High school dropouts try college

Dropouts are trying to finish high school at community college, reports Northeast Ohio Public Radio.

Owens Community College staffer Michelle Atkinson hands out “Eleven Commandments” to Gateway to College students. Included are: “Never miss class, pay attention in class, pretend you’re interested even when you’re not.”

Gateway to College, a national program, gives high-risk students a second chance, says Atkinson.

“They might have been having trouble socially, they might not have been challenged enough,” she said. “So putting them into a college environment might put them into a little bit more independence where they have to rise and meet the academic endeavors that they need to in order to succeed.”

Students begin by taking classes in reading, writing, math and college skills.  Once they’ve completed high school, they can begin earning college credits.

It’s a challenge, says Gateway director James Jackson. “Basically, we’re taking kids that were not successful in high school and putting them in college and expecting them to be successful.”

Students, all Toledo residents between 16 and 21, must read at the ninth grade level or better and have completed at least five high school credits. At the mandatory interview Jackson listens to how applicants talk about themselves. 

“Are they the victim in all of the stories, are they the heroes in all of their stories, or do they have that balance that most of us have,” he said. “And what I’ve found, some students have terrible home life situations, we’re talking abusive families, extreme poverty, but despite all of those odds against them, they still believe that they’re worth getting their high school education.”

Matthew Tammarine, 18, dropped out of a traditional high school and then a virtual charter, before enrolling as a Gateway student at Owens two years ago. He’s on track to earn an associate degree in two more years. Last semester, he had a B average. Tutoring and meetings with peer mentors have helped. Gateway students also get bus passes, a daily lunch and access to staff members.

America’s Forgotten Student Population looks at how community colleges can create paths to college success for GED completers.

Adding job prep creates a ‘GED machine’

LaGuardia Community College is a GED machine,” writes Fawn Johnson in The Atlantic. Almost 40 percent of urban students don’t finish high school. LaGuardia, in New York City’s bureau of Queens, offers prep classes for the state’s high school equivalency exam that are linked to job training.  One course is designed for would-be health workers, another for business students and another for those aiming for technical jobs.

LaGuardia’s free classes, funded by state, city, and foundation grants, have a months-long waiting list. Students willing to pay for courses (at about $3.50 per hour of instruction) can usually get a spot in the next scheduled class, although those fill up, too. Most students are black or Latino.

But a General Educational Development certificate alone won’t suffice for people who want to make a decent wage. So, three years ago, LaGuardia began tailoring its GED-prep classes toward certain professions. Reading material for aspiring health pros includes a book about three friends trying to become doctors. Math homework for prospective engineers involves interpreting charts and graphs. These professional-development additions to GED classes were intended to create a smooth transition to college classes or more job training. The community college wound up inheriting a lot of its own successful GED students. Seventeen percent of its college students are from the GED program.

The pass rate is 53 percent for students in the “contextualized curriculum” courses compared to 22 percent in the old test-prep only courses. Furthermore, 24 percent of students who earn their GED certificate through a LaGuardia course now sign up for courses, more than three times the old rate.

D.C. opens community college prep school

A new Washington, D.C. charter school, Community College Prep, will prepare adults for jobs, online learning and college. The school will target low-income single parents, young dropouts, would-be online learners and aged-out foster kids. It will focus on teaching basic reading, writing, math and computer literacy skills and helping students prepare for the GED and the community college placement exam.

CC Prep students will enjoy a flexible schedule and lots of small group interaction. Experienced teachers will work with these adult learners to create individual learning plans and students will have the opportunity to learn how to “learn on- line” in a supportive lab environment where instruction is tailored to individual needs and pace.

Pearson will provide workforce education, self-paced courses, mentoring and online tutoring. Students will take Computer Concepts, Workforce Readiness, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Effective Business Writing Skills, Internet Search and Job Search.

Community colleges are urging adult ed students to take the GED this year. Next year, the exam will be much harder. “The new tests will only be available online, and they will be aligned with the Common Core State Standards and the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, reports Community College Times.

Immigrants learn English, job skills

Maryland community colleges have added English as a Second Language and GED programs to serve a growing number of immigrant students.

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At Prince George’s Community College’s (PGCC) International Education Center, health care careers is the most popular program for immigrant students. But many need to improve their English. “PGCC and four other community colleges in Maryland created an accelerated program—modeled on Washington state’s I-Best program—that provides language and skills training,” reports Community College Times.

In addition to Latinos, PGCC draws students from Africa and other countries.

