California transfer reform goes slowly

California streamlined community college transfers two years ago, but progress has been uneven, concludes Meeting Compliance — Missing the Mark by the Campaign for College Opportunity.

As a result of the new state law, a state committee developed a  framework of coursework for 25 majors that account for 79 percent of transfers.  Each community college is supposed to use the framework to create  pathways to associate transfer degrees in specific majors; the California State University system is supposed to these degrees as equivalent to two years of CSU coursework.

Eighteen community colleges have adopted nine to 18 associate degrees for transfer, while 49 colleges have approved two to four degrees, just meeting the minimum set by the chancellor’s office.

Only four of 23 California State University campuses have approved all the transfer majors as equivalent to CSU coursework. While 20 have  accepted at least 80 percent of the degree pathways. “However, a deeper analysis shows that 10 CSU campuses have deemed fewer than 70 percent of the degree options within the 20 majors as available” to transfer students.

A bridge to trade skills

Los Angeles Trade Technical College‘s Bridge Academy is raising persistence rates, reports The Campaign for College Opportunity.

 The L.A. Trade Bridge Academy provides free orientation for all students — informing them of how to create an education plan, enroll in courses, and access financial aid and other campus resources. New students and returning students can also take a diagnostic test to determine their placement in Math and English courses. Afterwards, students can enroll in free non-credit shortened refresher courses to help them strengthen their knowledge of certain concepts so they are better prepared for the official placement test and matched with the right courses.

. . . Early results show that student enrollment in a second term is up by 10% and refresher courses have increased the number of students successfully completing math or English courses by 11%.

Other Southern California schools, such as Long Beach City College, Mt. San Antonio College, San Bernardino Valley College, and Pasadena City College, also are improving student supports such as orientation, educational planning and assessment and placement, according to Campaign for College Opportunity.

California faces education gap

California’s higher education system is not producing the college graduates the state needs to maintain its vitality, according to The Road Ahead: Higher Education, California’s Promise, and Our Future Economy. California Competes: Higher Education for a Strong Economy Council, a group of business and civic leaders, produced the report.

The state’s public and private colleges and universities will graduate more than three million students with bachelor’s degrees and technical credentials between now and 2025, according to the report.  However, the state will need more than five million to stay economically competitive, leaving a gap estimated at 2.3 million.

The council proposes streamlining and strengthening community college management and restoring accountability for decision making to local boards and administrators.

The California Community College system office must be more flexible, responsive to changing conditions and accountable for ensuring student success. There must be a stronger advising system for students so they have greater clarity on how to attain a degree or credential. There must also be greater emphasis on completions and transfers to ensure that all students are working towards a specific goal.

In addition, the report calls for state policy makers to create an independent Higher Education Investment Board to help “the state better understand how to improve attainment rates for transfers, degrees and certificates across all colleges and universities.” The board would project the types of degrees needed in the work, develop strategies to meet those needs, working with system leaders.

For every dollar California spends on public higher education the state will reap $4.50 from taxes on the increased earnings of college graduates and lower costs for providing other state safety net services, according to California’s Economic Payoff, a new report by The Campaign for College Opportunity. For Latinos, who make up 45 percent of the state’s college-age population, earning a college degree raises income by $1.2 million over a lifetime, compared to a white high school graduate, the report estimates.

That could be overly optimistic. Graduation rates remain very low for California Latinos, who usually start in community college. And as college-going expands from highly motivated A students to B, C and D students, success rates usually fall.

The U.S. is “disinvesting” in higher education, writes Anthony Carnevale.

What works now to improve student success

In What Works Now, the The Campaign for College Opportunity profiles programs or practices at five California community colleges that are moving more students to a degree, a four-year university or the workforce.

City College of San Francisco gives students a “personalized educational home” during the first two years of college. Chabot College is moving students more quickly through pre-college level English. Chaffey College and Long Beach City College have expanded success centers to help struggling students.  Los Medanos College‘s Equity Scorecard “uses data, broken down by race and ethnicity, to identify campus-wide barriers to student success and to pinpoint areas for improvement.”

Each college started by analyzing data to understand the problems. All tried to remove “barriers that were preventing colleagues from talking to one another” to encourage “cross-campus collaboration.”  While working on improving curriculum and instruction, the five colleges also looked at ways to improve out-of-classroom supports, such as access to tutoring labs, counseling and orientation. Finally, it’s essential to have a community college leader who sets priorities and targets,  the report found.

None of the “what works now” colleges is waiting for better funding or better students, the Campaign observes.

We recognize that California’s colleges and universities are struggling with decreased state funding and we must continue to demand adequate support. We also believe that the practices highlighted in this report, and all other efforts to improve college completion rates, are good for students, good for future state revenues, and in some cases actually save the state money through innovation and efficiency. Practices such as utilizing data to target academic interventions, prioritizing enrollment for students with a goal of degree, transfer, or vocational certificate, requiring students to complete an educational plan, streamlining the assessments for English and math across the system, and accelerating progress for students through basic skills or remedial courses, are just a few proven innovations that can get significantly more students across the finish line.

