Latinos narrow graduation gap

The Latino college completion gap is narrowing for full-time students, reports Excelencia in Education in a new report. The gap fell from 14 percent in 2012 to 9 percent in 2014: 41 percent of Latinos graduate in 150 percent of the normal time compared to 50 percent of all first-time, full-time college students.

However, almost half of Latino college students are enrolled part-time. Their completion rates remain very low.

Miami Dade College, South Texas College, El Paso Community College, East Los Angeles College and Florida International College enroll the most Latino students. “Four of the top five are predominantly community colleges,” said Deborah Santiago, chief operating officer and vice president of policy at Excelencia.

Miami Dade, El Paso and South Texas also rank in the top five for awarding associate degrees to Latinos, along with Valencia College and University of Phoenix Online. “We are seeing the closure in the achievement gaps in some states, but not all,” said Santiago.

ASSOCIATE DEGREES: Top 5 Institutions Awarding to Hispanics, 2011-12

Rank Institution State Sector Grand Total Hispanic Total % Hispanic
1 Miami Dade College FL 4yr Public 11,959 7,958 67
2 El Paso Community College TX 2yr Public 3,790 3,244 86
3 University of Phoenix – Online 4yr Private For-Profit 39,341 2,424 6
4 South Texas College TX 4yr Public 2,292 2,138 93
5 Valencia College FL 4yr Public 7,974 2,129 27

California, which has the highest numbers of Latino students, lags in graduating them: Only 15 percent of the state’s Latino students completed a degree or certificate in 2010-11.  “Why does California, the state with the largest Latino population in the nation, not have a single college break into the top five nationally for awarding degrees to Latinos?” asked Santiago.

Florida does much better in enrolling — and graduating — Latinos.

Latinos make up 22 percent of K-12 students and 17 percent of the population, reports Excelencia.  The median age for Latinos is 27, compared to 42 for non-Hispanic whites.

Twenty percent of Latino adults have earned an associate degree or higher compared to 36 percent of all adults.

CCs add 4-year degrees, but face pushback

Twenty-three Florida community colleges now offer four-year degrees in high-demand vocational fields, but a bill in the Legislature would prevent colleges from adding bachelor’s degrees without legislative approval. Currently, the state education board authorizes new four-year degrees at two-year colleges.

With tuition two-thirds cheaper at a community college compared to a state university, the lawmakers behind the bill warn that it’s unfair competition. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), said many community colleges are offering more than just specialized bachelor’s degrees, such as nursing and public safety, and are competing with state universities to offer more general degrees, like history, at less cost.

Gov. Rick Scott thinks competition will help students. He’s challenged community colleges to offer four-year degrees with a price tag of $10,000. Daytona State College will be the first with a $10,000 bachelor’s in education.

Students are enthusiastic about the four-year option, writes Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.  At Florida community colleges — now called state colleges — more than 30,000 students are pursuing bachelor’s degrees.

It’s cheaper and more convenient than attending a four-year university, especially for working parents and part-time students, who make up a large proportion of community college attendees.

The cost of a baccalaureate course at St. Petersburg College is $118.70 per credit hour, compared to $211.19 at the nearby University of South Florida. . . .

Universities are resisting the trend in many states. Community colleges typically are limited to degrees in vocational fields.

Colorado legislators approved letting community colleges offer four-year degrees only after satisfying Colorado State University and the University of Colorado — whose lobbying was blamed for killing a previous version of a proposal — that they would be limited to career and technical fields such as culinary arts and dental hygiene.

In Michigan, similar legislation was passed over the concerted, years-long opposition of that state’s public universities, which said letting community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees was mission creep, blurs the distinction between different branches of higher education and raises quality concerns. In the end, the community colleges were limited to baccalaureate programs in maritime studies, culinary arts, energy production and concrete technology.

California legislators have rejected four-year degrees at community college three times since 2009, but a new proposal has a good chance of success.

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.

Remedial courses face new test

 Remedial college courses are facing a new test in Florida, reports the Wall Street Journal. Under a new state law, students can decide whether to start in developmental ed or in for-credit, college-level courses. Most are skipping remediation.

More than half of community-college students in the U.S. take at least one remedial class. Success rates are very low. “States are trying alternatives, from adding basic tutorials to college-level classes to weighing high-school grades in addition to test scores,” reports the Journal. Florida has gone the farthest by making placement tests and remedial classes optional for recent state high school graduates and active-duty members of the military.

In a white-walled classroom here at Miami Dade College, students on a recent afternoon pondered the absolute value of 19. After a silence, instructor Carlos Rodriguez offered a hint: “How far is it from 0?”

