Connected to the future

Senior Gerardo Lopez talks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at San Francisco's Burton High School.

Senior Gerardo Lopez talks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at San Francisco’s Burton High School.

Most students like Gerardo Lopez — Latinos and blacks from low-income and working-class families — enroll in community college, take a few remedial courses and drop out. They’ve been told they should go to college, but nobody’s told them what level of academic skills are necessary to pass college-level courses.

Many think any major will qualify them for a good job. They don’t know how the system works.

“Gerardo Lopez is preparing to turn his dreams into reality,” I write on Open Standard.

“Hands-on” learning opportunities drew Lopez, a Honduran immigrant, to the engineering academy at Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School in San Francisco. “As a kid, I loved to make little cars, bringing parts together to make something come alive,” he says.

But he didn’t know engineering was a possible career. His father is a hotel janitor; his mother is a housewife.

Now a senior, he spends two days a week as an “extern” at an architectural firm. Lopez hopes to major in mechanical engineering – or perhaps architecture – at a University of California campus or Stanford. If he hadn’t signed up for the engineering academy, “I wouldn’t have known what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

Burton offers “career academies” in engineering, health sciences and information technology, all high-demand fields. Students take college-prep and career-prep courses together, visit workplaces, do job shadows and compete for summer internships.

“Employers say they can’t find the skilled workers they need,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told business and education leaders at Burton High last week. But CEOs aren’t talking to superintendents. “There’s a total disconnect.

Thirty-five percent of Burton High graduates enroll in four-year universities, said Principal Bill Kappenhagen. Another 43 percent go to community college and 22 percent go straight to the workforce.  The six-year graduation rate is high – 90 percent – for the four-year students, he said. But only 10 percent of those who go to City College of San Francisco graduate in six years.

What’s going wrong for the community college contingent? Some get bogged down in remedial courses or overwhelmed by work and job responsibilities. I’d guess many more would succeed if they aimed for a technical certificate or two-year vocational degree rather than taking general education courses.

“We’ve done a poor job of informing young people and their parents about the great jobs out there,” said Duncan. “It doesn’t have to be a college degree. There are six- or eight-week training programs that lead to great opportunities.”

Completion Arch tracks progress data

The Completion Arch, a web-based tool provides access to national and state data on the progress and success of community college students. That includes transfer rates, remedial placement and the average time to earn a credential.

Six-year completion rates provide a realistic time frame since many community college students are enrolled part-time, are not enrolled every term and require developmental education, an RTI research brief argues.

“The tool aims to track students’ success at five stages: when they enroll, when they receive developmental-education placement, when their ‘intermediate progress’ can be evaluated, when they transfer or complete a degree, and when they enter the work force,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Much of the data is missing or incomplete, said Laura J. Horn, who directs RTI’s Center for Postsecondary Education Research and the Completion Arch project, at an event last week.

“The power of the Completion Arch is not what’s there but what’s missing as well—how can I begin to add my own data?” said Christine Johnson, chancellor of the Community College of Spokane.

Ms. Johnson said having the data compiled into a single resource would encourage collaboration between educators and local businesses. She pointed to a job-training program offered by Boeing to community colleges in Washington State that was financed by a four-year, $20-million grant from the Department of Labor in 2011.

“In education, we sanction people for not performing,” said Steven G. Klein, director of the Center for Career and Adult Education and Workforce Development at RTI. “We need to reward people for success.”

‘Reverse transfer’ could add 2 million degrees

As many as two million students could earn associate degrees through “reverse transfer,” with help from the National Student Clearinghouse. Using a Lumina grant, the Clearinghouse will design an automated system to identify students who’ve earned enough credits for a two-year degree. 

Seventy-eight percent of students who transfer from community college to a four-year institution leave before completing an associate degree, according to a Lumina study. Some drop out before completing a bachelor’s degree but earn enough credits for an associate degree.

Reverse transfer of credits back to the two-year school allow students to earn a credential. It also boosts the community college’s completion rate.

Texas, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee have developed programs to encourage reverse transfer of credits. Others are expected to follow suit.

 For its Reverse Transfer project, the Clearinghouse is creating a standardized, streamlined, and technologically enhanced process to assist four- and two-year institutions in transferring student credits more efficiently, securely, and successfully. There will be no fees for the service.

. . . four-year institutions will send academic data files to the Clearinghouse whenever a student who has provided consent reaches a specified number of credit hours, thus indicating his or her possible eligibility for an associate degree.

. . . Two-year institutions can download all records from all four-year institutions to which their students have transferred, for consideration of a reverse transfer degree.

The Clearinghouse is working with institutions in Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin on the first stages of the project.

Chicago: Free tuition for college-ready students

College-ready students will get a free ride to the City Colleges of Chicago‘s seven campuses, reports the Chicago Tribune. To qualify for a Chicago Star Scholarship, which covers tuition, books and fees, students must graduate from a public high school with a 3.0 grade-point average or better and be prepared for college-level math and English.

The Star Scholarship will cover costs for up to three years above any state or federal aid the student receives.

Chancellor Cheryl Hyman said the scholarships’ $2 million cost will be covered by “greater efficiencies in the system, such as establishing a single nursing at Malcolm X College instead of funding several separate nursing programs,” reports the Tribune.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel predicted City Colleges could save money if more students are prepared for college classes, cutting the $40 million spent each year on remedial classes.