About 25 percent of the nation’s 6.5 million degree-seeking community college students were foreign born in 2004-05, according to a U.S. Education Department report​.

Is the new GED too hard?

The GED exam will be harder in 2014, reports the Bay Area News Group. Maybe too hard. The new four-part test, which will be taken on computers, is aligned with Common Core’s college and career readiness expectations.

The new exams are designed to better prepare students for vocational training, college or careers by testing the skills employers are looking for now, said Armando Diaz, spokesman for the GED Testing Service.

There will be fewer multiple choice questions and more questions that “require test-takers to read longer passages and show understanding by defending opinions in short answers or essays.”

I wonder if the new test is too difficult. Consider the reading skills required by this sample social studies question for the 2014 exam:

Excerpt: “There would be an end to everything, were the same man, or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals.”

Based on the excerpt, which important principle held by America’s founders did Montesquieu help shape?

A. Wider participation in government is essential to democracy.
B. Government will fail unless it performs a variety of functions.
C. Divisions of powers within government are necessary to prevent abuses.
D. Government power should be shared among the different classes of society.

(Option C is correct. The excerpt states the belief that concentrating all governmental power in one person or group would be very detrimental to a society.)

Go here for more on the new exam.

Only 12 percent of GED recipients go on to earn any other credential, GED officials say. They want the GED to be rigorous enough to be the first step to a vocational credential and a decent job. But it’s going to be a high step.

It’s possible to be stumped by Montesquieu but capable of  learning how to weld, cut hair or drive a truck. The GED is most useful as a minimum qualifications, not as an indicator of college readiness. If it’s too hard, a lot of people will give up.

Pass rates are up for Texans using computers to take the current version of the GED, reports the Waco Tribune. About 83 percent of testers have passed the computer exam this year at Texas State Technical College’s testing center, compared to 67 percent who took the paper format.

From GED to PhD

Krista M. LeBrun dropped out of high school in ninth grade, earned a GED at 17 — and kept on going, she writes in a Community College Week commentary.

Tired of of being treated as a loser, LeBrun went to Meridian Community College (Mississippi), where Browning Rochefort, then director of adult education, “looked at me as though I was somebody, that I had potential.” Rochefort told LeBrun she was ready to take the GED, which she passed two weeks later.

LeBrun worked at casinos for awhile, but decided she wanted more than a “good enough diploma.”

. . .  at 19, I moved back to Meridian and found myself back at Browning’s door. She encouraged me to take basic courses, to test the waters in multiple areas to see if I found an area that sparked my interested. Within two years, I graduated from MCC with an associate degree.

The two years I had spent at MCC made me realize that I loved school. I loved learning. I loved my teachers and I still wanted to be the teacher Robin Williams once inspired me to be. I enrolled at Mississippi State University-Meridian, where I went on to earn my BS in elementary education with certifications in English and social science. I was asked to give the keynote address at commencement.

As a third-grade teacher, she became her school’s technology specialist, using knowledge gained during a short internship. While working, she took online courses to earn a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in distance education.

She was hired by a university to develop an online education program. A dean told her she didn’t have to stop at a master’s degree. She earned a Ph.D. in instructional leadership with an emphasis in instructional technology from the University of Alabama and returned to MCC as director of eLearning.

California may send adult ed to college

California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to shift adult education from K-12 districts to community colleges, but the Legislature may not go alone, reports the Oakland Tribune.

The plan would give community colleges an additional $300 million to set up similar adult education programs, including high school diploma or equivalency courses, vocational education and citizenship classes. College leaders note the amount is less than half of what the state spent on adult schools five years ago, and that colleges have no experience running some of these programs.

“We’ve never been in the business of doing GED (the high school diploma equivalent), nor have we done anything with citizenship,” said Ron Galatolo, chancellor of the San Mateo County Community College District.

Under the governor’s proposal, school districts would continue to get the same funding, but could shift the money to other uses. In Oakland, which has a 27 percent dropout rate, the district plans to close its GED programs if it isn’t required to serve adult students.

. . .  the nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office cites “major problems” with the plan and urges the Legislature to instead invest the money in a special fund for adult education, managed by K-12 school districts.

. . . For years, community colleges have also offered remedial courses, including English as a second language, but have generally targeted higher-skilled students, while adult schools — often in courses set up at a school or community center — have worked with school dropouts and recent immigrants and refugees, including those unable to read or write.

Proponents argue adult education students could move more easily to job training and college classes, if they started at community colleges.  Colleges could contract with existing adult ed programs rather than design their own classes.

