Career-tech dual enrollment shows promise

Dual enrollment courses with a career tech focus are drawing more students, according to an Education Commission for the States report. The trend should help states meet college completion and workforce goals, the report said.

Studies show CTE dual enrollment students are more likely to graduate high school, enroll in a four-year college or university full-time and persist in higher education. Researchers in one study noted, “In many cases, male and low-income students benefitted more from dual enrollment participation than their more advantaged peers.”

Among policy recommendations are exempting parents from fees for dual enrollment courses and ensuring credits will transfer. In addition:

Course content and instructor credentials must mirror those of traditional postsecondary instructors. Texas requires CTE dual enrollment courses to be college-level technical education courses listed in the state’s Workforce Education Course Manual.

Courses should incorporate industry curriculum and standards, and lead to certification. 

More than 80 percent of high schools now offer dual enrollment courses. About half include college-level career tech courses. 

How to earn a low-debt bachelor’s degree

Starting at a community college will cut the cost of a bachelor’s degree, but students have to be savvy to make it work, writes Lisa Ward in the Wall Street Journal.

Transferring credits can be be “complicated and confusing,” she writes. Students and parents should research whether their state has coordinated community college and state university credits.

For example, California, Louisiana and Texas guarantee admission to a four-year state university to any student who earns an associate degree at an in-state community college. Florida has the same guarantee for an associate of arts, but transfers will need high grades and prerequisites to get into popular majors at prestigious schools.

Some states, including Texas and Florida, use the same numbering system for community college and state university courses. Psych 101 is the same at every school, making it easier for students to know which credits will transfer.

Hybrid degree programs also help transfers earn low-cost bachelor’s degrees.

 Houston Community College and University of Texas at Tyler designed a program where students can earn an associate’s degree in engineering from HCC and then enroll at UT Tyler, as long as their grade-point average is 2.5 or higher. The program sets the student up for a bachelor’s degree in mechanical, electrical or civil engineering.

“It costs $19,000, for all four years, if you live in-state,” says David Le, who is enrolled in the program. “No one ever believes me when I tell them how cheap it is,” says Mr. Le, who lives at home because the program is taught entirely at HCC’s campus.

Earning college credit in high school also cuts the cost of a degree. Most schools offer Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses that enable students to earn college credit. Increasingly, students can earn credits through “dual enrollment” or “early college” classes, which often are taught by community college instructors.

“In many cases, dual enrollment and early college are the absolutely cheapest way to earn college credit because it’s free,” says Dilip Das, assistant vice provost at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Maryland legislates college readiness, completion

Maryland’s college readiness and completion law is shaking up the state’s education system, reports Paul Fain in Inside Higher Ed. The comprehensive law, passed six months ago, affects the K-12 system, community college and state universities.

The measure requires high schools to test students on their college readiness — in both math and English — before they finish their junior years. By 2015 high schools will need to create “transition” courses for students that are deemed unprepared for college-level courses in those subjects.

On the higher education side, public institutions in the state must require students to complete at least one credit-bearing, non-remedial math and English course as part of the first 24 credits they earn.

Community college leaders are optimistic the measures will help improve student success rates. Nearly all their “suggested amendments were adopted in the final version,” writes Fain.

Some 44.4 percent of Maryland adults held an associate degree or higher in 2009. Legislators hope to raise that to at least 55 percent by 2025.

The legislation requires public, four-year institutions to accept more credits that students earn at Maryland community colleges. And it will make both community colleges and four-year institutions be more thrifty with their programmatic degree requirements. Under the law, four-year institutions must set a limit of 120 credits for bachelor’s degrees, with some exceptions. Likewise, most associate degree programs will be 60 credits.

In Maryland community college graduates were accumulating an average of 75 credits to earn a degree in 3.8 years.

The law requires high schools to pay most of the cost for up to four dual enrollment courses. That’s expected to boost the number of high school students taking college courses.

Honors programs cut college costs

Dual enrollment, AP classes and community college honors programs can curb college costs and raise graduation rates, writes Chris Romer, co-founder of American Honors, in the Denver Post.

Students who earn college credits in high school — either through dual enrollment or passing AP exams — can earn a degree more quickly and cheaply, writes Romer, who introduced dual enrollment legislation as a Colorado state senator. They’re also better prepared for college demands.

