High hopes, long odds

Ninety-five percent of low-income students who take the ACT want to go to college, reports The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: Students from Low-Income Families. That’s higher than the rate for all students who take the ACT. 

However, low-income students (defined as a family income under $36,000) are less likely to take a strong college-prep curriculum in high school. Only 20 percent meet at least three of the four college readiness benchmarks set by ACT.  Only 59 percent of low-income students who take the ACT go directly from high school to college. That compares to 71 percent of all ACT test-takers.

Colleges are using “predictive analytics” to advise high-risk students, writes Libby Nelson on Vox. The goal is to raise “dismal graduation rates.”

Is flunking a course the sign of a bad semester, or the harbinger of much worse to come? Is a student with a 2.3 GPA going to be fine — “C’s get degrees,” after all — or a future dropout in the making?

But what if the numbers show some students have little chance of success?

Studies show teachers expend more time and attention with students they know will succeed; will professors neglect students data shows are likely to fail? States are under pressure to improve their graduation rates; if they can identify the students least likely to graduate, will it be too tempting to shut them out rather than admit them and help them through?

. . .  The American ethos of college-going rests on “if you can dream it, you can become it.” But when we can pinpoint the students least likely to succeed, what will happen to them?

Many students rely on “magical thinking,” writes Nelson. “From kindergarten through high school graduation, students are steeped in a can-do spirit. Believe in yourself. Reach for the stars. Never give up.”

Students will say an F on a midterm “isn’t a real F,” says Linda McMillin, a provost at Susquehanna University. Professors can use data to persuade them to get real.

“Ninety-eight percent of people who got this grade in this class were not able to change it. Tell me how you’re the exception. Let’s get real here, and let’s think about how we move you into another major that really aligns with your strengths and with your passions and gets you through in four years.”

“This is not a tool to highlight to students that they’re in trouble or can’t make it, says John Nicklow, provost at Southern Illinois University. “It’s an awareness tool to make them aware that now’s the time to buckle down.”

Perhaps middle-school and high school counselors should be armed with predictive analytics. The time to get real and buckle down occurs much earlier.

UC plans to streamline transfers


Santa Monica College is the top transfer college in California.

Streamlining transfers will expand opportunity and improve diversity at the elite University of California system, concludes a new UC report, Preparing California For Its Future.  In addition to improving counseling and the transfer experience, the report calls for creating and aligning  systemwide pre-major pathways with corresponding Associate Degrees for Transfer and adopting common course numbering, “where appropriate.”

Associate Degrees for Transfer create a “single clear degree pathway,” said the Campaign for College Opportunity. The California Community Colleges (CCC) and the second-tier California State University system have laid the groundwork.

(UC) must eliminate the confusion and complication experienced by students hoping to transfer by getting rid of the varying requirements from campus to campus, even for similar majors. Simplifying transfer makes each of the other challenges raised in this report easier to address including outreach, counseling, guidance, and use of technology.

Unfortunately, many of the recommendations to streamline transfer end with “where possible” and “where appropriate.”

The report also calls for seeking transfers from a wider array of community colleges, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Santa Monica College and Los Angeles Southwest College are only 13 miles apart but have an immense gap when it comes to transferring students to a University of California campus, a new report says. Santa Monica sent 783 students last year, by far the most of 112 community colleges in the state, while Southwest sent just four, among the lowest.

. . .  just 19 colleges sent half of all the 13,999 community college transfers to UC campuses last year and 93 other schools made up the other half, the UC study said.

Improving the transfer pipeline is a priority, said UC President Janet Napolitano. Transfer students, she said, “are an important part of UC’s strength as an engine of social mobility for our state,” she said. “Put simply, if we are serving transfers well, then we are serving the state well.”

How to compete with for-profit colleges

Community colleges should look at “what makes for-profits successful” in order to compete for students, writes Matt Reed, who worked in the for-profit sector before going to a community college.

To start with, for-profit colleges make it easy to apply.

As Tressie McMillan Cottom has pointed out, to a student who’s really up against it economically, a twenty thousand dollar student loan due years in the future might as well be monopoly money, but a fifty dollar application fee is a real barrier.  Admissions counselors in for-profits will go out of their way to track down transcripts, for example, to give expedited decisions on transfer credits, which tend to be generous. (They understand the concept of a “loss leader.”)

They provide concierge-level service in areas like financial aid and admissions.

When he worked at DeVry, the campus had 15 to 20 admissions staffers for 4,000 students.  When he went to a community college, it had double the enrollment, with less than half the admissions staff.

