Obama: Expand college opportunity

“We want to restore the essential promise of opportunity and upward mobility that’s at the heart of America,” President Obama said at a White House summit on higher education. “If we as a nation can … reach out to [low-income] young people and help them not just go to college, but graduate from college or university, it could have a transformative effect.”

The “story of opportunity through education is the story of my life,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, who grew up in a working-class family and went to Princeton. 

The administration asked colleges and universities to encourage low-income students to apply to challenging schools, start college preparation earlier, expand college advising and improve college remediation.

In California, the three branches of the higher education system – community colleges, state universities, and the University of California – will jointly reach out to seventh-graders in the state to encourage them to prepare for college and understand financial aid options.

Only 1 in 4 community college students in remedial classes go on to earn a degree, notes the White House report, Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students.  Summit participants have committed to “strengthening instruction, using technology, better supporting students in remediation, and reducing the need for remediation.”

Achieving the Dream, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Jobs for the Future will work with community colleges and other higher education groups to develop and implement promising practices that accelerate progression through remediation and gateway courses.

Update:  It was “a productive meeting,” Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System​, told Community College Daily. “It will be the broad access institutions that will play the big role​ — not the nation’s elite universities. There needs to be more focus on leveraging the nation’s community colleges to promote access and college/university completion at more affordable rates.”

“The summit helped to reframe the current rhetoric around higher education, away from the issues of rating and affordability,  to issues of access for low-income students, our importance for economic competitiveness, and the need for increased public and private investment in our work,” said  Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College (Pennsylvania). “The administration has clearly recognized our role in workforce development. I am pleased that our important role in transfer was recognized today in such a public way, by so many, including our university colleagues.”

‘Math literacy’ or remedial algebra?

Remedial math is getting an overhaul at community colleges, reports the Chicago Tribune. Algebra-heavy courses are giving way to “math literacy.”

Unlike a lot of people her age, 20-year-old Kelsey Pearsall-Brandon of Lake in the Hills has a clear career goal. She wants to be a police officer. But something is standing in her way:

-24 ≤ 5x + 1 < 6

That was a problem put to her recently in a remedial algebra class at Elgin Community College. The class cost more than $400, and she must pass it to earn a degree that could boost her job prospects.

Does she think she’ll use algebra as a cop? “Not really,” she said. “I gotta catch the criminal. … I’m not going to be finding X.”

Many students’ career plans require statistics and quantitative reasoning, but not algebra, experts say. Many students who place into remedial math never earn a certificate or degree. They get frustrated and drop out.

“(Remedial) mathematics is the graveyard,” said Anthony Bryk of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. “This is where aspirations go to die. If you can’t get through this, you can’t go on to career opportunities.”

Some Illinois community colleges are “giving students a chance to speed through remedial math by tackling practical problems instead of theoretical ones,” reports the Tribune. “Math literacy” is designed for students in nontechnical fields. Kathy Almy and Heather Foes, professors at Rockford’s Rock Valley College, designed a math literacy course.

 Teachers give students real-world questions — figuring out how an Internet video goes viral, for example, or evaluating a scientific claim about global warming — and then show them how to use math to find the answers.

Almy said students who struggle with math respond to practicality.

The passing rate — 65 percent — is about the same as other remedial math classes at Rock Valley, but math literacy students can move on to college math after one semester, rather than two or three.

Skeptics say the course won’t help students with very weak basic skills or those who hope to major in science or technology.

Keep it real, says top math prof

robert chaneyThe top community college professor of the year is Robert Chaney, a professor of mathematics at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching presented awards to four professors at different levels of higher education.

Chaney’s students use math to “study a personal hobby, program a robot or start a mock company,” reports Inside Higher Ed. “I want them to look at real-world problems and be able to see math as something that is helpful and useful,” said Chaney, who teaches algebra and trigonometry courses, as well as business statistics and math for engineering students.

Chaney uses a blend of traditional teaching, real-world examples and activities. The goal is to help students understand the math they’ll need for future courses and apply math skills to solve problems.

 In one class, students use algebraic functions to program a calculator-controlled robot called SAM (which stands for “science and math”).

“They see algebra working right before them and it puts meaning and definition behind the algebra,” Chaney said.

Through his work with Math Machines, a nonprofit he started with a colleague, Chaney is helping educators at high schools and community colleges create control devices, like SAM, and build lesson plans for science, math and technology courses.

