Innovating, cutting costs and data

Innovations 2013, hosted by Dallas Community College District, explored everything from educating prison inmates to the “gamification” of learning.

Controlling costs was a major theme,  reports Matt Reed, who presented as Dean Dad,

 Richard Sebastian, of the Virginia Community College system, presented a “no textbook cost degree” that’s being piloted at Tidewater Community College.  . . . They’ve chosen the Business Administration degree, and through a series of grants and stipends, they’ve convinced enough full-time faculty in the program to use nothing but “Open Educational Resources” that students will be able to get through the entire degree without spending anything on books or other course materials.

Diana Oblinger, CEO of Educause, discussed how colleges are using analytics and other software. For example,  Austin Peay State University (Texas) gives students “top ten” course recommendations for the following semester, complete with projected grades.

If we don’t have the stomach to mandate decisions, but we don’t want students to just throw up their hands at seemingly infinite options, then we can use “nudging” to push students towards the choices we want them to make. Top ten lists are a way to do that. Students are still free to go off the top ten list, but most don’t.

Using data — to teach and to control costs — also was big.

In “The Walking Dean: Surviving the Budget Apocalypse,”  Paul Starer and Lareen Balducci, from Foothill College (CA), opened with images of zombies, carnage and a post-apocalyptic wasteland to introduce California’s budget cuts and the ways it handles community college budgeting.

Dave Szatmary, a vice provost at the University of Washington, discussed UW’s low-cost online bachelor’s degree completion program, developed in consultation with community colleges. “It’s starting with Early Childhood Ed, since the Federal mandate for 50% of Head Start teachers to have bachelor’s degrees kicks in this Fall, and many locations are behind,” writes Reed. “And yes, the program will draw heavily on data analytics.”

St. Clair County Community College in Michigan is using a “courageous conversations” model to engage the faculty and staff in major issues facing the college. No, not racism or homophobia. “It was about data.”  The college releases its internal data and invites comments and questions.

SF college uses ‘trombone clause’ to cut pay

City College of San Francisco is cutting faculty and staff salaries without negotiations to save $5 million, citing what’s known as the Trombone Clause, reports NBC News.

“The Trombone Clause says that in good times, when we have good budgets from the state and better economics, we can share that largess with our employees,” said Larry Kamer, spokesperson for CCSF. “But it retracts in bad times, which is where we are now.”

The American Federation of Teachers argues conditions haven’t been met to trigger the trombone.

City College has until March 15 to prove its financial viability to the Accreditation Commission, which criticized CCSF’s pay structure.

City College of SF starts downsizing

Faced with a $15 million deficit and the threat of losing accreditation, City College of San Francisco‘s board has voted to “dismantle a decades-long system of faculty leadership,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle.  Returning more than 60 department chairs to full-time teaching will save $2 million and streamline governance, trustees said.

“The accrediting commission made it clear as recently as yesterday that they are concerned we are not moving quickly enough,” interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher told the board.

City College has until March 15 to prove it should to stay in business. The accrediting commission has said one major problem is the college’s byzantine and costly governance structure – unparalleled among California community colleges.

More than 60 faculty members earn extra pay as department chairs. They are released from teaching to do administrative work, such as scheduling, that other colleges assign to deans. City College employs 11 deans. The chairs have their own labor union, work 10 months rather than 12, as deans do, and must have their classes covered by other faculty.

Trustees also voted unanimously to close a preschool to save $84,000 a year, and to end summer hours at three other college-run child care centers. “City College spends $700,000 a year on the centers that serve as laboratories for child-development majors and as places where parents can learn alternatives to corporal punishment,” the Chronicle reports.

The board hired a “special trustee” who will have veto power on accreditation-related decisions and agreed to start collecting fees at registration. Uncollected fees cost the college district $400,000 a year.

Pell spending declines

After nearly tripling in five years, Pell spending fell $2.2 billion in the last fiscal year, even as more students received grants, reports Inside Higher Ed. Spending totaled $33.4 billion, “well short of the department’s estimated $40 billion price tag for Pell.” Five years ago, the program cost $12.8 billion.

. . . more of the almost 9.7 million lower-income students who received the grants last year got smaller awards. One reason for that could be more students attending college part time, because part-time enrollment status reduces Pell award amounts.

Experts said another probable cause for the decrease in expenditures is the elimination of the year-round, or summer, Pell Grant, which allowed students to qualify for two awards in a year. But that cut, which went into effect in July 2011, was projected to save only $4 billion per year, and the program came in more than $6.5 billion under its estimated cost. So something else must also be at play.

