Does Khan help remedial math students?

Can Khan Academy help community college students learn algebra? With a $3 million U.S. Department of Education grant, WestEd will evaluate the effectiveness of Khan Academy’s resources for developmental math students at 36 California community colleges.

Khan Academy is a free, Internet-based learning environment that includes instructional videos, adaptive problem sets, and tools for teachers to use in providing individualized coaching and assignments to students.

. . . “Until now, there has never been a rigorous, large-scale efficacy study of Khan Academy, in community colleges or in K-12 settings,” says STEM Program Director Steve Schneider.

Algebra I instructors with no Khan experience will be randomly assigned to integrate Khan videos and problem sets into their normal classroom activities or to teach as usual. Comparing Khan-aided students to the control group, researchers will evaluate whether using Khan resources affects persistence and achievement. In addition, they’ll analyze what factors, such as teacher preparation, student characteristics and course structure, improve effectiveness.

A recent SRI study looks at how K-12 schools use Khan to teach math, notes EdSurge.

Founded by Salman Khan, who started out tutoring his cousins’ children in math, the nonprofit now offers 6,000 instructional videos and 100,000 practice problems in math, biology, physics, chemistry, economics, and more, reports Inside Philanthropy. Some 350,000 teachers also use the videos as classroom aids.

What works for remedial students?

What works for remedial students? The Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR) will assess new approaches to remedial assessment, placement and instruction.

The Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, in collaboration with MDRC and scholars at Stanford, University of California at Davis and Vanderbilt, has been awarded a five-year $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to create the center.

Three major studies are planned:

A national study to survey the characteristics of developmental students, the dominant remedial practices across two- and four-year colleges, and the nature and extent of reforms that have been recently implemented or are in process.

A randomized control trial in partnership with the State University of New York’s community college system to test the effectiveness of a “data analytics” assessment and placement system that relies on more information, including high school records, than the traditional method of placing students into remedial education.

A randomized control trial at several Texas community colleges comparing the New Mathways Project—a program developed by the Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin to engage students in more active learning of math curricula that are tailored to specific academic pathways—with the traditional remedial and introductory college math sequence.

In addition, CAPR will investigate innovative approaches to remediation, including California’s Early Start.

CCRC’s Thomas Bailey and MDRC’s Lashawn Richburg-Hayes will lead the new center.

States don’t track students college readiness and progress through remediation with any consistency, concludes an Education Commission for the State report, Cure for Remedial Reporting ChaosA companion report recommends creating a national “framework” for measuring and reporting on remediation.

The cheap and the not so cheap

The federal College Affordability and Transparency Center has updated its information on the most expensive and the most affordable college options.

The highest tuition college in the public, two-year sector is the University of Pittsburgh-Titusville, which charges $11,324 a year. New Hampshire community colleges dominate the high-tuition list.

California and New Mexico community colleges charge the least: College of the Siskiyous in California costs only $573 a year and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic in Albuquerque costs $675.

The tool also estimates “net price,” the cost of attendance minus likely grant and scholarship aid. This includes living costs, which is misleading for students at non-residential colleges. Most community college students live at home and don’t incur additional living costs by enrolling in college.

California: 2-year degree takes 4 years

A “two-year” degree typically takes more than four years, raising the The Real Cost of College in California,” reports Campaign for College Opportunity. Furthermore, associate degree graduates earn a median of 78 credits — well over the 60 required. All those extra credits lead to higher costs and fewer available seats at the state’s community colleges.

At California State University campuses, where many community college students hope to transfer, the median is 4.7 years for a four-year degree and 135 credits instead of 120.

Reducing the number of excess credits by just one in the community college system would save students $2 million in fees, save the state $21 million and create space for an additional 7,320 full-time students, notes Michele Siqueiros, the Campaign’s executive director.  A 10 percent reduction in credits would yield $16 million in student savings, and $168 million in savings to the state, which could create space for an additional 58,560 students.

Time is a key part of the “college affordability crisis,”  Siqueiros told the Los Angeles Times.

During the recession, California’s 112 community colleges lost $1 billion in funding. “Because of the lack of state funding, we had to reduce our workload and students were on long waiting lists, so that was a big factor,” said Francisco Rodriguez, the new chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District.

Shut out of the classes they needed, some students signed up for whatever courses had empty seats to remain eligible for financial aid, the study found.

The report recommends:

Get students in and through pre-college level classes faster and improve the way students are placed into college level math and English

Require campuses to do a better job of matching class offerings with student needs

Increase college funding to restore classes so that students can get the courses they need and graduate more quickly

Encourage students to enroll full-time and take a full 15-credit course load every semester

Increase financial aid knowledge, simplify the financial aid process, and increase the amount of financial aid available to students so that more students can attend college full time and graduate on time

Provide information on time to degree to students, policymakers and researchers

Many community college students nationwide earn extra credits, writes researcher Matthew Zeidenberg in a 2012 working paper. Good advising could help students save time and money, while raising their odds of completing a degree.

