Can “novice learners” succeed in all-online courses? Many believe remedial and entry-level students need lots of personal attention to succeed. But San Jose State is working with Udacity on three online basic math courses that include round-the-clock online mentors, hired and trained by the company, reports the New York Times.
The tiny for-credit pilot courses, open to both San Jose State students and local high school and community college students, began in January, so it is too early to draw any conclusions. But early signs are promising, so this summer, Udacity and San Jose State are expanding those classes to 1,000 students, and adding new courses in psychology and computer programming, with tuition of only $150 a course.
San Jose State professors provided lecture notes and a textbook for the three basic math courses. Udacity employees wrote the script. The nonprofit also supplies online mentors who answer students questions immediately.
The Gates Foundation is giving grants to develop massive open online courses to teach basic and remedial skills, said Josh Jarrett, a foundation officer.
“For us, 2012 was all about trying to tilt some of the MOOC attention toward the more novice learner, the low-income and first-generation students,” he said. “And 2013 is about blending MOOCs into college courses where there is additional support, and students can get credit. While some low-income young adults can benefit from what I call the free-range MOOCs, the research suggests that most are going to need more scaffolding, more support.”
A bill in the state Senate would let wait-listed students earn credit for faculty-approved online courses, including those from private vendors such as Udacity and edX. The bill is controversial, especially with faculty members.
San Jose State President Mohammad Qayoumi favors blended learning for upper-level courses, “but fully online courses like Udacity’s for lower-level classes,” reports the Times. Online courses can be expanded easily, eliminating wait lists.
“If the results are good, then we’ll scale it up, which would be very good, given how much unmet demand we have at California public colleges,” said Ronald Rogers, a statistics professor. “I’m involved in this not to destroy brick-and-mortar universities, but to increase access for more students,” Rogers said.
Pell Grants should be replaced with a single federal-state matching grant, recommends the Committee for Economic Development in A New Partnership: The Road to Reshaping Federal & State Financial Aid. Cut higher ed tax credits to save $18.2 billion for student aid that expands access, the report also urges.
“Replacing Pell Grants and the other federal grant programs with a need-based grant that would be partly matched by states is both novel and controversial,” notes the Chronicle of Higher Education.
At a luncheon . . . to release the report, several audience members voiced skepticism about the plan, worrying that it would penalize students in states that chose not to participate, and expressing doubt that a federal methodology for determining need would distribute aid fairly.
William R. Doyle, the Vanderbilt University professor who wrote the report, said he doubted states would refuse the aid, given the consequences for their students and colleges. He noted that states fought matching requirements in Medicaid and elementary and secondary education, but ultimately accepted the money.
“The federal government can’t be the only actor that’s concerned with access,” he argued. “They have to start expecting something back from states and institutions.”
The report is one of the studies commissioned by the Gates Foundation’s Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project.
End college tax credits for affluent families and subsidized loans. Put the savings into Pell Grants for low-income students. Enroll all borrowers in income-based repayment. Increasing Return on Investment from Federal Student Aid by the National College Access Network recommends prioritizing need-based aid over merit aid. The network, which includes groups trying to help low-income and first-generation college students, calls for restoring year-round Pell Grants and meeting the estimated $5 billion funding shortfall for the 2014 fiscal year with no new eligibility restrictions.
The proposals would help community colleges, which enroll many Pell-eligible students and relatively few borrowers. Restoring the year-round Pell Grant would encourage summer enrollment, making it easier for students to complete a credential.
Expect more ideas on how to change student aid, predicts Libby Nelson on Inside Higher Ed. The Gates Foundation has given grants to 16 groups to develop proposals. Pell faces a funding “cliff” at the start of the next fiscal year in October. Congress will face tough financial aid decisions.
Congress has chipped away at subsidized loans when looking for budget cuts to sustain other financial aid programs, eliminating subsidized graduate loans and then the interest-free grace period for undergraduates. As income-based repayment has grown, subsidized loans have come under increasing criticism from policy researchers as an inefficient use of federal spending, although the loans still have staunch defenders among private colleges because they reduce the long-term cost of student loans.
NCAN also called for eliminating another politically popular program: some of the tax credits for higher education. The credits have strong support from both parties and from the public — President Obama called for making one, the American Opportunity Tax Credit, permanent as part of his re-election campaign — but are sometimes criticized for providing help to middle-class and wealthy students who would go to college without government help.
The white paper calls for the elimination of the tax credit for individuals with incomes over $50,000 or families with incomes over $100,000 per year. Tax credits for high-income families, it said, are “inefficient at best and morally questionable at worst.”
