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Community college isn’t second class

Community college is not a second-class education, writes Isa Adney. It’s a “first-class opportunity.”

Just because community colleges don’t require a particular SAT or ACT score for admission does not mean that it’s easy to earn a degree, she writes. “Community college is hard.”

It’s a great way to save. It’s a great way to start. It’s a great way to learn.

But it’s also a lot of work. Sometimes even more so because the temptation to just go to class and go home is so huge. Students who are successful in community college do more than just go to class and go home. They branch out. They join (and lead) clubs. They visit professors during their office hours. They hound the career center. They spend time in the tutoring center. They do their homework and research in the college library. They stay on campus.

. . . College requires all of you. Your time management skills, your growth, your open-mindedness, your strength, your resilience, your learning, your time, and your greatest effort.

Community college students “must figure out why they’re there, writes Adney. Why is it worth the time, effort and sacrifice required?

Community colleges let you make mistakes without having to spend thousands of dollars per semester,” writes Nicholas Bostick, editor of the Brookhaven Courier. “You can take the time to explore different classes and majors before you take the plunge and head to a four-year university.”

Starbucks offers workers a free online degree

Starbucks workers will be able to study for a free online bachelor’s degree via Arizona State University, reports the New York Times. Employees anywhere in the U.S. are eligible if they work at least 20 hours a week.

Starbucks will pay ASU Online’s full tuition for a barista with at least two years of college credit. Those in their first two years of college will get a partial scholarship and need-based financial aid for two years of full-time study. Employees will not be obliged to stay with the company after completing a degree.

“Starbucks is going where no other major corporation has gone,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive of the Lumina Foundation. “For many of these Starbucks employees, an online university education is the only reasonable way they’re going to get a bachelor’s degree.

Arizona State’s online program is one of the largest in the U.S. with 11,000 students and 40 undergraduate majors. Tuition typically costs $500 per credit with 120 credits needed for a bachelor’s degree.

Seventy percent of Starbucks employees do not have a degree but want to earn one, the company reports. (The other 30 percent earned degrees in film studies . . . No, that’s unkind.)

“My dad lost his job during the recession, in my first year of college, and my parents were really struggling for money,” said Tammie R. Lopez, 22, who would also be the first in her family to finish college. “They were on the verge of losing their home, so I stopped going to school so I could get a second job and help them.”

Ms. Lopez, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, got a full-time job at Starbucks and goes to a community college at night. “I could never see myself finishing school because it’s taken me so long to get where I am,” Ms. Lopez said. She is studying to be a sign language interpreter, but is also weighing other possibilities, such as a business degree.

What Starbucks has planned, she said, completely changed her outlook. “I could be done with school in a couple of years — I can see it, that financial burden would be lifted,” she said.

Michael Bojorquez Echevarria, 23, another barista in the San Fernando Valley, is working toward an associate degree in sociology while working 60 hours a week at two Starbucks locations.

“My ultimate vision, what I’m striving for, is to work with children who have gone through physical or emotional abuse,” he said. “Imagine just waking up one day and knowing that your whole degree would be paid for, and the only thing you have to do is enroll and study and be a good student,” he said. “It would change my lifestyle, the whole dynamic of what I do every day.”

Limiting tuition aid to a single online university is “incredibly problematic,”  said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a University of Wisconsin professor. While Arizona State is a public university, “ASU Online is a profit venture,” she said.

In addition to limiting student choices, online-only courses don’t work well for low-income students, said Goldrick-Rab, citing recent studies.

‘Inferiority myth’ plagues community colleges

Community colleges are fighting an inferiority myth, writes Kerry Hart, president of Morgan Community College in Colorado. “A community college education is as good — or even superior to what universities offer during the first two years,” he argues in the Fort Morgan Times.

Community colleges have smaller class sizes and give students more individual attention. In addition, the academic courses taught at the freshman and sophomore levels are identical to those taught at the university (and that’s why in Colorado we have a common course numbering system with guaranteed transfer from any Colorado community college to any Colorado public four-year institution and virtually all of the private universities as well).

. . . Unlike universities, community colleges do not use teaching assistants. . . . many university faculty are hired to do research as their primary job responsibility, and community college faculty are committed to helping students become successful.

In addition, students are comparable at community colleges and universities, writes Hart. “One can find academically well-prepared, bright, capable, gifted and economically advantaged students in both settings.”

A small but growing number of community colleges are dropping the word “community,” reports USA Today. The Seattle Colleges and Henry Ford College in Michigan are the latest to make the change. Most Florida community colleges are now “state colleges.”

One motivation is “a desire to increase enrollments and to upgrade the traditional image of community colleges as a place where students go if they can’t get admitted anywhere else.”

In surveys for Seattle Colleges, for example, high school principals said students “were sometimes put off by the name ‘community college’ and would come if it was called a college,” says spokeswoman Susan Kostick.

Michigan’s Jackson College hopes the name change will help it recruit international students.

Community colleges “are constantly having to defend themselves to people who have no idea what those colleges do or how they do it, and who often evaluate their worth using criteria designed to assess four-year campuses,” writes Rob Jenkins, who teaches at Georgia Perimeter College.

Do we over-invest in non-traditional students?

Do We Over-Invest in Non-Traditional Students? asks Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, on Minding the Campus. Older and part-time students are the “new majority” on college campuses, but their completion rates are low, reports the National Student Clearinghouse.

