Reforming Pell Grants was the topic of a House subcommittee hearing last week. Witnesses discussed tightening eligibility, disbursing checks every few weeks, linking checks to attendance and requiring financial aid counseling, among other ideas. Congress is preparing to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which sets rules for student aid, notes Community College Daily.
Members of the House Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee—as well as the four witnesses from the higher education sector—agreed that the Pell program, which has swelled to about $30 billion a year, needs some adjusting to curtail costs and to ensure that students who need financial assistance the most get it—and that they succeed in college. But they differed on how to do it.
“There is concern among members of the higher education community and of my colleagues in Congress that Pell has strayed too far from its original intent,” said subcommittee chair Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who noted that the program serves more than 9 million students.
Grants should be targeted at low-income students, said Jenna Ashley Robinson, outreach director at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Too many middle-income students are eligible for aid now, she said
Pell has helped broaden access to college, said Michael Dannenberg of the Education Trust. “The percentage of low-income students going to college today is twice what it was 40 years ago when the Pell Grant program began,” he said. “We’ve cut the gap between low-income and upper-income students’ college access rates by 40 percent.” More than 90 percent of Pell recipients come from families with incomes of less than $50,000, according to Dannenberg.
The discussions at the hearing touched on a number of areas—from providing yearround Pell Grants in order to accommodate students who take college courses during winter and summer breaks, to whether student aid contributes to escalating college costs. But a good part of it focused on ensuring that students who received grants were attending classes. Robinson noted that Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina does not disburse grant money to students if they haven’t attended class during the first 10 percent of the semester, and the college tracks students’ academic progress.
Richard Heath, director of student financial services at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland, outlined strategies to prevent fraud and abuse. These include: monitoring out-of-state addresses and multiple applications from the same address, working with faculty to provide accurate attendance records, requiring students to meet with an advisor during the first three weeks of school to receive their Pell check and using a federal database to check on student aid applicants.
Negotiations are underway on “gainful employment” regulations proposed by the U.S. Education Department, reports Community College Times.
While the regulations are expected to hit hardest at for-profit career colleges, vocational programs at community colleges also will be affected. Colleges must gain federal approval for some new programs or students won’t be able to get federal aid.
“Whatever the regs are, you’ve got to keep them simple, you’ve got to keep them affordable,” said negotiator Richard Heath, financial aid director at Anne Arundel Community College (Maryland).
“Any time I add a new program, it is vetted to death,” Heath said.
Unnecessary layers drag out the time to create new programs that local businesses need, and they are expensive, Heath said. They can add months to the approval process and tens of thousands of dollars in costs.
Negotiators will meet again Oct. 21 to 23. If they don’t reach a unanimous consensus on the rules, the department can propose its own final version.
Kevin Jensen, financial aid director at the College of Western Idaho, also was one of the 14 negotiators. Three alternates from community colleges are: Rhonda Mohr, student financial aid specialist at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office; Glen Gabert, president of Hudson County Community College (New Jersey); and Sandra Kinney, vice president of institutional research and planning at the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.
Community colleges are helping train a new generation of K-12 teachers, reports Community College Week.
Samuel Simpson, 54, a high school math teacher at All City High School in inner-city Rochester, is one of the first fellows of the Community Center for Teaching Excellence (CCTE), which is based at Monroe Community College (New York). “My efforts in doing the kinds of best practices that many people in the education field talk about doing — looking at data, using it to inform instruction, and teaching differently and smarter — have brought significant results,” Simpson said.
Community college educators, university professors, high school teachers and the Center for Governmental Research are collaborating on “high-impact teaching strategies” through CCTE, reports Community College Week.
A number of fellows incorporated collaborative learning techniques in their classes, such as peer teaching, paired writing and group note-taking, to increase student engagement. A few teachers experimented with integrating 21st-century technology tools into their lessons, such as creating digital versions of their notes with embedded audio and having students contribute to blogs.
MCC Assistant Professor Maria Brandt and a colleague are working with a teacher at Rush-Henrietta Senior High School to create common writing assignments and assessments.
Focused on improving students’ abilities to read critically and communicate coherently and accurately, they had students write summaries of selected authors’ work and evaluate their own writing at the beginning and middle of the fall semester.
“Through the course of the semester, students in my English 101 class have improved in two areas: their ability to summarize a text and their sense of the importance of reading closely, that you cannot formulate an accurate and responsible argument without understanding the texts involved,” Brandt said. “The students are much more aware now that they need to listen first or read well to grow as readers and writers.”