Such algebra class work, which is typically done at the high-school level, is front and center at this community college, where about 12,000 students enrolled in remedial classes last spring. But enrollment in catch-up classes has fallen about 24% since the legislation took effect this year.

The failure rate will soar, predicts Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón. “You’re not able to test students [who opt out of the remedial program] and know where they are,” said Padrón. “When you don’t have the tools to guide them, it’s very, very difficult.”

Brooke Bovee, who teaches college-level English composition and literature, says just six of her 26 students came in prepared for the class, noting that for four of her students, this will be their third try. For an additional six students, this is their second attempt.

Now, with the new state law, she also has at least one student who tested into a remedial class but chose the higher-level class instead.

“A lot of discussion among English faculty is how to keep standards high,” said Ms. Bovee, who acknowledges the need for changes to the system. “Students ask me what a paragraph is now. What’s next? Maybe, what’s a sentence?”

Miami Dade is adding counselors, but instructors say it won’t be enough.

Florida’s low-cost degrees pay off

Florida’s low-cost bachelor’s degrees are paying off for students, writes Sophie Quinton in The Atlantic

Graduates from the Florida College System’s workforce-oriented bachelor’s degree programs earn about $8,000 more the year after graduation than university graduates, according to research mandated by the state legislature. Tuition for four-year degrees from FCS institutions typically cost $13,000—less than half the cost of four years at a state university.

Alberto Partida, 43, will spend less than $10,000 to earn a four-year degree in supply-chain management from Broward College, a former community college in South Florida. A high school graduate and former restaurant owner, Partida  hopes to enter a growing field. The college estimates there will be 3,555 new supply-chain management jobs in the county by 2019, driven by the expansion of local ports.

The FCS (formerly the Florida Community College System) offers four-year degrees in high-demand fields, such as nursing and computer engineering technology, that lead directly to jobs. FCS colleges don’t offer liberal arts degrees, and can’t offer programs that compete with nearby universities.

But in programs roughly equivalent to university majors, FCS graduates do just fine. Business administration and elementary education majors at state universities earn about the same their first year out of school as FCS graduates, the report found. Registered nurses who graduate from FCS institutions actually earn about $10,000 more their first year out than their university-educated peers.

Florida Prepaid, a state program that lets parents pay for college in advance, charges $53,729 for a four-year university plan, almost three times as much as a four-year FCS degree plan. ”Each year that goes by we’re starting to see more families purchasing the four-year Florida College plan and the 2+2 plan,” says Kevin Thompson, executive director of Florida Prepaid. The 2+2 plan combines an associate’s degree with two years at a state university.

Floridians prepay for community college

Florida parents are prepaying community college tuition to lock in lower prices, reports the Orlando Sentinel.  As tuition and fees soar at state universities, the Florida Prepaid College Program is encouraging moderate-income parents to look at low-cost community college plans.

Most of Florida’s 28 community colleges grant bachelor’s degrees, notes Kristin Lock, a spokesman for the prepayment plan. Many not call themselves “state colleges.”

For parents of newborns, the price of a four-year university plan can be a shock. The cost of enrolling a newborn rose again several weeks ago to $350.35 a month for more than 18 years.

Victoria Beretervide of Orlando, who has a 3-month-old son, said the university plan is out of the question.

“That’s not affordable — definitely not affordable,” said the 23-year-old cosmetologist, who was glad to learn Friday that other prepaid options are available.

Prepaying for four years at a community college for a newborn costs $118.32 a month for 223 months.

Sales for the two-year community-college plan nearly doubled in 2010-11. That year, the Prepaid Program  added a plan that covers four years of tuition and fees at a community college instead of two. “Last school year, almost as many people purchased four years at a community college as they did four years at a university,” reports the Sentinel.  Also popular is the “2+2″ plan, which offers two years at a community college and then two years at a public university.

Florida’s remedial ed revolution

A remedial education revolution will hit Florida next fall, reports the Tampa Tribune. Under a new law, state colleges and universities won’t be able to require most students to take placement tests or non-credit remedial classes. “We’re looking at new strategies,” said Robert Hervey, program manager for developmental math at Hillsborough Community College’s Dale Mabry campus. “It’s caused us to do a complete overhaul.”

“Remediation in Florida was not an entrance ramp to success, it was an exit ramp to failure,” said state Sen. Joe Negron, a Republican from Stuart who pushed the legislation. “If you think about it, it makes sense; you’re asking these students to come to class, study, work hard for a semester, and the reward for that is to say, ‘Congratulations, you now have the opportunity to take a real college course.’”

