It’s not a bargain education if you drop out

California’s community colleges are accessible and affordable, reports KCRA-TV. But completion and transfer rates are low. Are California’s community colleges a bargain?

Accreditors: Jellyfish or thugs?

Are accrediting bodies toothless jellyfish, or jackbooted thugs?” asks Matt Reed on Confessions of a Community College Dean @insidehighered.

Accreditation agencies enforce a producers’ cartel, argues Andrew Kelly in Forbes. It’s hard for new providers to get approval if they don’t resemble their predecessors, “but once you’re in the club, it’s remarkably rare to get kicked out.”

But City College of San Francisco‘s accrediting panel tried to shut down the long-established college, writes Reed. Judges and legislators came to the rescue.

“The California legislature passed unanimously (!) a bill to require the statewide community college accreditor to report directly to the legislature,” writes Reed. “The motive was to bring the accreditor to heel.”

 If the accrediting agency is really captured by incumbents, why is it giving incumbents a hard time?  Alternately, if it has an anti-incumbent agenda, as some have suggested, why?  If nothing else, the seeming “rogue” status of ACCJC calls into question the idea that peer review is necessarily clubby and insular.  In this case, it seems almost hostile.  The very independence from its sponsors that Kelly sees as an impossible dream strikes the California legislature as a clear and present danger.

. . . Accreditors can create barriers to entry, but they also force a certain honesty on providers who rely on federal financial aid.  (I’ll go farther.  If regional accreditors are such lapdogs, why do most for-profits avoid them in favor of so-called “national” accreditors?  And if regional accreditors are so clubby that nobody can get in, how is it that Phoenix and DeVry did?)

Accreditors have worked positive and professionally with Southern New Hampshire University’s competency-based College for America, “despite the very real threat that a competency-based degree” poses to established colleges, writes Reed, who works in New England.

California: CCs plan huge growth

California community colleges will try to increase degree completion and transfers by nearly a quarter of a million students over the next decade, reports the Sacramento Bee.

“This is probably the most ambitious goal-setting effort ever undertaken by our system,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said.

Currently, 48.1 percent of students complete a degree or transfer; the completion rate for vocational certificates is 53.9 percent. The new targets call for raising the completion rate for degree programs and transfers to 62.8 percent and for career technical education certificates to 70.3 percent.

California’s entrepreneurial economy requires a skilled workforce, writes Chancellor Brice Harris in the Los Angeles Daily News.

The new goals aim to increase the number of students who successfully complete remedial instruction, which unfortunately 75 percent of our students need when they arrive at our campuses. And we’ve set targets to increase the number of students who prepare educational plans at the beginning of their academic careers as well as the number of students who earn degrees under the Associate Degree for Transfer program, which has improved transfer with California State University.

The system’s “Student Success Initiative” calls for “giving priority registration status to students who participate in orientation, assessment and education planning; redesigning our student support services to help them stay on track academically; making it easier for students to transfer to CSUs; and collaborating with K-12 institutions to ensure that students come here ready to take college-level math and English courses,” writes Harris.

‘Step: Forward’ launches in California

California’s Step: Forward campaign offers priority registration for high-demand community college classes to students who participate in orientation, participate in skills assessment and develop an education plan. “Providing more structure and guidance” will “encourage better choices and increase a student’s probability of reaching their goal,” said Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris.

Some colleges also require students to maintain a 2.0 grade point average, complete at least half their courses each semester and not accumulate more than 100 units.

Step: Forward, funded by an $845,000 grant from The Kresge Foundation, is part of the system’s Student Success Initiative, reports the Lake County News. 

 “When you complete these steps – orientation, assessment, and an education plan—you have a greater understanding of what you’re going to have to go through to achieve your goal, and that’s really what it’s about,” said student Luis Carlos Alvarez, who studied physics at the College of San Mateo. “These steps are about completing your goals.”

The Step: Forward web site is integrated with the registration tool used by most California community college students, “allowing it to provide college-specific resources such as campus maps and contacts for counselors and advisors,” reports the Lake County News. An online assessment quiz will help students determine whether they need to take college placement exams.

California OKs 4-year degrees at 2-year colleges

Nursing students, from left, Caroline Pantaleon, Yang Liu, Melody Saechao and Christine Crivello practice inserting an IV in Saul Jones’ nursing

Nursing students, from left, Caroline Pantaleon, Yang Liu, Melody Saechao and Christine Crivello practice inserting an IV in Saul Jones’ nursing skills lab class at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif. The college could begin offering bachelor’s degrees in nursing.  (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) ( Kristopher Skinner )

As early as next year, some California community colleges  will start offering four-year degrees if the governor signs a bill that cleared the state Legislature Thursday.

Colleges will be allowed to offer one bachelor’s degree program per campus, if the degree isn’t available at a nearby state university, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Proponents of SB 850 — introduced by state Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego — argued that bachelor’s degrees in technical fields are in great demand and noted that 21 other states allow their community colleges to offer such programs.

“In today’s economy, many businesses require their employees to possess a four-year degree or higher skill sets than are offered through associate degree programs, even in fields such as dental hygiene or automotive technology where a two-year degree would have been sufficient in the past,” Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said in a news release. “I applaud the Legislature for addressing California’s urgent workforce needs.”

Help college students stay on track

Edward James Olmos played calculus teacher Jaime Escalante in Stand and Deliver.

California community colleges need degree-tracking systems to help students reach their goals, writes actor Edward James Olmos in a Sacramento Bee commentary.

Less than half of the state’s community college students complete a degree or certificate, or transfer to a four-year university within six years. With one counselor for 2,000 to 3,000 students, many don’t get the help they need, Olmos writes. Some will leave unaware that they’ve qualified for a degree.

The community college system has been the gateway to college for my entire family. I’m a proud product of East Los Angeles College; all four of my sons, my brothers and sisters and my own mother attended a community college. Our story is similar to so many low-income families throughout the state.

. . . I was lucky enough to have a professor who believed in me and walked me through the process, but thousands of students are struggling to find their way.

The California State University and the University of California systems already have systems that let students build an academic program online, tracking their progress in real time, writes Olmos. But many of the state’s 112 community colleges don’t offer degree tracking.

Senate Bill 1425, which would require degree tracking for  all community college campuses has passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the Assembly.

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.