Faculty focus on student retention

Faculty are taking the lead in improving retention at North Carolina’s Southwest Community College, reports the American Association of Community Colleges.

Called Retention Action Committees, or RATs, the organized groups, which began as a cost-cutting measure, were the brainchild of Thom Brooks, vice president of instruction and student learning for the college.

Knowing the college didn’t have the budget to outsource retention efforts, Brooks turned instead to passionate faculty who recognized there was a problem and could identify ways to keep students engaged.

“We really had to roll up our sleeves and start eating the elephant one bite at a time,” Brooks says.

Thirteen small task forces focus on specific goals such as college readiness, data analysis, curriculum mapping and test preparation.

RATs has revived a student success course and made it mandatory for first-year students. After orientation, a new retention alert process warns faculty when students are facing academic or behavioral problems so they can provide support before students drop out.

Wake Tech turns instructors into ‘professors’

Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh has promoted a third of its faculty to “professor” status, reports the News & Observer. Till now, all faculty members have been “instructors.”

In part, the shift reflects community colleges’ drive for respect and recognition as post-recession engines.

Most of those promoted became assistant professors; two are now senior professors. Each new level comes with a 3 percent raise.

Adjuncts: ‘We’re constantly in fear’

Adjunct professors live in fear, writes Elizabeth Salaam in the San Diego Reader. An adjunct who speaks up could get fewer classes assigned the next semester, “Jenny” says. “It’s really political.” She could ruin her chances for a full-time job — if there ever is a full-time job.

Meanwhile, she’s afraid to say no to a job. Jenny teaches eight classes at two community colleges, a private university and an online university. She earns about as much as a full-time professor teaching four or five classes.

John Rall carries a 67 percent teaching load — the maximum for an adjunct — as an English professor at Mesa College in San Diego. He was barred from advising a student group because it might give him a claim to a full-time job, he writes on AdjunctCrisis.com.

In addition to teaching three  classes at Mesa, Rall teaches two at nearby Cuyamaca College.

 “I work five classes, and I’m making barely $40,000, probably more like $35,000. A full-timer teaches five classes and they’re making $65,000 a year,” he says. “We have the same responsibilities except for whatever work their committees are doing, which isn’t that much more. We have the same credentials. We have the same obligations in terms of what we do with our students.”

This is the first year Rall has taught so few classes. For the past four, he taught seven per semester: three at Mesa, two at Grossmont, and two online for the University of Phoenix. He took on the load not only for the money, he explains, but to prove his worth and his willingness in the hopes it would help him secure a full-time position. This, while applying for jobs “in every English department up and down the California state” and volunteering approximately five hours a week (outside of teaching) to develop and coordinate a writing-outreach project for high school and college students across the county.

After 10 years teaching at Mesa, Rall gave up on ever getting a full-time job.

Mesa College held an Adjunct Appreciation ceremony at the beginning of the 2013 fall semester.  It was “a morale breaker,” says Rall.

“There was one guy who had been here for, like, 40 years, and all he got was a paper certificate,” Rall says, appalled. “You couldn’t get him a frame? You couldn’t buy him a lunch? . . . they kept calling out people who had been here for 10 years, 20 years, and the new people were, like, ‘I don’t want to be here for 30 years as a part-timer.’”

Rall supports a wife and three children. Although he loves teaching, he’s thinking of a getting a contractor’s license.

Faculty strike means no aid for students

Classes began today at Bellingham Technical College in Washington after a weeklong faculty strike. The faculty union and a second union representing support staff reached a tentative contract agreement Saturday.

Students couldn’t collect financial aid till classes started, reports the Bellingham Herald.

About 84 percent of the school’s students receive some form of financial aid. Many are nontraditional, older students, some with families. The average age of a BTC student was 28 during the 2011-12 school year.

Tami Reynolds, a 32-year-old single mother of three, is an accounting student at BTC. In addition to providing for her 7- and 10-year-old boys, she cares for her 2-year-old daughter, who has a severe immune system deficiency. Due to her daughter’s condition, Reynolds may not put her daughter in day care while she works.

“I rely fully on financial aid,” Reynolds said. “I’m doing online courses because I have to be home with her. I did the accounting program in the hopes I could get a job in bookkeeping from home.”

Other students complained they’d quit jobs or reduced work hours to make time for classes.

Faculty members were seeking pay raises and new rules on teaching workloads.

Adjuncts strike at Nassau Community College

Adjunct instructors are on strike at Nassau Community College in New York, defying a judge’s order to return to work.

