Online ed grows as retention gap narrows

Online enrollment grew by 5.2 percent at community colleges from fall 2012 to fall 2013, even as traditional enrollment declined, reports the Instructional Technology Council’s 2013 Distance Education Survey. Twenty-six percent of community college students enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2012, according to IPEDS data.

“The retention gap” between online and traditional students  ”has narrowed dramatically” in the past nine years, ITC reports.  Colleges are shifting their focus from adding online offerings to improving the quality of online courses.

MOOCs have not caught on.

Most community college distance education administrators and faculty remain skeptical of massive open online courses (MOOCs) due to their low student retention rates, low teacher-to-student interaction, inability to authenticate students, and lack of financial sustainability. A few community colleges have received grant funding from private foundations to develop MOOCs that offer self-paced online orientations and remedial help, but few community colleges have created a financially-sustainable model for creating MOOCs for their students.

Only half of the community colleges surveyed are able to meet the growing student demand for distance education courses.

‘Reinvented’ Chicago colleges are growing

An advanced manufacturing program is drawing students to Chicago’s Richard J. Daley College.

“Once considered a deeply troubled urban institution where enrollment was plummeting, graduation rates were dismal and degrees held little value, the City Colleges of Chicago are undergoing a turnaround under the leadership of Chancellor Cheryl Hyman, reports Community College Weekly.  She arrived in 2010 pledging “reinvention” of the seven-college system. Enrollment and graduation rates are on the rise.

Two Chicago city colleges — Richard J. Daley and Olive-Harvey — are among the fastest-growing in the nation, Community College Weekly reports.

Hyman credits “strategic efforts to realign our programs with the demands of employers and four-year colleges alike and target our adult education offerings to community needs.” 

Launched in 2011, College to Careers enlists industry partners to help redesign job training programs. Each college has a vocational mission. Daley College focuses on high-tech manufacturing. Olive-Harvey specializes in training students for logistics and transportation careers.

Nationwide, community college enrollment is down by 4 percent as the recession eases.

Enrollment dips as jobs rebound

As the economy rebounds, community college enrollment has gone from boom to bust. Enrollment is down at community colleges in Maryland and Virginia, reports the Washington Post.

“The truth of the matter is that during the recession, we were the economic recovery plan for a lot of Virginia families,” said Jeffrey Kraus, assistant vice chancellor for public relations for the Virginia Community College System.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that community college enrollment nationwide fell 3 percent in fall 2013, similar to the previous year’s decline.

At Montgomery College, the largest community college in Maryland, enrollment fell by 5 percent. The college is back to the number of students enrolled in 2010.

In Virginia, Southwest Virginia Community College has lost 30 percent of its peak enrollment. However, Northern Virginia Community College — grown by nearly 6 percent.

NVCC President Robert G. Templin Jr. said the school “has made a concerted effort over the last eight or nine years” to reach out to students who might be the first in their families to go to college. Many are from minority, immigrant or low-income families in Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington counties. “We help them navigate the higher education landscape, which is pretty difficult if no one in your family has ever gone,” Templin said.

NVCC also is a major provider of transfer students to the state’s four-year institutions, including nearby George Mason University.

Many people don’t know that certificates or two-year degrees in certain fields can be a steppingstone to a well-paying career, said Jeffrey Kraus, spokesman for the Virginia Community College System.  “We need to go out and be talking to people who otherwise are not hearing the message of higher education,” he said. “Part of it is breaking through that ‘bachelor’s or bust’ mentality that a lot of folks have.”

Enrollment declines have forced Kansas community colleges to cut salaries, benefits and hiring, reports the Kansas City Star.

The economic fall and rise has made budgeting “so unpredictable,” said Johnson County Community College President Joe Sopcich in announcing $3.7 million in budget cuts. “Our projections calling for annual increases in enrollment and state aid (this year) were overly optimistic and unrealistic,” he said.

