report, the “State of Metropolitan America.”
“Rather than think we have to move everybody who doesn’t have a four-year degree over that bar,” he said, “we could work on the availability and opportunity for what people call these middle-skill jobs that demand a certification or an associate’s degree.”
. . . Berube suggests we should also invest more heavily in the higher-education institutions most capable of reaching minority students: not just historically black colleges, but community colleges as well.
Only 10 percent of Hispanic drop-outs go on to earn a GED, half the rate of blacks and one third the rate of whites, reports the Pew Hispanic Center. Hispanics also are less likely to complete high school: 41 percent of Hispanic adults lack a regular high school diploma, compared with 23 percent of blacks and 14 percent of whites.
Those figures include immigrants who may not have attended U.S. schools and don’t understand the need for a GED or how to earn one, Pew’s Richard Fry tells AP. “The longer foreign-born Latinos without a high school degree are in the United States, the more likely they are to earn a GED.” However, only 21 percent of U.S. born Hispanic drop-outs earn a GED, a rate similar to blacks.
Four in 10 students with a GED pursue additional education, compared to only 1 in 10 of those without an alternative degree. Students with a GED are also able to apply and enroll in degree-granting colleges and universities.
The high drop-out rate and the low GED completion rate keep a sizeable number of Hispanics on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.