For needy students, a Single Stop for aid

Homeless, Jason showered at the gym at Borough of Manhattan Community College. After class, he did his homework in the library, then slept in a quiet corner. When the library closed, he rode the subway all night. Failing three of his four classes, he asked for help at Single Stop, which connects low-income people with a wide array of government benefits.  Deborah Harte got him off the streets, reports the New York Times.

She got him enrolled in SNAP, the federal food stamp program, and health insurance. He got financial counseling — “I want to be an accountant, so I want to make sure my credit’s O.K.,” he said. He did his taxes and filed a FAFSA — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. She got him a work-study job. (He was already working part time as an usher at Radio City.) Most important, Harte called someone she knew who worked in real estate and got him a room he could afford, with a shared kitchen and bathroom, in a house in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Jason expects to graduate soon. 

Community colleges “are largely second-chance schools for striving low-wage workers — an engine of economic mobility,” writes Tina Rosenberg. Single Stop is partnering with community colleges in eight states to help strivers get the aid they need to stay in school and achieve their goals.

“Community college administrators have always known students leave, and their No. 1 job has been keeping them,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, an associate professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, who is carrying out evaluations of Single Stop. “They’ve always wanted to do more — but the issue is: with what resources?”

Now they have a new financial motivation to find resources. State funding of community colleges is increasingly tied to their retention or graduation rates — six states did so in 2011, and now 34 states are in the process of adopting that reform or have already adopted it.

The B.M.C.C. office has a financial counselor, a health care navigator and, one day a week, an attorney. Students can get free tax preparation: They must file a return to qualify for federal student aid and the earned-income tax credit.

Can Single Stop keep students in school?

Goldrick-Rab analyzed the early data from CUNY colleges Kingsborough (Single Stop’s first community college program) and LaGuardia. She compared retention rates of Single Stop clients to a group of other students considered economically disadvantaged who didn’t use the service. Although the Single Stop students were most likely much poorer, a year after the program began their retention rates were 32 percent higher — 66 percent of other students re-enrolled the next semester, but 98 percent of the Single Stop students did. LaGuardia showed similar results.

On average, community colleges contribute 43 percent of the cost of a Single Site office on campus.

Miami Dade College has hired 28 counselors to provide one-stop advising — including financial aid, student services and eligibility for benefits — to all students. All will be trained by Single Stop.

Scholarships aid ‘dreamers’

A former owner of the Washington Post, a Democratic fundraiser and a former Republican Cabinet secretary have launched a college scholarship fund for undocumented students who came to the U.S. as children. TheDream.US will award full-tuition college scholarships to 1,000 “dreamers” in the next academic year, reports the Washington Post.

“Our mission is work-related programs at low cost but relatively high quality,” said Donald Graham, the retired publisher. The fund will focus on students who want to study nursing, teaching, computers and business.

Students will be able to attend pre-selected colleges — including several community colleges and one online school — in New York, Texas, Florida and the District of Columbia. Those who start at community college can reapply for scholarship aid once they complete an associate degree, said Candy Marshall, president of TheDream.US.

Some of the approved colleges have low on-time graduation rates. At Bronx Community College in New York, 8 percent of full-time students graduated in three years, while 13.4 percent transferred to four-year institutions.

Graham predicted the scholarship winners will do better, because they’re “extremely motivated.” In addition, the pre-approved colleges have promised to provide an academic counselor for the “dreamers.”

“We’re not just about getting kids into college, we’re about getting students out of college,” Marshall said. “You could do this and just give them $25,000 to go to the college of their choice. But we don’t want to put students in situations where we’ve started them in college and they’re working three or four jobs to try to pay for the rest, and they don’t succeed.”

Among the first 28 dreamers is Araceli Mendez, 21, who came to the United States with her parents from Mexico when she was 7. She was graduated from high school in Brooklyn in 2010 and admitted to college, but couldn’t afford tuition. She’s worked for three years cleaning homes to save money for college. With a scholarship from TheDream.US, Mendez has started classes at Borough of Manhattan Community College. She wants to be a pediatric nurse or pediatrician.

Adjuncts demand equality

The plight of temporary, part-time college instructors is getting attention, if not action.

Adjunct college instructors complain of low pay, few benefits, shifting schedules and no job security in The Just-in-Time Professor. The report was compiled from an online forum set up by Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat.

Most respondents said they make $2,000 to $3,500 per three-credit course or an average of $24,926 a year, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

More than 60 respondents reported salaries that would put them beneath the federal poverty line for a three-person family. Some respondents said they were on federal assistance programs like Medicaid or food stamps. One added: “During the time I taught at the community college, I earned so little that I sold my plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays to pay for [my child’s] daycare costs.”

On top of low pay, 75 percent of the respondents who discussed the topic said they did not receive benefits—either because their employer didn’t offer them or because they were otherwise ineligible. One adjunct wrote: “The health care plan that I could buy into costs more than my take-home pay on even a good year. My retirement plan is to work until they bury me.”

In Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System, edited by Keith Hoeller, 11 activists propose solutions to the “two-tier system.”

Three-fourths of college faculty are “contingent,” a nearly tenfold increase since 1975, according to the writers. That divides the faculty into haves and have-nots. The book describes successful organizing efforts. 

Hoeller is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Green River Community College, cofounder of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association and co-organizer of the New Faculty Majority.

Marcia Newfield and Rosalind Petchesky have advanced degrees and decades of experience teaching at City University of New York, reports NBC. As an adjunct, Newfield earns $3,622 for each of the two classes she teaches each semester at Borough of Manhattan Community College. She now has health insurance but “no job security, disability benefits, permanent office, or input in her department’s curriculum, and only a meager pension.” Petchesky, a “distinguished” professor with tenure, makes about $144,000 a year.