Lastly, and perhaps the most exciting option, are community college honors programs that are providing rigorous courses, small class sizes, and personalized academic advising. This model is often known as “2+2,” meaning students complete their first two years at a community college and then finish their degree at a four-year college or university. Honors programs combine the low-cost structure of a community college with a challenging curriculum, preparing students to successfully transfer.

. . . American Honors, is saving students between 30 and 40 percent of the cost of a typical four-year education. After two years, students earn an associate’s degree with honors and are well-poised to transfer to leading colleges and universities like Amherst, Middlebury, Auburn, Gonzaga and Brandeis, to name a few of the 27 participating schools.

Only a few community colleges offer honors programs, writes Romer, but the idea is gaining popularity.

Completion rates are higher for ‘dual’ students

Sixty-six percent of dual enrollment students who started college in 2007 completed a credential in six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse’s new report.  That compares to a 54 percent completion rate for those who didn’t take any college-level courses in high school. However, because dual enrollment may draw more motivated students, it’s not clear the program raises graduation rates.

Dual enrollment is expanding rapidly: 47 states and the District of Columbia let high school students take college courses,reports Education Commission of the States.  The number of states making students and their families primarily responsible for the costs of dual enrollment is dropping, from 22 in 2008 to 11 in 2013.

For degree seekers who started college in 2007, six-year completion rates ranged from 40 percent for those who started at community colleges, 63 percent who started at public universities and 73 percent for students who started at four-year private nonprofit institutions.

While completion rates were low at four-year for-profit colleges, two-year for-profit colleges, which focus on job training, once again did better than community colleges. Sixty-two percent of two-year for-profit students completed a credential.

Figure B. Six-Year Outcomes by Starting Institution Type

Figure B. Six-Year Outcomes by Starting Institution Type

 Seventeen percent of community college starters completed a four-year degree, the study found. A majority had not first received an associate degree.

Overall, one in four completers had moved to another college or university.

Completion rates were higher for women and for traditional-age students.

Oregon seeks ways to lower college costs

Hoping to boost the number of college graduates, Oregon is trying to make college affordable, writes Sophie Quinton in The Atlantic.

Currently, about a third of students in the Beaver State don’t graduate from high school on time—or at all—and just 61 percent of graduates immediately head to college.

. . . State and local funding for higher education dropped by 32 percent between 2007 and 2012 even as enrollment jumped by 36.2 percent, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Unsurprisingly, Oregon students are paying 18 percent more in tuition and fees than the national average, and students’ debt loads are soaring.

One proposal, “Pay It Forward,” would eliminate tuition at public two- and four-year colleges — if students commit to pay a fixed percentage of their post-graduation salaries to their college or to the state. A state commission is researching the idea.

Getting a statewide program off the ground could cost more than $9 billion over 24 years, until enough graduates are paying into the system to make it self-sustaining, The Wall Street Journal reports. Oregon will have to figure out how to track graduates who move out of state, what to do about students who enroll in college for a few years but never graduate, and how to maintain the balance of high and low earners necessary to keep institutions fully funded.

“Pay It Forward” wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the need for financial aid: Living expenses and other costs wouldn’t be covered by the program. And for students who enter low-paying fields after graduation, income-based repayment for federal student loans may actually be a better deal, according to The Washington Post.

Two years of community college would be free to all qualified Oregonians under a proposal by State Sen. Mark Hass.  ”Two years of community-college credit is a much better value than a lifetime on food stamps,” the Democratic lawmaker says.

Oregon legislators also are considering requiring  all high school students to earn “dual enrollment” college credits, but the $1 billion cost is a barrier.

Making the most of 12th grade

“College and career readiness” is the goal — but not the reality — for all high school graduates.  Making the Most of 12th Grade in the Common Core Era, a policy brief by the Community College Research Center and Jobs for the Future, looks at ways to help students who aren’t on track for success.

Currently, 68 percent of community college students and 40 percent of students at open-access four-year colleges require one or more remedial classes, according to the CCRC. While 43 percent of community college students who need remediation graduate in eight years, only 28 percent of remedial students complete a credential.

