Night college serves working adults

Shaina Denner, center, of San Jose, attends an English class at Canada College in Redwood City Thursday, feb. 13, 2014. In recent years, as colleges have

Shaina Denner, center, of San Jose, attends an English class at Canada College in Redwood City. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group) 

A new kind of night school is helping full-time workers earn college degrees, reports Bay Area News Group. Cañada College south of San Francisco has created the College for Working Adults, which offers a structured program and counseling. 

“They help you register. They counsel you. They check in with you every semester,” said Siosiua Vea, 31. “They just make sure you’re on course to get your degree.” After years enrolling in courses that he never finished, Vea is now on track to graduate in May.

Felicia Valdez “was taking random classes” until she enrolled in the special program. “I didn’t know what I needed, or if it was getting me closer,” she said.

Although most community colleges do offer night courses, students with inflexible schedules often find it difficult to find the courses — and services, such as financial aid and counseling — they need strictly at night.

Cañada, which graduates its first group of night-school students this spring, is the latest to start a program specifically for people with full-time day jobs, joining the ranks of Berkeley City College and Hayward’s Chabot College. For three years, students come to campus on Thursday nights and every other Saturday, chugging through a defined sequence of courses on a fixed schedule with the same group of students and the same counselor.

“We’ve taken out all the guess work,” said David Johnson, Cañada’s dean of humanities and social sciences. “They don’t have to figure it out on their own.”

At Berkeley City College, the nearly 30-year-old Program for Adult College Education program, or PACE, graduates about 80 percent of its students, said Linda McAllister, a sociology instructor and one of the program coordinators. ”These are incredibly effective programs for degree completion,” she said.

California community college enrollment hits 20-year low

California’s community colleges — the nation’s largest public higher education system —  have cut as much as 20 percent of courses since 2008, driving enrollment to its lowest point in two decades, concludes a Public Policy Institute of California report.

A half-million students have been shut out in recent years, reports the state community college chancellor’s office. Enrollment fell from 2.9 million students in 2008-09 to 2.4 million students in 2011-12.

Rigo Navarro, a second semester student at Chabot College in Hayward, wants to major in criminal justice and engineering, but hasn’t been able to take math or a criminal justice, reports the Oakland Tribune. In the last two years, Chabot has closed 12 percent of classes.

Statewide, the number of for-credit classes fell by 14 percent between 2008 and 2011, while non-credit classes, such as English as a Second Language, dropped by more than a third.

New students must wait to register until continuing students have chosen classes. That’s made it hard for recent high school graduates to get started at community colleges.

The number of young, first-time community college students in California fell even further behind the number of recent high school graduates between 2008 and 2011 — a trend that, combined with lower CSU and UC enrollment, “does not bode well” for the state’s workforce, the report’s researchers concluded.

The state and the colleges must come up with a long-range plan to restore the system, concluded the report, which listed raising local parcel taxes, increasing tuition significantly, helping more students get financial aid and charging more for high-demand classes as options. In addition to raising revenue, online education and larger classes could reach more students.

Senate Pro Tem Leader Darrell Steinberg has introduced a bill to let state college students shut out of classes receive transfer credits for some private-sector online courses.

Accelerating developmental ed

Three models of accelerated developmental education are catching on at community colleges, according to WestEd’s Game Changers series. Acceleration cuts the time in remedial courses, letting students enroll more quickly—or immediately—in for-credit courses that lead to a certificate or degree. Acceleration strategies include:

Helping students avoid developmental education whenever possible

Revising the developmental education curriculum to shorten the sequence, align it with transfer-level and career technical coursework, and make it more rigorous

Providing additional student supports that are integrated with coursework

Providing remediation simultaneously with courses that lead to credentials

Customizing and contextualizing remediation along multiple academic and career pathways so that students learn math or language arts concepts based on their specific needs and on their desired instructional programs

Monitoring progress at regular intervals based on demonstrated competency rather than on seat time

“The most essential principle is for faculty to rethink the content of the developmental education sequence,” says Katie Hern, director of the California Acceleration Project, and a Chabot College English instructor.

On the English side, I question the way we’ve typically broken out our curriculum—such as teaching grammar first, then the sentence, then you step it up to work on paragraphs for a semester, then personal essays. There are assumptions that academic literacy can be broken into a linear subscale—that leads to a terrible curriculum. At Chabot College, we have a principle that what you need to do is practice the exact things college-level English will ask you to do. It’s the opposite of fragmentation. You are reading books, doing higher-order thinking, and writing essays. And you do that in developmental education classes. Students feel like they’re in a college English class—they just aren’t as good at it yet and they need additional supports.

Community college faculty are well aware of the high failure rates in traditional developmental education and open to new high ideas, say acceleration advocates.