For-profit colleges advertise specific programs, while community colleges tend to focus on the “overall brand.” The student has to figure out if a given community college trains HVAC techs or not.

For-profit colleges do little or no remediation before letting students start a program. They work to keep students in the program. “It’s much cheaper to retain a customer than to attract a new one.”

Community colleges also can learn from Southern New Hampshire University’s non-profit College for America, which will now offer bachelor’s degrees, Reed writes. College for America works with large employers to become the in-house higher education option for their workers.  “It has a narrow range of majors, a low upfront cost, a built-in support system, and regional accreditation.” Using a competency model keeps costs down.

In Watts, it’s easier to be a teen mom than a student

If only Shanice Joseph had gotten pregnant instead of going to community college, she’d have subsidized rent or a housing voucher, a welfare check, nutrition aid, counseling and more. There are five government aid programs and nonprofit agencies offering help to young mothers on her block in Watts. In her high-poverty neighborhood, it’s easier being a pregnant teen than a college student, Joseph writes in the Hechinger Report.

Shanice Joseph stands in front of the Watts library, which only has two computers available to adults. (Photo: Daniela Gerson)

Shanice Joseph stands in front of the Watts library, which only has two computers available to adults. (Photo: Daniela Gerson)

Joseph lives with her grandmother, who’s fighting cancer. If her grandmother dies, Joseph will be evicted. The subsidized apartments are for women with children.

A friend suggested getting pregnant. “Girl, the government will take care of you, trust me.”

Joseph’s mother relied on government aid to raise her and her six siblings. So did her grandmother. “But I also see that these government assistance programs often reinforce a cycle of poverty without offering a way out for young people like myself who want to pursue higher education and a career,” she writes.

Encouraged by her grandmother and an aunt, Joseph enrolled in a small college-prep charter school a long bus ride away from home. Now she has a long bus ride to community college.

Joseph doesn’t own a computer. When she can’t use the college’s computer lab, she relies on her neighborhood library.  “There are only two outdated computers available to adults, each with a 15-minute time limit—not a lot of time if a person has an essay to type up, needs to complete their FAFSA form, or wants to use the Internet to find places that actually do offer assistance to college students,” Joseph writes.

A few blocks away, Thomas Riley High School offers mentoring and one-on-one college and career counseling — “for pregnant and teen moms.” 

Housing vouchers and a resource center with computers and counselors would help low-income students succeed in college and escape the cycle of poverty, Joseph writes.

Remedial courses face new test


 Remedial college courses are facing a new test in Florida, reports the Wall Street Journal. Under a new state law, students can decide whether to start in developmental ed or in for-credit, college-level courses. Most are skipping remediation.

More than half of community-college students in the U.S. take at least one remedial class. Success rates are very low. “States are trying alternatives, from adding basic tutorials to college-level classes to weighing high-school grades in addition to test scores,” reports the Journal. Florida has gone the farthest by making placement tests and remedial classes optional for recent state high school graduates and active-duty members of the military.

In a white-walled classroom here at Miami Dade College, students on a recent afternoon pondered the absolute value of 19. After a silence, instructor Carlos Rodriguez offered a hint: “How far is it from 0?”

Such algebra class work, which is typically done at the high-school level, is front and center at this community college, where about 12,000 students enrolled in remedial classes last spring. But enrollment in catch-up classes has fallen about 24% since the legislation took effect this year.

The failure rate will soar, predicts Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón. “You’re not able to test students [who opt out of the remedial program] and know where they are,” said Padrón. “When you don’t have the tools to guide them, it’s very, very difficult.”

Brooke Bovee, who teaches college-level English composition and literature, says just six of her 26 students came in prepared for the class, noting that for four of her students, this will be their third try. For an additional six students, this is their second attempt.

Now, with the new state law, she also has at least one student who tested into a remedial class but chose the higher-level class instead.

“A lot of discussion among English faculty is how to keep standards high,” said Ms. Bovee, who acknowledges the need for changes to the system. “Students ask me what a paragraph is now. What’s next? Maybe, what’s a sentence?”

Miami Dade is adding counselors, but instructors say it won’t be enough.

Smart college choices

Seven out of 10 high school graduates choose college, observes Smart Shoppers, a report by College Summit and Bellwether Education Partners.  Despite warnings of a degree glut, the college wage premium continues to rise.  College-educated workers earned 80 percent more than high school-only workers in 2012.