ASAP: More guidance, more degrees

Easy come, easy go is the unofficial motto of community colleges. Anyone can enroll. Few will graduate. Daquan McGee escaped the community college trap by enrolling in City University of New York’s structured, guided, get-it-done ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs), writes Ann Hurlbert in The Atlantic.

McGee enrolled at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in the spring of 2010. At 19, he’d served two years in prison for attempted robbery. He failed placement tests in writing and math, but passed an intensive remedial writing course over the summer, while working full-time at a Top Tomato Super Store. He opted for ASAP in the fall.

McGee would have to enroll full-time . . . Every other week, he would be required to meet with his adviser, who would help arrange his schedule and track his progress. In addition to his full course load, McGee would have to complete his remaining remedial class, in math, immediately. If he slipped up, his adviser would hear about it from his instructor—and mandatory tutoring sessions would follow. If he failed, he would have to retake the class right away. Also on McGee’s schedule was a non-optional, noncredit weekly College Success Seminar, featuring time-management strategies, tips on study habits and goal setting, exercises in effective communication, and counsel on other life skills. The instructor would be taking attendance. If McGee complied with all that was asked of him, he would be eligible for . . . a free, unlimited MetroCard good for the following month. More important, as long as he stayed on track, the portion of his tuition not already covered by financial aid would be waived.

McGee graduated with an associate’s degree in multimedia studies in two and a half years. (I’d love to know if he’s been able to get a better job. Is he on a career path?)

In urban community colleges, the national three-year graduation rate is 16 percent, Hurlbert writes. “Nationwide, barely more than a third of community-college enrollees emerge with a certificate or degree within six years.”

ASAP, launched in 2007, aims to get half its students to a degree in three years. It appears to be exceeding that goal, according to preliminary results of a three-year study that randomly assigned students to either ASAP or the regular community-college track. “A third of the students who enrolled in ASAP in the spring of 2010 finished in two and a half years (compared with 18 percent of the control group),” Hurlbert writes.

 ASAP offers lots of guidance, a dose of goading, and a variety of well-timed incentives to its participants (average age at admission: 21), who must sign on to the goal of graduating within three years. The program is intended primarily for low-income students with moderate remedial needs, and it accepts applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. . . . The implicit philosophy behind the program is simple: students, especially the least prepared ones, don’t just need to learn math or science; they need to learn how to navigate academic and institutional challenges more broadly, and how to plot a course—daily, weekly, monthly—toward long-term success.

The City University of New York spends an average of $9,800 a year for a community college student; ASAP adds another $3,900 per student. That’s a lot — until you calculate the price per graduate. Then, ASAP is a bargain.

CUNY settles pregnancy bias lawsuit

Stephanie Stewart, an honors student at Borough of Manhattan Community College, was pregnant and due to deliver before the end of spring semester last year. Her professor said she wouldn’t be able to make up tests or assignments missed due to medical appointments or labor and delivery. A dean advised her to drop the class.

Stewart was taking a women’s studies class, notes Slate. After her son was born, she discovered that Title IX requires schools to let pregnant students reschedule exams. With the help of the National Women’s Law Center, she sued the City University of New York system for pregnancy discrimination and won. CUNY agreed to reinstate her scholarship, reimburse her for the make-up class and adopt a policy on the rights of pregnant students and parents.

Stewart will graduate this spring and enroll in New York University in the fall.

A blogger called The Feminist Breeder has spread awareness of pregnancy discrimination, says Lara Kaufmann, NWLC’s senior counsel and director of education policy for at-risk students.

About 15 percent of CUNY students are parents and 58.4 are women. Nationwide, women who have children after enrolling in community college are much less likely to graduate than female students who don’t become pregnant.

MDRC: Benefits of student grants don’t last

Grants to low-income students had little lasting impact on their performance, concludes a MDRC study at  Borough of Manhattan Community College and Hostos Community College, both in New York City.

Based on their enrollment and completion levels, study participants received grants of up to $1,300 for each of two semesters, and some received a similar-sized grant for a third (summer) semester. In each term, a student received $200 for registering for six or more credits, another $450 if still enrolled by the middle of the term, and $650 for achieving a grade of C or better (or the equivalent in developmental courses) in at least six credits.

Students who received the performance-based grants were likelier to enroll for that term, compared to the control group. But a year after students received grants, the average recipient hadn’t earned more credits or registered for more semesters.

“This suggests that while the program was effective when students were eligible for scholarships, the effects on enrollment and credits earned dissipated after the program ended,” the authors write. (The relatively small number of grant recipients at Hostos, a much smaller institution where the students are older and the program was housed in a student services division of the college, did accumulate more credits than their peers did, the authors note.)

While “bare bones” grants may not work, other forms of aid show promise at other colleges, said Reshma Patel, project and data manager for the Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration Project.  Studies are testing the effect of offering advising and tutoring services and larger scholarships.  “We have had consistent findings across the sites, in terms of improvements in credit accumulation,” she said.

By ground zero, a college remembers 9/11

Across the nation, community colleges have scheduled 9/11 ceremonies, reports Community College Times.

Ten years ago, Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), located across the street from World Trade Center 7, lost seven students and a graduate who’d become a firefighter.  The college’s 14-story Fiterman Hall, damaged by falling debris, served as an emergency command center after the attack. The building couldn’t be repaired and was torn down. A giant U.S. flag was draped over the new building this week.

(Today) members of the BMCC community are taking part in a human chain, with thousands of people grasping hands throughout lower Manhattan as a symbol of unity and remembrance.

In comments on a 9/11 community blog, BMCC faculty, staff and students remember 9/11.  One student lost her father, another an older brother, someone else an aunt. Others remember friends who were killed.