Twenty-eight percent of first-time students at five community colleges didn’t return for the second semester, concludes a 2005-06 study by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia. Most never attended college again.
Early dropouts are older and less prepared academically than students who came back for another semester, according to Characteristics of Early Community College Dropouts. Early dropouts failed or withdrew from more than 60 percent of their courses and did especially poorly in remedial course.
Louisiana has shifted adult basic education from high schools to community colleges: Unemployed and underemployed adults can train for skilled jobs while studying for a GED through the Louisiana Community and Technical College System’s (LCTCS) Work Ready U, reports Community College Times.
Most Work Ready U students are training for jobs in construction trades and welding or health care jobs, such as nursing assistants, phlebotomists and pharmacy technicians.
Delgado Community College (DCC) now has 2,500 students in adult basic education, compared to 500 in 2007-08. DCC is one of 10 Louisiana community colleges in Jobs for the Future’s Accelerating Opportunity program. “There is no reason why a student should need a GED before they start on a career pathway,” said Barbara Endel, national project director for Accelerating Opportunity.
Traditional adult ed courses didn’t provide enough structure and support, said LCTCS Chancellor Joe May.
When ABE was administered by the K-12 education system, it was run on an “open-entry, open-exit approach,” May said. That didn’t work so well with people who had dropped out of school, so there were high attrition rates.
. . . Work Ready U programs limit the number of people who come in at any one time and provide extra counseling and social services. Also, switching GED courses to community colleges allowed for more flexible scheduling, including evening hours, which are more convenient for adults with families and jobs.
“Pushing someone to get a GED requires a ton of effort, particularly for adults with families,” said DCC Chancellor Monty Sullivan. However, it’s worth the effort. More Work Ready U students are enrolling in credit-bearing courses. On average, they are less likely to drop out than regular students.
Last year Congress dropped Pell Grant eligibility for high school dropouts who passed an “ability-to-benefit” test. To keep Work Ready U on track, DCC turned to foundations to fund tuition aid.
Aa the fishing industry declined in New Bedford, Massachusetts, high school dropout rates rose. However, Bristol Community College is partnering with high schools to reduce dropouts through a Middle College program that lets students earn college and high school credits at the same time.
Dropouts or students at risk of dropping out must pass placement tests and be interviewed to get into Middle College.
In just one year, Middle College has yielded success. What started as a 20-person cohort boomed to nearly 70 this past September, with more growth expected as the program continues to send high school grads out into the real world. Program leaders attribute the jump in enrollment to not only the partnership with the local schools, but word-of-mouth endorsements from current students to friends or family in similar circumstances.
“I was out of high school for five years before a friend recommended Middle College to me,” said Michael Camara, a first-year student in the program. “So I took the placement tests, I got accepted and now I’m on my way to my degree in business entrepreneurship. It’s tough, balancing family and school—I do have a three-year-old at home—but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Of five students who completed their high school diplomas in Middle College’s first year, three are enrolled at BCC and a fourth plans to enroll this spring.
About to become a father, Darius Payne explains why he enrolled in Middle College. “I don’t want to be a bum raising a child. I want to have something, show something to my child.”
Older, returning students who require remediation are straining Florida’s community colleges, reports the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. From 2004 to 2011, Florida’s remedial education costs rose from $118 million to $168 million. The vast majority of “developmental” students have been out of school for at least a year or two: In the 2010-11 school year, 85 percent of students taking remedial classes were age 20 or older.
The recession accelerated the trend.
Laid-off workers and those . . . who want to train for new lines of work or bolster their résumés, have been flooding onto college campuses. It isn’t just the weak job market that has been encouraging them to do this. The federal government is providing record amounts of financial aid.
Most have rusty academic skills, especially in math. Four of every five first-year, full-time students over 20 had to take remedial math courses. For those 35 and older, the rate increased to 90 percent.
Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education, says older students’ need for remedial math is natural. “You read every day, but when was the last time someone said, ‘Excuse me, Can you help me solve a polynomial equation?’ ” Boylan said. “It’s a skill that atrophies quickly and because it is not used regularly, it goes away.”