Also honored for teaching were: Gintaras Duda (for master’s universities and colleges), an associate professor of physics at Creighton University, in Omaha; Steven Pollock (for doctoral and research universities), a professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Ann Williams (for baccalaureate institutions), a professor of French at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Carnegie: Statway triples math success rate

Success rates in developmental math tripled — in half the time — at community colleges using Statway, the Carnegie Foundation’s new statistics-based program, an analysis has concluded. In an intensive yearlong program, students learn basic math skills and take college statistics for credit.

Statway began at 19 community colleges and two state universities in fall 2011. After one year, 51 percent successfully completed the math sequence with a C or better in college statistics. By contrast, only 15.1 percent of remedial math students at the same colleges earned math credits after two years if they started in conventional remedial courses. The one-year success rate was 5.9 percent. Even after four years, only 23.5 percent passed a college-level math class.

“These are the students that community colleges especially need to serve well,” Carnegie President Anthony S. Bryk said. “A disproportionate number are minority, from families whose primary language is not English, and typically where neither parent has a post-secondary degree.”

Students in Quantway, which stresses quantitative reasoning, also are showing signs of success, said Carnegie officials, but the program is too new to produce outcomes data.

Both Statway and Quantway stress what Carnegie calls “productive struggle” or “productive persistence.”

It’s not about guessing what the teacher wants to hear or about finding a particular answer. It is about the process of thinking, making sense, and persevering in the face of not knowing exactly how to proceed or whether a particular approach will work.

In addition, instructors connect facts, ideas, and procedures to help students understand what they’re doing and carefully sequence problems to provide “deliberate practice.”

Both Pathways use face-to-face and online learning.

Instructors make math relevant, said Carnegie officials at a press conference.

By applying math concepts to determine the braking distance of their cars, for instance, rather than simply plugging numbers into an equation and hoping for the right answer, students see the connection with their lives, Carnegie officials said.

“Students tell us they’re learning mathematics that matters to them instead of a series of disconnected math concepts,” said Karon Klipple, who directs the Statway program for Carnegie.

Sixty to 70 percent of new community college students are placed in remedial math, Carnegie estimates. More than 80 percent never qualify for a college-level math course.

Carnegie eyes replacing Carnegie unit

The Carnegie Unit, which measures learning based on time in class rather than actual learning, may be on the way out. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which developed the measure in 1906, will study ways to measure competency using a $460,000 Hewlett Foundation grant.

. . . the unit is a gauge of the amount of time a student has studied a subject. For example, a total of 120 hours in one subject, meeting four or five times a week for 40 to 60 minutes, for 36 to 40 weeks each year earns the student one “unit” of high school credit.

The Carnegie Unit was developed to push for higher standards, not to measure learning, says researcher Elena Silva.  “It is not a good universal measure for student progress. … We are curious to know how it might be changed and more aligned with better, richer tools for measurement.”

It’s about time to rethink the credit hour, writes Matt Reed, a community college administrator.

It’s now normal for degree programs to specify student learning outcomes, and to be able to measure them. That’s huge.

Online education has thrown the whole concept of “seat time” into question, too. Since most online instruction is asynchronous anyway, it’s becoming harder to say with a straight face that learning has to happen in 75 minute chunks.

Now, MOOCs are starting to raise issues about the notion of “credit” itself, even independent of the “hour” part.

. . . At the same time, the federal financial aid programs are actually getting more persnickety about the most backward-looking elements of the credit hour, in response mostly to abuses in the for-profit sector.

Financial aid and faculty contracts are based on credit hours, at least in part, Reed writes. Figuring out an alternative will require a lot of work. So let’s get started.

‘Outstanding’ prof combines writing, art

Lois Roma-Delley, who teaches writing and women’s studies at Paradise Valley Community College (PVCC) in Arizona, was named the 2012 Outstanding Community College Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Roma-Deeley pairs student writers and artists, who create visual art and write about it, a process known as ekphrasis, reports Community College Times.

Roma-Deely, who has a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies with a focus in poetry, designed and administers a lauded visiting writer and scholar lecture series on her campus and coordinates a popular annual creative writing competition for students.

. . . (She) was noted for her attention to students, who begin her courses with a writing exercise to assess their “learning readiness,” as well as to evaluate their mastery of skills needed to successfully complete her course. At the end of the courses, students self-evaluate their learning and set academic goals.

Also honored as state professors of the year are: John Hamman, professor and chair of the math department, Montgomery College (Maryland); Rees Shad, coordinator of media design programs, Hostos Community College (New York), Greg Sherman, physics professor, Collin College (Texas).