Students may need to experiment to gain clarity about academic and career goals; they may be taking courses that deepen their knowledge or improve their skills more generally; and there may be labor market returns to more credits independent of a credential. On the other hand, students may . . . lack information about the correct courses to take to complete a program of study, or they may accumulate excess credits when their required classes aren’t available, thus forcing them to enroll in “extraneous” courses that allow them to maintain full-time status for financial aid.

Colleges could “direct undecided students to intensive one-on-one academic and career counseling” while using “light-touch” or e-advising for students with clear goals, Zeidenberg writes. “Such a system could electronically track every student and contact them via email if they register for courses that do not advance them in their declared program or will not transfer to their target institution, and offer alternative registration options that would satisfy these goals.”

Georgia’s Guided Pathways to Success is designed to help students earn the credits they need — without excess credits — to cut the time and cost of earning a degree.

Corinthian crashes

Under investigation for falsifying job placement rates, for-profit Corinthian Colleges will sell 85 campuses and close 12 others. The national company runs Everest, WyoTech and Heald career colleges.

The Department of Education had put a hold on Corinthian’s access to federal student aid. Under an agreement reached last week, the DOE will provide $35 million in student aid funding to provide time to sell or close the colleges. Corinthian’s finances will be monitored closely by an independent auditor.

Corinthian receives $1.4 billion in Pell grants and federal student loans each year, which represents 85 percent of total revenuesreports the Miami Herald.

The company is facing charges in several states, including Florida and California, of exploiting and misleading low-income students.

Florida’s community colleges, which are some of the best in the nation, often offer similar programs at a far lower price. For example, Everest’s Pompano Beach location charges about $15,000 in tuition for a medical assisting diploma; at Broward College, the same program costs $1,698 for in-state students.

The Florida attorney general’s investigation of Everest has produced 100 pages of complaints, reports the Herald.

The California attorney general’s lawsuit cited internal Corinthian documents that described its students as “isolated” individuals with “low self-esteem” who have “few people in their lives who care about them.”

The California lawsuit states “the placement rates published by [Corinthian] are at times as high as 100 percent, leading prospective students to believe that if they graduate they will get a job. These placement rates are false and not supported by the data. In some cases there is no evidence that a single student in a program obtained a job during the time frame specified in the disclosures.”

In some instances, the suit says, Corinthian paid temp agencies to give its graduates short-lived jobs — so it could inflate the job placement numbers, and maintain the accreditation required to receive federal aid.

Corinthian’s enrollment has fallen to 72,000 students, estimates the DOE.

National Journal has more on the fall of Corinthian.

California eyes degree tracking

A bill in the California Legislature would create a system to track community college students’ progress toward a degree, inform students who are close to earning a degree and award degrees to former students who’ve completed enough credits.

Some students have earned enough credits to obtain a degree or certificate, but they don’t know it, according to the Women’s Foundation of California.

Senate Bill 1425 is co-sponsored by  The Campaign for College Opportunity and Southern California College Access Network.

California: Building transfer bridges


San Franciscans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.

One way to restrain college costs and expand diversity is to build a sturdier bridge between community colleges and elite universities, writes Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic.

The University of California is trying to do that, he writes. Last month, a task force urged the nine-campus system to “streamline and strengthen” the transfer process.

Overall, the report noted, 29 percent of the system’s entering students in 2012-13 arrived as community-college transfers.

. . . Just over half of the admitted transfer students, the study found, were first-generation students, slightly above the proportion in the freshman class. Perhaps most impressively, the study found that 86 percent of transfers graduated within four years after arriving, almost exactly equal to the 84 percent of freshman students who finish after six years.

However, transfers come disproportionately from seven community colleges in affluent areas such as Santa Monica, Cupertino, Pasadena, Santa Barbara, and San Diego.

 Although African-Americans and Hispanic students make up nearly 46 percent of the state’s huge community-college student body, they represented only about 25 percent of those who transferred into UC. That was actually less than their share of the entering freshmen class for the UC system.

To encourage more demographic and geographic diversity, the report recommended that UC build partnerships with the community colleges that send few students into the transfer pipeline; increase its visibility on every two-year campus; broaden its own direct outreach to community-college students; expand the transition services it provides to transfer students; and, perhaps most important, establish more consistency in the course requirements that each UC campus sets for admission.

UC still lets each campus set its own transfer requirements, making it hard for students to navigate the system, said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.  The less selective California State system unified requirements under a 2010 state law. “The UC system should be able to align their requirements for the different majors within the system, and that would allow students to prepare.”

