Unless California helps low-income parents learn basic skills, train for jobs and pursue higher education, the state’s prosperity is at risk, concludes Working Hard, Left Behind. The Campaign for College Opportunity, the Women’s Foundation of California and Working Poor Families project collaborated on the report.
California leads the nation in low-income working adults and in poorly educated adults. More than 1 out of 10 adults over 24 years of age have less than a ninth-grade education; nearly 1 in 5 adults didn’t complete high school.
The state will be 2.3 million vocational certificate, two-year and four-year degree graduates short of meeting the needs of the state economy by 2025, the report estimates.
“This is an alarming gap,” said Michele Siqueiros, the campaign’s executive director. “On one hand, we have millions of hard-working, low-income adults who have limited chances of upward mobility because of obstacles to higher education access and completion. On the other hand, thousands of companies are seeking well-skilled and highly trained workers.”
California needs to create a “public agenda for higher education that sets clear goals for preparing high school students for college, transitioning adult students into postsecondary education and the workforce, increasing the number of certificate and degree completions, while monitoring progress toward those goals, and aligning policies and budgets needed to reach them,” the report recommends.
It calls for improving coordination between high schools, adult education, community colleges and four-year universities and tracking low-income students’ progress as they move from one education system to another.
Non-traditional students need better access to financial aid and access to counseling and child care, Working Hard, Left Behind concludes. In 2009-10, only a third of the state’s community college students applied for a Pell Grant, leaving an estimated $500 million in aid unclaimed.
Gov. Jerry Brown wants to community colleges to take over adult education, but his plan is on hold in the Legislature, reports EdSource. Currently, K-12 districts spend less than $300 million on adult schools, down from $634 million before the recession. Courses include literacy, English as a Second Language, citizenship, parenting, vocational education and GED and high school diploma courses. Brown proposes $300 million in state funding for adult ed at community colleges.
Federal programs to help disadvantaged students earn college degrees “show no major effects on college enrollment or completion,” concludes “Time for Change: A New Federal Strategy to Prepare Disadvantaged Students for College, a Brookings report. The U.S. Department of Education’s TRIO programs (Upward Bound, Talent Search, Upward Bound Math-Science, Student Support Services and others) cost $1 billion per year.
The TRIO programs are designed to augment disadvantaged students’ academic preparation, give them direct experience with college work, or help them apply to colleges or seek ﬁnancial aid. . . . Half a century and billions of dollars after these federal college-preparation programs began, we are left with mostly failed programs interspersed with modest successes. Preparing disadvantaged students for college is still a major challenge, with no well-tested solutions in sight.
Summer programs, mentoring, tutoring and parent involvement activities may boost college enrollment, the policy brief found. “These may be the threads from which we can begin to weave together a new kind of intervention program.”
Forced to end affirmative action preferences based on race and ethnicity, California’s state universities “have embedded themselves deeply in disadvantaged communities, working with schools, students and parents to identify promising teenagers and get more of them into college,” reports the New York Times. Outreach efforts start in middle school.
In Colorado, College Summit helps first-generation college students prepare for the challenges they’ll face on campus, reports Colorado Public Radio. That includes the psychological barriers.
Reporter: Self-doubt is just one obstacle – there are many others low-income students are vulnerable to: feeling alienated – from peers and family, not having the safety net their more affluent peers have, culture shock — even the fear of success. Ryan Ross, who oversees student retention at the Community College of Denver, says programs targeting first generation minority students, are crucial.
Ryan Ross: Without these programs, the dismal numbers that we see would be even worse.
Reporter: But he and others estimate that only about 10 to 15 percent of students who need these bridge-to-college support services are getting them. There’s just not enough money. It costs College Summit about $200 per student each session. And it pays off. Drop out rates are high among first generation students. But 77% of College Summit graduates carry on for a second year.
In “neighborhoods where kids don’t believe college is for them,” it makes a big difference to see somebody from the neighborhood who’s now a college graduate, says Ross. ”The light turns on that, hey, I can do this college thing too.”
Only 34 percent of students from disadvantaged backgrounds enroll in college, notes TIME. Eleven percent graduate. High achievers often enroll in less-selective colleges that have lower graduation rates and provide less support to students.
Can “novice learners” succeed in all-online courses? Many believe remedial and entry-level students need lots of personal attention to succeed. But San Jose State is working with Udacity on three online basic math courses that include round-the-clock online mentors, hired and trained by the company, reports the New York Times.
The tiny for-credit pilot courses, open to both San Jose State students and local high school and community college students, began in January, so it is too early to draw any conclusions. But early signs are promising, so this summer, Udacity and San Jose State are expanding those classes to 1,000 students, and adding new courses in psychology and computer programming, with tuition of only $150 a course.
San Jose State professors provided lecture notes and a textbook for the three basic math courses. Udacity employees wrote the script. The nonprofit also supplies online mentors who answer students questions immediately.
The Gates Foundation is giving grants to develop massive open online courses to teach basic and remedial skills, said Josh Jarrett, a foundation officer.