Adjuncts have been working without a contract since 2010.  The Adjunct Faculty Association, an independent union representing 2,600 adjunct faculty, proposed a retroactive pay raise of 4.9 percent each year. The union estimates the contract would cost $14.5 million. The Board of Trustees, which estimated the total cost at $63.4 million through 2018, rejected the contract, triggering the strike.

In an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed, Alicia Steger, a college spokeswoman, said adjuncts are paid $5,100 to teach a three-credit course. “That is the highest of the colleges in the area.  We have heard numerous reports from adjuncts who teach elsewhere that they would love to teach at NCC. So, that is our answer to the claim of unfair working conditions.”

Faculty doubt quality of online courses

Professors are skeptical about the quality of online courses, especially MOOCs, according to Inside Higher Ed‘s Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology.

Only one in five think “online courses can achieve learning outcomes equivalent to those of in-person courses.” However, professors who’ve taught online (30 percent of respondents) were much likelier to say online courses can be just as effective.

And while even professors who have taught online are about evenly divided on whether online courses generally can produce learning outcomes equivalent to face-to-face classes (33 percent agree, 30 percent are neutral, and 37 percent disagree), instructors with online experience are likelier than not to believe that online courses can deliver equivalent outcomes at their institutions (47 percent agree vs. 28 percent disagree), in their departments (50 percent vs. 30 percent), and in the classes they teach (56 percent vs. 29 percent).

Asked to rate factors that contribute to quality in online education, whether an online program is offered by an accredited institution tops the list for faculty members (73 percent), and about 6 in 10 say that whether an online program is offered by an institution that also offers in-person instruction is a “very important” indicator of quality. Only 45 percent say it is very important that the online education is offered for credit, and about 3 in 10 say it is very important whether the offering institution is nonprofit.

Most professors want to make sure faculty members control decision-making about MOOCs and that accreditors review their quality.

Of professors who’ve never taught an online course, 30 percent say the main reason is because they’ve never been asked.

Geoff Cain offers time-saving tips for teaching online at Brainstorm in Progress. He’s also got advice for online students.

Feds threaten accrediting commission

“The U.S. Department of Education is threatening to “limit, suspend or terminate” federal recognition of the accrediting commission that has threatened to shut down City College of San Francisco, reports EdSource Today.

In a six-page letter to Barbara Beno, president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), the Department of Education said that the commission needed to take “immediate action” to correct four areas of non-compliance with federal regulations. The letter came in response to a 275-page complaint filed by the California Federation of Teachers over how the commission handled the accreditation review of City College.

The union, which represents the faculty and other staff at City College, charged only one faculty member served on two evaluation teams with eight and 16 members. In addition, Beno’s husband was on one of the evaluation teams, which CFT said created the appearance of a conflict of interest, and that the commission failed to provide a “detailed written report that clearly identifies any deficiencies in the institution’s compliance” with the commission’s standards.

In a statement published on its website, a statement published on its website, the commission said it was “disappointed” with the findings, and that it would make “necessary changes to appropriately address the Department’s concerns.” However, it took issue with the assertion that only one academic was represented on the evaluation team, and also said that it appeared that in another area the federal government was imposing new requirements.

In 2007, when its federal recognition came up for its five-year renewal, the ACCJC was found to be “non-compliant” with federal standards, “essentially for for not being tough enough on colleges not meeting its standards for accreditation, reports EdSource Today.

CCSF is the largest community college in California and one of the largest in the nation.

City College of SF will lose accreditation in 2014, unless …

City College of San Francisco will lose accreditation on July 31, 2014 — unless a special trustee appointed this week can resolve financial and governance problems, reports the Los Angeles Times. With 85,000 students at multiple campuses, CCSF is one of the nation’s largest two-year institutions. Special trustee Robert Agrella, former president of Santa Rosa Junior College, effectively will replace the school’s elected governing board.

City College will appeal the decision, said interim CCSF Chancellor Thelma Scott-Skillman.

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges voted to revoke accreditation because City College had fully addressed just two of the commission’s 14 major recommendations and corrected only a few of the many deficiencies cited, the commission said in a statement. College officials tried to satisfy the commission, but “likened the effort to changing tires on a speeding car,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

College officials unilaterally cut pay and entered into battle with angry faculty in a labor dispute that has yet to be resolved.

They reorganized the management structure against the will of department chairs. To fix the college’s tangled decision-making structure, college trustees also dismantled a decades-long system of faculty leadership over the strong objections of employees.

The trustees also eliminated a multiheaded hydra of 46 committees that often served to obstruct and control decision-making. They also pumped up reserves and established a nine-year fiscal plan.

“Essentially, the loss of accreditation would be the death penalty for City College, said California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris in videotaped remarks. Students wouldn’t be able to transfer credits or qualify for financial aid and state funding would be cut off. “We simply cannot allow that to happen.”

