Complete College America thinks 2014 will be a “tipping point” for the completion agenda. Twenty-six states are implementing performance funding; 22 states (and the District of Columbia) are trying to accelerate remedial education. In addition, 15 states are deploying “15 to Finish” campaigns and 11 are developing plans for either structured schedules or Guided Pathways to Success.
The Game Changers report identifies “the five best college completion strategies.”
At the White House summit on expanding college opportunity, 23 Alliance of States members committed to ensuring more remedial education students succeed in gateway math and English courses, writes Bruce Vandal. These “are STATE commitments that have the potential to impact hundreds of thousands of students enrolled at all of the participating states’ public institutions.”
In 2009, President Obama pledged the U.S. would lead the world in college graduates. Much has been learned since then, writes Vandal.
We did not understand that only a fraction of the 50% of all college students who are placed into remedial education each year make it to a college level gateway course, much less pass that course and proceed to a postsecondary credential. Second, in 2009, states and institutions had little idea how to increase success rates in gateway college courses . . .
In 2014, research has shown “corequisite” remediation — placing most students in gateway courses with academic support — can increase success rates dramatically, writes Vandal.
Students discussed how taking a structured set of courses helped them move to a degree at Complete College America’s 2013 Annual Convening. The Game Changers highlights success strategies, including providing a structured program of study.
How Full-Time are “Full-Time” Students? asks a Complete College America a policy brief. Not very. Students who take 12 units a term are considered full-time — they’re eligible for full federal aid — but 15 credits are needed to stay on track for graduation.
Four percent of students seeking two-year degrees graduate in two years the report points out. For students seeking four-year degrees, the on-time graduation rate is 19 percent.
Only 29 percent of community college students and 50 percent of four-year students are taking 15 or more credits per semester. That means many students — even those who think they’re full-timers — will need an extra year or two to complete a degree, even if they choose all the right classes and pass every one.
The University of Hawaii’s 15 to Finish campaign, which raises awareness about the advantages of truly full-time enrollment, has raised the number of truly full-time students. Retention rates are up 22 percent.
Complete College America also is advocating for “banded” tuition. That would ensure that taking 15 credits per semester costs no more than 12.
In addition, states should cap credits needed for degrees at 60 for an associate degree and 120 for a bachelor’s, the group suggests.
Sixteen states now link higher education funding to student outcomes, such as graduation rates. That will rise to 25 states soon, reports Complete College America and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS).
“It’s sweeping across the country,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Less than 1 percent of state support in Illinois comes with performance strings, while virtually all of Tennessee’s support does. But the report said even those on the low end are headed toward 25 percent performance-based.
Tennessee scored the highest in the report. The state uses 15 of 16 recommended strategies to improve outcomes while rewarding colleges for serving low-income and adult students.
Most states consider student characteristics when designing performance measures, the report said.
“One of the major concerns voiced about outcomes-based funding, especially when the goal is to produce more graduates,” the report said, “is that institutions will seek to enroll only those students most likely to succeed and ignore students who are at risk academically, economically or otherwise.”
Gary Rhoades said the NCHEMS report confirms worries that the completion agenda is incomplete and even counterproductive. Rhoades, a professor of higher education at the University of Arizona, also directs a virtual think tank, the Center for the Future of Higher Education.
He said the report places “thoughput” – the production of graduates and degrees – over academic quality.
“The concern about quality is real and should be addressed head-on,” the report concedes. Missouri and Tennessee have included measures of student learning in funding formulas. Nevada and other states are working on ways to track learning.
An online tool helps students track their progress to a degree and view educational options at Mt. San Antonio College, reports the Campaign for College Opportunity. The Mountie Academic Plan (MAP), which launched in February, helps compensate for limited counseling staff at the large southern California community college.
Students and counselors create an education plan. MAP tracks students’ progress toward their goal. Students also can look at “what-if” scenarios: What if I tried a different certificate or degree program? They can view their progress toward a variety of transfer options.
MAP offers many advantages, according to the Campaign.
The online tracking system increases counselor effectiveness during the 30-minute sessions. Counselors spend time conducting more in-depth counseling and guidance instead of determining course history and requirements . . .
. . . Prior to the launch of MAP, educational plans were completed by hand and a photocopy was kept in the student file with the original given to the student. Paper copies were often lost or destroyed and there was no easy way to update this critical document. The new online tool allows students or counselors access to the document 24/7. Furthermore, counselors can easily view educational plans that were developed with previous counselors.
The community college is using MAP data to plan future course offerings. Preventing bottlenecks should enable students to move quickly to a certificate or degree.
