Ten years after the Lumina Foundation launched Achieving the Dream, MDRC reports on progress toward the goal of increasing community college students’ odds of success.
Student outcomes haven’t improved much, except for a modest increase in students completing gatekeeper English courses, the report concluded. However, three unnamed colleges “stood out for gains on multiple indicators of student success.”
Each college focused on specific student subgroups, and each coordinated multiple reform efforts around their chosen subgroup.
In later years, after gaining experience with the initial subgroups, each college expanded the reach of new practices to include larger groups of students or faculty. This focus was supported by targeted professional development for faculty and staff involved in the work.
One college also used its reaccreditation process to help coordinate its reform efforts toward achieving a common set of goals.
Achieving the Dream has expanded to nearly 200 community colleges in 10 years. The initiative aims to help community colleges collect and analyze data to identify barriers to success and develop intervention strategies.
The White House higher education summit sidelined community colleges and other institutions serving low-income students, complain critics, reports Katherine Mangan in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Most were excited that the issues they’d long grappled with were taking center stage. But some couldn’t help pointing out that many ideas emerging from the White House summit—targeted scholarships, better test preparation, summer enrichment programs, fast-tracked remedial education—were old news on their campuses, which nonetheless continue to see low completion rates.
More than 100 colleges made the guest list. Only 10 community colleges participated, even though most lower-income college students attend community colleges.
Colleges had to commit to new efforts to serve needy students, said Patricia A. McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University. “If you’re an institution like us, where 80 percent of the students are eligible for Pell Grants and the median family income is $25,000, there’s hardly any room to do anything new or more than we’re already doing.”
Much of the discussion at the White House meeting was about the phenomenon of “undermatching,” in which many high-achieving, low-income students who would qualify for admission to selective colleges instead end up at institutions that are beneath them academically, and typically have lower graduation rates. More-selective colleges, the thinking goes, tend to offer better support—small classes, tutoring—to students unfamiliar with the demands of college.
Not surprisingly, many educators bristle at the suggestion that the colleges that enroll most of the nation’s low-income and underrepresented students aren’t up to the task.
Achieving the Dream, which focuses on raising community college completion rates, committed to dedicating a day of its annual institute to workshops on helping the least-prepared students. “While our colleges have been working for a long time to try to improve outcomes, they’ve deepened their commitment in light of the call from the White House,” said Carol A. Lincoln, senior vice president at Achieving the Dream.
College leaders were “inspired” by the summit, reports the Chronicle in another story.
“We want to restore the essential promise of opportunity and upward mobility that’s at the heart of America,” President Obama said at a White House summit on higher education. “If we as a nation can … reach out to [low-income] young people and help them not just go to college, but graduate from college or university, it could have a transformative effect.”
The “story of opportunity through education is the story of my life,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, who grew up in a working-class family and went to Princeton.
The administration asked colleges and universities to encourage low-income students to apply to challenging schools, start college preparation earlier, expand college advising and improve college remediation.
In California, the three branches of the higher education system – community colleges, state universities, and the University of California – will jointly reach out to seventh-graders in the state to encourage them to prepare for college and understand financial aid options.
Only 1 in 4 community college students in remedial classes go on to earn a degree, notes the White House report, Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students. Summit participants have committed to “strengthening instruction, using technology, better supporting students in remediation, and reducing the need for remediation.”
Achieving the Dream, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Jobs for the Future will work with community colleges and other higher education groups to develop and implement promising practices that accelerate progression through remediation and gateway courses.
Update: It was “a productive meeting,” Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, told Community College Daily. “It will be the broad access institutions that will play the big role — not the nation’s elite universities. There needs to be more focus on leveraging the nation’s community colleges to promote access and college/university completion at more affordable rates.”
“The summit helped to reframe the current rhetoric around higher education, away from the issues of rating and affordability, to issues of access for low-income students, our importance for economic competitiveness, and the need for increased public and private investment in our work,” said Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College (Pennsylvania). “The administration has clearly recognized our role in workforce development. I am pleased that our important role in transfer was recognized today in such a public way, by so many, including our university colleagues.”
