Colleges and universities awarded 5.1 percent more degrees in 2011-12, despite a 1.6 percent dip in enrollment, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Community colleges lost 250,000 students, but granted 8 percent more associate degrees. The number of bachelor’s degrees rose by 4.3 percent.
Many Pell Grant recipients aren’t prepared for college and never complete a degree, writes Jane Shaw of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Instead of denying Pell aid to remedial students, she proposes requiring evidence of readiness, such as SAT scores of at least 850 (verbal and math) and a high school GPA of at least 2.5 (between a C and a B).
“Not only would this save taxpayer money, it would provide a positive incentive for students to do better in school,” write researchers Jenna Ashley Robinson and Duke Cheston. “Students with very low high school academic performance are unlikely to graduate from college regardless of financial aid.”
According to the College Board, in order to have a 65 percent chance of getting a B- average in college, students should achieve about 1030 on the math and verbal SATs and earn a B average in high school (taking courses of at least “average” rigor). Using this benchmark, only 32 percent of students taking the SATs in 2009 were fully college-ready! On the other hand, to have a chance at a C average in college, they can get by with a 730 score on math and verbal, says the College Board.
But even getting a C average would be a struggle for these students, and the possibility of failure or dropping is out is all too likely.
Universities may already be designating remedial courses as college-level courses, even without the incentive of qualifying students for federal aid.
Pell Grant recipients don’t get a tuition break at many public and private universities, according to Stephen Burd, a senior policy analyst at the New America Foundation. Instead, universities compete for “the ’best and brightest’ students—and the wealthiest,” he writes in Undermining Pell: How Colleges Compete for Wealthy Students and Leave Low-Income Ones Behind.
Pell recipients are forced to take on more debt and work more hours, reducing their odds of completing a degree, Burd writes. Nearly two-thirds of private colleges and universities ask students from families making $30,000 or less to pay more than $15,000 a year for college.
Tracking students’ progress through the core curriculum can help community colleges improve success rates for students who hope to earn a bachelor’s degree, suggests a new Community College Research Center report.
About 70 percent of community colleges say they want to transfer to earn a four-year degree. Most never make it.
Researchers analyzed data from community colleges in two states with different transfer policies.
State A requires a 42-credit general education core curriculum. All core courses are transferable, but transfers aren’t guaranteed junior status, even if they’ve earned an associate degree. In State B, a 36-credit core is required and statewide articulation agreements guarantee junior standing for transfer students who’ve earned an associate degree.
Over five years, 29 percent of students at College B completed the 36-unit core; only 12 percent completed the 42-unit core at College A.
After five years, students who completed the core were much more likely to complete a degree compared to those who completed most of the requirements (30-41 credits at College A and 30-35 credits at College B).
For example, while only 8 percent of students who accumulated 30-41 credits at College A earned an award at their community college and/or at the four-year college to which they transferred, 54 percent of students who completed the core did so. The corresponding results for College B are 17 percent (for those who accumulated 30-35 credits) and 70 percent (for those who completed the core).
Encouraging near-completers to earn an associate degree before transferring would boost success rates, the study advises.
Students were most likely to meet social sciences requirements and struggled the most to earn math and science credits.
The completion gap between online and traditional courses is narrowing, reports a Instructional Technology Council survey on Trends in eLearning at community colleges. Nearly half of colleges surveyed said online students are as successful as students in face-to-face courses, reports Fred Lokken, dean of the WebCollege at Truckee Meadows Community College.
Distance education enrollments at community colleges continue to grow, with a move to “blended” or “hybrid” courses. However, the rate of growth has slowed, concludes the survey, which was released at the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges in San Francisco.
While community colleges are “exploring ways to use massive open online courses and open educational resources in their curriculums,” many distance education administrators remain “skeptical,” reports Scott Jaschik on Inside Higher Ed.
Both MOOCs and OERs have been promoted as ways to help cash-strapped community colleges educate more students, many of whom themselves are cash-strapped.
On MOOCs, the survey found that only 1 percent of community colleges are offering course credits or certificates for MOOC completion. While another 44 are “beginning to explore options” that might incorporate MOOC content into programs, 42 percent reported that they had no plans to do so.
“As would be expected with something so new, campuses are cautious in their approach. Many community colleges are skeptical that a large-enrollment solution is appropriate for campuses that believe in smaller, more personalized instruction,” says a report on the survey.
