2/3 take remedial course

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More than two thirds of community college students take at least one remedial education course, according to the American Association of Community Colleges’ DataPoints.

Seventy percent of students placed into remedial math will not even attempt a college-level gateway course within two years, writes Stan Jones of Complete College America.  Shifting remediation from a prerequisite to a “corequisite” will enable more students to take gateway courses, Jones argues.

We shall not all be dentists

Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality shows “Midwestern University” co-eds partying a lot and studying a little, write Isaac N. Cohen and Amy L. Wax in And We Shall Not All Be Dentists.

Affluent, upper-middle-class students enjoy a choice of “academically meager” majors and “an easy-going whirl of socializing and fun.” Once they leave college, their well-connected parents can help them find jobs and pay their bills.

Working-class women often aren’t well-prepared for college. They’re “sucked into a party lifestyle they can ill afford, or find themselves alienated, isolated, or overwhelmed.” Most do not graduate in four years and a significant number don’t graduate at all.

For these women, the cost of useless courses, missed opportunities, bad grades, and a general lack of seriousness was particularly steep. Being in over their heads academically was made even worse by the weight of debt they accumulated. . . . The money they owed, too often after failing to complete a useful or lucrative course of study, made it hard for them to stay afloat financially in the real world and required many to move back home and work at multiple relatively unskilled jobs to make ends meet.

Many of the most successful working-class women profiled in the book transferred to less-competitive regional institutions and found steady — if not elite — employment. ”Until and unless college is free (which is not going to happen soon), students of limited financial means and modest ability should be encouraged to pursue lower-cost and more practical options,” argue Cohen and Wax. “At the very least, community colleges and less-competitive, vocationally-oriented institutions should be recognized as the best path forward for all but the most driven and academically prepared.”

We need to start measuring how much college students are learning, writes Ben Wildavsky on CNN. He envisions a collegiate version of the National Assessment of Education Progress that would analyze whether a national sample of students are learning “vital academic skills.”

Completion gap is wide for first-gen students

Are College Degrees Inherited? asks Ronald Brownstein in National Journal. The children of college graduates are much more likely to enroll in college and earn a degree compared to children from “no-degree” families. Only 23 percent of first-generation students earn a degree compared to 55 percent from two-degree families, according to a new College Board/National JournalNext America Poll.

The decision to go straight from high school to postsecondary education is critical: Those who enrolled immediately in two- or four-year college or in vocational training were more than three times as likely to complete a credential than those who moved from high school into the workforce. Students from no-degree families are less likely to try college or job training.

Ninety percent of the straight-to-college group said they would do so again, while a majority of the work-first group said they wish they’d sought more education. 

For those who chose two-year schools, the big reasons were that “it cost less” (a resounding 75 percent) or that they considered it “easier to balance other obligations like family or work” (63 percent). For those who entered vocational training, cost (75 percent) and balancing other obligations (53 percent) were also big reasons—but so were the belief that it offered more job-relevant training (67 percent) and doubt that they could academically handle a two- or four-year school (47 percent).

Fewer than one in four who went straight to college said they were unprepared for college work.

Only about one in eight said family obligations interfered or that they spent too much time in remedial courses. About one-third in each case said they didn’t “receive enough guidance or direction from the college,” didn’t find course topics “interesting or relevant,” or found it difficult to be on their own for the first time.

. . . Hispanics (35 percent) were more likely than whites or blacks (around one-fourth in each case) to describe themselves as academically unprepared. Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians were all at least twice as likely as whites to say they spent too much time in remedial courses—or that they faced complicating family obligations.

Students from no-degree families who went straight to college didn’t report more transition or readiness issues. But less than 60 percent completed a degree, compared with 70 percent of those from two- and one-degree families. Since fewer enroll, the completion gap is large.

Survey respondents split on whether young people “need a four-year college degree in order to be successful.”

“It’s become so expensive, it’s sort of priced itself out,” said Tammy Hasson, a retired home-health aide.

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.”