New goal: ‘Community college ready’

(Academic) college isn’t for everyone, wrote Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in Slate. Some students who are failing in college might succeed if they pursued job training, he argued.

It sparked a huge response. Many argued that students need college prep and career prep.

Others accused Petrilli of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” for low-income and minority students.

“Community college ready” should be the minimum goal for all cognitively able students, responded Sandy Kress, an aide to George W. Bush. That means high school graduates should be prepared to take academic or vocational classes at a community college without the need for remediation.

Kress “prays” that “CTE advocates make these courses as rigorous and valued as they promise they will, and not just a dodge for them to avoid teaching and learning in the so-called old fashioned courses.” In the past, dead-end vocational education has been a “trap” for low-income and minority kids, writes Kress.

Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America, edited by Penn Professor Laura Perna, looks at the gap between school and the workforce.

Check out “Nancy Hoffman’s excellent chapter on career and technical education,” advises Liz McInerny on Education Gadfly. Education and training for a specific calling  would keep students in school and on track for decent jobs, Hoffman writes.

Colleges start remediation in high school

When William Penn High graduates go on to Harrisburg Area Community College‘s York (Pennsylvania) campus, 92 percent place into remedial reading and 100 percent require remedial math. “These kids are scoring in the lowest developmental levels that we have,” said Dean Marjorie A. Mattis at the American Association of Community College convention. So, this year, 12th graders are taking HACC’s developmental courses in English and math, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. The program was piloted last year for a smaller number of students.

Students take placement tests at the end of their junior year, and in the fall they report to a “HACC hallway,” painted in the college’s colors, with classroom tables instead of desks. Teachers must meet the criteria for instructors at the college, which at least one already is. Summer sessions familiarize them with the college’s textbooks, syllabi, and method of assignment review, and during the year the teachers work with college-faculty liaisons.

At the end of the pilot year, tests—offered on the York campus, so students might take them more seriously—showed significant improvement. In English 37 percent of students placed one level higher than they had initially, and in math 39 percent did.

Students who start at a higher level of remediation improve their odds of success, said Mattis.

Anne Arundel Community College, in eastern Maryland, is offering the college’s developmental-math courses in two high schools.

Starting last academic year, seniors shifted to a model called Math Firs3t, an abbreviation for “focused individualized resources to support student success with technology.” The computer-based approach involves mastery testing, in which students retake tests until they score at least 70, said Alycia Marshall, a professor and interim chair of mathematics at Anne Arundel, describing the program during a session here.

Of 134 seniors last spring, 107 passed both of the developmental courses, she said. And of those students, 34 enrolled at Anne Arundel and registered for a credit-level math course, which is often a stumbling block for students coming out of remediation. But 30 of them passed.

One of AACC’s long-term goals is to decrease by half the number of students who come to college unprepared.

Remedial reforms face resistance

Community colleges are reforming — or abolishing — remedial education, but some think remedial reforms have gone too far, reports Katherine Mangan for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Those who are the least prepared for college stand the most to lose from policies that push students quickly into college-level classes, according to some of the educators gathered here for the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges. And those students tend, disproportionately, to be minority and poor.

Appalachian State Professor Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education, fears “collateral damage” to minority and low-income students if states enact untried models for streamlining remedial education. “If you don’t pilot innovations before mandating them statewide, the unintended consequences will come up and bite you,” he said in an AACC session on developmental ed.

Florida has made remediation optional for most high-school graduates, notes Mangan. Connecticut now limits remediation to one semester, unless it’s embedded in a college-level course. “In statehouses across the country, groups like Complete College America are urging lawmakers to replace stand-alone remedial courses with models that are offered either alongside or as part of college-credit classes.”

“For many of these students, a remedial course is their first college experience, as well as their last,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

A Texas law, which takes effect next year, will place some remedial students in college-level courses, but “bump many of the least-prepared students from remedial education to adult basic education,” writes Mangan. 

 Karen Laljiani, associate vice president of Cedar Valley College (Dallas), said her college would be able to offer only two levels of remedial mathematics instead of four. Those at the upper end of the cutoff will be accelerated into credit courses, which has some faculty members worried about an influx of unprepared students.

The big question, though, is what will happen to students who used to place into the lowest levels of remedial math, some of whom might test at third-grade levels. Some might qualify for short-term, noncredit certificate programs that provide training for blue-collar jobs. And in some cases, remediation could be built right into the course.

The college may have to refer others to community groups that handle literacy and job training—a prospect that many community-college educators see as abandoning their open-door mission.

Jones said there are “no good answers” to what happens to the least-prepared students “when they insist on wanting an academic program.” 

AACC guide outlines how to meet lofty goals

Empowering Community Colleges To Build the Nation’s Future is an implementation guide to achieving the ambitious goals set in 2012 by the American Association of Community Colleges. By 2020, AACC wants “to reduce by half the number of students who come to college unprepared, to double the number who finish remedial courses and make it through introductory college-level courses, and to close achievement gaps across diverse populations of students,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“It is time for community colleges to reimagine and redesign their students’ experiences,” Walter G. Bumphus, the association’s president, said in a written statement. Students need “a clear pathway to college completion and success in the work force.”

Increase completion rates by 50 percent by 2020. Publicly commit to aggressive, explicit goals, the guide advises, with time frames for completion numbers and smaller gaps in the achievement of low-income and minority students relative to the overall enrollment.

Significantly improve college readiness. Establish strong connections with local public-school systems, using clear metrics and assessments to define what it means to be prepared for college. Collect baseline data, and track students’ progress.

Close the American skills gap. Understand labor-market trends and local employers’ needs, and communicate them to students. Establish clear pathways for students to build up industry-recognized credentials in high-demand fields.

Refocus the community-college mission and redefine institutional roles. Become “brokers of educational opportunities,” the guide advises, not just “direct providers of instruction.” By creating a consortium, for instance, colleges could share a curriculum, letting students draw from several campuses and delivery models.

Invest in collaborative support structures. Build alliances with other colleges and community-based or national nonprofit groups to pool resources and streamline operations. Small rural colleges, for instance, could create a purchasing cooperative. A national consortium could provide more-affordable access to tools for tracking students across sectors and states, from kindergarten to their first job.

Pursue public and private investment strategically. Keep seeking creative ways to diversify revenue streams. Meanwhile, join national groups advocating for expanded support for Pell Grants and clearer systems for transfer between two- and four-year colleges.

Introduce policies and practices that promote rigor and accountability. Adopt the Voluntary Framework for Accountability, a national tool developed by and for community colleges to broaden criteria for measuring success.

“We’re not going to achieve our mission unless we all decide we’re ready to lose our jobs over this,” said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, superintendent and president of Long Beach City College, at the AACC convention. 

Prize rewards tech solutions to boost success

The Robin Hood College Success Prize will reward innovative use of technology to help community college students complete a degree, writes Michael M. Weinstein, who leads the poverty-fighting Robin Hood Foundation. “Graduation will break the cycle of poverty.”

Nearly 70 percent of students entering community college are placed in remedial courses, where they waste time and money, Weinstein writes. Graduation rates are “appallingly low.” 

In partnership with ideas42, a behavioral ideas lab, the foundation is considering applications for the $5 million prize.  

The “prize” looks and feels like an incubator with a research component, rather than a traditional award, writes Fast Company’s Ainsley O’Connell. “Teams get staged funding, mentorship, press, and access to early adopters, and Robin Hood gets a portfolio of solutions aligned with its mission (no equity will change hands).”

Where are the public intellectuals?

There are “fewer public intellectuals on college campuses” than in the past, opined New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

“Exactly the opposite is true,” responds Rob Jenkins, an associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College and a Chronicle of Higher Education blogger. With the rise of social media and blogging, “more professors than ever are adding their voices” to public debates. But there’s one exception: Community college professors rarely speak out on public issues.