Only 36 percent believed open educational resources would have a “significant impact” at community colleges. Two-thirds of respondents said faculty members weren’t aware of OERs and lacked the time to locate and evaluate them. Many also worried about the credibility of some resources.
Improving community college completion rates is difficult and expensive, concludes a new study by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia.
Community colleges are under pressure to increase completion rates and efficiency, write Clive Belfield, Peter M. Crosta and Davis Jenkins. But “many students who fail to complete are far short of the program requirements.” Some strategies will provide more degrees for the dollar.
In the community college they studied, “there would be substantial gains in completion rates and efficiency from helping students transfer with an award and from helping students with 30+ credits to graduate.” However, persuading more students to persist is
“both an expensive and inefficient reform.”
It’s important to understand the whole college process, not just inputs and outputs, write Belfield and Jenkins in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.
Improving the quality of instruction in introductory courses won’t help if students can’t access high-demand majors, such as nursing. Pouring resources into one early intervention won’t help if other programs lose resources and decline in quality as a result. And increasing retention rates won’t improve efficiency if it leads students to drop out in their second year instead of their first. In fact, improved retention requires more upper-level courses (which tend to cost more) and makes colleges look less efficient if graduation rates remain unchanged.
If community colleges can find ways to improve students’ college readiness — perhaps by collaborating with feeder high schools — they’ll improve their efficiency significantly.
California community college students will continue to be able to take as many credits as they like at the state’s low rates, reports the Sacramento Bee. Gov. Jerry Brown had proposed limiting students to 90 units, then requiring them to pay more than four times the current $46-per-unit price. Budget committees in both houses of the Legislature said no.
The governor hopes to increase access to the crowded community college system and improve graduation rates by encouraging students to develop an academic plan and avoid lingering.
Lawmakers said capping units is not the way to increase access or success. Assembly Budget Chair Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills, called the unit cap proposal inappropriate and off target.
“The administration proposals simply stick it to students who have already had to contend with fewer classes and massive fee increases,” Blumenfield said. “They respond to symptoms of a much bigger problem. Even if the administration could offer evidence showing a budget savings associated with these proposals, they are bad policy choices to make today.”
Critics said unit caps would hurt double majors and laid-off workers who’ve earned a degree but need new skills.
Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said unit caps would create space for new students.
Students need 60 units to earn an associate degree. In the 2011-12 school year, nearly 95,000 students at community colleges had earned 90 or more degree-applicable units.
The board of governors voted last year to “give priority enrollment to students who have developed an educational plan, taken a diagnostic assessment and have earned fewer than 100 units,” notes the Bee. “That’s a much more nuanced way of addressing it than a straight 90 unit cap,” said Theresa Tena, vice president of Community College League of California.
A 19-year-old living with parents and seeking a bachelor’s degree and a 29-year-old single mother looking for job credentials have very different needs that can’t be served by a single Pell Grant, argues Rethinking Pell Grants by a College Board study group headed by Sandy Baum and funded by the Gates and Lumina Foundations. The group calls for creating Pell Grant Y for students who start college before they turn 25 and Pell Grant A for older students.
The Y (for young) grant creates incentives to finish a degree quickly. Students could take as many credits as they wish, including a summer session. They could take up to 125 percent of the credits required by their program and earn up to 150 credits, the maximum for a bachelor’s degree. Transfer students would have to show academic progress to receive additional Pell funds.
“Another unit of progress” — such as a measure of prior learning or competency — could be substituted for the credit hour, the policy brief adds.
The Pell Grant A (for adults) would look very different, notes Inside Higher Ed.
Forty-four percent of Pell recipients are 25 and older. Only 56 percent complete a credential within six years, compared to 74 percent of younger students. Only 36 percent hope to earn a bachelor’s degree — and only three percent reach that goal. Most are seeking vocational certificates and associate degrees. Thirty-one percent enroll in for-profit colleges, twice the percentage of younger students.
Pell A would be tailored to students seeking job training.
Students would apply once, before beginning their programs, and eligibility would be based on income — with students eligible for a full grant, half a grant or nothing throughout their entire college careers. The size of the full Pell Grant would be set at a level that would allow community college students to pay for tuition, fees, books and supplies. As with the Pell Grant Y, the size of individual awards would be determined based on the number of credits a student is pursuing.
Since many adult students would have to stop working to attend college full-time, the group also calls for the government to require or provide incentives for states to give students access to child-care assistance, Section 8 housing subsidies, food stamps and other welfare programs. And recipients of the Pell Grant A would also be required to get career counseling, which would be provided by the One-Stop Career Centers — which offer job training referrals, counseling and other employment services — created by the Workforce Investment Act.