“For us, 2012 was all about trying to tilt some of the MOOC attention toward the more novice learner, the low-income and first-generation students,” he said. “And 2013 is about blending MOOCs into college courses where there is additional support, and students can get credit. While some low-income young adults can benefit from what I call the free-range MOOCs, the research suggests that most are going to need more scaffolding, more support.”
A bill in the state Senate would let wait-listed students earn credit for faculty-approved online courses, including those from private vendors such as Udacity and edX. The bill is controversial, especially with faculty members.
San Jose State President Mohammad Qayoumi favors blended learning for upper-level courses, “but fully online courses like Udacity’s for lower-level classes,” reports the Times. Online courses can be expanded easily, eliminating wait lists.
“If the results are good, then we’ll scale it up, which would be very good, given how much unmet demand we have at California public colleges,” said Ronald Rogers, a statistics professor. “I’m involved in this not to destroy brick-and-mortar universities, but to increase access for more students,” Rogers said.
California could tie a percentage of university funding to performance, if Gov. Jerry Brown gets his way, reports the Los Angeles Times. Brown’s plan calls for raising the number of community college transfers who earn a bachelor’s degree in two years and boosting the four-year graduation rate at University of California and California State University campuses. The governor also wants to freeze tuition and fees for four years.
Cal State officials expressed concern about Brown’s focus on four-year graduation rates rather than the six-year standard they use. (Mike) Uhlenkamp said it may be unrealistic for remedial students, working students who attend part time and students in demanding fields like engineering to achieve a degree in four years.
Brown’ s plan faced criticism at a legislative hearing last week.
Several legislators and university officials said they feared that the plan unfairly forced campuses to chase unrealistic and arbitrary goals when the real problem remained the deep budget cuts schools suffered during the recession.
Some said they feared Brown’s ideas could backfire by encouraging campuses to water down graduation requirements and directing students to easier majors as a way to meet Brown’s targets, which also include boosting the number of transfer students from community colleges.
The Brown administration said it was open to changes, such has evaluating Cal State by both four- and six-year graduation rates.
Creating structured pathways to graduation will help more community college students achieve their goals, said presenters at the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco.
Completion by Design, a Gates Foundation initiative, is working with community colleges on mandatory student advising and structured course sequences, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. College leaders from North Carolina, Ohio and Florida discussed their efforts.
Jobs for the Future‘s completion campaign focuses on getting students into college-level classes as quickly as possible.
Many students who end up in remedial courses don’t need to be there, but they don’t realize the importance of the tests that colleges often use as the sole placement criterion, said Gretchen Schmidt, a program director at Jobs for the Future. ”They didn’t prepare, they had kids in the hall running around, or they rushed through the test to get back to work … and as a result they ended up two levels down” in developmental courses.
Students who start in remedial courses rarely earn a degree. Recent research has shown students placed in high-level developmental courses do just as well at the college level.
North Carolina now lets high school graduates with a 2.6 grade point average or better skip community college placement tests and start at the college level.
A new Connecticut law limits state funding for remedial education to a single course.
Florida may “cut off nearly all support for stand-alone remedial education,” reports the Chronicle.
Lenore P. Rodicio, director of Miami Dade College‘s Completion by Design effort, worries that’s going too far.
“Seventy percent of our students come in needing some kind of remedial education, many of them from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and this could close the door to them,” she said.
Her college offers a one-week boot camp for students who place into remedial education to allow them to zero in on the skills they need to improve, and it’s looking at other ways to get students into credit-bearing courses faster.
In another session, California Community Colleges chancellor Brice Harris discussed the state’s new “student-success agenda,” which includes encouraging students to develop a study plan, dropping reliance on a single remedial placement test and giving new students priority for registration over perennial students who aren’t moving toward a credential.
California community college students will continue to be able to take as many credits as they like at the state’s low rates, reports the Sacramento Bee. Gov. Jerry Brown had proposed limiting students to 90 units, then requiring them to pay more than four times the current $46-per-unit price. Budget committees in both houses of the Legislature said no.
The governor hopes to increase access to the crowded community college system and improve graduation rates by encouraging students to develop an academic plan and avoid lingering.
Lawmakers said capping units is not the way to increase access or success. Assembly Budget Chair Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, called the unit cap proposal inappropriate and off target.
“The administration proposals simply stick it to students who have already had to contend with fewer classes and massive fee increases,” Blumenfield said. “They respond to symptoms of a much bigger problem. Even if the administration could offer evidence showing a budget savings associated with these proposals, they are bad policy choices to make today.”
Critics said unit caps would hurt double majors and laid-off workers who’ve earned a degree but need new skills.
Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said unit caps would create space for new students.
Students need 60 units to earn an associate degree. In the 2011-12 school year, nearly 95,000 students at community colleges had earned 90 or more degree-applicable units.
The board of governors voted last year to “give priority enrollment to students who have developed an educational plan, taken a diagnostic assessment and have earned fewer than 100 units,” notes the Bee. “That’s a much more nuanced way of addressing it than a straight 90 unit cap,” said Theresa Tena, vice president of Community College League of California.
