Remedial reforms face resistance

Community colleges are reforming — or abolishing — remedial education, but some think remedial reforms have gone too far, reports Katherine Mangan for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Those who are the least prepared for college stand the most to lose from policies that push students quickly into college-level classes, according to some of the educators gathered here for the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges. And those students tend, disproportionately, to be minority and poor.

Appalachian State Professor Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education, fears “collateral damage” to minority and low-income students if states enact untried models for streamlining remedial education. “If you don’t pilot innovations before mandating them statewide, the unintended consequences will come up and bite you,” he said in an AACC session on developmental ed.

Florida has made remediation optional for most high-school graduates, notes Mangan. Connecticut now limits remediation to one semester, unless it’s embedded in a college-level course. “In statehouses across the country, groups like Complete College America are urging lawmakers to replace stand-alone remedial courses with models that are offered either alongside or as part of college-credit classes.”

“For many of these students, a remedial course is their first college experience, as well as their last,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

A Texas law, which takes effect next year, will place some remedial students in college-level courses, but “bump many of the least-prepared students from remedial education to adult basic education,” writes Mangan. 

 Karen Laljiani, associate vice president of Cedar Valley College (Dallas), said her college would be able to offer only two levels of remedial mathematics instead of four. Those at the upper end of the cutoff will be accelerated into credit courses, which has some faculty members worried about an influx of unprepared students.

The big question, though, is what will happen to students who used to place into the lowest levels of remedial math, some of whom might test at third-grade levels. Some might qualify for short-term, noncredit certificate programs that provide training for blue-collar jobs. And in some cases, remediation could be built right into the course.

The college may have to refer others to community groups that handle literacy and job training—a prospect that many community-college educators see as abandoning their open-door mission.

Jones said there are “no good answers” to what happens to the least-prepared students “when they insist on wanting an academic program.” 

Top 10 higher ed stories of 2013

The rise of MOOCS lead Ed Central’s Top Ten Higher Ed Stories of 2013. “The massive open online courses have huge potential to bring learning to more people, and to do it cheaper.”

Also on the list is U.S. Department of Education approval for Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America, “the first school to award federal aid based on direct assessment of students’ learning.”

President Obama sent higher education stakeholders into a tizzy with his August announcement that the administration would implement a wide-ranging plan to get college costs under control. The centerpiece of the plan would rate colleges on a variety of metrics, and with Congressional approval, tie the ratings to financial aid eligibility.

Congress lowered interest rates on federal student loans and tied the rates to the market.

“Merit aid madness” benefits the wealthiest students.

(Colleges) “increasingly using their institutional financial aid as a competitive tool to reel in the top students, as well as the most affluent, to help them climb up the U.S. News & World Report rankings and maximize their revenue.

Other top stories are questions about the fairness of income-baseded repayment, policy changes for Parent PLUS loans, the rewrite of gainful employment regulations, data transparency and a OECD report “identifying one in six Americans as lacking basic skills necessary for the workforce.”

Ed Central proposes a college scoreboard design.

I-BEST: Where job training works

If adults have to study basic skills before they start job training, most won’t make it. In Washington state, they can do both at the same time, reports NPR. Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, better known as I-BEST, is getting adult students into the workforce quickly. More than 20 states are trying the model.

Candy Benteu teaches child development at Green River Community College. Co-teacher Rachel Rogers teaches reading, math and English. The two work together to make sure students understand idioms.

“Candy would say these phrases like, ‘Fly by the seat of your pants.’ And I would interrupt, and I’d say, ‘Does that mean I’m throwing my pants up in the air and flying?’ And she would laugh and the students would laugh because that’s what they’re thinking,” Rogers says. “By my modeling that, it gives them permission that it is OK to ask questions and that’s the sign of an intelligent and a good student.”

Benteu and Rogers also role-play appropriate workplace behavior, those “soft skills” — such as how to work in a team, follow rules and show up on time — that are critical to success. They may seem obvious, but are not.

“We have lots of conversations about the way we dress and the way we smell. Too much perfume, too much incense, not enough deodorant,” Rogers says.

Like most adult ed students, I-BEST students often are high school dropouts who struggle with reading and math.  Many don’t speak English fluently. job trainingAt I-BEST, they can take community college courses that lead to certificates in nearly 200 fields such as medical billing, welding, auto mechanics building maintenance  and more.

All programs must lead to jobs paying at least $13 an hour, which is considered a living wage in the state.

Students at Shoreline Community College learn about the physics of manual transmissions in class, then change into overalls to work on transmissions in the shop.

Today’s cars are complex, says instructor Mark Hankins. By the end of the program, “they can go out and do a brake job, they can do fluid replacement, they can do inspections. And those are the kind of jobs that there’s a big need for.”

C.J. Forza says his brain “just clicks with engines.” He dropped out of school in the 12th grade; he’s now 31. He loves cars so much he works part time in a mechanic shop already. Forza’s now learning the “why,” not just the “how,” of repairs.