. . . “It was just a completely broken system,” Negron said.

By fall 2014, the state’s public high school graduates and members of the armed services will be able to start in college-level courses, regardless of their preparation.

At St. Petersburg College and HCC, administrators are turning semester-long remedial classes into “modularized, accelerated or compressed” sessions, reports the Tribune. For example, “someone struggling with fractions or factoring polynomial equations could take shorter modules focusing exclusively on individual subjects.” In some cases, students in a college-level English class may be offered a “co-requisite” tutorial focused on basic skills.

SPC Mathematics Dean Jimmy Chang said advisers will offer enrollees a sample of the types of questions they would be expected to handle in a for-credit course. Then, on the first day of class, students will be encouraged to take an initial assessment.

“Hopefully, that will give students two sets of information for them to fully determine whether or not they are ready for that class,” Chang said. “If they think that they are, great. If they decide, ‘Wait, I really need to take a step back,’ we will work with them at the departmental level to make sure they are in the right place.”

At HCC, fewer students are enrolling in developmental math and more are signing up for college algebra.

Remedial ed: Can it improve?

Most community college students enroll in remedial classes. Most remedial students never earn a credential. However, ending remediation won’t raise completion rates, argue USC Professor William G. Tierney and graduate student Julia C. Duncheon in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.

Reformers are targeting remedial education, they write.

Lawmakers in Florida have made remedial classes in math, reading and English optional for students entering community colleges in fall 2014. The placement tests to assess these skills will be optional as well.

Meantime, Tennessee and Connecticut have passed legislation making it easier for students to bypass remediation and enroll directly in courses that lead to graduation and completion of a major. And California State University has lowered its math and English placement test cutoff scores, requiring fewer students to do remedial coursework.

Unprepared students who enroll in remedial classes don’t do any better than similar students who skip remediation, according to Community College Research Center studies. But other research suggests very low-skilled students benefit from remedial education, write Tierney and Duncheon.

Before making remedial classes optional — or eliminating them — colleges should try other options, they argue.

“Accelerated”  (or “mainstreaming”) programs mix low- and high-performing students in college-level classes. Students can get extra help in a support class or lab.

Some colleges create “learning communities” for low-scoring students, while others create mixed groups. At Kingsborough Community College in New York, low-scoring students in learning communities took and passed more college-level courses.

Many students — especially graduates of low-performing, high-poverty high schools — need an academic safety net, Tierney and Duncheon argue. Throwing unprepared students into college coursework will not raise completion rates.


In an essay, a journalism professor recalls a pleasant, hard-working journalism major who was “illiterate.”  She’d received B’s in English before, she claimed. He struggled with whether to fail her — until she plagiarized.

How did “Kari” get so far in college without being able to read or write?

Require remediation — after a retest

“Florida colleges will let students opt out of remedial coursework, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

That’s a bad idea,writes Amber Bradley in a letter to the editor. “Some students who are genuinely not ready for college level coursework will opt to take the college level class and not succeed.” Instead, students should be allowed to retake the placement exam, she proposes.

Also, it is important for counselors to reiterate the importance of the placement exam . . . . Another suggestion is to offer these remedial classes the summer before the start of the student’s first semester so that once school commences, the student is caught up to the proper level class.

Bradley is a graduate student in education at University of Southern California.

California’s 2-year colleges eye 4-year degrees

California’s 112 community colleges may seek permission to offer bachelor’s degrees, reports Inside Higher Ed. A committee is studying the question.

A bachelor’s degree option could “increase college participation rates for local residents who are unable to relocate because of family or work commitments,” said Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris’s office, in a statement.

Twenty-one states now let two-year colleges offer some four-year degrees, especially in technical and occupational fields. Florida is a leader in expanding four-year options at community colleges, which are now called ”state colleges.”

However, there’s plenty of pushback, Inside Higher Ed notes. Public universities don’t like to compete for students and state funding. In Michigan, public universities are fighting a new law that lets community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in technical fields.

While some at community colleges worry about “mission creep,” others say a four-year option makes sense.

Community colleges cannot meet the demand for skilled workers in technical fields, said Bill Scroggins, president and CEO of Mt. San Antonio College.

Those jobs are also changing, said Scroggins, who is a committee member. Many employers are have added new hiring requirements for applicants to hold bachelor’s degrees. Nursing is a key example. As a result, two-year degrees no longer cut it in certain fields.

The 16-member committee is considering “applied” baccalaureates in nursing and technical fields.