In his State of the Union speech, President Obama proposed improving job training programs and expanding apprenticeships. He highlighted partnerships between community colleges and employers, citing Jackie Bray, a single mother in North Carolina who was laid off from her job as a mechanic.
“Then Siemens opened a gas turbine factory in Charlotte and formed a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College,” Obama said. “The company helped the college design courses in laser and robotics training. It paid Jackie’s tuition, then hired her to help operate their plant. I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity as Jackie did.”
Obama also promised to simplify federal job training programs, echoing a proposal by his Republican rival, Mitt Romney.
“I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people like Jackie have one program, one website and one place to go for all the information and help they need,” the president said.
The White House provided few details on the apprenticeship plan, reports Inside Higher Ed.
There’s nothing new about community colleges partnering with employers on job training, said David S. Baime, senior vice president for government relations and research at the American Association of Community Colleges. “In truth, it’s something they already do week in and week out.”
A “program-by-program review” of federal job training programs, to be led by Vice President Joe Biden, won’t help, said Baime. “The federal job training programs have been reviewed repeatedly, and so more than another review, we need a Workforce Investment Act reauthorization and greatly enhanced funding.”
President Obama didn’t mention his controversial plan to rate colleges by “value.” Instead, he pledged to “give parents more information, and colleges more incentives to offer better value.”
Boston’s deeply troubled Roxbury Community College is getting a fresh start with a new leader, writes Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson. Bunker Hill Community College, which is trying to raise student success rates, also has a new president.
Valerie Roberson has taken charge of Roxbury after years of “scandalous mismanagement.” Only 39.5 percent of students graduate or transfer within six years.
Pam Eddinger, who immigrated from Hong Kong when she was 11, hopes to raise the 47.1 percent graduation-or-transfer rate at Bunker Hill.
Both are women who hate to lose, writes Jackson.
A decade ago, Roberson was appointed interim president of Olive-Harvey College in Chicago. There was talk of closing the community college. The faculty went on a three-week strike. “After firing some full-time faculty, Roberson said she worked on stabilizing faculty relations and boosting scholarship and honors programs,” writes Jackson. She stayed as president for five years.
Roxbury’s “need for healing” is “like nothing she’s ever seen,” Roberson told Jackson. She’s started by “spiffing up the grounds and healing frayed relations with both community organizers and the business community.” And, she’s continuing an audit of the college’s tangled finances.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature are putting more funding into community colleges and offering incentives for colleges that improve graduation and transfer rates and help close the state’s skills gap, writes Jackson.
But community colleges have rapidly evolved into far more than skill schools. As the price of four-year private colleges spirals past $50,000 a year — and tuition, room, and board at UMass Amherst is $23,000 — less-expensive community colleges take on more ambitious students.
The state is also trying to align community colleges and university courses, so students can more easily transfer their credits. Lack of portability has depressed the state’s community college graduation and transfer rates, says Eddinger. Students are mobile. Their credits need to be mobile too.
California is losing its higher education edge, warns a new report. State universities and community colleges must be redesigned to produce the educated workers the economy needs, said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who commissioned the report.
The percentage of young adults earning associate and bachelor’s degrees in California already is below the U.S. average, warns the Committee for Economic Development, which wrote the report. The higher education system must be redesigned to serve an increasingly diverse and low-income population, CED advised.
Along with boosting graduation rates at Cal State and community college campuses, which enroll the vast majority of the state’s college students, the study calls for greater collaboration with for-profit private colleges, employers and K-12 schools.
Lead author Patrick Callan, president of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that if the state is serious about meeting its “productivity challenge,” it will need to create “new kinds of institutions that take advantage of innovative instructional technologies and business plans to develop nontraditional ways of providing high-quality postsecondary education programs.”
“Modest injections of funding” and “tweaks in current educational policy and practice” won’t be enough to fix California’s underperforming higher education system, said Newsom.
Community college funding is recovering, but two-year college systems remain under stress in many states, according a new survey, Halfway Out of Recession But A Long Way to Go. The Education Policy Center of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa surveys community college directors annually.
Only directors in five states — Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana and Wyoming — reported mid-year budget cuts in 2012-13. In 2008-9, two-thirds of states were reporting such cuts.
Looking ahead, most state directors are predicting increases for this year for community colleges, with the average increase projected to be 4 percent. Only five states — Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia — are projecting decreases in 2013-14.
The state directors report considerable worry about the ability of students to pay for college. Most states are projecting tuition increases, and a majority expect state student aid programs to either be cut or to increase at less than the rate of inflation for higher education.
Many directors expect rising enrollments as four-year institutions impose enrollment caps.
California’s very low community college fees could be going up, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Fees are only $1,380 a year — less than half the national average — and at least 40 percent of California students don’t pay anything.
The 112-college system’s governing board is limiting generous fee waivers. Currently, a student from a family of four earning up to $90,000 would qualify.
The board is considering requiring students with fee waivers to maintain at least a C-average over two consecutive terms and to show adequate progress by taking at least half of their courses for credit.
