MOOC option is ‘massively bad idea’

California’s plan to substitute MOOCs for entry-level community college classes is a “massively bad idea,” argues Rob Jenkins, an English professor at Georgia Perimeter College in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Under a bill in the Legislature, students shut out of entry-level, high-demand classes could take approved online courses — including MOOCs, or massive open online courses – offered by private providers.

Many community college students are poorly prepared for college work, writes Jenkins. Graduation rates are low. Those who enroll in online courses have lower completion rates than similar students in face-to-face courses, according to studies in Washington state and Virginia by the Community College Research Center at Columbia.

. . .  listen to the sobering conclusion of the Virginia study: “Regardless of their initial level of preparation … students were more likely to fail or withdraw from online courses than from face-to-face courses. In addition, students who took online coursework in early semesters were slightly less likely to return to school in subsequent semesters, and students who took a higher proportion of credits online were slightly less likely to attain an educational award or transfer to a four-year institution.”

“Succeeding in online classes requires an extraordinary degree of organization, self-discipline, motivation, and time-management skill,” writes Jenkins. In particular, MOOCs work best for students with a record of success in traditional learning environments.  ”In other words, not community-college students.”

Furthermore, the most successful MOOCs have been high-level math and computation classes, not entry-level courses.

. . . California’s plan (or to be fair, one senator’s plan) is basically to dump hundreds of thousands of the state’s least-prepared and least-motivated students into a learning environment that requires the greatest amount of preparation and motivation, where they will take courses that may or may not be effective in that format.

“Students will fail and drop out at astronomical rates,” predicts Jenkins.

Not surprisingly, faculty leaders in all three tiers of California’s higher education system strongly oppose outsourcing courses to online providers.

Enrollment boom ends

After seven boom years, community college enrollment growth is slowing, writes Victor M. H. Borden, a Indiana University professor of educational leadership and policy studies, in Community College Week. Full-time student enrollment declined by 6 percent in the past year, while part-time enrollment increased by .5 percent.

. . .  full-time enrollments had been growing at a faster rate than part-time enrollments between 2008 and 2010, that is, during the most difficult economic years. The more recent decline, as well as the even larger decline in enrollments among the even more vocationally focused for-profit sector, may be a sign of slightly better economic conditions this past year.

Community colleges have been under heavy pressure to meet increasing demand, Borden writes. That pressure could ease. However, some worry that the enrollment decline will slow the Obama administration’s campaign to “increase the number of adults with college degrees and provide businesses with  skilled workers.”

Some community colleges are still growing.

Chandler-Gilbert Community College, located southeast of Phoenix, for example, has known nothing but growth since it first opened its doors in 1987 and this year tops Community College Week’s list of fastest-growing community colleges with enrollments of more than 10,000 students. According to a CCWeek analysis, the number of degree-seeking students at Chandler-Gilbert CC jumped by 14.1 percent between 2010 and 2011.

Across the country, Wake Technical Community College, near Raleigh, N.C., ranks second among large colleges with an enrollment increase of 12.2 percent. In  2012, Wake Tech surpassed 20,000 in enrollment for the first time.

. . . On Election Day, voters in Wake County approved $200 million in bonds to expand the college, which currently has a waiting list of 5,400 students unable to get into desired classes.

Both colleges are located in areas with rapidly growing populations.

California colleges await tax vote

A tax measure on California’s November ballot could provide an extra $213 million to community colleges, making it possible to restore course sections to meet rising demand. If the measure fails,  colleges will have to cut $338 million, a 7.5 percent budget reduction.  The decision is “fairly monumental,” says Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the Faculty Association of California’s Community Colleges, in a Hechinger Report interview.

. . . colleges would be serving fewer students would have fewer course sections and would pare down their staff accordingly.

That’s fairly monumental at a time when the pressure on the community colleges to retrain an unemployed workforce is very high and when students who in an earlier era if they were eligible would never have thought about not going to the University of California, but today there is the issue about affordability in those systems.

Also, we still have demography issue. We have a higher percentage of 18-24 year-olds in the state than in other periods of history. And, we have the other issue of the demobilization of our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan that have come home and are seeking higher education opportunities to transition into the civilian economy. So, it’s created the perfect storm for demand for community college seats,

The measure “faces an uphill slog,” predicts the San Jose Mercury News. A rival tax increase on the ballot may split pro-tax voters.

CC cuts push students to costly for-profit schools

Cierra Nelson spent four years trying to complete prerequisites for a nursing program at a community college in southern California. Again and again, she was turned away from science classes she needed, such as anatomy and physiology. Finally, she gave up on the low-cost community college and borrowed more than $50,000 to attend a for-profit, Everest College, writes Chris Kirkham in the Huffington Post.

“When I first saw how high it was, it was kind of a shock,” said Nelson, who eventually came to the conclusion that taking out loans made more sense than waiting semester after semester to take the community college classes she needed to advance. “I know it’s a lot of money and I’ll be in debt, but I’ve got to do what I need to do.”

More than 90 percent of nursing graduates at nearby community colleges last year passed state licensing exams, compared to fewer than 70 percent of Everest students. But Everest students are able to graduate without spending years on wait lists.

For-profit colleges enroll more low-income, minority and adult minority students than other institutions. Graduation rates are higher for career programs that take two years or less, much lower for bachelor’s programs. Default rates on student loans are significantly higher.

While for-profit schools can raise money to expand quickly in high-demand fields, community colleges have cut classes to cope with funding cuts, Kirkham writes.

California has been hit especially hard. Some  200,000 community college students will be turned away from classes next school year, the chancellor’s office predicts.

That amounts to more than 7 percent of the entire state’s community college student body, and that does not count those who gave up on plans to enroll due to the difficulties of securing classes.