The decision was “outrageous,” said faculty union president Alisa Messer, an English instructor. City College was making progress, she told the Chronicle of Higher Education. Faculty governance ensured cuts were made outside the classroom, she said. The college’s choices “were a reflection of our San Francisco values.”

But the faculty protected “an abundance of noncredit courses, which employ faculty members but generate less revenue,” according to Raymond R. White, an instructor in biology who is critical of the union.

(Robert) Shireman, a former top official in the U.S. Education Department, said the City College’s broad course catalog in part reflects its unusual role as a designated provider of adult education in San Francisco, a function handled in most cities by the elementary and secondary schools.

But over all, he said, the union has been part of a divisive leadership structure at City College, in which faculty members have been overly fearful of community colleges’ focusing too tightly on job training. Some faculty members have suggested that is (accreditation commission chair Barbara) Beno’s real agenda, with the commission part of a conservative strategy to narrow the mission of publicly financed education.

Beno publicly supported a new California law that gives registration priority to students who are progressing toward transfer to a four-year institution or a vocational credential. City College faculty members oppose the law. “A lot of our students don’t fit that narrow path, that narrow definition of what a lot of people think students are,” said Wendy S. Kaufmyn, an engineering instructor.

Broad missions need to be financed, said Shireman. “There are broader discussions about the extent to which community colleges can do just whatever they want whenever they want, with taxpayer money, versus having some method of prioritizing what to fund and what not to fund,” he said.

Creative destruction meets higher education

Higher education is due for some creative destruction, predicts John Backus,managing partner at New Atlantic Ventures, in a Washington Post commentary. In the next few years:

At least 10 states will require their state universities to accept MOOCs for placement and for credit, helping taxpayers save money on education.

Many of the most talented professors will make more money teaching online than they do as a tenured professor.

Colleges and professors will begin to segregate into online content creators and online content consumers. The creators will be few. The consumers will be many.

Faculty will feel threatened, and will work to pass protectionist legislation to outlaw MOOCs for courses that can by taught in-person by tenured faculty. They may delay, but they will not stop the inevitable.

Community colleges will become a mainstream beginning of a smart and economical path for ambitious students to get a degree. Virginia community colleges are leading the way here.

In the long term, top colleges will offer more online courses supported by “active, high-touch teaching assistants,” Backus predicts.

Vocational training will be branded: Students will choose the Procter & Gamble marketing track, the Goldman Sachs finance series or, perhaps, the Apple user experience course package.

Employers will not care about which university issued a job applicants’ degree, unless it’s one of the 50 most elite colleges. Instead, they’ll examine the coursework. “Online vs. in-person courses will be a distinction without a difference to employers.”

College is going online whether we like it or not, writes Zachary Karabell in The Atlantic. Online education is the solution to rapidly rising student debt, he argues.  All expenses — except for the cost of the professor’s time and experience — will be stripped away. And it will be massively disruptive.

The elite schools can expand the power of their brand through online courses, Karabell writes. Non-elite colleges may replace their professors with cheap adjuncts and Harvard professors lecturing online.

Yes, we are a few years away from online courses providing degrees and credentials that will be seen by the marketplace as adequate. For now, taking courses online may enrich your life, but it will not provide the entrée into jobs requiring a degree, whether associate’s or bachelor’s. Many fields of graduate study will be untouched, but many others — law, accounting and others — are ripe for online credentializing.

Soon, online education will lower the cost of credentials and create “vocational programs aligned with the skills employers need,” Karabell writes. We’ll need fewer bricks-and-mortar colleges, but more people will be able to earn degrees — without heavy debt.

San Jose State professors are pushing back against online courses, despite — or because of — the success of an online engineering course, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

“Let’s not kid ourselves; administrators at the CSU are beginning a process of replacing faculty with cheap online education,” the philosophy faculty wrote in a letter to Harvard professor Michael Sandel, whose Social Justice class is available through edX.

Harvard professors want more oversight of the university’s MOOCs.

SF college uses ‘trombone clause’ to cut pay

City College of San Francisco is cutting faculty and staff salaries without negotiations to save $5 million, citing what’s known as the Trombone Clause, reports NBC News.

“The Trombone Clause says that in good times, when we have good budgets from the state and better economics, we can share that largess with our employees,” said Larry Kamer, spokesperson for CCSF. “But it retracts in bad times, which is where we are now.”

The American Federation of Teachers argues conditions haven’t been met to trigger the trombone.

City College has until March 15 to prove its financial viability to the Accreditation Commission, which criticized CCSF’s pay structure.