The report also suggests distributing “campus-based aid, such as the Perkins student loan or Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, based on a competitive formula” that rewards colleges that enroll and graduate more low-income students than comparable institutions. Enrolling students who never graduate would not be rewarded.
After four years of rapid growth, the Pell Grant program faces a “funding cliff” in 2014, writes Andrew P. Kelly, an American Enterprise Institute research fellow. Research student aid before trying to reform it, Kelly writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Temporary fixes won’t be enough. There are big questions to be answered.
How can scarce money be allocated more efficiently? Can reforms help more students complete college while maintaining a commitment to ensuring them access to postsecondary education?
MDRC and the nonprofit Institute for College Access and Success are studying “aid as a paycheck.” Community colleges receive their aid in regular payments, rather than getting a lump sum at the start of the term.
The Wisconsin Scholars Longitudinal Study, directed by (Sara) Goldrick-Rab, is a statewide experiment that examines the impact of a privately financed, need-based award on Pell Grant recipients at public two-year colleges. So far, results suggest that $1,000 of additional aid is associated with a two-to-four-percentage-point increase in rates of retention from the first to second year of college.
. . . the federal government is finally getting its act together. This past summer, the Department of Education announced the first-ever federal Pell Grant experiments. The program will study two changes in Pell eligibility. The first will provide bachelor’s-degree holders with access to Pell dollars to pay for vocational training. The second will enable students to access Pell dollars for shorter-term, lower-intensity programs (as short as eight weeks and a minimum of 150 clock hours) than current law allows.
It’s not enough, writes Kelly. “At $160-billion, financial aid is the most expensive higher-education strategy for promoting student attainment that we have. The least we can do is devote a fraction of that commitment to making sure it works as well as it can.”
Grit and graduation will be the focus at Portmont College, a new two-year program for disadvantaged students, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles and the Gates-funded MyCollege Foundation partnered to create the new college, which is designed for young adults with grit, determination and barriers to success.
The hybrid program, which will combine online and in-person components, was designed for students who have the potential to excel in college, but who lack other things—such as money, strong academic preparation, or a flexible schedule—that correlate with postsecondary success. Perhaps they’re first-generation students with so-so high-school grades, or working adults who are caring for elderly parents, or nonnative English speakers who struggled on the SAT.
Portman’s president, Srikant Vasan, defines grit as “being able to get over obstacles as they appear in your path, to stand up when you’ve been punched down, to set a long-term vision and a goal for yourself, and be able to keep those in mind.” He hopes Portman’s focus on non-cognitive skills will “bridge the achievement gap.”
Students will need a high-school degree or GED and at least a 10th-grade proficiency in reading, writing, and mathematics. They’ll start with a free online Launch Pad course. Over three weeks, college officials will evaluate students’ non-cognitive skills and behaviors.
In the second phase (called “Ignition”), admitted students would participate in an in-person experiential-learning program. They would meet with a success coach and the peers who would form their “support community.” Later, during their first two academic terms, students would take two for-credit courses meant to reinforce what they’ve learned and provide continuing support.
Those courses would emphasize “core capabilities” associated with success in the workplace, such as critical thinking, communications, problem solving, and teamwork. . . . Portmont will use academic and “behavioral” data to tailor student-specific interventions throughout each semester.
Portmont College at St. Mary’s will start in Denver this December, offering associate degrees in business administration, computer science, liberal arts, and pre-health science. It will cost $5,240 per year.
“Academic confidence” is critical for community college students, concludes a new Community College Research Center study, which describes “ways to structure classroom and other on-campus environments to create opportunities for students to experience earned success and ultimately enhance their commitment to academic pursuits.”
Community college students want to be more connected to faculty, classmates, coursework and career exploration, according to Connection by Design. The report is based on focus groups of current and former students conducted by WestEd and Public Agenda for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation‘s Completion by Design initiative.
Students wanted community colleges to engage them in classes and campus life, but they said mandatory orientation or student success courses must be high quality and relevant to their goals to be worth time in their busy schedules.
In the discussions, students spoke like consumers — saying they wanted more individualized help, if not in-person through personal emails or texts. Students felt most college websites fall short and would welcome more interactive features. Too often students said in making college-related decisions, they don’t know what questions to ask until it is too late.
Students want schools to better anticipate their needs and provide them with clear information, especially if they are at risk of dropping out and could benefit from extra services. And supports should be offered beyond the freshman year, many in the focus groups felt.
