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.”

Keeping men of color in college

Many black and Latino men are dropping out of college, report diversity researchers in Advancing the Success of Boys and Men of Color in Education. They urge the federal government to “require all colleges to create early-alert systems that flag students with low test scores, missing assignments, or spotty attendance,” reports Katherine Mangan in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Only a third of black male students graduated from four-year colleges within six years, compared with 45 percent of Hispanic men, 57 percent of white men, and 64 percent of Asian men, according to federal statistics.For two-year colleges, the percentages who received a certificate or degree or who transferred to a four-year college over six years were 32 for black, 30 for Latino, 40 for white, and 43 for Asian men.

The Minority Male Community College Collective participated in writing the report.

15 credits for the price of 12

Community College of Philadelphia students can 15 credits for the cost of 12, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Pay for 12 credits – the equivalent of four courses – and the college picks up the tab for the fifth, worth about $555.

. . . To become eligible, students must have completed 24 credits, taken no fewer than nine and no more than 14 credits the previous semester, and have a grade-point average of at least 2.5. They also must be Philadelphia residents. To stay enrolled, they must maintain a 2.0 GPA, have no course withdrawals or failures, and pay their college bills.

Upper-division courses typically have space for more students, so the college can offer a deal without running up costs.

Mai Nguyen, 19, an aspiring nurse, will graduate in two years.

“I didn’t have the money for the fifth class,” said Nguyen, who gets federal financial aid and works in the college’s financial-aid office to pay for her books. “I would have had to save up my money to take it. Now, I’m saving money, and at the same time saving time.”

Federal financial aid programs count 12 credits as a full-time load, even though it takes 15 credits to graduate on time, points out Complete College America’s “Full Time is 15″ campaign. One completion strategy is to to “ensure that taking 15 credits per semester costs no more than the current 12-credit standard.”

California: CCs plan huge growth

California community colleges will try to increase degree completion and transfers by nearly a quarter of a million students over the next decade, reports the Sacramento Bee.

“This is probably the most ambitious goal-setting effort ever undertaken by our system,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said.

Currently, 48.1 percent of students complete a degree or transfer; the completion rate for vocational certificates is 53.9 percent. The new targets call for raising the completion rate for degree programs and transfers to 62.8 percent and for career technical education certificates to 70.3 percent.

California’s entrepreneurial economy requires a skilled workforce, writes Chancellor Brice Harris in the Los Angeles Daily News.

The new goals aim to increase the number of students who successfully complete remedial instruction, which unfortunately 75 percent of our students need when they arrive at our campuses. And we’ve set targets to increase the number of students who prepare educational plans at the beginning of their academic careers as well as the number of students who earn degrees under the Associate Degree for Transfer program, which has improved transfer with California State University.

The system’s “Student Success Initiative” calls for “giving priority registration status to students who participate in orientation, assessment and education planning; redesigning our student support services to help them stay on track academically; making it easier for students to transfer to CSUs; and collaborating with K-12 institutions to ensure that students come here ready to take college-level math and English courses,” writes Harris.

Help college students stay on track

Edward James Olmos played calculus teacher Jaime Escalante in Stand and Deliver.

California community colleges need degree-tracking systems to help students reach their goals, writes actor Edward James Olmos in a Sacramento Bee commentary.

Less than half of the state’s community college students complete a degree or certificate, or transfer to a four-year university within six years. With one counselor for 2,000 to 3,000 students, many don’t get the help they need, Olmos writes. Some will leave unaware that they’ve qualified for a degree.

The community college system has been the gateway to college for my entire family. I’m a proud product of East Los Angeles College; all four of my sons, my brothers and sisters and my own mother attended a community college. Our story is similar to so many low-income families throughout the state.

. . . I was lucky enough to have a professor who believed in me and walked me through the process, but thousands of students are struggling to find their way.

The California State University and the University of California systems already have systems that let students build an academic program online, tracking their progress in real time, writes Olmos. But many of the state’s 112 community colleges don’t offer degree tracking.

Senate Bill 1425, which would require degree tracking for  all community college campuses has passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the Assembly.

How to help students plan, succeed

More students are passing classes and staying in school at Florida’s St. Petersburg College. Writing in Community College Daily, President Bill Law credits an initiative launched two years ago, College Experience: Student Success.

A third of students were failing gatekeeper courses. Minority students, especially African-American males, were doing even worse.

The college added professional and peer tutors, made Learning Support Centers more welcoming, involved more faculty in tutoring and learning support and increased access to 24/7 online tutoring resources.

The number of students visiting learning centers more than doubled in the first year, writes Law. Most who use the centers do so at least five times a semester, significantly raising their odds of earning a “C” or better.

An online tool, My Learning Plan, gives students “up-to-the-minute guidance on where they stand in meeting graduation requirements,” he writes. Students can plan which courses to take several terms in advance and see the impact of dropping a class or changing majors.

College-success course instructors helped students complete a plan and the tool was available online for all students. Students who completed the plan had a significantly higher success rate than those who did not.

