‘Skill builders’ don’t want degrees

 Not every college student wants a degree. “Skill builders” use community colleges to pick up expertise, writes Eddie Small on the Hechinger Report. Once they have what they need, they depart. If they’re counted as degree-seeking students — the only way to qualify for financial aid — that drives up the college’s dropout rate.

Kevin Floerke, 26, earned an archaeology degree from UCLA in 2010. Now he’s taking a course in fieldwork techniques at Santa Rosa Junior College in Northern California. He hopes to use the skills in his job leading tours for the National Geographic Society.  

Nearly a third of California community college students take one to four courses in a career or technical field, succeed and depart without a credential, according to a study called The Missing Piece.

Skill builders in California are concentrated in construction, real estate, computers, law enforcement, and early childhood education, according to Kathy Booth, co-author of the study. For most of them, the college credits led to wage increases. Students who took courses in information technology, for instance, saw their pay increase by 5 percent, and skill builders at California community colleges overall saw their median salaries go up from $49,800 in 2008-09 to $54,600 in 2011-12, the system reports.

Increasingly, colleges are evaluated — and sometimes funded — based on completion. A student who takes two IT courses, gets a raise and doesn’t re-enroll may be considered a dropout. “That’s a success story for that student and for the overall economy and society, but it’s hard to count,” said Paul Feist, spokesman for the California Community Colleges System.

Some colleges are creating “very short-term certificates” for skill builders, said Patrick Perry, vice chancellor of technology at the California system chancellor’s office.

Non-elite students need help to graduate

Harvard lavishes counseling and support on its elite students, while students who really need the help are left to sink or swim, writes David L. Kirp, a Berkeley public policy professor of public policy, in the New York Times.  Non-elite colleges can raise graduation rates by providing structure , guidance and financial aid, he writes.

At the City University of New York’s community colleges, the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) has more than doubled graduation rates, according to a MDRC report:  56 percent of ASAP students have graduated compared to 23 percent of the control group.

The program for community-college students addresses money issues, which are typically students’ top concern, by covering tuition that’s not paid for by federal and state grants, as well as paying for public transit and giving students free use of textbooks, saving them upward of $900 a year. To help balance the demands of college with work, life and family obligations, students take their classes in a consolidated course schedule (morning, afternoon or evening).

While the added dollars make a big difference, students consistently report in individual profiles found on the CUNY ASAP website that the personal touch — biweekly seminars and one-on-one advising — is crucial. The ASAP adviser for Desiree Rivera, a LaGuardia student, became her life coach. “I am completely able to let my guard down around her and discuss both personal and academic struggles,” Ms. Rivera wrote on her profile. “Her support has played a major role in my success as an ASAP student.”

ASAP costs $3,900 per student each year, but “it’s a solid investment for New York City’s taxpayers,” writes Kirp. “Total lifetime benefits — from increased tax revenues as well as savings in crime, welfare and health costs — are a whopping $205,514 per associate degree graduate,” another study estimates.

CUNY is tripling the size of ASAP by fall. The “strategy merits a nationwide rollout,” writes Kirp. The nation badly needs educated workers.

Feds could make public colleges tuition free

Public colleges and universities could be tuition free for $62.6 billion, writes Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic. That’s how much tuition state schools collected from undergrads in 2012, according to Department of Education data. That’s less than the $69 billion the feds spent last year “on its hodgepodge of financial aid programs, such as Pell Grants for low-income students, tax breaks and work study funding,” writes Weissmann. “And that doesn’t even include loans.”

Washington could make public college tuition free with the money it sets aside its scattershot attempts to make college affordable today.

. . . rather than simply using our resources to maintain a cheap public system (and remember, public schools educate 75 percent of undergrads), we spill them into a fairly wasteful and expensive private sector. At one point, a Senate investigation found that the for-profit sector alone was chowing down on 25 percent of all federal aid dollars.

Actually, the feds would spend less than $62.6 billion to cover tuition because most of the $21.8 billion in Pell Grants is spent at state colleges and universities, Weissmann writes. However, state and local governments would have to continue their higher education subsidies.

Students at residential colleges would have to pay for room and board. Those choosing the private sector . . . Well, this plan would wipe out all but the elite, well-funded private nonprofit colleges and nearly all the for-profit sector.

California: Blacks have low completion rates

Young black Californians are less educated than their parents’ generation, according to  The State of Blacks in Higher Education in California: The Persistent Opportunity Gap by the Campaign for College Opportunity. Black freshmen and transfer students have the lowest completion rates at community colleges, California State University campuses and the University of California.

“The report reveals a troubling pattern,” said Michele Siqueiros, Executive Director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, the organization that produced the study. “Instead of trending up, Black success in higher education remains flat and in some cases, it’s trending downward.”

