What for-profit colleges do right

For-profit career colleges have much higher graduation rates than community colleges, writes Matt Reed, who’s worked in both sectors. Here’s how for-profits get more students to completion.

It starts with minimal or no remediation, writes Reed. At DeVry, very few students started in remedial courses. When he moved to County College of Morris in New Jersey, he was surprised to see a majority of students placed in remediation.

Since I taught freshman comp at DeVry for a while, I can attest that the placements weren’t because the students were all fully polished upon arrival.  They were not.  101 was a punishing course to teach, since you had to try to meet students where they were.

Math was a different issue, but even there, there was a premium on putting students in the highest level class they could conceivably pass.

For-profit colleges take the eat-dessert-first approach, writes Reed. Students don’t have to wait to start training for jobs.

Students at for-profits are there to get jobs.  . . . And since many students have had checkered academic pasts, they’re sensitive to revisiting scenes of earlier failures.

Most traditional colleges force students to eat their vegetables — basic math, English, and the usual distribution requirements — before getting to what the students recognize as the reason they’re there.

. . . DeVry, and apparently other for-profits . . . offered a lot of A.A.S. degrees — associate’s of applied science, as opposed to associate of science or associate of arts — to reduce the amount of gen ed.  And the gen ed courses it did require were spread evenly through the program, or even backloaded.  Students started with dessert, and only got to the veggies at the end.

DeVry required a “college success” course, like many traditional colleges. It also required a “career development” course that covered how to write a resume, how to handle an interview and how to dress on the job. Those were things most students didn’t already know.

At Holyoke Community College where Reed is vice president for academic affairs, “eat dessert first” means linking developmental math to students’ intended major.  “We’ve moved career advising to the first semester, to help students identify goals before they choose majors,” Reed writes. “And we’re looking at ways to help students get through developmental coursework more quickly, so they don’t just throw up their hands in frustration and walk away.”

More Americans are college graduates

More Americans are earning college degrees: 33.5 percent of Americans ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, compared with 24.7 percent in 1995, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The number of two-year college degrees, master’s degrees and doctorates has also risen.

Enrollment and graduation rates are up, reports the New York Times. “The recent recession, which pushed more workers of all ages to take shelter on college campuses while the job market was poor, has also played a role.”

“Basically, I was just barely getting by, and I didn’t like my job, and I wanted to do something that wasn’t living dollar to dollar,” said Sarah O’Doherty, 24, a former nail salon receptionist who will graduate next month from the County College of Morris in New Jersey with a degree in respiratory therapy.

However, only about half of first-time college freshmen in 2006 had earned a degree by 2012, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

Low-income students continue to lag bar behind.  “Only about 1 out of 10 Americans whose parents were in the lowest income quartile held four-year college degrees by age 24 in 2011, compared to 7 in 10 from the highest quartile.

“There are worrisome signs that the demand for high-skilled talent is increasing more rapidly than we’re actually educating people,” said Lumina Foundation CEO Jamie P. Merisotis.

Lumina’s new report, A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education 2013, estimates that 38.7 percent of working-age Americans (ages 25-64) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2011. That’s rising, but not fast enough to meet the foundation’s Goal 2025, which aims to increase the percentage of Americans with “high-quality degrees and credentials” to 60 percent in 12 years.

While 59.1 percent of working-age Asian-Americans and 43.3 percent of whites have earned a degree, that falls to 27.1 percent for blacks and 19.3 for Hispanics. The gap is even wider for young adults.

Lumina announced 10 achievement targets to raise the college attainment trend lines.

The dean comes out

Community College Dean, an Inside Higher Ed blogger, is coming out with a book — and with his real name. Matt Reed, vice president for academic affairs at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts has written Confessions of a Community College Administrator, due out in January. When he started the blog, he was was the liberal arts dean at the County College of Morris in Randolph, New Jersey.

Adjunct tells stuttering student not to speak

Philip Garber Jr. isn’t afraid to speak up, despite his stutter. When the 16-year-old was told not to ask or answer questions in his history class at County College of Morris — the adjunct said he was wasting other students’ time — Garber complained to the dean, who switched him to another instructor. The New York Times ran a front-page story, the college is investigating and the adjunct isn’t likely to be rehired.

After the first couple of class sessions, in which he participated actively, the professor, an adjunct named Elizabeth Snyder, sent him an e-mail asking that he pose questions before or after class, “so we do not infringe on other students’ time.”

As for questions she asks in class, Ms. Snyder suggested, “I believe it would be better for everyone if you kept a sheet of paper on your desk and wrote down the answers.”

Later, he said, she told him, “Your speaking is disruptive.”

After 30 years as a middle-school social studies teacher, Snyder began teaching history at the community college 10 years ago.

Garber is taking history and composition at the local community college, while finishing his home-schooling curriculum. He travels into Manhattan once a week to “work on acting and playwriting with Our Time Theater Company, a group for people who stutter,” reports the Times. He hopes to be a photojournalist.

Don’t FEAR Your Stutter, be PROUD, You’re Still Standing! says Garber on his YouTube channel, TheStutteringMan.

Update: Snyder says she told Garber, who wanted to answer every question, that she’d call on him once per class.