“Instead of just guessing at what it is, I’m more able to figure out, OK, this issue can be caused by this, this or this,” he says.

Forza will earn a certificate in general auto mechanics in one year, boosting his pay from $10 an hour to $15.

College at the mall

Around the country, class is in session at the mall, reports Community College Times.


By fall of 2014, Austin’s first indoor mall will be Austin Community College’s (ACC) Highland Campus.

A former J.C. Penney is being turned into a math emporium for remedial students. The flexible space will have 604 computer stations and places for students to work individually and in groups.

Other parts of the all may be used to cluster academic programs. For example, a “creative media cluster” could combine journalism, graphic arts and videogame design.

Other ideas include: “an incubator for budding entrepreneurs; offices for community collaboration initiatives; workforce, health and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs; a conference center; and performance space.”

Des Moines Area Community College (Iowa) opened its $12-million Center for Career and Professional Development at a local mall last month.

“Before MCC Express, community demand and space constraints meant some of our ESL and GED classes were located in church basements or community rooms throughout the city,” said Jim Grotrian, Metropolitan Community College’s executive vice president, in an e-mail. “MCC Express gave adult education a home base in the heart of South Omaha, with transition specialists, advisers, tutors and faculty all under one roof.”

Because MCC Express is located in a busy shopping center, it gets walk-in traffic. Students who may have never set foot on a college campus feel that MCC Express is an “approachable place,” since language, GED and transitional services are all located in one place, said Krystal Overmyer.

Chicago City Colleges meet early goals

City Colleges of Chicago is moving toward its ambitious five-year goals, reports Community College Times.

By 2018, the seven-college system aims to award 40 percent more degrees and 15 percent more certifications, boost the graduation rate to 20 percent, and increase transfers to four-year institutions. In addition, Reinvention7 calls for more than two-thirds of occupational students finding jobs in their field, a third of new remedial students advancing to college-level work and speedier success for adult ed students.

Cheryl Hyman, who took over as chancellor in 2011, launched the reinvention effort. “Since 2010, the graduation rate has risen from 7 percent to 12 percent, numbers of degrees awarded are up 80 percent, total awards granted has increased 21 percent and credit enrollment has risen 15 percent,” reports Community College Times.

“I graduated from Olive Harvey College,” one of the seven campuses, Hyman says. “I knew what the institution had done for me. I had very high expectations because it put me on the road to a very successful career. However, coming here, I found that the institution was performing well, but only for a small number of students.”

In addition to a low retention rate, Hyman adds that she believed credentials were not “aligned with the demands of the workplace. Then I started to ask myself, even for the 7 percent that was completing, how valuable was that credential?” she says. “I also started looking at operations, knowing that finances were tight. Where are we making investments? Are our faculty equipped with the latest knowledge?”

Students need credentials that will be respected by four-year institutions and by employers, Hyman says. “We need our students to be good problem-solvers, be good critical thinkers, be creative. The only way they can do that is with a good foundation of liberal arts training.”

City Colleges has hired more counselors, added “wellness centers” to help students deal with emotional and social issues, created veterans’ centers and established a “Student GPS” that provides semester-by-semester pathways for each course of study.

California’s rocky path to prosperity

Unless California helps low-income parents learn basic skills, train for jobs and pursue higher education,  the state’s prosperity is at risk, concludes Working Hard, Left Behind. The Campaign for College Opportunity, the Women’s Foundation of California and Working Poor Families project collaborated on the report.

California leads the nation in low-income working adults and in poorly educated adults. More than 1 out of 10 adults over 24 years of age have less than a ninth-grade education; nearly 1 in 5 adults didn’t complete high school.

The state will be 2.3 million vocational certificate, two-year and four-year degree graduates short of meeting the needs of the state economy by 2025, the report estimates.

“This is an alarming gap,” said Michele Siqueiros, the campaign’s executive director. “On one hand, we have millions of hard-working, low-income adults who have limited chances of upward mobility because of obstacles to higher education access and completion. On the other hand, thousands of companies are seeking well-skilled and highly trained workers.”

California needs to create a “public agenda for higher education that sets clear goals for preparing high school students for college, transitioning adult students into postsecondary education and the workforce, increasing the number of certificate and degree completions, while monitoring progress toward those goals, and aligning policies and budgets needed to reach them,” the report recommends.

It calls for improving coordination between high schools, adult education, community colleges and four-year universities and tracking low-income students’ progress as they move from one education system to another.

Non-traditional students need better access to financial aid and access to counseling and child care, Working Hard, Left Behind concludes. In 2009-10, only a third of the state’s community college students applied for a Pell Grant, leaving an estimated $500 million in aid unclaimed.

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to community colleges to take over adult education, but his plan is on hold in the Legislature, reports EdSource. Currently, K-12 districts spend less than $300 million on adult schools, down from $634 million before the recession. Courses include literacy, English as a Second Language,  citizenship, parenting, vocational education and GED and high school diploma courses. Brown proposes $300 million in state funding for adult ed at community colleges.