Only 30 percent of black Californians 25 to 34 years old have completed an associate degree or higher, compared to 35 percent for those 35 to 44 and 33 percent for those 45 to 54. “We have a system that promotes college access, but doesn’t equally promote success and completion,” said Siqueiros.

Black students have the lowest high school graduation rate of any ethnic group and the second-lowest rate of completing college-prep courses, next to Latinos. They are more likely to attend for-profit colleges and community colleges, less likely to enroll at state universities.

The Campaign recommends creating a higher education plan with statewide and college-by-college goals for lowering the number of black students in remedial courses and  increasing completion rates. Funding should create incentives for increasing graduation rates for blacks and Latinos, the nonprofit recommends. In addition, expand “college knowledge” about financial aid and the college application process and invest in orientation, counseling and peer tutoring.

‘Sooner, simpler, smarter’ college aid

In Sooner, Simpler, Smarter, the National College Access Network calls for simplifying federal financial aid, reports Clare McCann, a New America Foundation policy analyst, on Ed Central. Ideas include notifying families with young children about college aid eligibility and using tax returns, instead of FAFSA, to calculate Pell Grant eligibility.

“There is near unanimity on the fact that the financial aid ‘system’ is layered with inconsistencies, redundancies, and overlapping federal programs,” writes McCann. “Students find it confusing and un-navigable, so despite all the taxpayer investments in student aid, students often don’t know how to access them or which benefits to use.”

A Congressional Budget Office reports analyzes ideas for revamping Pell Grants. Replacing FAFSA with federal tax returns would raise costs by about $10 billion over 10 years, the CBO estimates.

. . . the Department of Education would issue about 2 percent more grants averaging $1,500 – some to newly eligible students who wouldn’t have to report that income now, and some to new would-be students who otherwise wouldn’t have applied because the application was too complex. Additionally, about 20 percent of the grants that are already awarded would be larger under the new formula, by about $350 on average.

Another option is to tie Pell Grant eligibility to the federal poverty level replacing the complicated formula now used. That would make it easy for families to predict college costs and aid. students know early where they stand.

Taxpayers would save $1.4 billion over 10 years if the maximum Pell Grant was reserved for families at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level (about $35,000 for a family of 4), with smaller grants for families between 150 and 250 percent (almost $59,000 for a family of 4).

Latinos aim high, fall short

California Latinos are completing high school and enrolling in college in record numbers, but college graduation rates remain low, according to a new report, The State of Latinos in Higher Education in California.

Expectations are high: 83 percent of Latino parents want their children to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. But only 11 percent of Latino adults have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 39 percent of whites.

Latinos are expected to reach majority status in California by 2050, notes the Campaign for College Opportunity,  which produced the report. “The math is clear,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign. “If the California economy is to have the college-educated workforce it needs, we must find ways to significantly improve college completion rates among Latinos.”

“The good news is that this report confirms the incredible willingness and desire among Latino youth to go to college,” said Siqueiros. “Enrollment is high and growing. But too few Latino college students are completing a certificate or college degree. We are falling into a pattern of improved college access, without success.”

Compared to their white and Asian-American classmates, Latinos are less likely to enroll in a selective college or four-year university. They’re also less likely to enroll full-time and much less likely to earn a credential.
Seventy percent of first-time Latino college-goers in the state enrolled at a community college in 2012. Of degree-seeking Latinos who complete six units and attempt an English or math course, 40 percent earn a certificate or associate degree or transfer within six years, estimates a scorecard created by the California Community Colleges. That includes nearly 65 percent of “prepared” Latinos and 35 percent of “unprepared” Latinos. However, only 20 percent Latinos earned a credential or transferred, according to the Campaign’s 2010 study. Researchers looked at students who’d earned six units, regardless of math or English attempts.

To close the college gap, the Campaign for College Opportunity recommends creating a statewide higher education plan with benchmarks for increasing Latino enrollment and completion rates, and for decreasing time spent in remedial education. “We’ve looked at Texas, which is very aggressive at articulating goals, college by college,” said Siqueiros in an online press conference.

In addition:

Fund colleges for both enrollment and success — Establish a new funding mechanism that creates incentives for increasing graduation and completion rates.

Get everyone on the same page — Improve coordination between high schools and colleges on college preparation and assessment.

Invest in services students need to succeed — Prioritize resources that support student success and completion, including orientation, counseling and services to close information gaps for low-income, first-generation Latino students.

Strengthen financial support options for students — Ensure that all eligible students apply and receive federal and California student aid for which they qualify.

“Access is not enough,” said Siqueiros.

CC students are ‘second-class citizens in Ohio

Ohio’s community college students are “second-class citizens” when it comes to Ohio College Opportunity Grants, editorializes the Toledo Blade.

