Core-aligned exams will qualify grads for college courses

Washington state’s new Common Core tests will be used to decide whether students can start in college-level classes at community colleges and state universities, reports the Seattle Times.

Students who score at the top two levels –considered “college ready” — won’t need to take placement exams.

Students who just miss qualifying on the “Smarter Balanced” math test can qualify for college-level math by earning a B or higher in a pilot course called “Bridge to College Mathematics.”

ATD names ‘leader colleges’

Achieving the Dream has named a new group of “leader colleges” that are improving student success and closing achievement gaps, reports Community College Daily.

  • Amarillo College (Texas)
  • East Los Angeles College (California)
  • Eastern Maine Community College
  • Everett Community College (Washington)
  • Jackson College (Michigan)
  • Jefferson Community and Technical College (Kentucky)
  • Lane Community College (Oregon)
  • Los Angeles Harbor College (California)
  • Lower Columbia College (Washington)
  • Northeast Wisconsin Technical College
  • Oklahoma City Community College
  • Passaic County Community College (New Jersey)
  • Pierce College (California)
  • Pierce College (Wyoming)
  • Richland College (Texas)
  • Rose State College (Oklahoma)

Achieving the Dream colleges work to improve college readiness programs, orientation, student-success courses and remediation.

California: CCs plan huge growth

California community colleges will try to increase degree completion and transfers by nearly a quarter of a million students over the next decade, reports the Sacramento Bee.

“This is probably the most ambitious goal-setting effort ever undertaken by our system,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said.

Currently, 48.1 percent of students complete a degree or transfer; the completion rate for vocational certificates is 53.9 percent. The new targets call for raising the completion rate for degree programs and transfers to 62.8 percent and for career technical education certificates to 70.3 percent.

California’s entrepreneurial economy requires a skilled workforce, writes Chancellor Brice Harris in the Los Angeles Daily News.

The new goals aim to increase the number of students who successfully complete remedial instruction, which unfortunately 75 percent of our students need when they arrive at our campuses. And we’ve set targets to increase the number of students who prepare educational plans at the beginning of their academic careers as well as the number of students who earn degrees under the Associate Degree for Transfer program, which has improved transfer with California State University.

The system’s “Student Success Initiative” calls for “giving priority registration status to students who participate in orientation, assessment and education planning; redesigning our student support services to help them stay on track academically; making it easier for students to transfer to CSUs; and collaborating with K-12 institutions to ensure that students come here ready to take college-level math and English courses,” writes Harris.

Community colleges should be free


Following Tennessee’s lead, several states are considering free tuition for community and technical college students.

Community Colleges Should Be Free, editorializes Scientific American. Community colleges train technicians for jobs in leading-edge industries and serve as gateways to higher education for first-generation, minority and working-class students.

The Tennessee Promise is showing the way. Starting next year, high school graduate will pay no tuition at two-year community colleges and technical schools.

However, many community college entrants have weak basic skills. Only 32 percent of Tennessee students complete a credential. Gov. Bill Haslam’s program includes “mentors” to help students succeed.

 To ensure that the newly enrolled reach graduation day, administrators of community colleges must emphasize accelerated remedial programs to get students through the basics and into career-related classes quickly enough to avoid the frustration and despondency that lead to elevated dropout rates.

The two-year colleges should also give serious consideration to new teaching methods that could maximize the time teachers have to interact with their students. Bill Gates, whose foundation has contributed tens of millions to remedy the failings of two-year schools, recommended in a speech last year that community colleges experiment with “flipped classrooms.” Students watch lectures from MOOCs (massive open online courses) at home. In class, instead of getting lectures, they complete homework-like exercises, with personalized instruction from professors and teaching assistants.

Oregon plans a Promise bill.  Mississippi legislators rejected the idea, but may come back to it next year. Now a Texas politician has proposed making community and technical college free to high school graduates in her state.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, wants the state to invest $2 billion in a Texas Promise Fund modeled after the Tennessee plan. “It is time to get Texans prepared for the jobs of the future,” said Van de Putte. Students would have to exhaust their federal grant aid and pay for their non-academic fees, books and living expenses.

In Michigan, the Kalamazoo Promise — funded by local philanthropists – guarantees college or university tuition to graduates of district-run public schools. Grades and AP enrollments are up and suspensions are way down, reports Politico. But, nine years after the Promise was announced, college dropout rates remain high for Kalamazoo students.

Brian Lindhal, a 2012 graduate of Loy Norrix High School, had a rocky start at Kalamazoo Valley Community College last fall. After earning a B in English and a D in history his first semester, he didn’t sign up for the winter term. “It didn’t click,” says Lindhal, 20, who works full-time at a company that restores garments after fires and floods. He plans to go back next semester. “I know a lot of people in other places would kill to have what I have,” he says sheepishly.