Students with education plans will qualify for priority enrollment, under new California regulations. That should help them register for essential courses, saving time and money.
“Proactive” college advisors should guide students to a program of study or “pathway” to boost success rates, says Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers. Currently, less than a third of the state’s college students graduate on time.
“Indiana students often experience college as a maze rather than as path to success, and many finish with debt and no degree,” said Lubbers. “With clear degree maps, proactive advising and related strategies, we can empower students to make better decisions, save time and money, and increase their likelihood of earning a degree.”
With “clearer direction, simplified choices and more structured support” students will move more quickly — and cheaply — to graduation, Lubbers argues.
A new state study, Guided Pathways to Success, recommends:
• Supplementing college advising with structured degree maps that simplify the course-selection process and provide students with a clear path to graduate on time
• Encouraging students to complete 15 credits each semester; or 30 credits per academic year
• Instituting proactive advising practices that intervene when students fail to complete key milestone courses, take courses on their degree map, or make satisfactory academic progress
• Expanding block scheduling options that offer greater consistency and predictability, making it easier for working students to balance their schooling with work and family obligations
Complete College America advocates guided pathways to speed students to a degree. Students make the “big choice” of a major or program. After that, “all the other choices of necessary credits and course sequences are laid out for them.”
The average bachelor’s degree graduate earned more than 136 credits; 120 is usually enough. Associate degrees require 60 credits, but the average graduate has earned nearly 80. “Worse, certificate earners graduated with more than double the ordinary number of credits expected: More than 63 credits were achieved instead of the 30 normally needed for programs designed to be accomplished in one year.”
Excess credits are estimated to cost more than $19 billion each year.
Every year states hand out $11 billion in college aid — usually without tracking whether students earn a degree. That’s changing, according to the Hechinger Report. Some states are linking student aid to progress toward a degree.
In Indiana, 40 percent of aid recipients complete a four-year degree in six years. Next year, aid recipients will be required to complete 24 credits a year to get aid for the next year. Those who complete 30 credits or more will get an additional $600 a year in aid at public colleges and universities and $1,100 more at private ones.
In most states, state aid runs out after four years of study, but many students don’t look ahead. And when the aid stops, they go into debt for a fifth (or sixth) year — or drop out.
Nationally, less than 58 percent of students at four-year universities and colleges graduate within six years, aaccording to Complete College America. Only 14.3 percent of degree-seeking students at two-year colleges earn an associate degree within three years.
Paradoxically, many state financial-aid programs pay for a maximum of 24 credit hours annually – 12 per semester – which isn’t enough for a student to reach the 120 credits typically needed to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. Thirty percent of full-time students at four-year universities and 72 percent at community colleges take even fewer than that and quickly fall behind, Complete College America reports.
In West Virginia, 70 percent of financial aid recipients who are required to take 30 credits a year earn a degree in six years, compared to 48 percent of all the state’s four-year college students. Similar pilot programs are showing signs of success in Louisiana, Ohio and New Mexico.
There have been similar proposals to tie federal financial aid to graduation rates by forgiving federal student loans for low-income students who graduate within four years, rewarding students with larger grant amounts for taking at least 30 credits per year and requiring students who drop out to pay back the government for any grant money they received.
Critics warn struggling students might fail if forced to take more credits.
The Gates Foundation has spent $472 million on higher education since 2006, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education special report. Some $343-million was spent after January 2008, when the foundation announced it would focus on helping low-income young people complete college credentials. The Lumina Foundation, the largest private foundation devoted solely to higher education, “spent a little more than half that amount over the same period” on a similar completion agenda.
Gates’s rise occurs as an unusual consensus has formed among the Obama White House, other private foundations, state lawmakers, and a range of policy advocates, all of whom have coalesced around the goal of graduating more students, more quickly, and at a lower cost, with little discussion of the alternatives. Gates hasn’t just jumped on the bandwagon; it has worked to build that bandwagon . . .
Gates-funded research has spurred state lawmakers to limit remediation and link higher ed funding to graduation rates and other success measures, reports the Chronicle.
“Working alongside the Lumina Foundation through intermediaries like Complete College America and another nonprofit, Jobs for the Future, the Gates Foundation has helped influence higher-education policy at the state level to a degree that may be unprecedented for a private foundation.”
Complete College America has persuaded 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, to join an alliance dedicated to improving college completion rates.
Critics say Gates and its allies push too hard for completion at the expense of educational quality.
“You create this whole hyped-up, get-it-done-fast mentality,” says Debra Humphreys, vice president for policy and public engagement for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Remediation reforms, such as pushing students quickly into credit-bearing courses, are creating pushback.
Lydia Jandreau, a 44-year-old massage therapist, needed two semesters of remedial math to prepare for a nursing program at Gateway Community College, in Connecticut. Starting next year, Gateway will be allowed to offer only a single semester.
With one semester, “I could have muddled by with a C and gotten the basic concepts,” Ms. Jandreau says. “But the way I look at it, I’m building my academic house, and I want it to have a solid foundation.”
A Connecticut legislator sponsored the law limiting remedial courses after attending a Complete College America “remediation institute,” notes the Chronicle.
Only a quarter of community college students who start in remedial courses earn a certificate or associate degree within eight years, says Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.
Saverio Perugini, a professor and academic coordinator of the math department at Gateway, says Connecticut’s new law will “put the kibosh” on his department’s own efforts to streamline remediation.
While he understands the frustration in seeing so few students who start out in remedial education succeed, limiting them to a single semester of remediation isn’t likely to work for students who are too far behind, he worries. “How do you add polynomials if you can’t add basic numbers?” he asks. “It’s like taking a Little Leaguer and putting him straight into the majors.”
Many remediation experts agree. Patti Levine-Brown, president of the National Association for Developmental Education, says the push to eliminate most free-standing developmental-education courses ignores academic research showing that poor and minority students will be disproportionately hurt if they’re placed in college courses before they’re ready.
Influenced by Complete College’s research, Tennessee now allows remedial coursework in community colleges, but not state universities. Florida lets students decide if they’ll take remedial courses.
Complete College America also encourages states to link a portion of state higher education funding to colleges’ graduation rates.
Credit creep is making it harder for community college students to complete an associate degree, according to a Complete College America survey. In theory, college students need 60 credits for an associate degree and 120 for a bachelor’s degree, but none of 104 associate degree tracks surveyed had a median requirement of 60 credits or less.
Many associate degrees now require 70 credits or more, notes Inside Higher Ed.
Nate Johnson, a higher education data expert who managed the survey, said he was surprised that half of the community colleges surveyed did not have a single program limited to 60 credits, including general education degrees and those aimed at students who transfer to four-year institutions.
. . . The likely reason for the credit inflation, he said, is a common one in higher education. “People tend to add things without taking anything away.”
Students who change majors often need to take extra courses. Some take more courses to earn credits that will transfer after realizing earlier credits aren’t useful. On average, students who earn an associate degree have racked up 80 credits, according to Complete College America. Many give up before they complete a degree.
Some states — Maryland, Indiana and South Dakota — are setting credit limits for associate degrees. California Gov. Jerry Brown wanted to limit community college students to 90 credits at the low in-state rate, but the Legislature rejected the idea.
Pell Grants should go only to college-ready students, proposes Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation on Bloomberg View.
“A huge proportion” of the $40 billion annual federal investment in college aid is going to unprepared students, he asserts.
About two-thirds of low-income community-college students — and one-third of poor students at four-year colleges — need remedial (aka “developmental”) education, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit group. But it’s not working: Less than 10 percent of students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years, and just 35 percent of remedial students earn a four-year degree within six years.
Currently, Pell recipients in a “program of study” — they say they’re seeking a credential — can take remedial courses for one year before losing benefits. Petrilli suggests cutting off Pell aid for remedial students.
Ambitious, low-income high-school students would know that if they want to attend college at public expense (probably their only option), they would first need to become “college-ready.” This would provide a clear sign and incentives for them to work hard, take college-prep classes and raise their reading and math skills to the appropriate level.
Many low-income students wouldn’t go to college without Pell support for remedial courses, Petrilli concedes. That “cuts against the American tradition of open access, as well as second and third chances.”
But it’s not clear unprepared students benefit by enrolling in college remedial courses, he writes. Most drop out long before they complete a degree or certificate. (Most drop out before they take a single college-level class.) “Many would be more successful in job-training programs that don’t require college-level work (or would be better off simply gaining skills on the job).”
Eliminating remedial Pell would free up money to boost the maximum grant for needy, college-ready students.
Colleges could respond by giving credit for courses that used to be considered “remedial,” Petrilli writes.
Indeed they could. Placing poorly prepared students in credit-bearing courses, with extra help to learn basic skills, already is a trend due to the high failure rates in traditional remedial ed.
Remedial education costs millions of dollars a year with very poor results, said Stan Jones of Complete College America at the Education Writers Association conference last week at Stanford. “We pride ourselves on access, but access to what? Most never access a true college course.”
Of half a million new community college students in remedial education every year, “maybe 20 percent” will move on to college-level courses, said Carnegie’s Alicia Grunow. “We’re killing the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of students every year.”