Two-thirds of full-time traditional-age students who started in 2007 — but only half of those 25 and older — earned a degree by 2013. Overall, 86 percent of full-time four-year students graduate within six years compared to 20 percent of part-time students. More than two-thirds of part-time students entering in 2007 not only had no degree by 2013, but were not in school.

. . . perhaps we should reduce subsidies for part-time or older students. Younger students have more than a 40-year work lifetime expectancy after graduation; older students often have 20 years or less. The economic and noneconomic benefits of a degree are far smaller for older students because they enjoy them for fewer years —and there is a far greater risk they won’t graduate. Encouraging older students to attend school part-time strikes me as questionable, something pushed by colleges facing enrollment shortfalls desperate for more bodies in the classroom.

At community colleges, the low costs are “considerably offset” by the greater non-completion risk, Vedder writes. Starting at a community college and transferring “works for many and saves lots of money.” But the reality is that many community college students never graduate.

Report: CCs pay off for economy, students

Community colleges are a boon to the economy and to their students, according to Where Value Meets Values, a report by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

In 2012 alone, the net total impact of community colleges on the U.S. economy was $809 billion in added income, equal to 5.4 percent of GDP. Over time, the U.S. economy will see even greater economic benefits, including $285.7 billion dollars in increased tax revenue as students earn higher wages and $19.2 billion in taxpayer savings as students require fewer safety net services, experience better health, and lower rates of crime.

Students also see a significant economic benefit. For every one dollar a student spends on his or her community college education, he or she sees an ROI of $3.80.

Associate-degree holders average $41,900 per year in mid-career, about $10,700 more than someone with just a high-school diploma, the report estimated.

Community colleges deliver a negative return on investment to taxpayers — though a positive return to students –because of the high dropout rate, an October report found. The earlier report focused more narrowly on tuition costs and post-graduation salaries, observes the Chronicle of Higher Education.

An author of that report, Mark S. Schneider, a vice president of the American Institutes for Research and president of College Measures, thinks the AACC report exaggerates the societal benefits. The AACC researchers “didn’t acknowledge that students who attend college are already less likely to pose risks or added costs to society,” he told the Chronicle. “It assumes that if you didn’t graduate from a community college, you’re going to be a fat, smoking criminal, which is just not true.”

Overweight and obese girls earn lower grades and are less likely to go to college, concludes a new study. That’s the primary reason educated adults are slimmer and healthier, the researchers concluded. It’s not that “higher education confers lifelong social, economic, and psychological benefits that help adults” make healtheir choices.

Completion rates are higher for ‘dual’ students

Sixty-six percent of dual enrollment students who started college in 2007 completed a credential in six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse’s new report.  That compares to a 54 percent completion rate for those who didn’t take any college-level courses in high school. However, because dual enrollment may draw more motivated students, it’s not clear the program raises graduation rates.

Dual enrollment is expanding rapidly: 47 states and the District of Columbia let high school students take college courses,reports Education Commission of the States.  The number of states making students and their families primarily responsible for the costs of dual enrollment is dropping, from 22 in 2008 to 11 in 2013.

For degree seekers who started college in 2007, six-year completion rates ranged from 40 percent for those who started at community colleges, 63 percent who started at public universities and 73 percent for students who started at four-year private nonprofit institutions.

While completion rates were low at four-year for-profit colleges, two-year for-profit colleges, which focus on job training, once again did better than community colleges. Sixty-two percent of two-year for-profit students completed a credential.

Figure B. Six-Year Outcomes by Starting Institution Type

Figure B. Six-Year Outcomes by Starting Institution Type

 Seventeen percent of community college starters completed a four-year degree, the study found. A majority had not first received an associate degree.

Overall, one in four completers had moved to another college or university.

Completion rates were higher for women and for traditional-age students.

Dream the affordable dream

Cartoon by Liza Donnelly

Collegebound students must dream the affordable dream, writes Michael Alcorn in the Arvada (Colorado) News. A music and fitness instructor, he’s the father of three children, including a daughter in 12th grade who wants to study nursing.

Me, the “life coach” parent, wants her to dream as big as the sky and the stars. . . .

Me, the “teacher” parent, really believes in education and higher education and the value of learning for learning’s sake . . .

But me, the “financial advisor” parent, looks at the average of $26,000 student loan debt for graduates, looks at one in three college graduates living in their parents’ basements, looks at 45-percent dropout rates and 40-percent graduate underemployment . . . This part of me loves the idea of two years of community college to get the general ed. out of the way, transferring all those credits to the great, local private university with the great nursing program, and finding a way to get her into life without crippling debt.

Only 20 percent of jobs require bachelor’s degrees, according to the Department of Labor, writes Alcorn. About 30 percent of adults are college graduates. “One hundred percent of high school students in any suburban school are told . . . they’re a failure if they don’t go to college.”

The three parents in his head keep arguing, but the one who says “debt be damned!” probably isn’t going to win, he concludes.

Portlandia: Don’t go to community college

Portlandia parents tell their preschooler to fear growing up to attend community college. It’s humor.

Foreign students eye community colleges

Studying at a U.S. community college is an affordable option for foreign students, says Dr. Joel Ericson in a U.S. Embassy video.

International students at most U.S. colleges and universities are charged the “sticker price” to help pay for tuition discounts for U.S. students.