Rochester, New York also has a Promise program, writes Michael Holzman on Dropout Nation. Very few blacks — and even fewer black males — read proficiently in ninth grade and go on to earn a diploma at Rochester’s high schools. Only nine percent of blacks earned a degree in six years at Monroe Community College. The completion rate was five percent for black males.

White House plans new college summit

The White House will host a second College Opportunity Summit on Dec 4.  The meeting will focus on encouraging first-generation, low-income and minority students to enroll in college, persist and earn degrees.

Community colleges, which received little attention in the first summit in January, have been the focus of attention by the Obama administration.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Munoz hosted a discussion last week with community college and nonprofit leaders on effective ways to help poorly prepared college students.

Fourteen community colleges made commitments to improve remedial education. For example, Macomb Community College will mandate a college skills course for all remedial students, reports Inside Higher Ed.

In July, the White House and the Harvard Graduate School of Education convened K-12 and higher education leaders to explore strategies to improve the effectiveness of college advising and support school counselors.  Another working session focused on college readiness and enrollment.

Education Department funding will support a new Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR) led by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia and the social policy research organization MDRC. The center will focus on college readiness research.

In addition, Khan Academy will work on technology-based solutions to improve student success in developmental math.

Teaching grade 12½


Instructor Fabiola Aurelien (left) helps Atlanta Metropolitan College student Shaundraey Carmichael.

The first year of college has become grade 12½ writes Rick Diguette in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Once he taught college English at the local community college. He’s still teaching composition, but it’s no longer “college” English.

Every semester many students in my freshman English classes submit work that is inadequate in almost every respect.  Their sentences are thickets of misplaced modifiers, vague pronoun references, conflicting tenses, and subjects and verbs that don’t agree―when they remember, that is, that sentences need subjects.  If that were not bad enough, the only mark of punctuation they seem capable of using with any consistency is the period.

I often remind them that even the keenest of insights will never receive due credit if it isn’t expressed in accordance with the rules of grammar and usage.  Spelling words correctly, as well as distinguishing words that sound the same but are not, is also a big plus.  “Weather” and “whether” are not interchangeable, for example, but even after I point this out some students continue to make the mistake.  And while I’m on the subject, the same goes for “whether” and “rather.”

A state law called Complete College Georgia now links college funding to student performance, writes Diguette. Georgia Perimeter College faculty have developed testable “Core Concepts” students are expected to master in freshman English.

Early in the semester we must first assess their ability to identify a complete sentence ― that is, one with a subject and a verb.  After that, somewhere around week five, we find out if they can identify a topic sentence ― the thing that controls the content of a paragraph. Then it’s on to using supporting details by week eight and creating thesis statements by week eleven.

It’s a low bar, he admits.

Is this grade 12 1/2? These were elementary and middle-school skills when I was in school, admittedly in the Neanderthal era. I remember learning “weather” and “whether” in fourth grade. I guess we didn’t learn to create thesis statements supported by details until ninth grade.

Bridging the gap between high school and college

Early college programs are bridging the gap between high school and college, reports Community College Daily.

it’s important for community college leaders to work with high school faculty on their turf, said Mary Aycock, former director of Early College Health Science Academy at Butler Community College  (BCC) in Kansas. She spoke at an American Association of Community Colleges convention.

Students enter BCC’s Early College program in their sophomore year of high school. They attend classes once a month that introduce them to higher education and career possibilities in their chosen field of study. They are also introduced to current BCC students who speak with them about their experiences. High school juniors and seniors join a cohort that spends a half day taking 13 to 15 semester hours of classes at the college and a half day taking regular courses at their high schools. The host school district provides Early College students with textbooks for BCC courses free of charge.

“We’ve tried to keep the costs down as much as possible because high school students don’t qualify for regular college financial aid,” Aycock says.

Offering a glimpse of college life motivates students, said Annette Cederholm, associate dean of planning and research at Snead State Community College in Alabama. Twice a year, Snead hosts College Days: High school students are invited to tour the campus and meet with faculty, administrators and students. Snead staffers also participate in a youth leadership program sponsored by local businesses.

High hopes, long odds

Ninety-five percent of low-income students who take the ACT want to go to college, reports The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: Students from Low-Income Families. That’s higher than the rate for all students who take the ACT. 

However, low-income students (defined as a family income under $36,000) are less likely to take a strong college-prep curriculum in high school. Only 20 percent meet at least three of the four college readiness benchmarks set by ACT.  Only 59 percent of low-income students who take the ACT go directly from high school to college. That compares to 71 percent of all ACT test-takers.