The college also helped students explore careers, use career-aptitude tools and set goals.

About a third of the first-time college students entered without a clear goal. Those who worked with an advisor to choose a career path were more likely to return for a second semester.

Online orientation wasn’t enough for poorly prepared students, writes Law. The college now requires an intensive advising session and face-to-face orientation for new students with low test scores. Advisors contact their advisees in the first weeks of class to offer help as needed.

Students assigned to the face-to-face orientation remained enrolled in 92 percent of their classes, the same rate as better-prepared students.

If a student falls behind in class, the instructor uses an “early alert” system to inform a coach or mentor.  Faculty teaching almost 1,000 courses — most for new or underprepared students — have gone through training on using the alert system.

Vets choose for-profits over public options

Thirty-one percent of military veterans enrolled in for-profit colleges in 2012, up from 23 percent three years earlier. Only 50 percent chose public colleges, down from 62 percent.

For-profit colleges use aggressive marketing to lure vets — and their generous GI Bill funding — complains Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin a new report. For-profit colleges received $1.7 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits during the 2012-13 academic year.

At the for-profit colleges receiving the most benefits, up to 66 percent of students left without earning a certificate or degree, according to the report. In addition, 39 to 57 percent of the vocational programs “offered by four of the companies receiving the most Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits would fail to meet the proposed gainful employment rule, suggesting that the students who attend these institutions do not earn enough to pay back the debt they take
on.”

Veterans choose for-profit institutions “because they offer the right mix of study programs, customer service, and locations and times that meet their needs better than do public college,” writes Daniel L. Bennett, an assistant economics professor at Patrick Henry College and a Center for College Affordability and Productivity research fellow.

Harkin also suggests it costs taxpayers nearly twice as much to send a veteran to a for-profit college ($7,972) than to a public one ($3,914). But these figures are highly misleading. They only account for GI tuition payments, ignoring significant taxpayer subsidies and tax exemption. A 2011 AIR report estimated the annual taxpayer cost per full-time equivalent (FTE) student at unselective public colleges to be nearly $8,000, while for-profit students actually provided taxpayers with an average net gain of nearly $800.

Many vets are looking for job training. For-profit colleges’ two-year programs have much higher completion rates than community college programs, writes Matt Reed, the Community College Dean. Career colleges focus on job training with no electives and minimal delays for remediation. That could be one reason why low-cost community colleges are having trouble competing with high-cost for-profit colleges.

A new bill — soon to be a law — will let veterans pay in-state tuition at any state college or university.

White House promotes college counseling

Helping low-income and first-generation students enroll in college was the focus of a summit that brought experts on college counseling to the White House, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The White House’s January summit focused on encouraging low-income achievers to apply to selective four-year universities. This time around, James Kvaal, the deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, emphasized that “college” includes two-year colleges and job training programs.

“Four-year college degrees are important but so too are two-year college degrees and occupational training programs. Certificates often have great value in the workforce. So we’re talking about all of that.”

College counseling “is a key leverage point,” Kvaal said, because it touches on the academic, financial and informational barriers that students – especially low-income and first-generation students – face in going to college.

The Obama administration has put information online to help prospective college students research college costs. But web sites can’t do it all, said Mandy Savitz-Romer, the Harvard education professor who organized the conference. Students and their parents need help understanding and using the information, she said.

Completion, default rates can be misleading

Commonly used college quality measures, such as graduation rates and loan defaults, are inadequate and sometimes misleading, writes Ben Miller, a senior policy analyst for the New America Foundation, on EdCentral.

Completion statistics for community colleges and other two-year-or-less institutions are especially inaccurate, he writes. It’s not just that the federal data misses part-timers and transfers. Completion data also confuses success rates in short-term certificate programs with longer-term associate degrees.

. . . many certificate programs run for no more than a year. These programs thus present fewer opportunities for students to drop out. That’s why colleges that predominantly grant certificates tend to have quite high completion rates and also the reason that for-profit institutions often appear to have better graduation rates than the largely associate-degree-granting community colleges.

A low completion rate is a sign of low quality, but a high completion rate may signify a quick, easy program with very little return on students’ time and money.

Cohort default rates also can be misleading, especially for community colleges with very few borrowers, writes Miller.

For example, Gadsden State Community College in Alabama has a 20 percent default rate but that’s based on five borrowers out of an enrollment of over 8,967. This makes it impossible to draw any conclusions about a college based upon less than 0.05 percent of the college.

On the other side, a low cohort default rate might be just as much an indication of successful loan management than success. The cohort default rate only measures whether students default within a certain time window. Students who default after that period or who are extremely delinquent but never default are not counted in the rate. The usage of income-based payment plans can also distort cohort default rates, since a borrower could be earning such a low income from their program that they have to make little to no payments, making it more difficult to default.

Passage rates on licensure or certification exams, such as in nursing, do measure learning outcomes. However some programs — especially in teaching — ensure a 100 percent pass rate by denying diplomas to students who haven’t passed the exam.