California may send adult ed to college

California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to shift adult education from K-12 districts to community colleges, but the Legislature may not go alone, reports the Oakland Tribune.

The plan would give community colleges an additional $300 million to set up similar adult education programs, including high school diploma or equivalency courses, vocational education and citizenship classes. College leaders note the amount is less than half of what the state spent on adult schools five years ago, and that colleges have no experience running some of these programs.

“We’ve never been in the business of doing GED (the high school diploma equivalent), nor have we done anything with citizenship,” said Ron Galatolo, chancellor of the San Mateo County Community College District.

Under the governor’s proposal, school districts would continue to get the same funding, but could shift the money to other uses. In Oakland, which has a 27 percent dropout rate, the district plans to close its GED programs if it isn’t required to serve adult students.

. . .  the nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office cites “major problems” with the plan and urges the Legislature to instead invest the money in a special fund for adult education, managed by K-12 school districts.

. . . For years, community colleges have also offered remedial courses, including English as a second language, but have generally targeted higher-skilled students, while adult schools — often in courses set up at a school or community center — have worked with school dropouts and recent immigrants and refugees, including those unable to read or write.

Proponents argue adult education students could move more easily to job training and college classes, if they started at community colleges.  Colleges could contract with existing adult ed programs rather than design their own classes.

California colleges get good news on funding

After years of higher education cuts, California Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal gives the state’s colleges and universities “good news for the first time in years,” reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The CSU and UC systems would each receive an additional $125 million, thanks to the passage of two tax initiatives. Community colleges would receive $197 million more in general-purpose funds next year. That means “community colleges can begin to make room for some of the hundreds of thousands of students who have been shut out of our system due to recent funding cuts,” Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said in a news release.

The governor’s plan also calls for expanding online education, transferring adult education from K-12 districts to community colleges and funding community colleges based on student enrollment at the end of the term, not the beginning.

The California Community College Online Initiative plans to create a centralized “virtual campus” to provide online courses.  In addition, the chancellor’s office will expand options for students to earn college credit by passing a “challenge” exam.

Students would be held accountable too, writes Kathy Baron on EdSource.

A significant, and likely controversial, piece of the budget proposal would cap state subsidized community college classes at 90 units. Beyond that, students would have to pay full freight – from $127 to $190 per credit based on a quarter or semester calendar.

The latest figures, from the 2009-10 academic year, show that 4.7 percent, or more than 117,000 students, exceeded 90 units.

Student leaders oppose the idea. There’s also controversy about shifting control of adult education.

Community colleges will get an additional $300 million to fund the adult education takeover plus $15.7 million for an apprenticeship program. Adult ed would provide basic skills, English as a Second Language, citizenship classes and vocational training, but no enrichment classes for older adults or parent education.

“Any moving or shifting of adult ed to community colleges is a serious concern,” said Dawn Koepke, a lobbyist for the California Council for Adult Education. “It doesn’t make sense at all. Adult ed is tied to K-12 because we’re talking about basic skills and access. The infrastructure is already in K-12.”

Funding community colleges based on end-of-term enrollment would be phased in over five years. Lost funding would be used to fund student support services.

CCs get $500 million for job training

Community colleges will get $500 million in federal grants to fund job training. The Labor and Education departments will work together on the program, which will focus on  “skills development and employment opportunities in fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, as well as science, technology, engineering and math careers through partnerships between training providers and local employers.”

In addition, Jobs for the Future’s Accelerating Opportunity Initiative will give $1.6 million each to Illinois,KansasKentuckyLouisiana and North Carolina to fund adult education and job training.

“Many employers are currently unable to fill well-paying jobs because applicants lack the skills,” says JFF President and CEO Marlene B. Seltzer. “Today’s good jobs require education beyond high school and training that prepares workers with practical skills that employers need. Accelerating Opportunity focuses on educational programs that lead to the credentials workers need to secure a family-sustaining job and long-lasting career opportunities.”

Accelerating Opportunity hopes to create career pathways  leading to “marketable, stackable, credit-bearing credentials” in at least 40 community colleges  by 2014.

Chicago: Adult ed instructors tie bonuses to performance

Tying faculty pay to student performance is controversial in K-12, unknown at the college level. However, part-time adult education instructors at City Colleges of Chicago have agreed to link bonuses to student achievement, reports Inside Higher Ed.  Senior administrators also will be paid based on performance.

The adult education instructors are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Most faculty members are affiliated with other unions.

State government in Illinois has established targets for student progress in adult basic education, GED programs and English as a Second Language (ESL), the three areas taught by instructors in the AFSCME union. Students across the seven-college system are tested at every level of those programs, yielding annual results that will be used to determine the amount annual bonus pay for union members. The bonus will be a uniform amount for each broad class of instructor – who teach in each of those three areas – based on systemwide student progress, according to college officials.

The performance-linked bonuses, which replace a 3 percent annual “retention pay” raise, could equal 5 to 7 percent of instructors’ annual pay.