More than 40 percent of community college presidents are expected to retire in the next five years. Community colleges need to develop, recruit and hire a new generation of leaders, according to Crisis and Opportunity: Aligning the Community College Presidency with Student Success.
The Aspen Institute and Achieving the Dream (ATD) analyzed the qualities of presidents who lead Aspen Prize winning community colleges and ATD leader colleges: Effective leaders “create organizational structures, processes and policies aligned—explicitly and aggressively—with student success goals.”
Community colleges will be expected to “produce more degrees of a higher quality at a lower per-student cost to an increasingly diverse population,” the report states.
“We’re facing an urgent leadership challenge that also offers unprecedented opportunity,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. Critical skills of effective leaders display:
* A persistent drive to ensure student success.
* A willingness to take significant risks to advance student success.
* The ability to create lasting change within the college . . by building urgency through the use of data and the bully pulpit, creating strong plans with sustainable strategies, collaborating with and listening to faculty and support staff, and implementing strategies for change that hold faculty and staff accountable for results.
* A strong, broad, strategic vision for the college and its students. It is reflected in its partnerships with K-12 districts, universities and nonprofit organizations.
* A commitment to raise and allocate resources in ways aligned to student success. The best presidents are usually entrepreneurial and consistently strategic in allocating resources.
The president “must first and foremost be an advocate for the student and create a culture where the student is the centerpiece of the institution,” said Jerry Sue Thornton, president of Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio and co-chair of AACC’s 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges.
From April 2012 to April 2013, more than 140 two-year college presidencies have been filled by first-time CEOs, according to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). New community college presidents face many challenges, AACC President Walter Bumphus tells Community College Times.
Determined to raise retention rates, Klamath Community College mandated orientation and advising and eliminated late registration, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed. The cost of improved retention was lower enrollment. The small college in southern Oregon saw enrollment fall 20 parent last fall, cutting state funds by $800,000, more than 7 percent of Klamath’s total annual budget.
“We have a system that doesn’t reward student success,” said Roberto Gutierrez, the college president. “It rewards seat time.”
Klamath Community College is an Achieving the Dream partner institution.
Achieving the Dream is a vocal supporter of “make it mandatory,” a refrain often used by Kay McClenney, an expert on community colleges and director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement. McClenney, backed by research, argues that mandatory orientations and advising can boost student retention rates.
For example, prior to last year, only 50 percent of students at Klamath were attending orientation. College officials said that means those students were missing out on vital information about the college and how to navigate it.
Yet many colleges resist the mandatory approach, feeling it is paternalistic and too prescriptive for the large numbers of adult students who attend community colleges, where the average age of students typically hovers around 25. And red tape and hassles, like mandatory scheduling, can discourage students who may have been on the fence about attending college in the first place.
Students who can’t make the time to go to orientation or meet with an advisor probably won’t make the time for college classes, Gutieriez believes.
Banning late registration is hard adult students, who are juggling jobs and family duties. But it’s clear that late registrants have very high failure rates.
Klamath’s new policy “resembles recent decisions by a few for-profits, including the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University, which have created free trial periods” for prospective students, Fain writes. Those who realize they’re not ready for college can quit without using up financial aid, running up debt — or raising the university’s failure statistics.
Klamath’s graduation rate for first-time, full-time students is only 17 percent; another 31 percent transfers. That could improve in the future: Fall-to-winter retention rates jumped from 60 percent for first-year students to 80 percent this year.
“What is your dream job and how is your college helping you get there?” DREAM Big for College is offering scholarships to community college students who submit informal videos that describe their obstacles and inspiration, and how they’re using Achieving the Dream programs to reach their goals. Videos can be submitted through Nov. 28.
Improving student success at Dayton’s Sinclair Community College began in 2005, when the college began to work with Achieving the Dream (ATD), writes Kathleen Cleary, associate provost for student success, on Accelerating Achievement. But that was just the first step.
