Santa Barbara City College, which launches many students on the path to a bachelor’s degree, and Walla Walla Community College, which excels in job training, are winners of this year’s Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Each college will receive $400,000.
Students at each college spoke at the presentation. Edith Rodriguez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, “learned about Santa Barbara City College in a high-school assembly shortly after her release from a juvenile detention center,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. A six-week summer bridge program and a support group for students interested in mathematics and science persuaded her to major in electrical engineering.
Getting in front of prospective students is vital, said Lori Gaskin, president of Santa Barbara. “We reach out to students like Edith even before they set foot on campus, before they realize that college is a potential opportunity for them,” she said in an interview. “Our students don’t necessarily have role models or cheerleaders at home.”
Sixty-four percent of the college’s first-time, full-time students transfer or graduate within three years, compared with the national average of 40 percent.
Walla Walla Community College also posts higher-than-average transfer rates, but won for its workforce training programs in high-demand fields including wine making, wind energy, and watershed ecology. ”In 2011 its new graduates earned $41,548, or 79 percent more than what other new hires in the region were making,” reports the Chronicle. “Since Walla Walla began its viticulture-degree program, the number of local wineries has grown from 16 to more than 170.”
Improving completion requires understanding the higher education “ecosystem,” writes Sanford C. Shugart, president of Aspen Prize-winning Valencia College in Florida.
Community colleges “are being asked to achieve much better results with fewer resources to engage a needier student population in an atmosphere of serious skepticism where all journalism is yellow and our larger society no longer exempts our institutions (nor us) from the deep distrust that has grown toward all institutions,” writes Shugart in Inside Higher Ed.
His principles for moving the needle on student completion start with a caution: “Be careful what and how you are measuring — it is sure to be misused.”
. . . Consider a student who comes to a community college, enrolls full-time, and after a year of successful study is encouraged to transfer to another college. This student is considered a noncompleter at the community college and isn’t considered in the measure of the receiving institution at all.
. . . Is there any good reason to exclude part-time students from the measures? How about early transfers? Should non-degree-seeking students be in the measure? When is a student considered to be degree‐seeking? How are the measures, inevitably used to compare institutions with very different missions, calibrated to those missions? How can transfer be included in the assessment and reporting when students swirl among so many institutions, many of which don’t share student unit record information easily?
Completion rates should be calculated for different groups depending on where they start — college ready? low remedial? — so students can calculate their own odds and colleges can design interventions, Shugart recommends. College outcomes measures should be based on college-ready students and should reflect the value added during the college years.
Students experience higher education as an “ecosystem,” Shugart writes. Few community college students get all their education at one institution.
They swirl in and among, stop out, start back, change majors, change departments, change colleges. . . . Articulation of credit will have to give way to carefully designed pathways that deepen student learning and accelerate their progression to completion.
Students need to know that completion matters, writes Shugart. Florida has “the country’s strongest 2+2 system of higher education” with common course numbering, ”statewide articulation agreements that work” and a history of successful transfers. Yet community college students are told to transfer when they’re “ready,” regardless of whether they’ve completed an associate degree.
Students at Valencia, Seminole State, Brevard and Lake Sumter are offered a new model, “Direct Connect,” which guarantees University of Central Florida admission to all associate degree graduates in the region. “It is something they can count on, plan for, and commit to. Earn the degree and you are in.”
Learning is what matters, Shugart adds. Increasing completion rates improves the local economy and community only if students learn “deeply and effectively in a systematic program of study, with a clearer sense of purpose in their studies and their lives.”
He suggests: designing degree pathways across institutional boundaries, encouraging students to “make earlier, more grounded choices of major,” requiring an associate degree to transfer and providing transfer guarantees. In addition, Shugart calls for research on higher education ecosystems and new metrics for measuring performance.
Low-level remedial students “have almost zero chance” to succeed in college without guidance and support, says Myrna Gonzalez, a developmental reading and writing instructor at Houston’s San Jacinto College. But the odds are improving. Gonzalez helped start Intentional Connections, which provides mentors to evaluate students’ career interests and academic issues, introduce them to faculty and let them “test drive” different programs.
“For example, if a student says he or she is sort of interested in culinary arts, then we introduce the student to the culinary arts department chair, and the student gets to attend two or three culinary arts classes (not for credit) to see if it will be a good fit. If that does not work out, then the student can test drive another program.”
Charles Powell is studying auto collision repair and improving his reading skills, thanks to Intentional Connections. He plans to earn a certificate and work in a body shop.
Some advocate placing low-level remedial students in Adult Basic Education (ABE), which is part of the K-12 system. Community colleges have expertise in educating adult learners, said Rebecca Goosen, associate vice chancellor for college preparatory programs. “At a college, low-performing developmental students can learn job skills in craft trades, they can get valuable on-the-job training through internships, they can earn occupational certificates, while at the same time they improve in core subjects like math and writing. They may not receive that type of education and training in ABE programs.”
To live up to their potential community colleges should create career pathways for remedial students, writes Mandy Zatynski on The Quick and the Ed.
Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota, a two-time finalist for the prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, identifies different sets of readiness requirements for each of its programs, which has “virtually eliminated the necessity for remedial education.”
Lake Area Technical Institute touts a 76 percent completion rate, double the national average.