Colleges are using “predictive analytics” to advise high-risk students, writes Libby Nelson on Vox. The goal is to raise “dismal graduation rates.”

Is flunking a course the sign of a bad semester, or the harbinger of much worse to come? Is a student with a 2.3 GPA going to be fine — “C’s get degrees,” after all — or a future dropout in the making?

But what if the numbers show some students have little chance of success?

Studies show teachers expend more time and attention with students they know will succeed; will professors neglect students data shows are likely to fail? States are under pressure to improve their graduation rates; if they can identify the students least likely to graduate, will it be too tempting to shut them out rather than admit them and help them through?

. . .  The American ethos of college-going rests on “if you can dream it, you can become it.” But when we can pinpoint the students least likely to succeed, what will happen to them?

Many students rely on “magical thinking,” writes Nelson. “From kindergarten through high school graduation, students are steeped in a can-do spirit. Believe in yourself. Reach for the stars. Never give up.”

Students will say an F on a midterm “isn’t a real F,” says Linda McMillin, a provost at Susquehanna University. Professors can use data to persuade them to get real.

“Ninety-eight percent of people who got this grade in this class were not able to change it. Tell me how you’re the exception. Let’s get real here, and let’s think about how we move you into another major that really aligns with your strengths and with your passions and gets you through in four years.”

“This is not a tool to highlight to students that they’re in trouble or can’t make it, says John Nicklow, provost at Southern Illinois University. “It’s an awareness tool to make them aware that now’s the time to buckle down.”

Perhaps middle-school and high school counselors should be armed with predictive analytics. The time to get real and buckle down occurs much earlier.

An open door to debt?

Community colleges provide an open door — to failure and debt, argues Community Colleges and the Access Effect  by Juliet Lilledahl Scherer and Mirra Leigh Anson.  Scherer, an English professor at St. Louis Community College, specializes in developmental education. Anson, a former remedial writing instructor, runs the University of Iowa’s Upward Bound Project.

Poorly prepared students have little chance of success, write Scherer and Anson. Raising admissions requirements would strengthen academic classes for prepared students and protect the unprepared from debt.

Open-door admissions can perpetuate inequity, the authors tell Inside Higher Ed‘s Paul Fain in an e-mail interview. One mentors a a brain-damaged young man who was shot in the head when he was 16. He enrolled in community college, failed all his courses and went into debt that made him ineligible for a job training program. He works part-time for $7.35 an hour.

As students’ skills and ability levels declined, community colleges designed lengthy remedial sequences, Scherer and Anson write. Some “credit-bearing coursework . . .  is equal to standard kindergarten fare.”

The national college completion agenda movement is threatening academic standards, they charge. Advocates also blame remedial courses for high failure rates, ignoring “the monumental impact of academic preparation, aptitude and student motivation on completion.”

The rise of performance-based funding puts more pressure on community colleges to lower standards in order to raise completion rates, they add. That will make community college graduates unemployable in a competitive workforce.

“Reasonable entrance standards, coupled with a more compassionate approach to advising and enrolling community college students” will help students succeed, they argue.

 Some current degree-seeking students would thrive more — completion-wise and financially — in apprenticeships and job-training programs than they would in traditional two- or four-year degree programs.

Some are in desperate need of short-term training programs to financially stabilize them so that one day they might return and succeed in a more traditional degree program. Instead of repeatedly enrolling in and failing developmental education coursework aimed at eventually qualifying students for college-level coursework, many persons with intellectual disabilities, for example, are truly in need of affordable postsecondary programs to assist them in developing a career plan and independent living skills, including learning to manage their money and their personal safety and health, for example.

A few community colleges now require students to test at the seventh-grade level or above.

Community colleges are about second chances, responds Matt Reed. We don’t know who will take advantage of the opportunity before they try. And the alternatives for students who are turned away are very bleak.

QuickStart helps adults ‘hit the ground running’

Starting college can be difficult for adult students, who often have rusty academic skills. Zane State College (ZSC) in Ohio has developed a pre-enrollment program that offers “cultural and social supports, computer literacy and academic skills-building,” reports Community College Daily.

QuickStart, which is free to students, is helping students avoid remedial courses. Of the 56 percent who complete the program, 60 percent are able to start in college-level reading and 40 percent in college-level composition.

Three other Ohio community colleges have adopted QuickStart.

QuickStart participants can earn three credits by mastering basic math and writing skills. They’re ready to “hit the ground running” when they officially enroll at ZSC, said Becky Ament, dean of developmental education.  “It lowers the stakes for adult learners, easing concerns about failure,” she said.

Originally designed in an online format, QuickStart was adapted when students said they preferred face-to-face interaction, said Ament. “When you’re trying to build someone’s confidence, that encouragement and praise and mentoring is so important.”