. . . we approached improving student success, particularly for underserved populations, as a way of life at the college, rather than a program that would have a beginning and ending. With the Developmental Education Initiative (DEI), we . . . began to make bolder, more aggressive changes in our pedagogy, structures, and curriculum.
When we learned that we were granted funding for Completion by Design (CBD), we took a different approach and made the conscious decision to be high profile, even creating a statewide Completion by Design office on campus.
Achieving the Dream focused Sinclair on “use of data, policy changes, and a commitment to enhancing teaching and learning,” Cleary writes.
Faculty began tracking student success in gatekeeper courses in developmental and college-level English, reading, and math. When faculty saw their success rates, they began to experiment with new ways of teaching and structuring courses. Policy changes such as the no late registration policy were watershed moments for the college as we made a cultural shift from an access-centric institution to an access and success focus. Another hallmark of our ATD work was the creation of the Center for Teaching and Learning, which has provided professional development on topics including student engagement, diversity in the classroom, and increasing student success and completion.
DEI initiatives such as math modules, accelerated English and early support in high school helped accelerate students’ progress through developmental education.
With Completion by Design, Sinclair and other Ohio community colleges hope to “create a seamless pathway” to graduation for students.
For students with weak academic skills, a summer “bridge” to college-level classes can improve the odds of success, reports Education Week.
“Summer bridge programs can provide an important head start on college,” said Elisabeth Barnett, a senior research associate at Teachers College, Columbia University, and the Community College Research Center in New York. “They can increase the chances that students will enter college without needing remediation, and they can help students to gain comfort with the college environment and with themselves as college students.”
Such programs, which tend to run four to five weeks, offer intensive academic instruction. At-risk students are often recruited, and colleges generally pick up the tab as an enticement.
Students can come for the day or, at some institutions, live in the dorms. In developmental programs, classes focus on mathematics or English. Other campuses allow students to take a broader range of courses. Almost all find providing “college knowledge” through peer mentors is a valuable way to help students feel more confident about the transition to campus.
However, some colleges have had to cut back for lack of funding.
The National Center for Postsecondary Research is studying summer bridge programs in Texas and at the University of Washington at Tacoma to see if they improve students’ odds of success. Only 25 percent of new community college students are fully prepared for college-level coursework, Achieving the Dream estimates.
Remedial math enrolls — and fails — more community college students than any other class. Some of the Achieving the Dream colleges are redesigning remedial math and improving success rates, reports Community College Week.
The College of the Mainland in Texas City, Texas increased first-year students passing remedial math to 54.8 percent in 2009 from 46 percent in 2003-06. The college credits instructor training and a student success course.
Change was more dramatic at Galveston College in Galveston, Texas, which changed the curriculum and adopted MyMathLab software. Success rates rose from 21 percent in 2006 to 58.6 percent in 2010.
At Roxbury Community College, in a historically African-American section of Boston, 70 percent of students require remediation. In 2006, only 11 percent of remedial math students were able to take college-level math by their third semester. That rose to 25 percent by 2009.
RCC offers workshops before students take placement tests to help students — especially adults who’ve been out of school for years — brush up on math skills. Accurate placement boosts success rates, said Sterling Giles, the college’s ATD coordinator.
The college now has three levels of developmental math. The most demanding is aimed at those students intent on pursuing careers in the sciences. The other two, into which the vast majority of students are placed, are basic math and introductory algebra.
“We separated the majority of students from the science track,” Giles said. “We stopped making students take those courses. We want to give the students facility at math, but we also want to be intelligent with the appropriate placement.”
The college also strives to assure that students don’t languish in math courses they can easily master. By taking a modular approach to math instruction, students can test out of one module and quickly progress to the next, focusing on the skills they need
Periodic math clinics and workshops — including one focusing on math anxiety — are designed to help students through their coursework. A computer-equipped math lab provides a place where students in need of help can go to work with peers and instructors.
The college also requires a one-credit college survival seminar to ensure students know how to access academic and support services.
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.