15 credits for the price of 12

Community College of Philadelphia students can 15 credits for the cost of 12, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Pay for 12 credits – the equivalent of four courses – and the college picks up the tab for the fifth, worth about $555.

. . . To become eligible, students must have completed 24 credits, taken no fewer than nine and no more than 14 credits the previous semester, and have a grade-point average of at least 2.5. They also must be Philadelphia residents. To stay enrolled, they must maintain a 2.0 GPA, have no course withdrawals or failures, and pay their college bills.

Upper-division courses typically have space for more students, so the college can offer a deal without running up costs.

Mai Nguyen, 19, an aspiring nurse, will graduate in two years.

“I didn’t have the money for the fifth class,” said Nguyen, who gets federal financial aid and works in the college’s financial-aid office to pay for her books. “I would have had to save up my money to take it. Now, I’m saving money, and at the same time saving time.”

Federal financial aid programs count 12 credits as a full-time load, even though it takes 15 credits to graduate on time, points out Complete College America’s “Full Time is 15″ campaign. One completion strategy is to to “ensure that taking 15 credits per semester costs no more than the current 12-credit standard.”

ASAP isn’t for everyone

Student retention has improved at New York City community colleges that offer the ASAP program, writes Matt Reed, in response to an Atlantic story. ASAP requires students to enroll full-time and provides “intrusive” advisors who function as “something between a truant officer and a personal trainer,” writes Reed. “It even works well for students who start out in developmental courses, which is no small achievement.”

Among other things, it solves — by essentially ruling out — the institutional dilemmas of student enrollment volatility.  Students are enrolled year-round, with January and summer costs covered by the program.  (Financial aid still largely assumes the fall-and-spring semester model.)  The support staff is well stocked, and the total enrollment in the program is capped.  And the budget per student is approximately double the budget per student where I work.  Double our budget, and I bet we could get some results, too.

. . . Beyond the money, though — and let’s not forget the money — a program like that succeeds to the extent that it makes students resemble students at traditional colleges.  There’s a constituency for that, but it’s only one constituency among many.

Nontraditional students “don’t have the option of dropping everything to attend full-time,” Reed observes. He cites an argument in Slate:    “Failure is actually one of the greatest strengths of our higher education system,” writes Tressie McMillan Cottom. “In no other country can a student fail so often, so spectacularly, with such a low penalty. Especially for nontraditional students, failure may be underrated.”

The full-time, double-the-cost ASAP model isn’t a practical answer for most colleges, Reed concludes.

29% are on completion track

How Full-Time are “Full-Time” Students? asks a Complete College America a policy brief. Not very. Students who take 12 units a term are considered full-time — they’re eligible for full federal aid — but 15 credits are needed to stay on track for graduation.

Four percent of students seeking two-year degrees graduate in two years the report points out. For students seeking four-year degrees, the on-time graduation rate is 19 percent.

Only 29 percent of community college students and 50 percent of four-year students are taking 15 or more credits per semester. That means many students — even those who think they’re full-timers — will need an extra year or two to complete a degree, even if they choose all the right classes and pass every one.

The University of Hawaii’s 15 to Finish campaign, which raises awareness about the advantages of truly full-time enrollment, has raised the number of truly full-time students. Retention rates are up 22 percent.

Complete College America also is advocating for “banded” tuition. That would ensure that taking 15 credits per semester costs no more than 12.

In addition, states should cap credits needed for degrees at 60 for an associate degree and 120 for a bachelor’s, the group suggests.

Study: ASAP cuts cost per graduate

City University of New York’s ASAP program is cost effective when measured by dollars per degree, concludes a new study by Henry M. Levin and Emma Garcia. At six community colleges, more than half of ASAP students graduated in three years, compared to a quarter of similar students not in ASAP.

ASAP is designed to help motivated community college students earn their degrees as quickly as possible. Key ASAP program features include a consolidated block schedule, cohorts by major, small class size, required full-time study, and comprehensive advisement and career development services. Financial incentives include tuition waivers for financial aid eligible students and free use of textbooks and monthly Metrocards for all students.

ASAP costs more, but the cost per graduate is less, the study found. “ASAP can increase considerably the number of CUNY community college graduates while actually reducing costs.”

CUNY launches community college experiment

If community college students enrolled full-time, learned basic skills in for-credit classes, took a well-planned schedule of courses together, received mandatory tutoring and counseling . . .  The New Community College, CUNY’s Multimillion-Dollar Experiment in Education, will test whether its intensive program boosta success rates, reports the New York Times.

Of 4,000 students listed the new college on their CUNY application, 504 showed up for the mandatory information session and 339 decided to enroll.

“New” students will take the same classes, although there are two levels of math.

. . .  too often students receive little guidance about how to navigate the system and how to choose a combination of classes that will move them closer to graduation.

“You look at the transcripts of a lot of community college students, and it looks like they stood with their backs to the course catalog and threw darts at it,” said Kay McClenney, director of the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas, Austin. “They wander into college, wander around the curriculum, and then they wander out the door.”

Basic skills instruction will be built into every course, along with college-level work, so students can begin earning credits immediately.

 The classes will emphasize collaborative and interdisciplinary work. There are none called “History” or “English.” One course, “City Seminar,” will use urban studies to explore government, culture, history and health. Another, “Ethnographies of Work,” will study sociology and business through the lens of various careers, and put students in touch with potential future employers.

All students will attend a three-week bridge program in August.  Once they get started, they’ll be required to use skills labs, peer study groups, tutors and advisers.

 “This is absolutely crucial because so many students appear at the door of community colleges completely clueless about what is required of them, or available to them,” said Ms. McClenney of the University of Texas. “They don’t know they need to do work outside of class. They don’t take advantage of tutoring and mentoring services. They don’t know about peer study groups or interacting with faculty.”

Students also will be required to spend 90 minutes a week in “group work space,” working with classmates on writing and language skills. They’ll also have mandatory weekly 90-minute group sessions with  “student success advocates,” who’ll help develop study skills, deal with stress and cope with problems — before they drop out.

When these strategies are tried in isolation, they have a “modest positive effect” that doesn’t last, said Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College at Columbia. “This will be a chance to see what happens if you do them together, consistently, over a longer period of time.”

New Community College will spend more than $30,0000 per student in its first year, compared to $10,000 a year for the average full-time CUNY community college student. The price is expected to decline, reaching only about 30 percent more per student. Advocates predict the cost per degree will be much lower. Taxpayers will save money when students spend fewer years in school and leave college as graduates rather than dropouts, they argue.

Of course, if the college works for students who commit to an intensive, highly structured program, that doesn’t mean it will work for the average student.