More than 70 percent of California’s postsecondary students are enrolled in community college, the Campaign estimates, but only 30 percent will earn a certificate, degree, or transfer to a four-year university in six years.

California’s Latinos miss out on higher ed

California’s Latinos are missing out on higher education opportunities concludes Latinos and Higher Education by the Campaign for College Opportunity.

Latinos make up about half of California’s college-age population, the statewide profile found.

In 2009, 57% of Latino students graduated from high school, and of those, only 16% met the A-G requirements for admission to the University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) and only half (8%) enrolled in one of those two systems.

In 2009, only 7% of Latinos age 25 and older held a baccalaureate degree in California, compared to 30% of all Californians.

Of Latino students who do go to college, over two thirds start at a California Community College, where only two in 10 earn a certificate, associate degree, or transfer after six years.

At community colleges, Latinos make up 34% of incoming degree-seekers, but comprise only 23% of the overall completers, a drop off rate higher than their white and Asian Pacific Islander peers.

“The college-going and success rates for Latino students in California are cause for significant alarm,” says Michele Siqueiros, executive director of  Campaign for College Opportunity. “With the growing Latino population in our state and our increasing reliance on an educated workforce, all of our futures depend on it.”

Community colleges should require students to participate in orientation and diagnostic assessment and set education goals, the campaign advises. In addition, the campaign calls for encouraging more high school graduates to enroll directly in four-year state universities.


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.

California’s high-minority colleges have low transfer rates

Transfer rates are low at California community colleges with  high black and Latino enrollments, concludes the Civil Rights Project at UCLA in three new reports.

Almost 75% of all Latino and two-thirds of all Black students who go on to higher education in California go to a community college, yet in 2010 only 20% of all transfers to four-year institutions were Latino or African American. Pathways to the baccalaureate are segregated; students attending low-performing high schools usually go directly into community colleges that transfer few students to 4-year colleges. Conversely, a handful of community colleges serving high percentages of white, Asian and middle class students are responsible for the majority of all transfers in the state.  California ranks last among the states in the proportion of its college students who attend a 4-year institution, which is a key factor in the state’s abysmal record on BA attainment.

Dedicated staffers can make a difference, concudes Building Pathways to Transfer:  Community Colleges that Break the Chain of Failure for Students of Color, by Patricia Gándara, Elizabeth Alvarado, Anne Driscoll and Gary Orfield. The report analyzes five community colleges with relatively high transfer rates for students of color from low-performing high schools.

However, poorly prepared students are much less likely to transfer. The report calls for outreach to low-performing high schools to prepare students for community college challenges and “a radical rethinking of developmental education.”

Unrealized Promises: Unequal Access, Affordability, and Excellence at Community Colleges in Southern California, by Mary Martinez Wenzl and Rigoberto Marquez, shows that heavily minority, low-performing high schools in Southern California feed students into heavily minority community colleges where few students successfully transfer.

Because most California students start at community colleges, college graduation rates are low, concludes Beyond the Master Plan: The Case for Restructuring Baccalaureate Education in California.  Saul Geiser and Richard Atkinson recommend letting high-performing community colleges grant bachelor’s degrees to expand capacity.

“No state has bet its future so heavily on community colleges,” Gándara notes, “but these schools need resources and major reforms. Unless we make the colleges work for all Californians, we gamble with our future.”

California’s black high school graduates are less likely to enroll in state colleges and universities than in the past and much less likely than other groups to complete a degree, concludes Blacks in Higher Education, a state profile by the Campaign for College Opportunity.

 . . . just over half of black students graduate from high school, few are prepared to attend a four-year university, and fewer still actually enroll in a California college. . . . Of blacks who go to a public college in California, two thirds choose to start in the California Community College (CCC) system. Once there, only 1 in 4 earns a certificate, associate degree, or transfers after six years.

Black transfer students are more likely to choose for-profit colleges, which typically have lower graduation rates than state universities.

Who graduates? White women do best

Nearly three quarters of Black and Latino degree‐seeking students did not earn a community college degree in six years, according to a supplemental analysis to Divided We Fail: Improving College Completion and Closing Racial Gaps in California’s Community Colleges. Women are more likely to graduate than men,  concludes the report by the Campaign for College Opportunity, the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy (IHELP) at Sacramento State, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE), and the Women’s Foundation of California.

While 39 percent of white women earn a degree, the completion rate is only 27 percent for black women and 23 percent for Latinas.

Minority men do much worse. Nearly 80 percent of male Black and Latino college students in California enroll in a community college. After six years, 80 percent have failed to complete a credential.

“For young black men, community colleges are critical in their hopes to learn and become prepared for the workforce so they can improve their standard of living. Unfortunately, many of our men go to community college and then disappear – no training, no degree, no strong employment opportunities,” said Deacon John Wilson, education director of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ.

The state budget crisis may mean more tuition hikes and cuts to student services, warned Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

Black and Latino students who transfer to a four-year institution often choose a for-profit college, risking substantial debt, the report found.

Only 13 percent of Latino men and 15 percent of Latinas transfer compared to nearly 30 percent of white women.

Although Black students were more likely to transfer to a university than Latinos, they were significantly less likely to complete a transfer curriculum or earn an associate degree.