Completion plans face growing pains

Scaling up completion efforts is a challenge for community colleges, reports Community College Daily.

For example, Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) in Washington improved completion rates by drafting individualized education plans for students nearing a degree. Nearly all students in the pilot went on to graduate. But it proved hard to expand the program.

“We hand-looked through every transcript of the identified pilot students, all of whom had 60 credits toward an AA degree,” says Wendy Samitore, vice president of student services. “We had no other way to do it.”

Community colleges must shift their focus “from access to success,” says Mary Frances Archey, vice president of student success and completion at the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania. “It’s about ensuring the open door does not become a revolving door.”

At Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) in South Dakota, two-thirds of students complete a vocational credential. Focus is the key to completion, says Deb Shephard, LATI president.

Students are not allowed to simply wander into and around the system. There is no general education track. Every LATI student is accepted into a specific technical program — welding or building, for example — and the college develops a pathway, including which courses to take and in which order.

. . . Faculty double as advisers and are charged with catching students before they drop out. The college offers co-requisite remediation, in which students who are not quite at college level take one day of tutoring a week, along with required college-level classes.

Single-mission technical colleges often have much higher graduation rates than community colleges, which try to prepare students for bachelor’s degrees and for jobs.

Obama: ‘Take a job-driven approach’

Apprenticeships and employer-sponsored job training will prepare young people for middle-class jobs, President Obama said last week at a Pittsburgh community college. 

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited Community College of Allegheny County last week to announce $500 million for community college job-training programs and $100 million for apprenticeship grants. The money is the last installment of funding approved in 2009.

“In today’s economy it has never been more important to make sure that our folks are trained for the jobs that are there and the jobs of the future,” Obama said. “We have to move away from a train and pray approach. We train them and we pray that they get a job.” Instead, “we need to take a job-driven approach,” the president said.

The president and vice president toured CCAC and met with “mechatronics” students preparing for manufacturing jobs. Mechatronics “sounds like something Godzilla would be fighting,” Obama joked.

Community colleges will compete for the job training grants by partnering with industry associations and employers. “This competition will focus, in part, on partnerships that create programs in high-growth fields, such as information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing, as well as programs that provide college credit or industry-wide skills certification,” reports U.S. News.

Job training has been “ignored by policymakers,” except when it’s criticized for being ineffective, writes Fawn Johnson on National Journal.  Now the White House hopes to get employers help design community college training and expand their own on-the-job training programs.

CCs try to double the number of grads by 2020

Community college leaders are trying to double the number of graduates by 2020 to meet President Obama’s targets. It’s not easy, writes Stacy Collett in Community College Journal.

For administrators at Harper College in Illinois, 10,604 is the magic number—it’s the college’s share of the 5 million additional community college graduates President Obama challenged the nation’s two-year career and technical institutions to contribute to the economy by 2020. (That’s in addition to the college’s current trajectory of 21,000 credentialed students by 2020.)

Harper started by reaching out to students who were a few credits short of an associate degree. Some already had earned those credits at other institutions; others just needed a few classes. Now that the low-hanging fruit has been picked, raising the number of graduates will get harder.

“Many people working in community colleges still do not understand how abysmal our graduation rates or our student retention rates or course completion rates are,” says Angela Oriano, associate director at the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) at the University of Texas at Austin.

Completion rates are up 125 percent at Snead State Community College (SSCC) in Alabama since it started a campaign encouraging   students to “finish what you start.” The college redesigned orientation, eliminated unneeded requirements, such as speech and computer training, and even dropped a $15″cap and gown” fee.

When Cindy Miles became chancellor at California’s Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District (GCCCD) in 2009, a dismal 3 percent of the 4,000 freshmen who entered the college in 2006 had earned a degree, yet 1,900 had successfully transferred to a four-year university by 2009.

“High numbers of transfer students who come to us don’t care if they get that degree,” Miles explains. “We’re trying to ascertain what the student’s version of success is, and we’re now trying to show value in the associate degree before they transfer.”

Four-year graduation rates are much higher for students who transfer with an associate degree.

The Roadmap Project at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in Pennsylvania helps students plan their college career and understand all the support services available.  The first-year experience initiative includes mandatory orientation and success seminars, help from a success coach and access to walk-in “math cafés” staffed by faculty volunteers.

