Relentless mentoring keeps students ‘On Point’

On Point for College is helping New Yorkers get into college, reports the Syracuse Post-Standard. A personal touch and “relentless” mentoring has helped thousands of first-generation students.

It all started, Ginny Donohue says, when a friend of her daughter sought advice on how to get into college.

He was chronically homeless, living from couch to couch. She pointed him in the right direction and helped him through the bureaucratic hoops to get into Cayuga Community College.

Then she helped a few more people, and a few more after that, and her reputation began to grow.

“People started stopping me in the grocery store to say, ‘Are you the lady that got Jack in?’ ” she said.

Eventually, Donahue quit her finance job and started the nonprofit, which has expanded from Syracuse to Utica and now New York City.

Program employees and volunteers take On Point’s clients on college visits, help them with their applications and financial aid forms and keep in close contact with them throughout their college careers, transporting them back and forth and visiting frequently to make sure they’re able to stay on track.

Eighty-four percent of On Point clients who went to two-year colleges went on to earn bachelor’s degrees or were in the process of doing so, a Syracuse University study found.  Those who began in four-year colleges all completed their degrees within 4½ years.

On Point workers visit students twice a semester at four-year schools, every month at two-year schools, every week at Mohawk Valley Community College and New York City community colleges, and twice a week at Onondaga Community College.

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.

Denver: ‘Early alerts’ raise pass rates

Student pass rates and grades are rising at Community College of Denver. More students are passing their courses with a C or better and more are earning academic honors for high grades.

All faculty members now use an “early alert” system to warn counselors when a student is struggling. Alerts go out at the third, fifth, seventh and ninth week of a semester — in time for the advisor to suggest ways to get back on track.

‘Summer melt’ may claim 40% of first-gen students

As many as 20 percent of high school graduates give up their college plans in the months after graduation, according to an upcoming book, Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College.

It’s even worse for low-income, first-generation students, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. As many as 40 percent “melt” away over the summer, write researchers Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page.

The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, a network of small high schools in Providence, R.I., “had a splendid record for getting struggling students ready for college through a series of internships that promoted academic, social and emotional development,” writes Mathews. “Its graduation rate was consistently more than 95 percent. Nearly every graduate was accepted to college and 75 percent of them reported that they had enrolled.”

But a third of the alleged new college students hadn’t enrolled, Boston College Professor Karen Arnold discovered.

She learned that the summer months before college had been too much for them. They didn’t understand the enrollment paperwork. Money problems emerged. Their parents and friends opposed their plans. They couldn’t bear to tell the Met counselors who checked up on them that they had not followed through.

In Washington, D.C., 75 percent of collegebound high school graduates send in college deposits, but only 62 percent enroll in the fall, says Argelia Rodriguez, head of the nonprofit District of Columbia College Access Program (DC-CAP).

One problem, Castleman and Page said, is the paperwork flooding the homes of disadvantaged students in the summer when they lack easy access to the teachers and counselors who helped them prepare their applications. Many of them “had yet to fully internalize the dream of going to college,” the authors said. “They were torn between the desire to further their education and the lures of home, staying with a girlfriend or boyfriend, receiving a steady paycheck, and continuing to contribute financially and otherwise to their family.”

About half the derailed students face financial aid problems, says Castleman. But there are other barriers. “Students encounter a pretty complicated array of financial and procedural tasks to complete over the summer.”

A number of college-prep charter schools now work with their low-income graduates to help them make the transition to college.

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.

How colleges can prevent default

Protecting Colleges and Students looks at how nine community colleges are helping student borrowers avoid default. The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) and The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) collaborated on the report.

CDR Report Cover Small for WebNot surprisingly, borrowers who left college without earning at least 15 credits were much more likely to default than more successful classmates at the nine colleges.

The default rate for low-income students varied. For example, Pell Grant recipients — typically with family incomes below $40,000 — were four percentage points more likely to default than non-recipients at one college, while the gap was 20 percentage points at another college.

Only 17 percent of community college students use federal loans, but more than a third of graduates “needed loans to get to graduation,” said J. Noah Brown, president of ACCT.

The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Education provide guidance on colleges’ options for managing student debt, make the National Student Loan Data System more user-friendly, improve counseling tools and streamline loan servicing.

Community colleges should  analyze who borrows and who defaults to inform their default-reduction strategies, the report recommends. In addition, colleges should provide counseling and information to borrowers when they need it and participate in the federal loan program.

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.