In 4 years, 38% complete 2-year degree

Graduation rates inch up if students are given double the normal time to reach completion, according to new data by the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. The analysis looks at first-time, full-time students seeking a certificate, two-year or four-year degree after four to eight years.

Two-year degree completion rates rose the most with time:  21 percent earned a degree in two years, 34 percent in three years and 38 percent in four years. Completion rates in certificate programs taking less than two years rose from 46 percent after two years to 67 percent in three years and 69 percent in four years. After eight years, 60 percent of four-year students had completed a bachelor’s degree, up from 58 percent after six years and 38 percent after four years.

California’s 2-year colleges eye 4-year degrees

California’s 112 community colleges may seek permission to offer bachelor’s degrees, reports Inside Higher Ed. A committee is studying the question.

A bachelor’s degree option could “increase college participation rates for local residents who are unable to relocate because of family or work commitments,” said Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris’s office, in a statement.

Twenty-one states now let two-year colleges offer some four-year degrees, especially in technical and occupational fields. Florida is a leader in expanding four-year options at community colleges, which are now called “state colleges.”

However, there’s plenty of pushback, Inside Higher Ed notes. Public universities don’t like to compete for students and state funding. In Michigan, public universities are fighting a new law that lets community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in technical fields.

While some at community colleges worry about “mission creep,” others say a four-year option makes sense.

Community colleges cannot meet the demand for skilled workers in technical fields, said Bill Scroggins, president and CEO of Mt. San Antonio College.

Those jobs are also changing, said Scroggins, who is a committee member. Many employers are have added new hiring requirements for applicants to hold bachelor’s degrees. Nursing is a key example. As a result, two-year degrees no longer cut it in certain fields.

The 16-member committee is considering “applied” baccalaureates in nursing and technical fields.

The high cost of dropouts

Nineteen percent of higher education spending goes for students who fail to earn a certificate or degree from any institution, according to a report on student attrition by the Delta Cost Project at American Institutes for Research (AIR). Each 20 percent reduction in attrition will increase degree or certificate production by 6 percent, helping meet President Obama’s goal of increasing the number of young Americans who earn college degrees, the report finds.

One third of undergraduates leave college without a credential. Academic failure is not the primary cause: More than 40 percent have earned A’s and B’s. Only 15 percent of attrition costs was linked to dropouts with a C average or below.

The average cost per completed credential is $16,100 for a certificate, $33,900 for an associate degree and $53,800 for a bachelor’s degree.

Learn more, earn more

Education Is The Key To Better Jobs, concludes the Hamilton Project. (The chart’s “some college” group includes people with associate degrees and certificates, I believe.)

However, charting the superior earnings of college graduates doesn’t answer the chicken-or-egg question: Do college graduates earn more because of the degree or because they were smarter and more goal-oriented in the first place?

In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson displays an earlier Hamilton graph, which compares the rate of return from an associate and bachelor’s degree against other investment options. Because community college tuition is so low, the associate degree has the highest rate of return.

Community colleges add 4-year degrees

In 21 states, community colleges are adding bachelor’s degrees, reports Community College Week. Other states may follow the trend.

Florida has led the way with 22 community colleges offering bachelor’s degrees in nursing, elementary education, business management and other fields. All are built on associate degree programs and meet local workforce needs.

Florida State College at Jacksonville, which offers 12 baccalaureate degrees, is careful not to expand into low-demand fields, said Donald Green, executive vice-president for instruction and student services. “We want to identify high wage areas where people can make a decent living.”

Universities see the trend as “mission creep.”  In Michigan, universities are fighting a proposal to let community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in maritime technology, concrete technology, energy production, culinary studies and nursing.

 Since 2004, a series of state and national reports has prodded Michigan to allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees in high-need fields. The state has the sixth-highest tuition rate for a public four-year degree in the nation, according to the Michigan Community College Association.

“Michigan is at a critical point in its history,” says a MCCA report. “As the state transitions to a knowledge-based economy, increasing the educational attainment of the workforce is paramount. The community college baccalaureate degree would allow colleges to respond to workforce shortages in specific regions, and in specific corporations and industries.”

But the state’s public universities, led by the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State, “complain the community colleges would be competing for pieces of a shrinking budget pie and that the community college baccalaureate would be of inferior quality,” reports Community College Week. A bill to enable community colleges to add four-year degrees is stalled in the legislature.



California’s high-minority colleges have low transfer rates

Transfer rates are low at California community colleges with  high black and Latino enrollments, concludes the Civil Rights Project at UCLA in three new reports.

Almost 75% of all Latino and two-thirds of all Black students who go on to higher education in California go to a community college, yet in 2010 only 20% of all transfers to four-year institutions were Latino or African American. Pathways to the baccalaureate are segregated; students attending low-performing high schools usually go directly into community colleges that transfer few students to 4-year colleges. Conversely, a handful of community colleges serving high percentages of white, Asian and middle class students are responsible for the majority of all transfers in the state.  California ranks last among the states in the proportion of its college students who attend a 4-year institution, which is a key factor in the state’s abysmal record on BA attainment.

Dedicated staffers can make a difference, concudes Building Pathways to Transfer:  Community Colleges that Break the Chain of Failure for Students of Color, by Patricia Gándara, Elizabeth Alvarado, Anne Driscoll and Gary Orfield. The report analyzes five community colleges with relatively high transfer rates for students of color from low-performing high schools.

However, poorly prepared students are much less likely to transfer. The report calls for outreach to low-performing high schools to prepare students for community college challenges and “a radical rethinking of developmental education.”

Unrealized Promises: Unequal Access, Affordability, and Excellence at Community Colleges in Southern California, by Mary Martinez Wenzl and Rigoberto Marquez, shows that heavily minority, low-performing high schools in Southern California feed students into heavily minority community colleges where few students successfully transfer.

Because most California students start at community colleges, college graduation rates are low, concludes Beyond the Master Plan: The Case for Restructuring Baccalaureate Education in California.  Saul Geiser and Richard Atkinson recommend letting high-performing community colleges grant bachelor’s degrees to expand capacity.

“No state has bet its future so heavily on community colleges,” Gándara notes, “but these schools need resources and major reforms. Unless we make the colleges work for all Californians, we gamble with our future.”

California’s black high school graduates are less likely to enroll in state colleges and universities than in the past and much less likely than other groups to complete a degree, concludes Blacks in Higher Education, a state profile by the Campaign for College Opportunity.

 . . . just over half of black students graduate from high school, few are prepared to attend a four-year university, and fewer still actually enroll in a California college. . . . Of blacks who go to a public college in California, two thirds choose to start in the California Community College (CCC) system. Once there, only 1 in 4 earns a certificate, associate degree, or transfers after six years.

Black transfer students are more likely to choose for-profit colleges, which typically have lower graduation rates than state universities.

U.S. News ranks online degree programs

For the first time, U.S. News has evaluated online degree programs offered by public, private nonprofit and for-profit institutions. The magazine ranked 196 online bachelor’s degree programs and 523 online master’s degree programs in business,engineeringnursingeducation, and computer information technology.

There are no overall winners: Bachelor’s programs were ranked by student engagement and assessment, student services and technology, and faculty credentials and training.

Enrollment in online classes doubled between 2007 and 2011, U.S. News reports. “At more than 2,500 colleges and universities surveyed, 65 percent of administrators say that online learning is a vital piece of their institution’s long-term strategy.”