Creating structured pathways to graduation will help more community college students achieve their goals, said presenters at the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco.
Completion by Design, a Gates Foundation initiative, is working with community colleges on mandatory student advising and structured course sequences, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. College leaders from North Carolina, Ohio and Florida discussed their efforts.
Jobs for the Future‘s completion campaign focuses on getting students into college-level classes as quickly as possible.
Many students who end up in remedial courses don’t need to be there, but they don’t realize the importance of the tests that colleges often use as the sole placement criterion, said Gretchen Schmidt, a program director at Jobs for the Future. ”They didn’t prepare, they had kids in the hall running around, or they rushed through the test to get back to work … and as a result they ended up two levels down” in developmental courses.
Students who start in remedial courses rarely earn a degree. Recent research has shown students placed in high-level developmental courses do just as well at the college level.
North Carolina now lets high school graduates with a 2.6 grade point average or better skip community college placement tests and start at the college level.
A new Connecticut law limits state funding for remedial education to a single course.
Florida may “cut off nearly all support for stand-alone remedial education,” reports the Chronicle.
Lenore P. Rodicio, director of Miami Dade College‘s Completion by Design effort, worries that’s going too far.
“Seventy percent of our students come in needing some kind of remedial education, many of them from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and this could close the door to them,” she said.
Her college offers a one-week boot camp for students who place into remedial education to allow them to zero in on the skills they need to improve, and it’s looking at other ways to get students into credit-bearing courses faster.
In another session, California Community Colleges chancellor Brice Harris discussed the state’s new “student-success agenda,” which includes encouraging students to develop a study plan, dropping reliance on a single remedial placement test and giving new students priority for registration over perennial students who aren’t moving toward a credential.
Credits that don’t count cost transfer students time, money — and often the opportunity to complete a degree, according to the Hechinger Report.
“One of the most common complaints a legislator gets from a constituent about higher education is, ‘My credits don’t transfer,’” says Davis Jenkins, senior researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University, who has studied the issue.
“This is so common, but it’s heart-rending,” Jenkins says. “And it also pisses me off as a taxpayer.”
A third of students transfer at least once, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center says. Most lose credits along the way. Full-time students average 3.8 years to earn a two-year degree and 4.7 years to get a four-year degree, according to Complete College America. An associate degree requires 60 credits, but the average graduate has earned 80, the advocacy group estimates. Bachelor’s degree graduates average 136.5 credits for a degree that requires 120.
Part of the problem is that public universities are largely funded based on their enrollment, not on whether students actually graduate. So while an institution has a financial incentive to take transfer students to fill seats left vacant when other students drop out, it may not have a financial incentive to help them successfully finish college and move on.
Karen Hernandez started at St. John’s University in New York and transferred after a year and a half to Nassau Community College, with 27 of the 36 credits she’d earned and paid for. After another year and a half, she received an associate’s degree. Then she transferred to Columbia University with 55 of her 63 credits. After three years in college, she faces another three years to complete a bachelor’s degree in art history and human rights. (And, if she graduates, she’ll have a hard time finding a job and paying off her college loans with an art history and human rights degree.)
University faculty often question the quality of courses taught at other institutions.
“Everybody feels that the way they do it is the right way,” says Janet L. Marling, director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Georgia. “To admit that somebody else does it equally well can chip away at their foothold.”
Sometimes students are told their credits will transfer, but don’t realize they won’t count toward their major. They end up with too many electives credits that don’t help them complete a degree. Others don’t learn if their credits transfer for a semester or more.
Some states have passed laws to guarantee associate degree graduates can transfer all their credits to a state university. But it’s a slow process.
It took Florida 10 years to bring its universities and colleges into line on transfer credits, for example. An analysis by a technical college in North Carolina found that only one of its English courses was accepted for core credit by all 16 of that state’s public universities. And some legislative efforts to make universities fix the transfer process have slammed up against the culture of competition.
Almost three years after California legislators demanded that anyone who earns an associate’s degrees at a community college be guaranteed transfer into the California State University system, for instance, students in two-thirds of all majors still don’t qualify, college and university officials there concede.
As more students take online courses, getting credits counted will become even more important. I predict that learning assessment will boom in the coming years as universities come under heavy political pressure to raise graduation rates by crediting what students have learned at other institutions, online, on the job, in the military or whatever.
Improving completion requires understanding the higher education “ecosystem,” writes Sanford C. Shugart, president of Aspen Prize-winning Valencia College in Florida.
Community colleges “are being asked to achieve much better results with fewer resources to engage a needier student population in an atmosphere of serious skepticism where all journalism is yellow and our larger society no longer exempts our institutions (nor us) from the deep distrust that has grown toward all institutions,” writes Shugart in Inside Higher Ed.