Students will be less affluent, more Latino

Colleges and universities will compete for fewer white, affluent students, according to demographic projections. That could drive some tuition-dependent private colleges out of business.

The number of black students is declining too, while the number of Latino and Asian-American students will increase significantly in the next decade. “The nation’s already seeing a sharp rise in first-generation and low-income graduates, reports the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Some colleges and universities have stepped up recruiting of first-generation students, but most apply to low-cost community colleges.

The number of high-school graduates is projected to drop sharply in several Midwestern and Northeastern states.

Who Will Reach College Age in the Next 14 Years? shows demographic changes, interactively, down to the county level.

Nationally, the number of college-age whites will decline by 14.8 percent and blacks by 8.9 percent over the next 14 years, while college-age Latinos will rise by 13.7 percent and Asians by 14.6 percent.

College bubble will pop

A college degree is “the ticket to the middle class,” according to President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and most parents and high school counselors, write Richard Vedder and Christopher Denhart in a Wall Street Journal commentary. But the college bubble will pop, they predict. As college costs rise, graduates’ earning advantage is declining.

Since 2006, the gap between what the median college graduate earned compared with the median high-school graduate has narrowed by $1,387 for men over 25 working full time, a 5% fall. Women in the same category have fared worse, losing 7% of their income advantage ($1,496).

A college degree’s declining value is even more pronounced for younger Americans. According to data collected by the College Board, for those in the 25-34 age range the differential between college graduate and high school graduate earnings fell 11% for men, to $18,303 from $20,623. The decline for women was an extraordinary 19.7%, to $14,868 from $18,525.

Meanwhile, the cost of college has increased 16.5% in 2012 dollars since 2006.

A 2013 Center for College Affordability and Productivity report, found many more college graduates are working as retail sales clerks, cab drivers and janitors. Underemployment has risen for recent college graduates since the recession, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports.

Employers want to hire graduates of top universities and graduates with master’s degrees, write Vedder and Denhart. But a bachelor’s degree no longer signals “best and brightest.”

Today, with over 30% with degrees, a significant portion of college graduates are similar to the average American—not demonstrably smarter or more disciplined. Declining academic standards and grade inflation add to employers’ perceptions that college degrees say little about job readiness.

As demand for a high-priced not-so-higher education falls, colleges will have to “constrain costs,” they write. In addition, “colleges must bow to new benchmarks assessing their worth.” There’s too much competition from online education to resist, even if it means “poorly endowed and undistinguished schools may bite the dust.”

Enrollment continues to rise at traditional four-year universities, notes Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic. “All of the declines happened in the troubled for-profit sector, which has cut back somewhat on enrolling clearly under-qualified students in an effort to clean up its image, and community colleges, which have been grappling with overcrowding in recent years.”

Chinese, Saudis choose U.S. colleges

Fewer international students are enrolling in U.S. community colleges, while more are choosing baccalaureate colleges, according to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors 2013 report.

Community colleges’ international enrollments fell by 1.4 percent in 2012-13, the fourth consecutive decline, notes Community College Times. The number of international students increased by 2.9 percent at baccalaureate colleges.

The Houston Community College System in Texas has 5,333 international students this academic year, followed by Santa Monica College in California with 3,471 students and De Anza College in California with 2,728 student. Lone Star College in Texas with 2,112 students and Northern Virginia Community College with 1,901 students rounded the top five community colleges.

China is sending an increasing number of students to U.S. colleges and universities.

“Chinese students and their parents are looking for high quality education, get the importance of international education and it’s making America the No. 1 destination because we actually have the capacity to absorb international students,” said Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the institute.

The number of Saudi students increased by 30 percent thanks to a government scholarship program.

Enrollment rebounds at California colleges

California community colleges are starting the fall term with more students and more courses, reports the Los Angeles Times. Statewide, enrollment is expected to increase by 2.5% and course sections by 5%.