“Our goal is to better understand the gap between how high school students are performing on average and how first-year college students are performing on average and help them have higher success levels,” Brandt said.
Many schools need science, technology and math teachers. Community College Week looks at STEM programs at Cerritos College (California) and Rio Salado (Arizona), which belong to the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs (NACCTEP).
Ten Maryland community colleges now offer a fully transferrable associate of arts in teaching degree in secondary math, writes Colleen Eisenbeiser, director of the TEACH Institute at Anne Arundel Community College. Nine offer secondary chemistry and eight offer physics.
Two Maryland community colleges partner with their local school systems “to recruit, prepare, place, and instruct career changers in hard to fill secondary content areas, including math, chemistry, physics, and technical education.” Anne Arundel has helped a variety of career changers become certified teachers, including a computer software engineer, a health information analyst lawyer, a nurse, researchers from a lab that studies the habits of migratory birds and the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a biologist who worked at the National Aquarium and National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.
Lynn Brown, who was “cooking pot roasts in the third grade” for his mother, is training to be a chef at the bistro, a partnership between AACC and the Laurel-based Woodland Job Corps Career Development Center.
Cole’s Bistro serves three-course dinners twice a month; online reservations are required.
“Some of our students have never been away from home or have never been to a really nice restaurant,” (culinary arts instructor Monique) Williams said. “As close as they get is our bistro.”
Students staged a soft opening this month with a menu that included a crab appetizer, French onion soup and braised veal shanks with brown sauce, risotto and vegetable.
As a graduation requirement, culinary arts students prepare an on-campus luncheon inspired by their favorite chef.
AACC’s cooking and restaurant program draws students from as far away as Puerto Rico and California.
Iesha Wright, from Rock Hill, S.C., said that she heard about the AACC program while at a Job Corps program in that state, but her knowledge of restaurants was limited to working in fast-food venues.
She’d never eaten Italian or French food before coming to Maryland. “Here, I’ve tried escargot and alligator. It’s a new experience for me.”
Veterans prefer structured classes with clear goals, Martin writes. They respect instructors and “appreciate mutual respect for dissenting opinions and professors’ unbiased approach to topics, such as political issues.”
Student veterans who’ve served around the world have developed maturity, understanding and global awareness that traditional-age students lack.
Student veterans have a different opinion of global affairs, foreign policy, government and issues of entitlement than their traditionally aged peers. They have been in some of the poorest nations in the world, and they can explain to younger students why they may not have it as bad as they think they do.
Vets take responsibility, follow through and help others, she adds. Their “high expectations, respect, experience, commitment ethic and the ability to perform well under pressure” serve them well in the classroom and will serve them well in their future careers.
California community colleges also are working to ease veterans’ transition to the workforce.
After working 12 hours a day as a hazardous materials specialist at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, Army Staff Sgt. Dysha Huggins-Hodge studied in the computer lab, determined to complete an associate degree at Anne Arundel Community College on schedule — and to earn A’s. Now stationed in Maryland, the 4.0 student gave the valedictorian speech at her graduation last week, reports the Washington Post.
She plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice and social work and eventually go for a PhD. Her inspiration is her son Micah, born two years ago with serious medical problems.
“Every minute of my free time was homework. Every second,” said Huggins-Hodge, 25, now stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. “I would Skype with my family, but at the same time on a split screen I would have my homework up.”
Despite her work schedule, Huggins-Hodge turned in every assignment. She took exams via Skype.
In her speech, Huggins-Hodge told students to work to achieve their goals:
“Just because you are a wife or you are a mother or you are a soldier or whatever it is that you have going on in your life, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t do more — that you can’t figure it out.”
Anne Arundel Community College has a partnership with the military, notes the Post. About 300 service members and veterans take online courses through the college.
A “Midnight Madness” psychology class will meet from midnight to 3 a.m. on Thursdays at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland. Regular classes can’t meet the demand, reports AP.
Community colleges in Massachusetts, Indiana, Missouri and Oregon have also started offering late-night classes. Enrollment at two-year schools is up 17 percent this year.
AACC recently won state honors for its transition advisory teams, which go into high schools to help students understand their college choices and prepare to meet requirements, reports College Bound. In addition, Program Pathways offers college credits, at no extra cost, for completing high school career and technology programs. Students learn how to use their credits to complete a degree or certificate at AACC.
Earn enough credits in high school and you may be able to finish your college day before 3 a.m.