His principles for moving the needle on student completion start with a caution: “Be careful what and how you are measuring — it is sure to be misused.”
. . . Consider a student who comes to a community college, enrolls full-time, and after a year of successful study is encouraged to transfer to another college. This student is considered a noncompleter at the community college and isn’t considered in the measure of the receiving institution at all.
. . . Is there any good reason to exclude part-time students from the measures? How about early transfers? Should non-degree-seeking students be in the measure? When is a student considered to be degree‐seeking? How are the measures, inevitably used to compare institutions with very different missions, calibrated to those missions? How can transfer be included in the assessment and reporting when students swirl among so many institutions, many of which don’t share student unit record information easily?
Completion rates should be calculated for different groups depending on where they start — college ready? low remedial? — so students can calculate their own odds and colleges can design interventions, Shugart recommends. College outcomes measures should be based on college-ready students and should reflect the value added during the college years.
Students experience higher education as an “ecosystem,” Shugart writes. Few community college students get all their education at one institution.
They swirl in and among, stop out, start back, change majors, change departments, change colleges. . . . Articulation of credit will have to give way to carefully designed pathways that deepen student learning and accelerate their progression to completion.
Students need to know that completion matters, writes Shugart. Florida has “the country’s strongest 2+2 system of higher education” with common course numbering, ”statewide articulation agreements that work” and a history of successful transfers. Yet community college students are told to transfer when they’re “ready,” regardless of whether they’ve completed an associate degree.
Students at Valencia, Seminole State, Brevard and Lake Sumter are offered a new model, “Direct Connect,” which guarantees University of Central Florida admission to all associate degree graduates in the region. “It is something they can count on, plan for, and commit to. Earn the degree and you are in.”
Learning is what matters, Shugart adds. Increasing completion rates improves the local economy and community only if students learn “deeply and effectively in a systematic program of study, with a clearer sense of purpose in their studies and their lives.”
He suggests: designing degree pathways across institutional boundaries, encouraging students to “make earlier, more grounded choices of major,” requiring an associate degree to transfer and providing transfer guarantees. In addition, Shugart calls for research on higher education ecosystems and new metrics for measuring performance.
Thirty states will spend more on high er education in the current fiscal year, but overall state spending is down 0.4 percent, according to an annual survey by Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers. Since fiscal 2008, state higher education spending has declined nearly 11 percent.
New Mexico will spend a measly 0.1 percent percent more: energy-rich Wyoming will boost spending by nearly 14 percent. But Florida will cut higher ed spending by 8 percent.
In California, where state money for colleges fell nearly 6 percent from the year before, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has proposed increasing state funds for the public-college systems by 4 percent to 6 percent in the coming fiscal year. As in many other states, that proposal came with the expectation that state colleges will keep tuition flat and increase their efficiency in producing graduates.
During the past five years, more than a dozen states have cut college funding by more than 20 percent. Arizona (37 percent) and New Hampshire (36 percent) have cut the most.
“Barring a further downturn in the economy, the relatively small overall change … suggests that higher education may be at the beginning stages of a climb out of the fiscal trough caused by the last recession,” says a news release accompanying the survey data.
However, a new report from Moody’s Investors Services predicts tough times for higher education with stagnant state funding, student resistance to tuition increases and a declining number of high school graduates.
“Florida’s community college system today is regarded as the very best in the land,” boasts the Gainesville Sun. Florida has placed more community colleges in the Aspen Institute‘s top 10 percent than any other state: 15 of the state’s 28 community colleges made the list this year. Gainesville’s Santa Fe College and Broward College in Fort Lauderdale were listed in the top 10 colleges in the nation.
Aspen honors give community colleges more credibility, says Jim Henningsen, president of the College of Central Florida in Ocala.
“For us, what’s great is it’s third-party validation of the great work we do for students and our communities around the state,” he said. “… We’re the best investment for the dollar that the state’s got, and the state knows that.”
Because of the Aspen recognition “higher caliber students are picking community colleges,” says Henningsen.
Community college students can live in a brand-new residence hall at Edison State College in Ft. Myers, Florida. But the $26.3 million Lighthouse Commons is only two-thirds full, reports the News Press. That means the 405-bed complex will lose money this year.
Standard rates are $3,300 per semester, per student for two-bedroom units, or $3,000 for each student living in a four-bedroom unit; all utilities are included.
The complex was 74 percent full at the start of the fall semester, but “several dozen students were evicted for violating dorm policies or non-payment, graduated or left for other reasons,” reports the News Press. At the start of spring semester, the occupancy rate was down to 65 percent.
