Does Online Learning Help Community College Students Attain a Degree? Yes, in some cases, concludes research by Peter Shea, an associate professor of education at the State University of New York at Albany.
Online community college students in Virginia and Washington state have higher failure and dropout rates, according to earlier studies by the the Community College Research Center.
Shea, who used to run SUNY’s online education system, found the CCRC’s conclusions “counterintuitive,” he told Inside Higher Ed. Online education’s flexibility and convenience should help students advance, he believes.
In contrast to the CCRC studies, the Albany research found that students who had enrolled in at least one online course in their first year did not come into college with better academic preparation than did those who took no courses at a distance.
And students who took online courses at a distance were 1.25 times likelier to earn a credential (certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree) by 2009 than were their peers who had not taken any online courses. Those who started college with a goal of attaining a certificate (rather than a bachelor’s degree) and took online courses were 3.22 times as likely to earn a credential than were students who did not take online courses.
Shea used a nationally representative data set, he points out. Virginia and Washington state could be outliers.
Shanna Jaggars, a co-author of the Community College Research Center studies, said the Albany study may include more adult students. ”For older students who are working full-time and have children, the ability to maintain a full-time load by mixing in one or two online courses per semester may outweigh the negative consequences of performing slightly more poorly in each online course they take.”
What’s the Value of an Associate Degree? asks an important question but doesn’t provide useful answers, argues Donald E. Heller, dean of the Michigan State education school, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Nexus/AIR report relies on earnings data from PayScale, which are based on self-reporting, writes Heller. That data may not be accurate.
For example, according to the study, the community college with the highest reported starting salary was Colorado Northwestern Community College, at $57,637. That is 39 percent above the average of the other 578 institutions in the study. Does this tell us that Colorado Northwestern is 39 percent “better” than the average community college in the nation? Not at all, because we know nothing about the validity of the earnings data from PayScale. The company’s Web site shows that the earnings estimates for that college are based on the reports of just 21 individuals: four who reported annual salaries and 17 who reported hourly wages. It is impossible to tell how many of these 21 reported a starting salary. Do we want to pass judgment about that institution—or any other institution in the study—based on so few data points?
In addition, comparing the earnings of community college graduates with high school graduates doesn’t show whether the community college produced a high return on investment, writes Heller. Community college students “most likely have characteristics that distinguish them from those who choose not to enroll in postsecondary education,” such as greater ambition and academic ability. (The same is true of all those studies showing the benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree.)
Earning an associate’s degree raises career-long earnings by $259,000, concludes a new study, What’s the Value of an Associate’s Degree? The Return on Investment for Graduates and Taxpayers. “Even after factoring in the costs that graduates incur when earning the degree, the associate’s degree is a good investment,” wrote authors Jorge Klor de Alva, president of Nexus Research and Policy Center, and Mark Schneider, president of College Measures and an AIR Fellow and vice president.
Among the top 20 percent of institutions with graduates enjoying the highest return on investment (ROI), California and Texas had the most high-ROI colleges.
Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Foothill College graduates earn $745,000 more than the state’s high school graduates over a 40-year career, the study estimated. Two other community colleges in the area — Ohlone Community College with $740,292 and Evergreen Valley College with $705,787 provided a very strong ROI.
However, colleges’ ROI varies greatly, the study found.
California has five schools whose graduates earn less than the median earnings of those with only a high school degree: Oxnard College, with $90,166 less; Mendocino College, $71,503 less; Reedley College, $60,554 less; Los Angeles Mission College, $28,345 less, and Cuesta College, $18,284.
Thirty states have at least one community college with graduates whose median net financial return over a 40-year work-life falls below the lifetime earnings of in-state high school graduates.
Returns were especially low in Missouri and Montana.
As graduates earn more, they pay more in taxes. The average gain in additional tax revenue is $67,000.
Klor de Alva and Schneider concluded that community colleges, states, and the nation should: reward progression, retention, and completion through performance funding formulas; distribute resources carefully to promote success; emphasize technical training and close ties between schools and their local labor market; and collect better data, at the student and program levels, and make the data publicly available.
Students who earned certificates weren’t included in the study, even though “some certificates permit students to earn starting salaries that are higher than those earned by associate’s or even bachelor’s degree holders.” Little data is available on certificates’ value, the authors wrote.
When non-profit Tiffin University partnered with for-profit Altius Education to create an online associate degree program, Ivy Bridge College was hailed as a model. Now the regional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, has shut down the online two-year college, reports the Washington Examiner.
The online community college offered an associate degree program that promised students an automatic transfer to one of over 150 traditional four-year institutions, depending on their GPA. Thanks to the program’s termination, about 2,000 students are now scrambling to find other accredited institutions that will allow them to finish their studies.
A March 2013 HLC investigation concluded that Ivy Bridge was not sufficiently under Tiffin’s control, had low retention rates and offered “very thin” content in some online courses.
By contrast, a 2010 HLC report praised Tiffin’s partnership with Ivy Bridge, saying, ”It addresses an underserved population through a strong curriculum, efficient and effective academic support, excellent instruction, and a very good online portal for program delivery.”
Ivy Bridge’s retention rates are low compared to bricks-and-mortar four-year institutions, but significantly higher than those at Ohio community colleges, according to the Examiner.
“The cited concerns about student success are BS,” an industry source who asked for anonymity for fear of retribution from accreditors told the Examiner. “Ivy Bridge catered to traditionally underserved adult part-time students and did quite well. HLC doesn’t ask for the same ‘success’ metrics from non-profit traditional institutions,” this source said.