President Obama has promoted easier access to education for disadvantaged students and expanded Pell Grants by more than $15 billion. In Florida, the number of students receiving federal financial aid and taking remedial classes more than doubled from 2007 to 2011.
Older students taking remedial courses said the availability of financial aid was a determining factor in deciding to go to college.
José Ramos is one of them. Ramos is a phlebotomist — that’s the person who takes blood samples for health tests. A Pell Grant enabled Ramos, 46, to pursue a nursing degree at St. Petersburg College. “Being the only provider in a household and for what I make, you can’t survive and go to school,” said Ramos, a father of four. “Normally, right now, I wouldn’t be in school. I’d be working two jobs supporting my family and not able to see my son grow up like I did my daughter.”
. . . Financial aid allowed Ramos to reduce his hours at work and concentrate on his studies. But his education has also taken longer than he anticipated due to his need for remedial math. Ramos didn’t score high enough in math on the entrance exam to take college-level algebra.
Patricia Smith, who oversees the campus learning lab, says many older students don’t make it through the remedial sequence. A 2007 state analysis estimated half of remedial students drop out before qualifying for college-level classes. The rate is higher for older students, instructors say. In some cases, laid-off workers find new jobs. In others, students are pulled away from college by family problems, part-time jobs and, for veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder.
Older students who stick with it are “more focused,” says Smith. “They will help bring up the younger students in the class and actually act as nurturers and be great role models for younger students.”
Some 37 million Americans have “some college” but no degree, writes Anya Kamenetz in The Atlantic. That’s bad for the dropouts — and for the economy.
Small cash grants to help struggling students pay for transportation and child care have been shown to improve their chances of getting a degree. The government’s Pell Grants, possibly subject to budget cuts in a Washington debt deal, cover community-college tuition for the most hard-pressed students; if they can attend school while working and finish quickly, they need less money overall.
Colleges need to spend “differently and better,” not more, says Tom Sugar, a senior vice president at Complete College America, which calls itself a “do tank.” Complete College is working with 31 states to improve graduation rates by speeding the path to a degree, before “life gets in the way,” says Sugar. Tracking students’ progress and removing barriers helps.
The biggest obstacle isn’t money. It’s “academic fitness,” writes Kamenetz.
Notably, half of the students in community colleges and 20 to 30 percent of those in four-year schools need a remedial, high-school-level course when they enroll; having to spend time and money without accumulating credits toward a degree prompts most of them to quit. Complete College America prefers the idea of “corequisites” that combine remedial tutoring, sometimes using software, with college-credit work.
In addition, federal policy could update college completion data and link financial aid “directly to student achievement instead of using credit hours as a clumsy proxy for progress,” Kamenetz writes. “The Education Department could funnel more student loans and grants to states that fare best in moving students to graduation.”
Nineteen percent of higher education spending goes for students who fail to earn a certificate or degree from any institution, according to a report on student attrition by the Delta Cost Project at American Institutes for Research (AIR). Each 20 percent reduction in attrition will increase degree or certificate production by 6 percent, helping meet President Obama’s goal of increasing the number of young Americans who earn college degrees, the report finds.
One third of undergraduates leave college without a credential. Academic failure is not the primary cause: More than 40 percent have earned A’s and B’s. Only 15 percent of attrition costs was linked to dropouts with a C average or below.
The average cost per completed credential is $16,100 for a certificate, $33,900 for an associate degree and $53,800 for a bachelor’s degree.
Grand Rapids Community College is teaching English, math and biology instructors how to teach reading reports Michigan Live. Reading Apprenticeship focuses on helping students understand their textbooks.
“Reading a biology textbook, many students will gloss over it and think they’ve read it, but they won’t take what they need away from it,” said John Cowles, GRCC’s associate dean for counseling, advising and retention services.
. . . You have individuals from the factory worker who has been laid-off and is very rusty,” he said. “You maybe have the recent high school graduate who maybe didn’t take high school so seriously. Or maybe they were told they weren’t going to make it and they didn’t try.”
About 45 percent of first-time, full-time GRCC students leave in a year, including dropouts and transfers. Of students who started in fall 2008, 15 percent had earned a degree within four years and 33 percent transferred.