Many are busy teaching, but there’s more to it than that, Jenkins writes. They’re afraid.

Many two-year campuses are run more like high schools than colleges, with a chain of command, little in the way of true shared governance, and strict division of duties. Much like school principals, some community-college presidents believe it is their role, and theirs alone, to speak out on issues of concern. Anyone else who does so is risking his or her future on that campus.

While most faculty members don’t care if a colleague speaks out, a few will be hostile to anyone with “a public persona,” writes Jenkins. And the public has little respect for people who teach at a two-year college instead of a prestigious university. 

Community colleges serve the neediest students who’ve “suffered the most from poor secondary education,” Jenkins writes. Unlike university professors, community college instructors teach entry-level students.

To be fruitful in the long run, our public debates over educational issues like assessment, college readiness, the Common Core, online learning, student loans, corporatization, adjunctification, state funding, guns on campus, and tenure must include more faculty voices from community colleges.

But many community college professors don’t want to take the time or “rock the boat,” Jenkins writes. “They don’t want to bring the administration down on their heads, or face their colleagues’ resentment, or risk being laughed at because, after all, they teach at a community college.”

Students like STEM, but don’t succeed

Nearly half of  students say they’re interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields — including health care — when they start college, but few will earn a STEM degree, according to a Complete College America report.

Forty-eight percent of recent ACT takers express interest in a STEM major, reports ACT. Forty-one percent of new four-year students and 45 percent of two-year students choose a STEM major, including health sciences, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. Four-year students favor health science, biological science and engineering, while two-year students are interested in health sciences and computer science.

Most don’t make it.

Among 4-year students, 57% of students who choose health sciences and 59% who choose computer science never complete a credential in that field.  The problem is more profound at 2-year colleges where 58% of health science and 72% of computer science students leave the program without a credential.

Those who stick with STEM complete college-level math in their first year, the report finds. Quitters don’t. They also complete few science courses.

Complete College America proposes scheduling college-level math and a majority of STEM courses in the first year to keep students on track. That will help only if students are prepared to pass college math, which many are not.

Community colleges are filled with young women who “think they’re going to be nurses” but won’t be, a researcher once told me. They don’t have the math or science foundation.

First-generation college students often focus on nursing because they’re not aware of their alternatives, writes Matt Reed, a community college dean. A colleague told him her job is to “talk students out of nursing.”

Remedial ed ban forces readiness push

Connecticut’s ban on no-credit remedial courses goes into effect this fall. Community colleges and school districts are working to prepare students for college-level classes, reports WNPR News. Students who are too far behind to take college-level classes, even with extra support, will go into college-readiness “transitional” programs. 

Some community colleges are offering intensive two- to five-week math and English boot camps. Others have developed online prep courses.

About two-thirds of the state’s community college students aren’t prepared for college-level math, reading or writing — or all three — when they start. Only eight percent of students who start in a remedial class complete a certificate or degree in three years.

Credit Connecticut Association for Human Services/Connecticut State Colleges and Universities

Under the new policy, many adult students will be placed in the “transitional” program, predicts Roger Senserrich, policy coordinator at the Connecticut Association for Human Services. “They haven’t been in a school setting for a long time,” he said. 

Black and Latino politicians fear minority students will be shut out of college if they’re assigned to a college readiness program, reports the New Haven Register.

Some high schools are giving students a chance to catch up in 12th grade.

In the New Haven Public Schools, about 700 seniors were informed they would need remedial support this year if they planned to attend Gateway Community College. The district is partnering with Gateway to offer those students the remedial courses at the high school level. Students who receive a C in the course will have automatic acceptance into Gateway.

Manchester Public Schools is working with Manchester Community College to offer a free 10-week program to students who need help with basic math skills, reading comprehension and essay writing. “We’re really teaching the developmental courses that MCC teaches,” said Allison Nelson, a former supervisor of Reaching Educational Achievement for College Transition, or REACT.