Schools must do a better job identifying students — especially disadvantaged students — who aren’t reaching their potential, Smart Shoppers argue.  “Schools, colleges, nonprofits, and businesses need to do a better job of educating students about their options on which college they should attend, which degrees they should pursue, and how they should pay for it.”

About a quarter of the gap in college attendance between affluent and working-class students can’t be explained by academic performance, a new study concludes.  The Sutton Trust, a British think tank, looked at college-going in the U.S., Britain and Australia.

The Education Department has launched a Financial Aid Toolkit to help counselors explain college aid to students and parents.

From rock star to student


New Feeling by Talking Heads

Percussionist Steve Scales joined Talking Heads in 1980. He also recorded with the Psychedelic Furs, Tom Tom Club and Yoko Ono and toured with Tina Turner and Bryan Ferry. rock starNow the rock star has taken on a new role, reports Community College Times. He’s studying human services at Housatonic Community College (HCC) in Connecticut.

“Going from a full-time rock star to a student is kind of humbling,” Scales said.

Scales  hopes to become a counselor.  Eventually, he plans to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

As a Vietnam-era veteran, he hopes to help other veterans. “If I could get a degree in counseling, they would talk to me because I could relate to them,” he said.

Once the “king of clubbing,” Scales now plans his social life around his class schedule. He can’t go out and party with an 8 a.m. class the next day.

Adjusting to school hasn’t been easy. “It’ been a lot of years since I was last in school,” Scales said.

Algebra was a challenge, but he turnedfor help to HCC’s tutoring services. It’s finally started to “click.”

Latinos aim high, fall short

California Latinos are completing high school and enrolling in college in record numbers, but college graduation rates remain low, according to a new report, The State of Latinos in Higher Education in California.

Expectations are high: 83 percent of Latino parents want their children to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. But only 11 percent of Latino adults have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 39 percent of whites.

Latinos are expected to reach majority status in California by 2050, notes the Campaign for College Opportunity,  which produced the report. “The math is clear,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign. “If the California economy is to have the college-educated workforce it needs, we must find ways to significantly improve college completion rates among Latinos.”

“The good news is that this report confirms the incredible willingness and desire among Latino youth to go to college,” said Siqueiros. “Enrollment is high and growing. But too few Latino college students are completing a certificate or college degree. We are falling into a pattern of improved college access, without success.”

Compared to their white and Asian-American classmates, Latinos are less likely to enroll in a selective college or four-year university. They’re also less likely to enroll full-time and much less likely to earn a credential.
Latinos
Seventy percent of first-time Latino college-goers in the state enrolled at a community college in 2012. Of degree-seeking Latinos who complete six units and attempt an English or math course, 40 percent earn a certificate or associate degree or transfer within six years, estimates a scorecard created by the California Community Colleges. That includes nearly 65 percent of “prepared” Latinos and 35 percent of “unprepared” Latinos. However, only 20 percent Latinos earned a credential or transferred, according to the Campaign’s 2010 study. Researchers looked at students who’d earned six units, regardless of math or English attempts.

To close the college gap, the Campaign for College Opportunity recommends creating a statewide higher education plan with benchmarks for increasing Latino enrollment and completion rates, and for decreasing time spent in remedial education. “We’ve looked at Texas, which is very aggressive at articulating goals, college by college,” said Siqueiros in an online press conference.

In addition:

Fund colleges for both enrollment and success — Establish a new funding mechanism that creates incentives for increasing graduation and completion rates.

Get everyone on the same page — Improve coordination between high schools and colleges on college preparation and assessment.

Invest in services students need to succeed — Prioritize resources that support student success and completion, including orientation, counseling and services to close information gaps for low-income, first-generation Latino students.

Strengthen financial support options for students — Ensure that all eligible students apply and receive federal and California student aid for which they qualify.

“Access is not enough,” said Siqueiros.

Require remediation — after a retest

“Florida colleges will let students opt out of remedial coursework, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

That’s a bad idea,writes Amber Bradley in a letter to the editor. “Some students who are genuinely not ready for college level coursework will opt to take the college level class and not succeed.” Instead, students should be allowed to retake the placement exam, she proposes.

Also, it is important for counselors to reiterate the importance of the placement exam . . . . Another suggestion is to offer these remedial classes the summer before the start of the student’s first semester so that once school commences, the student is caught up to the proper level class.

Bradley is a graduate student in education at University of Southern California.

Online MAP tracks students’ progress

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.