Seven states and the District of Columbia — plus a number of school districts — are creating “transition” curricula to help low-scoring 12th-graders avoid remediation in college. Usually, these involve a special course, online tutorials and sometimes help with study skills and “college knowledge.”  Tennessee’s SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) pilot uses a mix of online and teacher-led learning to teach key math competencies.

The Southern Regional Ed Board has designed model literacy and math courses for high-risk students.

Early college high school and dual enrollment programs also can help high-risk students prepare for college, the policy brief concludes. Once in community college, accelerated remediation  and redesigned developmental math (statistics and quantitative reasoning for non-STEM students) show promise.

“Acceleration is more motivating than remediation,” writes Joel Vargas of Jobs for the Future. “The students who will struggle most with the Common Core are likely to be the same ones who struggle now to graduate high school and enroll in college. They will be disproportionately low-income and minority youth, often English language learners, whose parents did not attend college themselves.”

Community college grad rate inches up to 37%

Despite President Obama’s call for more college graduates, only 54 percent of students earn a two- or four-year degree in six years, reports the National Student Clearinghouse. The graduation rate is nearly flat, notes the Hechinger Report. Six Year Outcomes

However, community colleges raised the six-year completion rate by 1.1 percentage points to 37.4 percent. That includes the 9 percent who earned a degree after transferring to four-year institutions.

Graduation rates also inched up for students who started at public universities in 2007.

While 76 percent of full-time students earned a degree, only 22 percent of part-timers graduated in six years with another 11 percent still enrolled.

The National Student Clearinghouse’s full report, due in December, will include college students who earned credits in high school through dual enrollment programs.

North Carolina sets college pathways

North Carolina has launched a four-year plan to improve student success, says Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina Community College System.

New college students will enter a structured program, reports Community College Times. Even high school students in dual enrollment programs will be encouraged to enroll tuition-free in a pathway that leads to a technical or bachelor’s degree.

The system also used research and analysis to identify and address “momentum loss points”—points where students become bogged down and too often pulled off course in their goals toward completion. In community colleges, that usually happens in a student’s first semester or first academic year, particularly in developmental education programs.

“We found too many students entering developmental education without exiting, which is why we have completely redesigned our efforts in North Carolina,” Ralls said.

The colleges tapped expert math and English faculty members across the state to re-engineer curriculum to shorten the length of courses and to develop modules to let students get the courses they need.

The state system also worked with high schools to align career and college readiness testing. Now students will know early whether they’re on track to take college-level community college classes.

Eighty technical programs in in transportation, energy, manufacturing, environment and construction now offer “stackable” credentials. A student can earn a certificate, leave college for the workforce and return later to add an advanced credential.

Remediation starts in high school

Tennessee community colleges are running math labs in local high schools to prepare students for college math, reports Inside Higher Ed. Encouraged by early results, Gov. Bill Haslam came up with money to expand the experiment.

Math labs are designed for high school seniors who appear likely to place into remedial courses in college.

Pass rates have been high. For example, 83 percent of a group of 200 students in the remedial, dual-enrollment group at Chattanooga State Community College completed all of the college’s required math “competencies” during their senior year of high school.

Even better, 25 percent of those students completed a credit-bearing, college-level math course while still in high school (remedial math is typically noncredit). These were also students who scored a 19 or below on the ACT Mathematics Test as high school juniors, meaning they had deficiencies in the subject.

“They were completely done with math before they even started” college, said Kimberly G. McCormick, interim associate vice president for academic affairs at Chattanooga State.

Three years ago, Chattanooga State helped set up a remedial math lab at a nearby high school. Teacher Deborah Weiss used Pearson’s MyMathLab courseware, which lets students work at their own speed.

The class was “wildly successful,” McCormick said. The state funded a larger pilot at high schools near Northeast State, Cleveland State and Jackson State Community Colleges as well as Chattanooga State.

This year, all 13 of the state’s community colleges are running math labs at 1134high schools throughout Tennessee.

Colorado Gear Up‘s Early Remediation Project starts even earlier — in eighth grade. This year, some 1,300 students in grades 8, 9 and 10 are enrolled in classes mirroring the remedial math and English sequences taught on Colorado campuses. Once students pass the courses, as verified by Adams State University, they can enroll in college-level courses. Some start earning college credits in 10th grade.