Is college worth it for C students?

When Is College Worth It? asks Robert VerBruggen on RealClear Politics.

Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, he compares ability, as measured by the IQ-like ASVAB, education and income. Going farther in school usually improves earnings at each ability decile, but ability matters too.

There are a few surprises. Why do 30th decile people with a bachelor’s degree earn more than 40th and 50th decile people? I’d guess they’re more motivated.


Low-ability students “might benefit from a college degree,” but “they’re both less likely to try for one and more likely to fail if they do try,” he writes.

A majority of college dropouts say the “need to work and make money” is the major reason they quit school, according to a Public Agenda survey. Few said they’d found college “just isn’t for them.” Only about 1 in 10 dropouts thought the classes were too difficult.

But college readiness plays a role, writes VerBruggen.

Stop pretending college is for everyone

College isn’t for everyone, writes Mike Petrilli on Slate. So let’s stop pretending it is.

All students — regardless of their academic or “soft skills” — are told that college is the only path to a decent job, he writes. But low-skilled students are set up for “almost certain failure,” Petrilli argues. They need “high-quality career and technical education, ideally the kind that combines rigorous coursework with a real-world apprenticeship, and maybe even a paycheck.”

Poorly prepared students can go to an open-access college, but few succeed, he writes. Less than 10 percent of community college students who start in remedial courses will complete a two-year degree within three years, estimates Complete College America. Most will quit before taking a college-level course.

College access advocates look at those numbers and want to double down on reform, seeking to improve the quality of remedial education, or to skip it entirely, encouraging unprepared students to enroll directly in credit-bearing courses, or to offer heavy doses of student support. All are worth trying for students at the margins. But few people are willing to admit that perhaps college just isn’t a good bet for people with seventh-grade reading and math skills at the end of high school.

Unfortunately, our federal education policy encourages schools and students to ignore the long odds of college success. Federal Pell Grants, for instance, can be used for remedial education; institutions are more than happy to take the money, even if they are terrible at remediating students’ deficits, which is why I’ve proposed making remedial education ineligible for Pell financing. On the other hand, Pell can only be used for vocational education that takes place through an accredited college or university; job-based training, and most apprenticeships, do not qualify. That should change.

By pretending that low-skilled students “have a real shot at earning a college degree,” we mislead them, Petrilli argues. They’re less likely to pursue a path that might lead to success.

Petrilli’s argument represents the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” charges RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. “Vocational ed tracks are a legacy of ability tracking and the comprehensive high school model, both of which emerged from the bigoted assumption that poor and minority kids (especially those from immigrant households) were incapable of mastering academic subjects.” 

“College-preparatory learning is critical for success in both white- and blue-collar professions,” he argues. Young people who are not “college material” won’t be “blue-collar material” either.

High-paying blue-collar jobs require high levels of reading, math and science literacy, Biddle writes. All require postsecondary training, often at a community college.

Welders, for example, need strong trigonometry and geography skills in order to properly fabricate and assemble products. . . . Machine tool-and-die work involves understanding computer programming languages such as C . . . Even elevator installers-repairmen, along with electrical and electronics installers, need strong science skills in order because their work combines electrical, structural and mechanical engineering.

I agree with Petrilli that young people get very bad advice. By ninth grade, they should be told the odds — based on high school grades — of completing a bachelor’s degree, vocational associate degree or a vocational certificate. They should know that a dental hygienist or a welder may earn more than a four-year graduate in sociology, theater arts or just-about anything studies.

They need to know early, so they have time to develop the reading, writing and — especially — math skills they’ll need to pursue a technical or academic education.

Students who master middle-school math can study statistics, data analysis, applied geometry and/or mathematical modeling to prepare for a range of careers, concludes What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready? by the National Center on Education and The Economy. “Fewer than five percent of American workers and an even smaller percentage of community college students will ever need to master the (algebra to calculus) sequence in their college or in the workplace.”