Colleges cut adjuncts’ hours to duck Obamacare

More colleges are limiting adjuncts’ work hours to avoid Obamacare’s insurance mandates, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Allison G. Armentrout, an adjunct instructor at Stark State College, an Ohio community college, earns $4,600 to teach two English composition courses. Though she’s not paid by the hour, she tracks her work hours to show she’s not working 30 hours a week.

On a recent week, she spent three hours preparing for her lectures, close to six hours in the classroom, and 16 more grading assignments for a grand total of about 25 hours. So she can breathe a sigh of relief because she won’t lose her job: She came in under the college’s new 29-hour-a-week wire designed to keep her ineligible for health-care coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Twice this semester, she’s undercounted her work hours to stay under the limit, says Armentrout.

Colleges in Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have told adjuncts to keep their hours down, reports the Chronicle.

The Community College of Allegheny County reduced the workload limit for its adjuncts from 12 to 10 credits per semester. affecting about 400 part-time employees. Providing health benefits would cost at least $6 million, which would be “simply unaffordable,” said David Hoovler, executive assistant to the president. However, the college gave all its part-time employees a small raise and is trying to form a group health plan to offer part-timers discounted insurance rates.

IRS: Adjunct work hours include prep time

Colleges must provide health benefits to adjuncts who work 30+ hours per week under Obamacare, which starts in 2014. Work hours include prep time, not just classroom teaching, the Internal Revenue Service advises.

. . . colleges must “use a reasonable method for crediting hours of service,” the IRS document says. In the case of an adjunct faculty member, the document adds, it would not be a reasonable method of calculating an instructor’s work hours for colleges to take into account “only classroom or instruction time and not other hours that are necessary to perform the employee’s duties, such as class-preparation time.”

Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national advocacy group for adjuncts,  told the Chronicle of Higher Education that “the IRS is on the right track.”

Youngstown State University, Stark State College (Ohio) and the Community College of Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) have cut adjuncts’ hours to keep them below the 30-hour-a-week threshold.

College cuts work hours to duck health costs

To avoid paying for health insurance, a Pittsburgh community college will cut the work hours of 400 adjunct instructors and support staff by Dec. 31, reports Breitbart. Under Obamacare, employers have to provide insurance for employees working 30 or more hours a week. Community College of Allegheny County will cut part-timers to 25 hours a week. Adjuncts will be limited to teaching 10 credit hours a semester, down from 12, for $730 per credit hour. In all, the college will save $6 million.

The college can’t afford to fund benefits, said CCAC spokesperson David Hoovler. “Several years of cuts or largely flat funding from our government supporters have led to significant cost reductions by CCAC, leaving little room to trim the college’s budget further.”

“It’s kind of a double whammy for us because we are facing a legal requirement [under the new law] to get health care and if the college is reducing our hours, we don’t have the money to pay for it,” said adjunct biology professor Adam Davis.

“We all know we are expendable and there are plenty of people out there in this economy who would be willing to have our jobs,” said Davis.

CCAC’s faculty union doesn’t include adjuncts, notes Inside Higher Ed.

Adjunct English professor Clint Benjamin, who has been teaching at the college for six years, pays out-of-pocket for catastrophic health care coverage only and had vague hopes of improved insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Not only is he now ineligible for such help, but the course load reduction will translate to up to $600 less in pay each month.

But Benjamin still will be working full-time. Between the college and nearby Duquesne University, he currently teaches seven courses per semester. He estimated he works up to 70 hours per week, but doesn’t qualify for health insurance at either institution.

“There’s frustration and anger and sadness and resentment, you know, but you don’t have a voice,” Benjamin said.

CCs boost local economy

Community College of Allegheny County claims the school generates nearly $10 in economic benefits for every dollar of funding, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

According to the college’s study, CCAC’s “direct and indirect expenditures had an impact of $147 million in the 2008–09 fiscal year, supporting more than 6,000 jobs in the county.”

The school said 83 percent of CCAC graduates find jobs in Allegheny County within 12 months of commencement. Another 12 percent land jobs in other parts of the state.

Late last year, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl called college students parasites who take money out of the city, notes Daniel Luzer on Washington Monthly’s College Guide. He threatened a tax on students. “Eventually the mayor reached a compromise with the city’s major universities; they contributed millions to the city to prevent Pittsburgh from leveling the tax.”

It sounds like CCAC is positioning itself as the college that helps Pittsburgh.