About 60,000 more students are expected to enroll systemwide this fall, officials said. It was a welcome turnaround from last year, when many colleges were planning for further budget cuts. Officials at the time were uncertain of the fate of Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s measure to increase state sales tax and some income taxes mostly for education. Voters approved it in November.

Last year, more than 470,000 students began the fall term on waiting lists for an average of 7,157 wait-listed students per school. This fall, an average of 5,026 students per campus are on waiting lists.

College prep initiative shows success

Reorganizing and coordinating resources can raise college enrollment — especially among African-American and Latino students, concludes a five-year pilot program. The Postsecondary Success Collaborative, which operated in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Miami-Dade County, “asked participants to coordinate academic programs, align K-12 curriculums with postsecondary and workforce requirements, and engage community groups,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

An independent analysis by the OMG Center for Collaborative Learning found the initiative bucked national enrollment trends. From 2009 to 2012, 12 percent more students from the initiative’s target high schools enrolled in college. Among black and Latino students at high schools that were deemed to have strongly implemented the initiative’s recommendations, that number rose to 39 percent, boosted by a 69 percent increase among black students in Miami-Dade County. Among students who enrolled in college, the analysis also found a 16 percent increase in students who continued as sophomores.

In Miami, an advisory board started with “marathon” financial aid sessions, funding field trips to universities across the state and math courses to prepare students for college work.

In Philadelphia, two similar advisory boards found that the high school English curriculum was out of alignment with the kind of writing skills expected from college freshmen.

. . . the advisory boards created “instructional rounds,” where high school teachers and college professors visited each another’s classrooms to better understand what was being taught in them.

Many students enrolled at collaborating institutions such as Temple in Philadelphia, Miami Dade College and the City College of San Francisco.

Texas ties tech college funding to earnings

The Texas State Technical College system will be funded based on graduates’ earnings rather than enrollment, starting on Sept. 1. The “value-added accountability funding formula” analyzes the difference between graduates’ income five years after graduating and the minimum wage to calculate how many dollars go to the technical colleges.

No young person should “spend life drifting from one low-skilled, minimum-wage job to the next,” said House Speaker Joe Straus in advocating for the funding change, reports the New York Times. But technical education isn’t expanding. ”Texas State Technical College West Texas — one of the four institutions that make up the state’s college system dedicated to technical education and work force development — has been shrinking.”

 In 2007, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, more than 10,500 students were taking classes through T.S.T.C. West Texas, which has campuses in Brownwood, Abilene, Breckenridge and Sweetwater. Five years later, the school’s enrollment was about 1,500.

The college’s administrators say the decrease reflects a recalibration of the state’s approach to offering technical education.

. . . “What is education worth? That is really at the heart of the accountability debate,” said Michael Reeser, the former president of the West Texas campuses and current chancellor of the T.S.T.C. System.

. . .  The other T.S.T.C. schools have also experienced recent dips in enrollment, though not as significantly as in West Texas. Mr. Reeser said that was because West Texas has been the test case for the new model and has been preparing for the transition since the concept was first floated in 2007.

The West Texas campuses have eliminated some programs: Digital media was popular, but didn’t lead to local jobs; agricultural technology did lead to good jobs but didn’t attract students. In addition, the West Texas campuses outsourced general academic courses to community colleges. And the nursing program lost students when it was placed on conditional approval status by the Texas Board of Nursing in 2012.

Non-elite colleges hit by enrollment drop

The “enrollment boom that swelled American colleges — and helped drive up their prices — is over, notes the New York Times.

College enrollment fell 2 percent in 2012-13, the first significant decline since the 1990s, but nearly all of that drop hit for-profit and community colleges; now, signs point to 2013-14 being the year when traditional four-year, nonprofit colleges begin a contraction that will last for several years. The college-age population is dropping after more than a decade of sharp growth, and many adults who opted out of a forbidding job market and went back to school during the recession have been drawn back to work by the economic recovery.

The most prestigious colleges aren’t affected, but less-elite private colleges, which tend to be dependent on tuition revenue, could have trouble staying afloat.