Why graduation rates are misleading

Federal college graduation rates don’t distinguish between certificates and associate degrees, presenting a misleading picture of community colleges and for-profit institutions, writes Ben Miller on EdCentral.
10 08 14 CC vs For Profit 2 The College Graduation Rate Flaw That No Ones Talking AboutAccording to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), three-year graduation rates are much higher at for-profit colleges than at community colleges: 63 percent compared to 21 percent.

However, 86 percent of for-profit graduates have finished less-than-two-year programs, “almost certainly certificates,” while three-quarters of community college graduates were in programs that were two years or longer, likely associate degrees. It’s a lot easier to finish a short program than a longer program.

In 2012-13, 58 percent of credentials awarded by community colleges were associate degrees; at for-profit colleges, 27 of graduates earned associate degrees.
10 08 14 CC vs For Profit 4 The College Graduation Rate Flaw That No Ones Talking About“About 47 percent of students at for-profit colleges who started out seeking an associate degree or certificate earned something,” writes Miller. “That’s higher than the attainment rate at public colleges (37 percent).” However, more public college students were still pursuing a credential.

The analysis includes public four-year institutions that award associate degrees. Not surprisingly, public students are far more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than for-profit students.

I’d like to see a comparison of completion rates at public technical colleges, which do not offer associate degrees for transfer. For students pursuing vocational credentials, are community colleges as effective as for-profit career colleges?

High hopes, long odds


Vladimir de Jesus hopes to teach art, but has flunked remedial math three times.

Community College Students Face a Very Long Road to Graduation writes Gina Bellafante in a New York Times profile of a student at New York City’s La Guardia Community College. Vladimir de Jesus enrolled in September 2008, left after the first semester to work full time, then returned in 2012. In six semesters, he’s earned only 27 credits of the 60 he needs to transfer — and he’s flunked remedial math three times.

A fine arts major, he hopes to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees and teach studio art and art history.

De Jesus went to a low-performing high school, cut classes and dropped out, but earned a GED. He fathered a child when he was 17. He helps care for his six-year-old and uses some of his earnings as a freelance tattoo artist to help pay her Catholic school tuition. He suffers from ulcers.

More than 70 percent of LaGuardia students come from families with incomes of less than $25,000 a year, writes Bellafante. Many are working, raising children and facing personal and  health issues. Community colleges offer far less counseling than better-funded colleges and universities. The neediest students are on their own.

Toward the end of last semester, Mr. de Jesus had fallen behind on his math homework. There were domestic complications: the death of his grandfather, and the stresses of a college student’s typically strained romantic life. At one point he lost the lab work that he had done in class, which would make up 5 percent of his total grade. Not having a computer of his own, he had been checking laptops in and out of the library. In the process of returning one, he had left the lab work behind. When he went back to retrieve the papers, they were gone.

The final exam for Math 96 would make up 35 percent of the total grade, and as the day of the test approached, Mr. de Jesus knew that with the demerits he would face for his poor attendance and his unfinished homework, there was little chance he would pass. On the morning of the exam, he didn’t show up, and he failed the class for the third time. As it happened, more than 40 percent of the students in the class also failed.

“This whole thing with math just hits your spirit in the wrong way,” he said. “It demolishes your spirit. You become lazy.”

Gail Mellow, LaGuardia’s president, believes students shouldn’t have to master algebra if they’re not planning to pursue a math- or science-intensive field. La Guardia is experimenting with Carnegie’s statistics and “quantitative reasoning” alternatives to traditional developmental math.

De Jesus is postponing a fourth try at remedial math and considering applying for a job with the Sanitation Department, reports Bellafante. Given his long odds of completing a bachelor’s degree and low earnings for fine arts graduates, that’s not a bad plan. He could take art classes, do art and forget about trying to pass math.

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.”

Use grades to improve remedial placement

High school grades are more accurate than placement tests in predicting who needs remedial courses, concludes a working paper by Judith Scott-Clayton, Peter M. Crosta and Clive Belfield, Community College Research Center researchers.

. . .  roughly one in four test-takers in math and one in three test-takers in English are severely mis-assigned under current test-based policies, with mis-assignments to remediation much more common than mis-assignments to college-level coursework. Using high school transcript information — either instead of or in addition to test scores — could significantly reduce the prevalence of assignment errors.

If colleges took account of students’ high school performance, they could “remediate substantially fewer students without lowering success rates in college-level courses,” researchers believe. Currently, remedial coursework costs $7 billion a year.

It’s not a bargain education if you drop out

California’s community colleges are accessible and affordable, reports KCRA-TV. But completion and transfer rates are low. Are California’s community colleges a bargain?

Enrollment patterns are ‘chaotic’

Community college students enrollment patterns are “chaotic,” concludes a Community College Research Center study at five colleges in the same state.

Only 1 percent of first-time, full-time students completed a degree in four semesters (fall-spring-fall-spring), and less than 4 percent completed a degree within the two years generally assumed in the college catalogue, the study found.

Thirty-five percent of students dropped out after one semester.

“Continuous and intense enrollment” was most likely to lead to success.

Flexibility encourages students to take “meandering” paths through — and out of — college, researchers said. “More structured programs—coupled with advising to help students choose and map out an efficient plan for completing these programs—would encourage students to make enrollment choices that will ultimately help them achieve their educational goals.”