Some older students want to earn a bachelor’s degree and some younger students are seeking vocational credentials, the report concedes. “However, age is highly correlated with these different paths.”
The study group also proposes creating federal education savings accounts for low-income students, starting at age 11 or 12, who are likely to be eligible for Pell aid in the future. Each year five to 10 percent of the Pell Grant would be deposited. It would be available when the student turns 17 to pay for higher education but would expire when the student turns 24.
Every year, students and their parents would receive a notification of how much money is in the account, as well as an estimate of the Pell Grant, state grants and tax benefits for which they would be eligible if they were already enrolled in college.
For $3.7 billion, the accounts would encourage young people from disadvantaged families to make college plans.
California Community Colleges’ new Student Success Scorecard shows declining completion and transfer rates, reports the Oakland Tribune. Only 49.2 percent of the students who enrolled in 2006 to earn a credential or transfer reached their goal within six years, compared with 52.3 percent of those who started college in 2002. Completion rates for black and Latino students were below 40 percent.
That’s no surprise.
The past five years have been rocky for the state’s 112 colleges and the students who turned to them during the recession. As unemployment swelled, the system simultaneously saw soaring demand and $1.5 billion in state funding cuts, forcing its colleges to cut back on student services and classes. State universities also accepted fewer transfers during that time, another factor working against students.
The scorecard breaks down success rates by year of entry, college, gender, age, ethnicity and academic preparation. It also tracks vocational students: 55 percent completed a certificate or degree or transferred within six years.
Retention was a bright spot:
Statewide, unprepared students are making it through their first year and enrolling in a third straight semester at even greater rates than those who don’t need to take remedial courses.
The same is true for Latino students, who make up about 36 percent of all community college students and whose persistence rate — 66 percent — is roughly the same as for their white peers.
However, about two-thirds of community colleges statewide reported lower succes rates.
At Oakland’s Merritt College, only 40 percent of students who started in 2006 reached their goals six years later. “A lot of my friends have dropped,” said Onome Ntekume, an 18-year-old nursing student who works at the school’s tutoring center. “For some, it was money. For some, it was way too hard and they just said they needed a break. Some even ran away just because of mathematics,” she said.
A tool tracking former students’ earnings should be available next month, the chancellor’s office said.
Project Win-Win helped community colleges and universities boost graduation rates by finding former students who’d qualified — or almost qualified — for degrees they’d never collected. Backed by the Lumina Foundation, the project helped 35 community colleges and four-year institutions in six states analyze data bases to find almost-graduates.
In Oregon, a review of more than 6,000 students’ academic records at the state’s 17 community colleges found 109 degree-eligible students and another 905 who might qualify. Virginia’s Tidewater Community College awarded 34 degrees and convinced 15 more students to return to campus from its initial pool of 651 prospects.
The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh connected with community college transfers who’d dropped out before earning a bachelor’s degree but earned enough credits for an associate degree. By “reverse” transferring back to community college, students can collect a two-year degree and boost the college’s completion rate.
The new federal College Scorecard will let students and parents see “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck,” said President Obama in his State of the Union speech. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office will launch its own community college scorecard, reports EdSource Today.
The federal scorecard is “very four-year centric data,” explained Patrick Perry, Vice Chancellor for Technology, Research and Information Systems for California Community Colleges. “It tracks first-time, full-time freshmen degree-seeking students. That’s a small percentage of who’s coming to us.”
The community college scorecard, known as AARC 2.0, will track six “momentum points” correlated with student success. These are based on progress over six years.
Persistence Rate – the percentage of students seeking a degree or transfer to a four-year school who remain enrolled for three consecutive terms,
30 Unit Rate – the percentage of first-time students seeking a degree or transfer who earn at least 30 units,
Student Progress and Attainment Rate – the percentage of degree-or-transfer seeking students – separated into cohorts of those who start in basic skills and those who begin in college-level classes – who earn a degree, earn a certificate or transfer to a four-year college or university,
Basic Skills Progress Rate – the percentage of students who start out in remedial classes who go on to succeed in college-level courses,
Career Technical Education – the percentage of students who complete a career technical education program and earn a degree, earn a certificate or transfer, and
Career Development and College Preparation Rate – the completion rate for students in non-credit career development and non-credit college prep courses, such as English as a second language, which are offered at about a third of the state’s community colleges.
In addition, student progress data will be disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender.