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  ”There are only two outdated computers available to adults, each with a 15-minute time limit—not a lot of time if a person has an essay to type up, needs to complete their FAFSA form, or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.
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.

Link financial aid advisors to retention

Financial aid counselors should “rethink their role in student retention” to help first-generation students, writes Sara Goldrick-Rab on Education Optimists. Helping students succeed should be a “cross-campus effort.”

“Students who have overcome enormous challenges” to get to college often struggle academically, she writes. They must make Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) — usually a C average — to retain financial aid.

However, many first-generation students don’t know how to raise their grades and “are ill-equipped to sort out good advice from bad advice,” writes Goldrick-Rab.

They have little external support, experience more family crises, work longer hours, and are often more averse to taking on loans. While they might want to seek out help from others, that help is often offered only during daytime hours when their schedules are packed.  In addition, when told they they should take on loans, they feel alienated and misunderstood.

Financial aid officers, often the first to know a student is in trouble, should sound an early warning. This would trigger proactive efforts to offer comprehensive advising that “integrates academic, financial, and family support.”

El Camino College (California) publishes a report on students who lose aid due to failure to make SAP. More colleges should be “open and honest” about the challenges, Goldrick-Rab concludes.

3 ideas to improve higher ed

Give low-income college students a free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, proposes Sara Goldrick-Rab. Ending “food insecurity” would boost student success, argues the University of Wisconsin professor. It’s one of her “three radical ideas” for improving higher education on Education Optimists.

Her second idea is to make teaching — not research — a priority in public higher education. All new hires should have teaching experience and earn professional development credits every two years, she proposes.

Idea #3 is to “focus funding where it can do the most good.”

The fewest dollars flow to the neediest students.  Per student spending of about $6,000 in community colleges is a travesty.

. . . Require that all states receiving any Title IV financial aid maintain adequate per-student spending at their community colleges. Base this on appropriate adequacy funding studies done by state.

Technological strategies to help disadvantaged students succeed are “tinkering towards utopia,” concludes Goldrick-Rab, a professor of education policy and sociology.

How colleges use data mining and analytics

Colleges are using data mining and analytics to help students succeed, reports

How Can Data Mining & Analytics Enhance Education?