Many former students who have dropped out want colleges to invite them to return and let them know how to do so.
Most students wish their college had provided them with more structured opportunities to explore their academic and career options.
Students in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Texas participated in the focus groups.
The College Knowledge Challenge, which kicked off Sept. 27 at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, will provide $2.5 million to developers who come up with college readiness apps and online tools, reports eCampus News. Some 100 developers gathered for a “hack-a-thon”– an effort to create technologies that will help high school students prepare for college success. Winners of the grant competition, sponsored by the Gates Foundation, will be announced in January.
Foundation officials said they would encourage web-based tools that incorporated social media platforms like Facebook, where low-income and first-generation college students might find a supportive academic peer group.
Other apps might help incoming students construct a four-year plan toward college graduation. Students from College Summit Northern California partner high schools will serve as advisers to the competition’s app developers.
College Summit is working with the Gates Foundation on the challenge.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) were designed for motivated, independent learners who don’t need college credits. Now the Gates Foundation is funding remedial MOOCs reports Inside Higher Ed. Grant applicants are beng told to focus on a “high-enrollment, low-success introductory level course that is a barrier to success for many students, particularly low-income, first-generation students.” Grants will go to proposals for MOOC study aids, course supplements and stand-alone, for-credit, all-online courses.
“This has the potential for raising the quality of instruction in developmental education, if used properly,” said Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education.
But Amy Slaton, a Drexel professor who specializes in workforce issues, thinks remedial students need more support than MOOCs provide. Gates is “buying into these very naïve ideas about how technology works in education.”
Only one in four students in remedial classes will eventually earn a degree from a community college or transfer to a four-year college, research has found.
Boylan said the Gates proposal was promising because it seeks to study how the courses work, with research components on what is effective for whom and under what circumstances. Those are questions “too few agencies have asked” about remediation more broadly, he said, even though more research is “desperately needed.”
Some colleges have replaced remedial classes with computer-based labs, especially in math. Typically, tutors or instructors are available to help students if they get stuck on a concept.
Western Governors University, which offers adult students credits for demonstrated competency, is rewarding community college transfers who complete an associate degree before enrolling, reports Inside Higher Ed.
The parent university, which offers bachelor’s and graduate degrees, has begun a national push to encourage students to complete their associate degree before enrolling. And it’s seeing results. Two years ago, 35 percent of the university’s incoming students held an associate or bachelor’s degree. Now roughly half do, said Pat Partridge, Western Governor’s chief marketing officer, who oversees marketing and admissions.
WGU Texas offers Finish to Go Further in partnership with the state’s community and technical colleges. WGU waives application fees and offers a 5 percent tuition discount for transfer students with an associate degree. All their lower-division credit requirements are satisfied by the associate degree. WGU Indiana and Washington have similar programs, including the 5 percent tuition discount.
The university has statewide articulation agreements with community colleges in seven states, some of which include discounts and scholarships for associate degree holders, as well as “softer marketing partnerships” with 330 community colleges around the country, including large systems like Arizona’s Maricopa Community College.
WGU hopes to “create smooth, credential rich, high-value pathways” for students, said Mark David Milliron, who came to WGU Texas from the Gates Foundation. A transfer with an associate degree is twice as likely to finish a bachelor’s degree at WGU Texas, he said.
A group of Texas community colleges have lost Gates Foundation funding for Completion by Design, reports Inside Higher Ed.
. . . the $35-million grant encourages groups of two-year colleges in four states to work together to keep more low-income and young students from slipping through the cracks and to better help guide them on a pathway to graduation. Teams of colleges in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas beat out 27 teams in nine states to participate in the five-year project, which began in 2010.
The five Texas colleges participating, led by the Lone Star College System, enroll one-third of the state’s community college students. The colleges had completed the planning phase, but hadn’t started implementation.
Richard Carpenter, Lone Star’s chancellor, called the move “unexpected and unfortunate” in an e-mail to Lone Star staff.
Gates officials haven’t explained the decision, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Some observers said the relative independence of the state’s community colleges posed challenges for the goals of the foundation, which typically expects visible results. In contrast, a cohesive statewide system, like the one in North Carolina, might be better suited for the level of coordination required by Completion by Design.
Carpenter, in his e-mail to Lone Star employees, said Gates officials had determined that Texas is “too big to succeed.”
Others, however, said the group led by Lone Star deserved some of the blame. One source at Lone Star, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said project leaders from the system were disorganized.
Using state and regional funding the Texas colleges will continue the campaign to boost student success rates under the name Texas Completes.