Fewer recipients are attending for-profit institutions, accounting for $1.4 billion of the decline.  Slightly fewer community college students received Pell Grants, but Pell revenue increased a bit as students qualified for somewhat larger grants.

For-profit students’ average grant award is larger than that for students who attend community colleges, who are more likely to enroll on a part-time basis. So the flattening of Pell spending despite increasing numbers of recipients might be partially due to the for-profits’ woes, but experts said it was too early to make that call based on the new numbers.

The $2.2 billion decrease surprised officials at the American Association of Community Colleges, said David S. Baime, the association’s senior vice president of government relations and research. “It’s really dramatic at a time that the program is growing.”

Pell was expected to be short $20 billion this year. By cutting summer grants, Democrats saved the $5,550 maximum grant, which Republicans had proposed cutting by 845. However, advocates fear higher education spending will go off a “fiscal cliff” next year as Congress tries to balance the budget.

Three California colleges face takeover

While City College of San Francisco‘s accreditation woes have gotten all the attention, two other California community colleges also are facing takeovers, writes Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.  College of the Redwoods in rural Humboldt County and Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo also must fix a list of problems or face closure, takeover by another community college district or intervention by a “special trustee.”

Community College Chancellor Jack Scott said a special trustee can be invited in by a college’s board of trustees or appointed by the state.

The special trustee can have a range of powers, said Scott. They might serve more of an advisory role, or can assume much of a board’s responsibilities. The trustee can also strengthen a college’s hand in “getting to financial stability” by making unpopular program cuts.

The accrediting commission found that state budget cuts exposed management problems at the three colleges. California’s 112 colleges have been hit hard in recent years. “It is tough in tough times,” Scott said.

Cuesta, which was put on probation in 2010, must improve financial planning, strategic planning and technology infrastructure, according to the commission’s February report.

Like CCSF, College of the Redwoods has failed to adequately track and assess student learning, according to the accreditation report. The college also is working on improving strategic planning and record keeping.

California transfer plan helps, but not much

California community college students still have trouble transferring credits to state universities, despite a plan to streamline transfers, concludes an analysis by the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Under the new law, community colleges are supposed to create associate degrees designed for transfer to the California State University system. Students who earn these degrees should be able to start at a CSU with upper-division standing to earn a bachelor’s degree in two years.

Community colleges need to increase the number of associate degrees for transfer and CSU campuses should maximize the number of academic programs to which these degrees can be applied, the report recommended.

If voters don’t approve a tax increase in November, Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget calls for cutting $250  million from the University of California and CSU system and $300 million from community colleges.

Already, CSU enrollment freezes have blocked mid-year transfers. Community college students are taking longer to complete an associate degree because they can’t get into essential classes.

Is Community College Still a Path to Dream College? asks Sharee Lopez. She enrolled in Long Beach City College‘s honors program with hopes of transferring to her dream school, Berkeley. She’s not paying much for her classes, but she’ll need an extra year to fulfill prerequisites. A neuroscience major, she can’t get into the science classes she needs.

Making it through in California

California community colleges turned away 200,000 students last fall, notes the Campaign for College Opportunity, which calls for prioritizing to enable serious students to complete a credential.

In a year when more than 20,000 course sections were cut – including basic skills, transfer-level English and math, career pathway courses, and ESL – the following were still available: Playing the Ukulele for Older Adults; Ceramics: An Option for Friday Night; Latin for Lifelong Learners; Reminiscing; Reclaiming Joy: Meeting Your Inner Child; and Finding Buried Treasure: Organizing Your Clutter.

When students can’t get the courses they need, they may enroll in whatever’s available to keep their financial aid and their registration priority, writes Michele Siqueiros, executive director. That wastes time, money and space in classes.

It takes “perseverance and determination” to complete a degree, say students profiled in Challenged from the Start.

Michelle Ko, a 35 year old pursuing a nursing degree at Glendale Community College, tells about her inability to get the classes she needs in order to graduate and transfer. “There will be classes like my science classes,” she says, “where I’m going to have to beg the teacher on a daily basis to be added. If the professor says ‘I can’t do it,’ I know I’ll be reduced to grovelling.”

Student support services have been slashed, complains Jay Cortez, a 25-year-old student at Los Angeles City College. “It’s just a mess. They are expected to do a 10-person job with only three people.”

It’s going to get even worse. The state’s community colleges will have to cut another $149 million. “Revenues from students’ fees are $107 million below projections for the current fiscal year as more economically strapped students seek and receive fee waivers” and property tax revenues fell short of estimates by about $41 million, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Catastrophe in California

California’s three-part higher-education system is a disaster, writes Kevin Carey in The Chronicle of Higher Education. While the national media focuses on Berkeley’s problems — larger classes, fewer janitors — non-elite students are being denied a chance to pursue education and job training.