After accounting for inflation, California is now spending the same amount on community colleges that it did six years ago, despite adding more than 175,000 students in that period, a nearly 20 percent increase. On a per-student basis, the state is spending less this year than it was 15 years ago.

Riverside Community College in southern California has room for 200 students; some 1,500 applicants are on a wait list. And many more, like Nelson, aren’t able to get into the required classes that will qualify them for the wait list.

In just the past year, California’s community colleges have cut between 5 and 15 percent of their course offerings, according to the state community college chancellor’s office. Among the hardest hit were costly, yet crucial workforce training programs such as computer information systems, nursing and other health care-related majors, such as radiologic technology.

No wonder students are choose for-profit career colleges, despite the much higher costs.

Squeezed out

Thirty-seven percent of community college students were unable to enroll in a class this fall because it was full, according to a Pearson Foundation survey.  Twenty percent said they had trouble enrolling in the courses they needed to complete their degree or certificate.

Part-time and remedial students had the hardest time getting into classes.

College readiness also was an issue for recent high school graduates: 52 percent said their high school hadn’t prepared them for college-level academics. They suggested emphasizing basic skills, offering more courses and offering more challenging courses.


Sorry, the class is full

One third of community college students were turned away from one or more classes last semester because they were full, according to the Pearson Foundation’s Community College Student Survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive.

Fifteen percent of students said they’d dropped out or seriously considered it in the first few weeks of the semester because of academic difficulties or problems balancing classwork with family and work obligations. Seventy-four percent of drop-outs did not discuss their intentions with instructors or advisers.

Students most at risk of dropping out are male, employed full-time, enrolled part-time and enrolled in remedial courses.

More than 70 percent of students believe high-speed Internet access is important for success in community college. Sixty-one percent reported having taken at least one course online, and 44 percent said they would like to take all of their courses online.

The importance of online access was the stand-out finding for Daniel de Vise of College Inc, who notes students rated high-speed Internet access as more important for success than access to advisers or relationships with professors.

In other words, today’s community college student considers an Internet hookup more important than any human on campus.

. . . Students tend to believe they can benefit from online homework and tutorials. And those who have considered dropping out are “particularly likely to think they could do better in their courses if they spent more time using these online materials,” the report states.

Students at risk of dropping out are more likely to have taken online courses, and also more likely to believe online education is “highly important” for them to succeed. This is presumably because online education is a flexible learning model, available to students almost anywhere and at most any time.

A third of students had enrolled in community college straight out of high school and another third had been working. The final third said they were taking classes for “enjoyment” or self-improvement, a higher number than I’d have predicted.

Sixty percent said they hoped to transfer to earn a four-year degree; one-third said their goal was an associate degree. With completion and transfer rates at 22 percent, many will not reach their goals.

CCs in California need to raise fees

California can “make community college more affordable by raising student fees,” editorializes the Los Angeles Times.

The state’s community colleges could have more than doubled its take of federal stimulus money by raising fees $1 from $26 a unit to $27, The Times writes. The average full-time student would have paid only $30 more per year, while the colleges would have netted an extra $12.5 million.

A $10-a-unit increase would bring in $125 million more a year, and the state would still have the least expensive community colleges in the nation.

That $10 increase, or about $300 a year, would in fact save students money. Because of budget cuts, students are competing for seats in the classes they need for a vocational certificate or to move on to a four-year school. Many cannot get into enough classes to be considered full time, which means they don’t qualify for student health insurance. Worse, they must spend an extra semester or even a year to earn the credits needed for a degree, certificate or transfer. One extra semester of living expenses costs a lot more than $300.

Colleges should spend the extra money to offer more sections of the classes students need and to offer fee waivers to needy students, the Times proposes. Students who aren’t poor enough to qualify for a waiver will be able to collect a federal tuition tax credit that pays for up to $2,000 a year in fees and textbooks.

Some California students are enrolling in high-cost for-profit colleges to get the classes their community colleges don’t have the funding to provide. Paying higher community college fees in exchange for getting the classes they need to complete a degree would be an excellent deal, even without the federal tax credit.

California colleges end Kaplan tie

California’s community college system has canceled an agreement with Kaplan University, a for-profit educator, to recognize credits earned through Kaplan’s online programs. Because of increased demand and underfunding, many students can’t get into the classes they need at their local community college.

In an Aug. 17 letter calling off the November memorandum of understanding, Barry Russell, the vice chancellor of academic affairs, cited concerns that it could have a “negative effect” on students who transferred to a California State University or University of California campus and could not get credit for the Kaplan course.

Kaplan had agreed to give students a 42 percent discount on courses, lowering the cost to about $216 a credit.  That’s much more than the community college cost, $26 a credit. But students might have paid the Kaplan rates to avoid waiting a semester or two for space in a community college class.

Meanwhile, California community college students are in transfer limbo, reports the Los Angeles Times. The California State University system has opened applications for spring semester transfers, but isn’t promising to accept anyone. It all depends on the state budget, which is months overdue.

‘Afternoon college’ draws students

Morning and evening classes were crowded, but few students were coming to Wake Tech Community College (North Carolina) in the afternoons.  “Afternoon College,” which guarantees students they can earn an associate degree in two years, was designed to even the load, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Starting this fall on the Northern Wake campus, the afternoon classes are open to recent high-school graduates attending full time with plans to transfer to four-year institutions. Students will be guaranteed admission to required courses.

Students who sign up will take four classes every day, Monday through Thursday, between 2 and 6:20 p.m. They will have no classes on Friday.

. . . “If we hadn’t tried this, classes would already be full by now,” (Gayle) Greene said in early July. As of August, many slots were still available for the afternoon college, a sign that the pilot program might be loosening the college’s enrollment crunch.

Wake Tech’s enrollment has grown by 22 percent over the last three years.