Under the change, which exempts the disadvantaged and would take effect in Fall 2016, as many as 48,479 recipients could lose their fee waivers, said Linda Michalowski, vice chancellor for student services and special programs.
“For a student to enroll and do poorly academically, drop out, come back and do poorly, that does not correlate with student success, yet our policy on the fee waiver has said it doesn’t matter; you can fail and fail and fail and come back and we will support you again,” Michalowski said. “That doesn’t benefit anybody.”
Many say the shift doesn’t go far enough. Community college students still can’t get the courses they need, says Steve Boilard, who directs the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State.
As state funding declined by $1.5 billion over four years, lawmakers raised fees three times, to the current price of $46 per unit. But nearly all the anticipated revenue was eaten up by the waivers and colleges ended up cutting courses and enrollment anyway, said Boilard, who thinks the state needs to look hard at further restricting waivers and substantially raising the admission price.
“The community college system is supposed to be affordable for all, but we have shot ourselves in the foot by trying to achieve that through low tuition,” he said.
“There is a lot of room to raise more revenue and still be below the national average in terms of fees,” said Long Beach City College President-Chancellor Elroy Oakley. If the fees were higher, students could still access federal aid and “would be paying nothing more, and then that money would be going back into the institutions, which is, frankly, what 49 other states in the nation do,” he said.
“We are turning people away from college who want to come,” said Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education President David Longanecker. “What we have now is a low-cost pricing scheme that is starving the system and doesn’t make sense in the 21st Century.”
President Obama’s plan to control college costs is heading in the wrong direction, writes Sara Goldrick-Rab on the Education Optimists. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has taken the lead on the planning, which means “yet another quasi-market solution that fails to grapple with the real problems.”
The current financial system hinges on the actions of students, prioritizing their consumer choice in the hopes that those choices will be well made. It assumes that any problems with schools will be resolved by students turning away from them. But this assumption is deeply flawed, not only because students do not (and cannot, and will not) make informed choices, but also because a segment of selective schools (and states) have manipulated aid policy for so long that the incentives are now distorted and they can do whatever they wish. And what they want is to maximize their own interests, which are rarely aligned with those of their students. So the problem, in other words, is really the behavior of schools and states. Yes, students and families are an issue too, but their lack of information is just a fraction of the overall college cost problem.
Creating a ratings system for colleges and universities won’t help, Goldrick-Rab writes. Student choice is limited by “finances, family and geography.” If a local community college is “bad,” most students have no choice but to attend anyhow. If it closes, they may be forced to try a high-price for-profit institution.
A college ratings system is a waste of money, she writes. The Scorecard and Navigator sites “aren’t used or demonstrably effective,” and this will be no better. (Both Scorecard and Navigator were shut down when federal government furloughed “nonessential” staff. You’d think they could run automatically.)
Tying Title IV financial aid to institutional performance makes sense, writes Goldrick-Rab. Instead of turning to Duncan, Obama should rely on “experts who’ve crafted nuanced accountability systems with anti-creaming provisions.”
We can’t afford to make every institution Title IV eligible, she argues. Private colleges should have to re-compete for eligibility:
(a) the selective, elite private non-profits whose admissions criteria mean they do not serve any kind of public good while they establish “standards” for college quality that are conflated with great expense, and
(b) the for-profit institutions that set their tuition according the availability of federal aid.
President Obama should put public funds into public institutions of higher education, Goldrick-Rab argues. Funding them well will decrease students’ time to degree and raise the quality of instruction.
Next, create accountability metrics intended to lower costs and open access at the private non-profits (else cut them out of Title IV), and to lower costs and increase completion rates at the for-profits (again, or else they’re out).
The community colleges will “do their jobs better by having a decent amount of money to spend,” Goldrick-Rab concludes.
Give low-income college students a free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, proposes Sara Goldrick-Rab. Ending “food insecurity” would boost student success, argues the University of Wisconsin professor. It’s one of her “three radical ideas” for improving higher education on Education Optimists.
Her second idea is to make teaching — not research — a priority in public higher education. All new hires should have teaching experience and earn professional development credits every two years, she proposes.
Idea #3 is to “focus funding where it can do the most good.”
The fewest dollars flow to the neediest students. Per student spending of about $6,000 in community colleges is a travesty.
. . . Require that all states receiving any Title IV financial aid maintain adequate per-student spending at their community colleges. Base this on appropriate adequacy funding studies done by state.
Technological strategies to help disadvantaged students succeed are “tinkering towards utopia,” concludes Goldrick-Rab, a professor of education policy and sociology.
California community colleges are starting the fall term with more students and more courses, reports the Los Angeles Times. Statewide, enrollment is expected to increase by 2.5% and course sections by 5%.
About 60,000 more students are expected to enroll systemwide this fall, officials said. It was a welcome turnaround from last year, when many colleges were planning for further budget cuts. Officials at the time were uncertain of the fate of Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s measure to increase state sales tax and some income taxes mostly for education. Voters approved it in November.