Every year, about half of California’s 400,000 high school graduates enroll in an in-state college: 120,000 start at a community college, 50,000 in the middle-tier California State University system and only 30,000 at a University of California campus. Most community college transfers go to the CSU system, not UC.

CSU was taking 55,000 community college transfers a year, notes Carey. But this chart shows transfers dropped by 2,000 two years ago, another 12,000 students in 2010.

It’s not that fewer community college students wanted to pursue a four-year degree, Carey writes. “What happened was that the system was buffeted by budget cuts and so began to clamp down on transfer admissions in all kinds of ways like restricting spring semester transfers and raising GPA requirements and changing geographic criteria for which students are allowed to enroll in which campuses.”

Students who’d been promised a chance to earn a bachelor’s degree were shut out.

What did they do instead? Nobody knows, exactly. But consider that transfers from California community colleges to the University of Phoenix have increased by over 300 percent in the last ten years.

Meanwhile, fewer students are in a position to transfer because community colleges have cut classes.

Community college enrollment had been rising steadily, driven by a growing population, rising college costs and “a gigantic terrible recession underway that was throwing people out of jobs by the millions,” Carey writes. Just when displaced workers and “economically vulnerable students” most needed access to job training and a chance to earn a degree, budget cuts caused enrollment in California community colleges to decline by over 400,000 students. That’s more than the total number of undergraduates enrolled in the entire California State University system.”

This is a catastrophe that will hurt California and the nation for many years to come, Carey writes.

California ‘success plan’ sparks opposition

The California Community Colleges Student Success Task Force (SSTF) has reached agreement on 22 recommendations to increase graduation and transfer rates.  But implementing the report will be a “huge challenge,” task force member Nancy Shulock tells Thoughts on Public Education. Shulock is director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Sacramento State University.

The most controversial proposal would give enrollment priority to new students and those who stay on track to earn a degree or certificate or transfer to a four-year college. Students who’ve earned 110 credits or more without completing a credential would lose their enrollment priority and fee waivers.

Nearly 140,000 first-time students couldn’t get into a single course in 2009-10, while others were repeating classes with no apparent plans to graduate, says Chancellor Jack Scott.  Students who exceed 100 credits rarely earn a degree, according to a University of Michigan report.

Community colleges are trying to deal with $400 million in cuts this year. Some have cut noncredit enrichment courses for older adults.

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon likened the situation to a hospital emergency room, where doctors have to prioritize patients. It’s not that some classes are worthless, said Cabaldon, but they’re not priorities. “There are students who cannot get into college, for whom our experience would transform their lives, but we’ve got 10,000 who are taking Ukulele for Adults and Tai Chi,” he said.

Students should commit to an academic program by the start of the second year to increase the odds of completion, the report recommended.

San Francisco City College’s student newspaper strongly opposes the plan, as do other community college newspapers across the state. In an editorial, The Guardsman wrote:

The report recommends eliminating non-credit courses, creating one-size-fits-all placement tests for California’s diverse student population, stripping local college boards of their power, gouging students returning for their second degrees, and requiring any student not transferring to a university within a strict two-year deadline to pay outrageously expensive out-of-state fees. The Task Force recommendations will benefit higher-income students more, while students who attend part-time and work while attending school will be hit hardest. These recommendations would close off higher education to California’s 99 percent and slam the door shut in their faces.

The task force was funded by foundations, which the editorial calls “private interests.” The editorial charges that “10 out of 14 of Lumina’s board members have ties to the student loan industry — a sure sign that they should not be trusted.”

Lumina’s board has 12 members with backgrounds in “business, higher education, investment and finance,” the foundation responds. “Of these 12 directors, none is currently associated with the student loan industry, though five of them are either former employees or former board members of USA Group or Sallie Mae.”

No money to meet completion goals

States don’t have the money to meet completion goals, say most state community college directors in a survey by University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center.

“Community colleges are the portal of entry into higher education for millions of academically talented minority, low income, first-generation and adult students,” the report said. These student populations are growing relative to those of wealthier, more prepared students, but community colleges lack the money to handle enrollment increases, according to the survey.

President Obama’s campaign to increase the number of college graduates relies on more students starting at community colleges and transferring to state universities, according to Challenging Success: Can College Degree Completion Be Increased as States Cut Budgets? But there’s little room for new students, especially in states with growing minority populations. In 16 states, directors report de facto enrollment caps at community colleges.