Community colleges aren’t living up to their promise, writes Mark Bauerlein, an Emory English professor and author of The Dumbest Generation, on Minding the Campus. The solution lies in alliances with local employers, he argues.
The American Association of Community Colleges’ new report, Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future, details the problem: Only 46 percent of credential-seeking community college students will reach their goal, transfer or remain enrolled in six years. “Nearly half of all community college students entering in the fall term drop out before the second fall term begins.”
The report develops several recommended “institutional responses” to improve these abysmal results, including focusing on student success as well as student access, making faculty members think less individualistically and more collectively, and making the curriculum less fragmentary and more cumulative. But . . . the best driver of improvement is, in fact, off-campus . . .
. . . City Colleges of Chicago works directly with Rush University Medical Center and Midway airport to provide a pipeline of graduates tailored to their needs. Jefferson Community and Technical College in Kentucky has teamed up with UPS, the latter helping cover tuition and textbook costs while the former provides coursework designed to meet UPS’s job openings. And Walla Walla Community College has altered its curriculum to match the region’s tremendous growth in wine-making, the College now operating a commercial winery run by the students themselves.
South Carolina’s manufacturing boom relies on close cooperation between employers and colleges, according to the Wall Street Journal, Bauerlein notes.
“The area’s manufacturers have built a symbiosis between factory and school. Walking through GE’s gas-turbine plant some months back, I asked the factory manager how she coped with the nation’s shortage of engineers. ‘We don’t have a shortage,’ she said. She gets plenty from Clemson University, Greenville Technical College and other regional schools.”
. . . “Charles Wilson, who teaches at Greenville Tech, says GE is priming the pump with a new apprentice program. Students will study at the school and work at GE, and the company will pick up the tab. GE also sends some of its new hires to the college for a crash course in hands-on manufacturing, he adds.”
Greenville Tech and two other schools mentioned, Tri-County Technical College and Spartanburg Community College, are two-year public colleges, Bauerlein writes. “That’s the answer to low student performance: bring the workplace into the curriculum, let the students know a job awaits them after graduation, and accept the fact that for the majority of community college students, workplace readiness is the cardinal principle of learning.”
The U.S. has the highest college dropout rate in the industrialized world, reports Reuters. Many U.S. high school graduates start college, but only 46 percent complete a degree, according to the OECD. By contrast, 89 percent of Japanese who start college earn a credential.
Dropouts blame poor academic preparation, “inability to cope with the competing demands of study, family and jobs” and high college costs, according to a Harvard report.
. . . “For many young adults, the ultimate bottom line is whether the degree or credential they earn will help them secure a job,” according to a 2011 Pew Research Center report, “Is College Worth It?”
. . . Financial barriers play a key role in students’ decisions to drop out of college, the Pew study finds. Among adults age 18-34 who lack a bachelor’s degree, two-thirds halted their education to support a family, 57 percent preferred to work and make money; and 48 percent simply couldn’t afford college.
Students can earn a college degree at a reasonable cost, if they complete their first years at a community college, says Eleanor Blayney with the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.
One-third of college students switch institutions at least once before earning a degree, says a National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report, ”Transfer and Mobility. That doesn’t include community college students who earned an associate degree before transferring to a four-year institution.
“Reverse transfers” from four-year to two-year schools are common, notes the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Among students who transfer from four-year public institutions, more than half (51.9 percent) transfer “in reverse,” to two-year public institutions. And among students who transfer from two-year public colleges, more than a third (37.6 percent) move laterally, to other two-year public colleges. That is nearly as many as transfer from two-year to four-year public institutions: 41.2 percent.
From private colleges—both nonprofit and for-profit—many students also leave for public two-year colleges. From nonprofit colleges, 41.4 percent of transfers go to two-year institutions, and from for-profits, 43.9 percent do.
The report looks at full- and part-time students over a five-year period beginning in 2006. Transfer rates peak in students’ second year.
With so many transfers, federal graduation data is badly askew, college officials point out. Students who transfer before completing a degree are counted as dropouts.