Last year, more than 470,000 students began the fall term on waiting lists for an average of 7,157 wait-listed students per school. This fall, an average of 5,026 students per campus are on waiting lists.
Washington Monthly‘s 2013 college rankings include the best community colleges: Saint Paul College (MN), North Florida Community College (FL), North Dakota State College of Science (ND), Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WI) and Lawson State Community College (AL) top the list.
The Monthly relied on the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), which asks about teaching practices, student workload, interaction with faculty, and student support, and U.S. Department of Education measures of student retention and completion.
Some of the worst community colleges are in the otherwise thriving San Francisco Bay Area, writes Haley Sweetland Edwards.
City College of San Francisco is slated to lose accreditation next year because of “broken governance and fiscal mismanagement,” she writes.
If that happens, it will mark by many measures the most catastrophic implosion of a community college in our nation’s academic history. And more to the point, City College’s roughly 85,000 students, most of whom are minority or working class, will be out of luck. While they’ll be allowed to transfer with their credits, commute to another institution, or simply stick it out during the turmoil, the truth is that many won’t. They will be added instead to the roster of hundreds of thousands of students in the last decade who have enrolled in a community college in the greater San Francisco Bay Area with the hope of getting a credential or degree, of clawing their way to a better job and into the middle class, but have left school empty-handed.
Nearly all the schools in the Bay Area are bottom-feeders in the Monthly‘s community college rankings, which uses the same metrics as the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Out of 1,011 colleges rated, San Francisco City College ranked 842. In the East Bay, Laney College was 882, the College of Alameda was 971 and nearby Berkeley City College was 982. Heading south, “San Bruno’s Skyline College scored a relatively sparkling 772, but neighboring College of San Mateo, where a director of information technology was recently charged for selling the school’s computer equipment and embezzling the cash, ranked 845. Cañada College ranked 979. North of the city, the College of Marin ranked 839.
So the question here is clear: How is it that a region of the world that prides itself on its booming growth and vibrant market—on “growing the jobs and companies of the future”—presides over a system of higher education that is so broken for so many?
California’s community colleges granted only 10.6 certificates or degrees per 100 students enrolled over a three-year period, almost 40 percent worse than the national average, Edwards writes.
Funding is a problem:
Year after year, the community colleges have fallen victim to what one administrator described to me as the “Jan Brady problem”: the least “pretty” of California’s three sisters of higher education, it’s perennially “overshadowed and under-loved.”
In addition, California community colleges are “a confederacy of semiautonomous fiefdoms.” State oversight is weak. “Shared governance” laws require district boards to share power with faculty, students, administration and staff. In some districts, board meetings become “hair-pulling, mudslinging turf wars that feel a little like Robert’s Rules of Order meets Lord of the Flies.”
In places where the local leadership is good—even visionary—the colleges are quite good, too. In places where the local leadership is bad or mediocre, the colleges are truly terrible. “Some campuses have a culture of destruction and some have a culture of collaboration,” observes Utpal Goswami, who became president of the College of the Redwoods just before the school was slapped with the regional accrediting agency’s most severe sanction.
Santa Barbara City College was a co-winner of this year’s Aspen Prize. The College of Marin, which serves a similar population, “grants only about eight certificates or degrees per 100 students over a three-year period—a success rate that’s barely half of Santa Barbara’s.”
The Texas State Technical College system will be funded based on graduates’ earnings rather than enrollment, starting on Sept. 1. The “value-added accountability funding formula” analyzes the difference between graduates’ income five years after graduating and the minimum wage to calculate how many dollars go to the technical colleges.
No young person should “spend life drifting from one low-skilled, minimum-wage job to the next,” said House Speaker Joe Straus in advocating for the funding change, reports the New York Times. But technical education isn’t expanding. ”Texas State Technical College West Texas — one of the four institutions that make up the state’s college system dedicated to technical education and work force development — has been shrinking.”
In 2007, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, more than 10,500 students were taking classes through T.S.T.C. West Texas, which has campuses in Brownwood, Abilene, Breckenridge and Sweetwater. Five years later, the school’s enrollment was about 1,500.
The college’s administrators say the decrease reflects a recalibration of the state’s approach to offering technical education.
. . . “What is education worth? That is really at the heart of the accountability debate,” said Michael Reeser, the former president of the West Texas campuses and current chancellor of the T.S.T.C. System.
. . . The other T.S.T.C. schools have also experienced recent dips in enrollment, though not as significantly as in West Texas. Mr. Reeser said that was because West Texas has been the test case for the new model and has been preparing for the transition since the concept was first floated in 2007.
The West Texas campuses have eliminated some programs: Digital media was popular, but didn’t lead to local jobs; agricultural technology did lead to good jobs but didn’t attract students. In addition, the West Texas campuses outsourced general academic courses to community colleges. And the nursing program lost students when it was placed on conditional approval status by the Texas Board of Nursing in 2012.