Community college tuitions average $3,800 a year — about one-third that of those at four-year schools — in Ohio.

In 2009, the General Assembly cut the OCOG budget from roughly $395 million to $171 million. Making matters worse, it also forced low-income students to use federal Pell grants to cover tuition expenses at community colleges before tapping state grants. Those changes made nearly all community college students ineligible for OCOG.

Unlike Pell grants, state grants cover tuition only. And because tuition is low at community colleges, Pell grants typically cover students’ tuition.

Before the changes, 20,000 community college students in Ohio received state grants.

Ohio needs legislation that would permit community college students to, first, use OCOG to cover tuition costs, thereby enabling them to tap federal Pell grants for other college-related expenses. That change also would call for setting aside another $20 million a year to cover the more than 20,000 newly eligible community college students.

Last year, as Ohio began to refund OCOG, money was set aside to fund for-profit college students but not community college students, reports Inside Higher Ed.

4-year-old checks out future colleges

When she saw Andy go off to college in Toy Story 3, four-year-old Alexa Mosley starting thinking about her college future, reports the Quincy Herald-Whig in Illinois.

She’s already toured John Wood Community College, where she met with the college’s president, John Letts.

“I want to be a ballerina teacher,” Alexa told Letts during their meeting.

“The big picture is very important, pre-planning is very important,” Letts told Alexa’s parents and grandmother. “She’s a smart little girl and let’s hope we can keep her interested for the next 14 years.”

Inspired by Alexa’s interest, JWCC will host a series of “Kids on Campus” events for elementary students and their parents.

Children will be able to tour the campus with their parents, meet Letts and learn about future careers . . . Students will be able to get inside a fire truck, police car, honk the horn of a semi-truck and learn how to take blood pressure with the help of JWCC faculty and students.

Parents will learn about scholarships, financial aid and saving for college.

It helps to have a ‘success coach’

When Virginia Hughes earned an associate degree at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, she invited her “success coach”  to the ceremony, writes Jon Marcus on the Hechinger Report.  Laura Harill, a retired hospital administrator, helped the first-generation college student fill out forms, apply for financial aid and choose courses.

The privately funded tnAchieves—or “Tennessee Achieves”— recruits volunteers to help students enroll in college and persist.

Coaching appears to lower college dropout rates.

 “If you’re low-income, if you’re first-generation, if no one in your neighborhood has ever gone to college, it can be very scary,” said Krissy DeAlejandro, executive director of tnAchieves. Students “might have questions we all take for granted, such as, what is a semester? What does that word mean? And just when you think you’re finished, it’s, oh, no, we still need this filled out. It all becomes very arduous and frustrating for the students.”

Personalized coaching doesn’t have to be face to face. College students who were coached by phone, email, and text messages were 15 percent more likely to stay in school, a Stanford study found.

At Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Ala., 87 percent of  students coached in the fall enroll in the spring, about eight percentage points higher than the rate for uncoached students.

In Tennessee, 75 percent of students coached by tnAchieves make it to their second year of college, compared to the state average of 59 percent. Twenty-six percent get associate’s degrees within three years, compared to 11 percent for other Tennessee students.li

Late enrollment leads to failure

Late enrollment sets students up to fail, writes an anonymous community college administrator in Inside Higher Ed.

In the name of access, many community colleges set no deadlines to enroll or apply for financial aid, Anonymous writes. Students can self-select into the classes they want, even if they’ve failed the placement test. They can start a week late, missing two or three classes.

We worry over our rising student loan default numbers. We struggle to improve our retention and completion rates and yet we have created a system that makes it OK for college to be a last-minute decision, where our most at-risk students start out behind and many never catch up. We force our professors to take students who will be seriously behind on their first day in class, and who will either sidetrack the instructor or fall more behind. Instructors, especially in our core classes, must balance trying to meet the course objectives while also providing in-class remediation for underprepared students.

Late enrollment often leads to academic failure, the administrator writes. Dropouts often have student loans that they won’t be able to pay.

Anonymous proposes:

Application and enrollment deadlines that ensure a student has enough time to get financial aid and payment plans in place before the semester begins. We need to have deadlines in place so a student knows that being successful requires planning and some time getting his or her life organized to be a student. A student who misses the deadline for enrollment isn’t told “no,” they are told “next semester.”

Mandatory orientation for all new students. We have a moral obligation to ensure that students have been informed of the institutions’ expectations, policies and practices before students try to begin navigating our increasingly large bureaucracies.

Required placement and advising prior to the first semester of enrollment. Students should start knowing what they’ll need to graduate, what classes they are truly ready for and what their academic plan will be.

Some community colleges have ended late enrollment to raise student success rates. In a 2002 study, 80 percent of on-time students made it to the next semester, compared to 35 percent of late registrants.