GED + job training = motivation

Louisiana has shifted adult basic education from high schools to community colleges: Unemployed and underemployed adults can train for skilled jobs while studying for a GED through the Louisiana Community and Technical College System’s (LCTCS) Work Ready U, reports Community College Times.

Most Work Ready U students are training for jobs in construction trades and welding or health care jobs, such as nursing assistants, phlebotomists and pharmacy technicians.

Delgado Community College (DCC) now has 2,500 students in adult basic education, compared to 500 in 2007-08.  DCC is one of 10 Louisiana community colleges in Jobs for the Future’s Accelerating Opportunity program. “There is no reason why a student should need a GED before they start on a career pathway,” said Barbara Endel, national project director for Accelerating Opportunity.

Traditional adult ed courses didn’t provide enough structure and support, said LCTCS Chancellor Joe May.

When ABE was administered by the K-12 education system, it was run on an “open-entry, open-exit approach,” May said. That didn’t work so well with people who had dropped out of school, so there were high attrition rates.

. . . Work Ready U programs limit the number of people who come in at any one time and provide extra counseling and social services. Also, switching GED courses to community colleges allowed for more flexible scheduling, including evening hours, which are more convenient for adults with families and jobs.

“Pushing someone to get a GED requires a ton of effort, particularly for adults with families,” said DCC Chancellor Monty Sullivan. However, it’s worth the effort. More Work Ready U students are enrolling in credit-bearing courses. On average, they are less likely to drop out than regular students.

Last year Congress dropped Pell Grant eligibility for  high school dropouts who passed an “ability-to-benefit” test. To keep Work Ready U on track, DCC turned to foundations to fund tuition aid.

Mentoring helps GED students persist

Students who never made it through high school usually don’t make it through community college. But Florida’s Santa Fe College is improving the odds through a mentoring program for GED students called Pathways to Persistence.

Fifty-five percent of GED students drop out of community college in their first year, Pathways founder Angela Long tells Community College Times.

Pathways offers support through hand-picked mentors—Long chooses a match based on initial scholar interviews—who range from professors to administrators or other college staff, plus a crew of volunteer peers from college organizations for tutoring assistance.

. . . “The goal is to make GED students feel so special that they have an impact on the country and to give them a voice to tell us what is working in education, what has failed them, and how we can make it better,” Long says.

. . . Mentors meet with assigned mentees at least once a week the first month of the program, and every other week thereafter, following assigned topics that include how to pick classes and talk about financial assistance. Mentees also attend a weekly 3-credit course in the fall semester and attend leadership seminars and luncheons with key SFC members.

Thirty students started in last fall and another 20 joined in spring 2012. More than half earned a 3.0 GPA or higher.

Many ‘dreamers’ will need GED, college access

Young illegal immigrants began applying this week for two-year stays on deportation and renewable work permits. But high school dropouts aren’t eligible — unless they’re enrolled in classes leading to a GED or a job. That could mean a big demand for community college classes.

Applicants must have been younger than 31 when the administration policy was announced on June 15, brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 and in the country for five years or more. Applicants must also be high school graduates or GED holders or be enrolled in school. Those convicted of a “serious” crime are not eligible.

Up to 1.76 million people are eligible or will be when they turn 15, estimates the Migration Policy Institute.

College students represent just a small share of young illegal immigrants, Roberto Gonzales, a University of Chicago sociology professor, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. Some 350,000 high school drop-outs could qualify by enrolling in a program before filing an application.

One student who plans to apply is Karla Campos, 25, who came from Mexico about 16 years ago and is working on her GED. Her 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter dream of attending college, and she used to worry that she wouldn’t be able to afford to help them do so—several employers turned her away because she was not authorized to work.

Now that she is eligible for a work permit, Ms. Campos is confident that she can make higher education a reality for her children. She would now like to go to college, too, though it’s too soon to say what her major would be.

Enrollment in a GED program or an “education, literacy, or career training program (including vocational training) that is designed to lead to placement in postsecondary education, job training, or employment” would qualify non-graduates, according to federal guidelines. Dropouts can choose federal or state-funded programs or programs “administered by providers of demonstrated effectiveness, such as institutions of higher education, including community colleges, and certain community-based organizations.”

If dropouts enroll in community college, get a deferral and then fail to complete the program — a likely outcome for poorly prepared students — could they enroll again in two years when their deferral runs out?  The deferrals are based on Obama administration policy, not law, so it’s hard to know.