CC offers online path to low-cost 4-year degree

California’s community colleges are searching for ways to make room for new students and cut wait lists. Inevitably, they’re looking to online courses. Orange County’s Coastline Community College is taking a step further: Coastline is partnering with out-of-state universities to create “low-cost, online bachelor’s degree pathways,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

Instead of working with the California State University system, which has its own problems, Coastline turned to the University of Massachusetts Online, Penn State University’s World Campus and the University of Illinois-Springfield. Students would take Coastline courses full-time– on campus or online — in their first year, earning 30 credits, then take a mix of community college and online university classes for two years and another 60 credits. In their fourth year, they’d take 30 credits of “capstone” courses at the online university.

A bachelor’s degree is expected to run 30 to 40 percent less than the for-profit college cost, Coastline officials say.

The college is a natural spot for an online experiment in the state’s community college system. It lacks a traditional campus, with three small locations around Orange County and a focus on distance education and serving members of the military. Most Coastline students take at least one class remotely.

“It operates more like a Rio Salado model,” said Stella Perez, executive vice president and chief operating officer at the League for Innovation in the Community College, referring to the fully online community college in Arizona’s Maricopa system. “It’s a college without walls.”

The League is overseeing the “Learning First” pilot, which has $450,000 in Gates Foundation funding.

With the new online degrees, Coastline hopes to cut its wait list in half and enroll 10,000 additional students.

CC students compete for classes

Californians are competing for spots in community college classes, reports the Whittier Daily News.  In response to state funding cuts, most community colleges have cut class offerings and increased class sizes. Enrollment continues to grow young students look for a lower-cost start to college and unemployed adults seek job skills.

Gil Bozigian, 19, is hoping to capitalize on a fellow student’s misfortune in order to secure a class – any class – at Mount San Antonio College this fall.

Bozigian, a 2010 Baldwin Park High School graduate, has so far been unable to register for core classes in English or mathematics because student demand is greater than class supply. So, he’s going to try to register again on Friday at 12:01 a.m., the minute after student fees come due. Students who miss fee payments lose all their classes, potentially opening up seats for others.

Mt. SAC is the largest of the state’s 112 community colleges with about 69,000 students. The college cut fall classes by 6 percent and expects more cuts in the spring semester. Priorities are basic math, reading and composition and courses needed by students hoping to transfer to a four-year university.  Students hoping to graduate in May have priority in the online registration system.

Recession challenges community colleges

The recession has created new challenges for community colleges, writes David Wessel in the Wall Street Journal. Demand for college classes “threatens to outstrip their capacity and funding. And “training students for jobs that don’t exist is somewhere between disheartening and counterproductive.”

The White House Community Colleges Summit on Oct. 5 is a “consolation prize,” he writes.

A year ago, the president proposed pumping $12 billion over 10 years into community colleges as part of his campaign to boost the share of Americans with college degrees above those of all other countries by 2020. Congress instead approved $2 billion over four years for grants to colleges, to be used only for workers who lose jobs to imports, a restriction the White House hopes to undo.

At least, the summit will give the community colleges some respect at a difficult time. Unemployed workers are turning to community colleges for job training at the same time more students are enrolling as a low-cost first step to a four-year degree. It’s difficult to meet the needs of diverse students, says James Jacobs, president of Macomb Community College in Michigan.

Without a strong commitment to serving low-income students and money to do so, he warns, “community colleges will find the mission of preserving the middle class will trump the demands of low-income students.” Pressure to boost graduation rates—to invest students who will succeed—gives community colleges another reason to avoid focusing on low-income students.

Community colleges are turning into economic-development agents in their communities in order to help create jobs for their students, Wessel writes.

LaGuardia Community College trained 23 small-business owners in a program funded by Goldman Sachs. More than half have hired new staff and improved profitability after going through the program, says college president Gail Mellow in an interview with Wessel. “Without the impact of the recession, I don’t think folks would be looking at community colleges in quite this way.”

LaGuardia is trying to educate 11 percent more students with a 4.5 percent decrease in funding, says Mellow.

We’ve cut tutoring, career counseling, computer access in open labs, library hours. We refused to increase class size, because we think that impacts quality of instruction.

. . . We are looking in every way we can to cut costs through use of technology — sometimes even hoping to advance services at the same time. We are piloting an online, interactive career development process that is promising, and looking to build a similar online process for advising. After the initial investment, services should be much better in both areas.

LaGuardia was forced to close registration for new students this year and last, turning away late registrants. That tends to hurt the neediest students, Mellow says.

There is also increasing pressure from my “higher ups” to invest only in those students who will succeed. It’s a hard call to make, but wealthier students are a better bet if a campus wants to significantly increase its retention or graduation rate.

“We have to continue to sharpen our game and serve more students more effectively,” Mellow concludes.