How did Valencia College in Orlando, Florida win the Aspen Prize for community college excellence? President Sandy Shugart has six big ideas about what community colleges should to enable learning, writes Fawn Johnson.
1) Anyone can learn anything under the right conditions.
2) Start right.
3) Connection and direction.
4) The college is how the students experience us, not how we experience them.
5) The purpose of assessment is to improve learning.
Many community colleges enroll huge numbers of students, collect the tuition and then see most of them drop out.
Valencia sacrifices its enrollment numbers (and the accompanying dollars) by turning students away who fail to register before the first day of a class. Research shows that students who register late are more likely to drop out, so Shugart says it makes sense to head those students off.
The college integrates advising with teaching. “Faculty members are expected to participate in plotting their students’ graduation paths, but each program also has an embedded full-time career adviser to track students’ progress,” Johnson writes.
Faculty members test teaching ideas in a three-year “learning academy.” Adjuncts are paid more if they participate in developing their teaching skills.
Valencia invests most heavily in improving 15 to 20 “gateway courses” that make up 40 percent of the curriculum for first-year students.
Planning is required. “When I was in college, the idea was that your freshman and sophomore years was an exploratory time. Totally gone. It is not exploratory,” said Joyce Romano, Valencia’s vice president for student services. “Decide when you’re in the womb what you want to do.”
All students are expected to map out a graduation plan in their first semester. They must “connect” with faculty members, career advisers, tutors, and student-services staffers. Tutors—usually students themselves—know the professors personally and often sit in on classes to seek out students who might feel shy about asking for help. Tutoring centers are located in central campus areas, and they are packed.
Valencia constantly analyzes student-achievement data, but instructors are judged on their teaching, not their students’ test scores.
By building the wine industry, Walla Walla Community College‘s Enology and Viticulture program may have saved a community, according to Learning Matters. Eighty percent of program graduates find jobs in the wine industry.
The college is one of 10 finalists for the Aspen Prize for community college excellence.
The Aspen Institute has named 10 finalists for the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The advisory committee looked for community and technical colleges that have improved completion rates and labor-market and learning outcomes, especially for low-income and minority students. Finalists are:
Brazosport College, Lake Jackson, TX
Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, FL
College of the Ouachitas, Malvern, AR
Kingsborough Community College – CUNY, Brooklyn, NY
Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown, SD
Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, CA
Santa Fe College, Gainesville, FL
Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, Cumberland, KY
Walla Walla Community College, Walla Walla, WA
West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, KY
The winner will be announced in March 2013. This could be the year for a technical college to win the prize.
Use Caution When Ranking Community Colleges writes Mandy Zatynski on The Quick and the Ed. Community colleges have very different missions and attract different kinds of students.
College Measures’ success ratings are based on the percentage of full-time, first-time students who graduated or transferred in three years. That leaves out the majority (59 percent) of students who attend part-time, Zatynski points out.
Can graduates get a job after they graduate? Do low-income or minority students perform at the same levels as their peers? Job attainment and equitable outcomes are some of the indicators considered for the Aspen Prize in Community College Excellence, which seeks to highlight stellar two-year institutions that are outpacing their counterparts across the nation.
But how, then, to appropriately identify poor-performing programs? The American Association of Community Colleges has taken a step toward this by instituting a Voluntary Framework of Accountability, which asks colleges to publicly report student progress and outcomes measures. So far, 72 community colleges have signed on, but that’s just 6 percent of the nation’s total.
Of course, for most community college students the key factor is location, location, location, Zatynski concludes.
I’d add that looking at success rates for the average student doesn’t tell much about whether any individual will succeed or fail. Motivated, hard-working and college-ready students will beat the averages.
“For elevating the discussion of community colleges from access to success,” the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence — awarded to Valencia College in Florida – leads Community College Week’s top 10 community college stories of 2011.
Also on the list: job training, budget woes, uneven progress on completion goals, Pell Grants under pressure, new measures of college success, veterans on campus, the crackdown on for-profit colleges, state action to help undocumented students and the end of the college enrollment boom.
Federal, state and local taxpayers spend billions of dollars on community college dropouts, I write in U.S. News.
Fewer than 45 percent of college-ready students and just 20 percent of remedial students earn a certificate or degree in four years at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla. That’s “nearly three times the rate” of similar urban community colleges and impressive enough to earn Valencia the first Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, awarded Dec. 12 in Washington, D.C.
In short, even at one of the most successful community colleges, most students don’t complete a certificate or degree.
Valencia’s Start Right program has raised student success rates by providing early advising and orientation and redesigning introductory courses. “All the failure occurs at the front door,” says Sandy Shugart, the president since 2000.
. . . because data showed that students who start classes late are the least likely to complete them, nobody could add a course that had already met, even once. But the school didn’t want to slow anyone’s progression. So for the classes first-time students typically take, Valencia created “flex start” sections a month into the semester for students enrolling late.
. . . Two-fifths of Valencia students—including all those with the greatest developmental needs—now take a course called Student Success, where they create a personalized education plan and learn organizational skills. ow.
As a result, more remedial students are passing and moving on to college-level classes.
“Finalists with distinction” are: Walla Walla Community College (Washington), West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, Kentucky), Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD) and Miami Dade College (Florida). Each will receive $100,000.
Go here to view the webcast of the event in Washington, D.C.
Community colleges should be included in the discussion about excellence in higher education, writes Kevin Carey.