LightHouse Commons will have a wait list within two years, predicts Russell Watjen, vice president of student affairs.
Security guards keep non-residents from entering the building without an escort, but some residents complain of problems outside the building.
Arthur Magiera, a 19-year-old sophomore from Naples, remains in LightHouse Commons this term, but said drug and alcohol use among other students has been a problem. He also questions strict residence hall policies, like the one governing visitors of the opposite sex.
“I can’t have my girlfriend here past midnight,” he said. “They enforce that but don’t do anything about what’s happening outside the building.”
Late at night, Magiera said groups of intoxicated students congregate outdoors and intimidate residents.
Ten of 28 Florida community and state colleges offer on-campus housing. Many campuses also offer four-year degrees in vocational fields.
The push for a $10,000 bachelor’s degree has come to California, reports the Sacramento Bee.
With the cost of going to college already more than $30,000 a year at many California campuses, is it possible to earn a bachelor’s degree for just $10,000 – total?
Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville, hopes so.
Borrowing an idea being promoted by Republican governors in Texas and Florida, the GOP assemblyman has introduced a bill that would create a pilot program in California for what he’s billing as a $10,000 bachelor’s degree.
Assembly Bill 51 calls for high schools, community colleges and California State University campuses to develop a low-cost degree path in STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) majors in Chico, Long Beach and Turlock.
High school students would earn college credit through Advanced Placement classes and dual enrollment in community college courses, Logue envisions. Community college students would be encouraged to enroll full time.
The $10,000 would include textbooks, but not room and board. Currently CSU students spend $5,472 a year on tuition and another $2,000 annually.
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.”
The for-profit “University of Phoenix played a key role in defeating legislation that would have allowed community colleges in Arizona to offer low-priced bachelor’s degree programs,” reports Sarah Pavlus in The American Independent.
That allowed the for-profit chain to continue to advertise that it offers more degrees than community colleges.
University of Phoenix is one of Arizona’s biggest employers. The company “provided research and political muscle for a multi-year lobbying campaign,” Pavlus writes.
For-profit schools and community colleges generally serve the same working, non-traditional student demographic, but tuition rates at community colleges are often much lower.
Historically, community colleges have offered two-year associate’s degrees, with students then transferring to other schools to earn a bachelor’s degree – also known as a baccalaureate degree. Recent efforts by community colleges to offer their own baccalaureate degree programs have been controversial, in part because they dramatically expand the traditional mission of these schools.
But advocates say these programs – which typically require approval from state lawmakers – better respond to student and employer needs by providing affordable, career-oriented, four-year degrees.
Beginning in 2005, the University of Phoenix lobbied Arizona state lawmakers against the community college baccalaureate option. In a 2006 meeting with Wall Street analysts, University of Phoenix founder John Sperling credited one of his top executives with “killing the community colleges’ four-year degree program in Arizona.”
Community colleges in 21 states now offer bachelor’s degrees, usually in occupational fields. Florida is the leader: Its 22 community colleges have added bachelor’s degrees in nursing, elementary education, business management and other majors that meet local workforce needs. In some states, public universities have lobbied to block community colleges from expanding into baccalaureate programs. It’s competition.
In 21 states, community colleges are adding bachelor’s degrees, reports Community College Week. Other states may follow the trend.
Florida has led the way with 22 community colleges offering bachelor’s degrees in nursing, elementary education, business management and other fields. All are built on associate degree programs and meet local workforce needs.
Florida State College at Jacksonville, which offers 12 baccalaureate degrees, is careful not to expand into low-demand fields, said Donald Green, executive vice-president for instruction and student services. “We want to identify high wage areas where people can make a decent living.”
Universities see the trend as “mission creep.” In Michigan, universities are fighting a proposal to let community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in maritime technology, concrete technology, energy production, culinary studies and nursing.
Since 2004, a series of state and national reports has prodded Michigan to allow community colleges to offer four-year degrees in high-need fields. The state has the sixth-highest tuition rate for a public four-year degree in the nation, according to the Michigan Community College Association.
“Michigan is at a critical point in its history,” says a MCCA report. “As the state transitions to a knowledge-based economy, increasing the educational attainment of the workforce is paramount. The community college baccalaureate degree would allow colleges to respond to workforce shortages in specific regions, and in specific corporations and industries.”
But the state’s public universities, led by the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State, “complain the community colleges would be competing for pieces of a shrinking budget pie and that the community college baccalaureate would be of inferior quality,” reports Community College Week. A bill to enable community colleges to add four-year degrees is stalled in the legislature.