In October 2012, the Gates Foundation gave Altius a $300,000 grant for providing “scalable access to quality college education” through “a robust student support model, proven pedagogical methods, and groundbreaking learning technologies.”
Higher education is a government-created cartel, writes Conn Carroll in an Examiner op-ed.
Ivy Bridge’s termination “could dump cold water on the online aspirations of some colleges, particularly ones that prefer to play it safe with their regional accreditor,” observes Inside Higher Ed.
Community college nursing programs are resisting “degree creep,” the push to make a bachelor’s degree the entry level for registered nurses, reports Community College Times.
Community colleges educate more than 40 percent of the nation’s nurses, said Thomas Snyder, president of Indiana’s Ivy Tech, who chairs the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges’ Nursing and Allied Health Professions Workgroup.
Nurses with ADNs pass licensure exams at the same or better rate than nurses with BSNs, said Stacey Ocander, dean of health and public services at Metropolitan Community College (MCC) in Nebraska and president of the National Network of Health Career Programs in Two-Year Colleges.
However, it’s harder for ADN nurses to train and find jobs.
Some hospitals have already started to only hire nurses with BSNs, and hospitals all over the country—including two in Omaha where MCC is based—are refusing to open their doors to clinical experiences for community college students, Ocander said.
. . . “Ethically, how can hospitals say they won’t educate them? It is part of hospitals’ mission to provide service to the community,” she said. “They are discriminating against a whole class of people who have chosen a community college education.”
Eliminating the ADN would eliminate a step in the career ladder that makes it possible for disadvantaged students to become registered nurses, said Barbara Jones, president of South Arkansas Community College (SouthArk) and a former president of NN2.
“Starting with an 18-month LPN or CNA [certified nursing assistant] program is a wonderful opportunity for someone who never thought they could go to college,” said . . . Jones. An LPN can get a good job with benefits, and from there, it’s less daunting to pursue an associate degree, RN license and then a BSN.
. . . “Many of our students are first-generation college students, so it could take six or seven years to finish a degree if they are working and raising a family,” Jones said. “Sometimes the only way they can do it is with the stackable certificates—the learn-and-earn concept.”
At Ivy Tech, which graduates 1,300 nurses a year, many students are working adults or single parents, said Snyder. Requiring them to earn four-year degrees would cost an extra $20 million to $50 million a year with no improvement in patient care.
Community College Dean has more on “degree creep” for nursing.
More than 61 percent of community college transfers earn a bachelor’s degree in six years and another 8 percent are still trying, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Seventy-two percent of transfers with a two-year degree complete a four-year degree within six years, according to the Signature Report, compared to 56 percent of community college transfers with no previous credential.
Most community college transfers have not earned a credential.
“Stopping out” of college can be costly, the report found.
The gap in the six-year completion rate was large (26 percentage points) between students who transferred to a four-year institution within one year of their most recent enrollment at a two-year institution and students who transferred after stopping-out for more than one year.
Not surprisingly, full-time students are much more likely to earn a degree.
Most entering community college students say they plan to earn a bachelor’s degree, but few reach that goal. Earning an associate degree before transferring significantly boosts the odds of success, concludes a Community College Research Center study in North Carolina. ”Relatively few students who transfer early ever complete a bachelor’s degree and thus leave college with no credential.”
. . . almost two thirds of students who start out in community college have no recognized credential up to nine years later; many transfer to another institution—either in the public, private, or for-profit sector—with the intention of earning a bachelor’s degree but ultimately terminate their postsecondary education without earning any degree.
Community college students who complete an associate degree will earn more than those who never completed a credential, the study found.
Early College students are more likely to complete high school, enroll in college and earn a degree quickly, compared to similar students, concludes a multi-year study of 10 schools that were part of the Gates Foundation initiative.
The American Institutes for Research (AIR) study compared outcomes for students admitted through a lottery to an Early College with outcomes for students who were not admitted. Participants took college-level courses while in high school.
Eighty-six percent of Early College students were graduated from high school and 80 percent enrolled in college. In the control group, 81 percent finished high school and 71 percent enrolled in college. Early College participants were more likely to enroll in a four-year college and university.
One year after leaving high school, 22 percent of Early College students had earned an associate degree; most had completed it in high school. Only 2 percent of the control group had completed a degree that early.
“Early Colleges appeared to mitigate the traditional educational attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students,” the report found.
How much will an associate degree in environmental science raise pay? What about a certificate as a computer support tech? Salary Surfer, a new web site created by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, estimates the potential wages to be earned two years and five years after receiving a certificate or degree in various fields.
For example, earning a certificate in computer support is likely to raise pay from $20,144 two years before completion to $35,197 two years after and $44,890 five years after completing the certificate. (According to the chart, support techs with certificates earn more than support techs with degrees.)
The median annual salary for an environmental tech with an associate degree rises from $31,599 two years before earning the degree to $58,803 two years after to $65,017 after five years.
Some jobs that require only a certificate pay very, very well, reports Kathy Baron for EdSource Today.
Five years after earning a certificate in electrical systems and power transmission, the people who repair and maintain electric lines and test power meters earn a median salary of more than $123,000 a year.
That’s more than double the median wage for a worker with a master’s degree — $60,200 — reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to Salary Surfer, 45 percent of community college graduates earned more than $54,000 a year.
Fourteen percent of ACT-tested freshmen at two-year colleges completed an associate degree in three years, according to a new ACT study. Success rates ranged from 4 percent to 34 percent.
Institutional Three-Year Associate’s Degree Completion Rates