Fifteen California community colleges would be allowed to one bachelor’s degree each in an area of “critical workforce demand” under a bill that has passed the state Senate.

Online learning is hard, but helpful

California community college students are taking more courses online, but they’re less likely to complete and pass an online course than a traditional course, according to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Online course offerings are increasing rapidly, the report notes. So is enrollment. Nearly 20 percent of non-remedial students took at least one online course in 2012. Online participation is much lower for Latinos and higher for African Americans.

In 2012, the pass rate was 60.4 percent in online courses, 70.6 percent in traditional courses. After controlling for differences among students and other factors, researchers estimated students in online courses are 11 to 14 percentage points less likely to complete the course with a passing grade.

Achievement gaps widen in online courses: African Americans, Latinos, males, part-time students, and those under age 25 or with lower levels of academic skill are “likely to do markedly worse in online courses than in traditional ones,” the study found. 

However, online learning appears to benefit stronger students.

Students are more likely to earn an associate’s degree, a vocational certificate, or transfer to a four-year college if they take at least some online courses. This is an indication that for some students—generally those who earn the most units—online learning offers the availability and flexibility to help them achieve their goals.

“Students overall are less successful in online courses than in traditional ones, but online learning is still an important tool that some are successfully using to achieve their college and career goals,” said Hans Johnson, co-author and PPIC Bren fellow. “It will be important to broaden that success to encompass the diverse population of community college students.”

PPIC recommends improving strategic planning and coordination so “online courses could be used to satisfy unmet demand for traditional ones, particularly prerequisites and other classes that act as gatekeepers to success.” In addition, online credits should be “portable” to any community college in the state.

Other recommendations include: using a standardized learning management system to provide data on student engagement and gathering cost information.

Distance Education is the New Normal according to a special report by Community College Week.  “As the new kid on the educational block, distance educators face heightened scrutiny from state and federal regulators, all while proving that online education produces the same — or better — academic outcomes than traditional face-to-face classes.”

Statway offers path to college math

The traditional path to college-level math was a dead end for many students at Pierce College, reports Jason Song for the Los Angeles Times. So the community college is trying the Carnegie Foundation’s alternative path to math success, an algebra-and-statistics mix called Statway.

Catalina Daneshfar needs to pass algebra to transfer to a state university. Placed in remedial math at Pierce, she’d hired a tutor and still ended up with a D.

This year, she earned an A in the first semester of Statway. She’s on schedule to earn enough credits to transfer to a Cal State University campus next year.  “Statway saved my life,” Daneshfar said. “At the very least, it saved me from another year of school.”

Math is one of the biggest obstacles to success for California’s community college students, reports the Times.

About 73% of freshmen at community colleges need remedial math, according to state statistics, and only about a third of these students end up transferring to a four-year school or graduating with an associate’s degree, according to state figures.

The numbers are worse at Pierce, where only about 13% of students pass enough math courses to transfer, according to professors.

About half of Pierce’s Statway students earn a C or better. That lets them fulfill transfer requirements more quickly than typical remedial students.

The course covers basic and remedial algebra as well as statistics in two semesters and is designed for students who plan to major in liberal arts or non-science fields. Transferring Pierce students normally have to take three semesters of math, generally two semesters of algebra and an elective.

The Cal State system accepts Statway for transfer credit on a temporary basis, but the University of California does not. “So far, Statway has not reached the level of quality we expect,” said George Johnson, a UC Berkeley mechanical engineering professor who has reviewed courses.

Including Pierce, six California community colleges offer Statway: American River College near Sacramento, Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Diablo Valley College in Contra Costa County, Foothill College in Los Altos Hills and San Diego City College.

California underfunds vocational ed


(photo credit: US NAVY)

California is underfunding career technical education at the college level, charges a new study.

“[CTE] is vital to the economic structure, especially in a state like California where there is so much space for jobs that don’t necessarily require an advanced degrees,” said public policy professor Nancy Shulock of California State University at Sacramento.

Five years after earning a vocational associate degree, the median worker earns  $66,600, according to the California EDGE Coalition. That compares to $38,500 for graduates with an academic associate degree.

California funds all programs using the same per-pupil formula, whether the college is providing a classroom to teach Psych 1 or a mechatronics lab to teach advanced manufacturing. That makes it hard to provide CTE.

“Career technical education has the highest earning potential and the highest completion rate hands down,” Van Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor of workforce and economic development for the state’s community colleges, told an Assembly subcommittee. Yet CTE’s percentage of community college funding keeps declining.  “You can’t train an emergency room technician without a simulated emergency room.”

Funding has been cut for career tech education at the high school level as well.