California Community Colleges’ new Student Success Scorecard shows declining completion and transfer rates, reports the Oakland Tribune. Only 49.2 percent of the students who enrolled in 2006 to earn a credential or transfer reached their goal within six years, compared with 52.3 percent of those who started college in 2002. Completion rates for black and Latino students were below 40 percent.
That’s no surprise.
The past five years have been rocky for the state’s 112 colleges and the students who turned to them during the recession. As unemployment swelled, the system simultaneously saw soaring demand and $1.5 billion in state funding cuts, forcing its colleges to cut back on student services and classes. State universities also accepted fewer transfers during that time, another factor working against students.
The scorecard breaks down success rates by year of entry, college, gender, age, ethnicity and academic preparation. It also tracks vocational students: 55 percent completed a certificate or degree or transferred within six years.
Retention was a bright spot:
Statewide, unprepared students are making it through their first year and enrolling in a third straight semester at even greater rates than those who don’t need to take remedial courses.
The same is true for Latino students, who make up about 36 percent of all community college students and whose persistence rate — 66 percent — is roughly the same as for their white peers.
However, about two-thirds of community colleges statewide reported lower succes rates.
At Oakland’s Merritt College, only 40 percent of students who started in 2006 reached their goals six years later. “A lot of my friends have dropped,” said Onome Ntekume, an 18-year-old nursing student who works at the school’s tutoring center. “For some, it was money. For some, it was way too hard and they just said they needed a break. Some even ran away just because of mathematics,” she said.
A tool tracking former students’ earnings should be available next month, the chancellor’s office said.
Some California community colleges want to charge higher fees for high-demand courses. Newly appointed Community College Chancellor Brice Harris opposes differential fees, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.
In an open letter to leaders of the system’s 112 colleges, Harris last month made clear that he is opposed to attempts at charging “differential tuition.” That includes the controversial two-tiered pricing structure that Santa Monica College proposed last year or the online bachelor’s track Coastline Community College has been developing with three public universities in other states.
Harris supports tuition increases, but opposes charging some students more than others for the same courses.
“I strongly believe that charging different students different fees depending on demand, ability to pay or program of interest would ultimately be devastating to open access and has the potential to undermine a system that has been the gateway to a better life for all Californians regardless of their background.”
Many California community colleges are putting students on wait lists for high-demand entry-level courses. ”A recent report found that budget cuts, and resulting faculty layoffs and hiring freezes, have forced the system to turn away 600,000 students in recent years,” notes Inside Higher Ed.
Coastline Community College’s proposed online partnership with four-year institutions was rejected by the chancellor’s office earlier this year.
California’s community colleges can’t meet the demand for career job training, argues a study commissioned by Corinthian Colleges Inc., which operates Heald College and WyoTech automotive schools.
Nearly 2.5 million Californians will be shut out of job training over the next decade, predicts “Left Out, Left Behind: California’s Widening Workforce Training Gap.” If skilled jobs go unfilled, that will result in $52.2 billion statewide in lost income, the report estimated.
For-profit career colleges can fill the gap, the report argues.
“For-profit colleges are finding it tougher to do business in general these days, but particularly in California,” reports the Sacramento Business Journal.
They’re feeling the effects of negative publicity about the for-profit sector, tighter federal regulatory controls, and a somewhat better economy, meaning that more people can find jobs without turning to college to learn new skills or improve existing ones.
In addition, California has tightened standards for graduation and loan-default rates, disqualifying 80 percent of for-profit schools from the Cal Grant student aid program.
However, the state’s community colleges don’t have enough classroom slots for students who want education and job training.
California’s plan to substitute MOOCs for entry-level community college classes is a “massively bad idea,” argues Rob Jenkins, an English professor at Georgia Perimeter College in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Under a bill in the Legislature, students shut out of entry-level, high-demand classes could take approved online courses — including MOOCs, or massive open online courses – offered by private providers.
Many community college students are poorly prepared for college work, writes Jenkins. Graduation rates are low. Those who enroll in online courses have lower completion rates than similar students in face-to-face courses, according to studies in Washington state and Virginia by the Community College Research Center at Columbia.
. . . listen to the sobering conclusion of the Virginia study: “Regardless of their initial level of preparation … students were more likely to fail or withdraw from online courses than from face-to-face courses. In addition, students who took online coursework in early semesters were slightly less likely to return to school in subsequent semesters, and students who took a higher proportion of credits online were slightly less likely to attain an educational award or transfer to a four-year institution.”
“Succeeding in online classes requires an extraordinary degree of organization, self-discipline, motivation, and time-management skill,” writes Jenkins. In particular, MOOCs work best for students with a record of success in traditional learning environments. ”In other words, not community-college students.”
Furthermore, the most successful MOOCs have been high-level math and computation classes, not entry-level courses.
. . . California’s plan (or to be fair, one senator’s plan) is basically to dump hundreds of thousands of the state’s least-prepared and least-motivated students into a learning environment that requires the greatest amount of preparation and motivation, where they will take courses that may or may not be effective in that format.
“Students will fail and drop out at astronomical rates,” predicts Jenkins.
Not surprisingly, faculty leaders in all three tiers of California’s higher education system strongly oppose outsourcing courses to online providers.