Easy come, easy go is the unofficial motto of community colleges. Anyone can enroll. Few will graduate. Daquan McGee escaped the community college trap by enrolling in City University of New York’s structured, guided, get-it-done ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs), writes Ann Hurlbert in The Atlantic.
McGee enrolled at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in the spring of 2010. At 19, he’d served two years in prison for attempted robbery. He failed placement tests in writing and math, but passed an intensive remedial writing course over the summer, while working full-time at a Top Tomato Super Store. He opted for ASAP in the fall.
McGee would have to enroll full-time . . . Every other week, he would be required to meet with his adviser, who would help arrange his schedule and track his progress. In addition to his full course load, McGee would have to complete his remaining remedial class, in math, immediately. If he slipped up, his adviser would hear about it from his instructor—and mandatory tutoring sessions would follow. If he failed, he would have to retake the class right away. Also on McGee’s schedule was a non-optional, noncredit weekly College Success Seminar, featuring time-management strategies, tips on study habits and goal setting, exercises in effective communication, and counsel on other life skills. The instructor would be taking attendance. If McGee complied with all that was asked of him, he would be eligible for . . . a free, unlimited MetroCard good for the following month. More important, as long as he stayed on track, the portion of his tuition not already covered by financial aid would be waived.
McGee graduated with an associate’s degree in multimedia studies in two and a half years. (I’d love to know if he’s been able to get a better job. Is he on a career path?)
In urban community colleges, the national three-year graduation rate is 16 percent, Hurlbert writes. “Nationwide, barely more than a third of community-college enrollees emerge with a certificate or degree within six years.”
ASAP, launched in 2007, aims to get half its students to a degree in three years. It appears to be exceeding that goal, according to preliminary results of a three-year study that randomly assigned students to either ASAP or the regular community-college track. “A third of the students who enrolled in ASAP in the spring of 2010 finished in two and a half years (compared with 18 percent of the control group),” Hurlbert writes.
ASAP offers lots of guidance, a dose of goading, and a variety of well-timed incentives to its participants (average age at admission: 21), who must sign on to the goal of graduating within three years. The program is intended primarily for low-income students with moderate remedial needs, and it accepts applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. . . . The implicit philosophy behind the program is simple: students, especially the least prepared ones, don’t just need to learn math or science; they need to learn how to navigate academic and institutional challenges more broadly, and how to plot a course—daily, weekly, monthly—toward long-term success.
The City University of New York spends an average of $9,800 a year for a community college student; ASAP adds another $3,900 per student. That’s a lot — until you calculate the price per graduate. Then, ASAP is a bargain.
More than 61 percent of community college transfers earn a bachelor’s degree in six years and another 8 percent are still trying, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Seventy-two percent of transfers with a two-year degree complete a four-year degree within six years, according to the Signature Report, compared to 56 percent of community college transfers with no previous credential.
Most community college transfers have not earned a credential.
“Stopping out” of college can be costly, the report found.
The gap in the six-year completion rate was large (26 percentage points) between students who transferred to a four-year institution within one year of their most recent enrollment at a two-year institution and students who transferred after stopping-out for more than one year.
Not surprisingly, full-time students are much more likely to earn a degree.
Rising college costs was on the agenda this week, when President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan met with college leaders at the White House. Most were chancellors of large state university systems, but Thomas Snyder of Ivy Tech Community College was invited along with the presidents of the three nonprofits, the all-online Western Governors University, Carnegie Mellon and Berea College.
New financial aid policies to encourage completion were discussed, said Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, who also testified before Rep. Virginia Foxx’s committee on streamlining college costs.
. . . there seemed to be some consensus at the White House meeting that the federal government should develop policies on financial aid, its biggest tool, to spur a higher graduation rates, whether by limiting the number of semesters for which students could receive aid, requiring them to attend full-time, or doling out aid bit by bit to discourage students from dropping out mid-semester, or other approaches.
Requiring full-time attendance to qualify for Pell Grants would have a huge impact on community college students.
College leaders also talked about the importance of linking colleges with K-12 education and the potential for technology to cut costs.
“If we’re going to address the 37 million adults with some college and no degree, we can’t just tweak the existing model,” said Robert W. Mendenhall of Western Governors University, an online nonprofit university. “Mostly in higher education, technology is an add-on cost that doesn’t change the model at all. We need to fundamentally change the faculty role, and use technology to do the teaching.”
Larry D. Shinn, the president of Berea College, did not disagree. “We’re structured in a 19th-century model, but I think we all know now that blended learning, combining technology and classroom learning, can let us educate for less cost,” he said. “The question is how we get there from here.”
“Technology can help us educate more students faster and better.”said Jared L. Cohon, the president of Carnegie Mellon, which has developed online classes used at other universities.
Open-access universities and community colleges have the most experience in controlling costs, writes Jonathan Gibralter, president of Frostburg State in Maryland.
President Obama plans to continue to talk about the problem of college affordability, which was spotlighted by the Occupy protests.
Enroll full time. Get more aid. That’s the message California community colleges are sending students, reports Inside Higher Ed. Tuition is only $624 a year for a full-time student, the lowest in the nation. Those who qualify for a Pell Grant — and many do — collect $5,550, which can be used for expenses as well as tuition. Half-time students, who pay $312 and collect $2,775, have a lot less left over for expenses.
Since full-time students are much more likely to complete a degree, Chancellor Jack Scott has told financial-aid officers to make sure students know the financial advantages of full-time enrollment.
Only 29 percent of the state’s community college students are enrolled full time, but 39.8 percent of Pell Grant recipients enrolled full time in 2009-10, up from 33.4 percent a year earlier.
California is imitating the Connecticut Community Colleges, which began using aid to encourage full-time enrollment 10 years ago.
. . . the system’s overall headcount has grown by 42 percent since 2000-01, but its full-time enrollment has grown by 101 percent.
In 2008-09, 63 percent of Connecticut community college students applied for aid, compared to 42.5 percent of community college students nationally.
With full-time students pursuing a common first-year curriculum, New Community College — the first new community college in New York City in more than 40 years — hopes to improve graduation rates. The new college, scheduled to open in fall 2012, was approved this week by the City University of New York trustees.
New Community College will offer associate degrees in business administration, human services, liberal arts and sciences, urban studies, energy services management, health information technology, information technology and environmental science.
. . . the new college builds in developmental coursework for those who need it while immediately starting academic work. The program features full-time enrollment for at least the first year; a common first-year curriculum that provides twice the normal time for math; a professional studies component with worksite experience; and majors in fields with available jobs and pathways toward bachelor’s degrees.
The new college’s goal is a 35 percent graduation rate in three years, significantly higher than the average for urban students, reports the New York Post.
To do that, the school is introducing a number of measures that research has shown to improve outcomes for students — including a summer bridge program, a mandate that students attend classes full-time as freshmen, and groupings called “learning communities” in which students can study with and support one another.
Additionally, remedial work will be given only in conjunction with credit-bearing courses, to keep students from getting discouraged early on.