Teaching grade 12½

Instructor Fabiola Aurelien (left) helps Atlanta Metropolitan College student Shaundraey Carmichael.

The first year of college has become grade 12½ writes Rick Diguette in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Once he taught college English at the local community college. He’s still teaching composition, but it’s no longer “college” English.

Every semester many students in my freshman English classes submit work that is inadequate in almost every respect.  Their sentences are thickets of misplaced modifiers, vague pronoun references, conflicting tenses, and subjects and verbs that don’t agree―when they remember, that is, that sentences need subjects.  If that were not bad enough, the only mark of punctuation they seem capable of using with any consistency is the period.

I often remind them that even the keenest of insights will never receive due credit if it isn’t expressed in accordance with the rules of grammar and usage.  Spelling words correctly, as well as distinguishing words that sound the same but are not, is also a big plus.  “Weather” and “whether” are not interchangeable, for example, but even after I point this out some students continue to make the mistake.  And while I’m on the subject, the same goes for “whether” and “rather.”

A state law called Complete College Georgia now links college funding to student performance, writes Diguette. Georgia Perimeter College faculty have developed testable “Core Concepts” students are expected to master in freshman English.

Early in the semester we must first assess their ability to identify a complete sentence ― that is, one with a subject and a verb.  After that, somewhere around week five, we find out if they can identify a topic sentence ― the thing that controls the content of a paragraph. Then it’s on to using supporting details by week eight and creating thesis statements by week eleven.

It’s a low bar, he admits.

Is this grade 12 1/2? These were elementary and middle-school skills when I was in school, admittedly in the Neanderthal era. I remember learning “weather” and “whether” in fourth grade. I guess we didn’t learn to create thesis statements supported by details until ninth grade.

California: 2-year degree takes 4 years

A “two-year” degree typically takes more than four years, raising the The Real Cost of College in California,” reports Campaign for College Opportunity. Furthermore, associate degree graduates earn a median of 78 credits — well over the 60 required. All those extra credits lead to higher costs and fewer available seats at the state’s community colleges.

At California State University campuses, where many community college students hope to transfer, the median is 4.7 years for a four-year degree and 135 credits instead of 120.

Reducing the number of excess credits by just one in the community college system would save students $2 million in fees, save the state $21 million and create space for an additional 7,320 full-time students, notes Michele Siqueiros, the Campaign’s executive director.  A 10 percent reduction in credits would yield $16 million in student savings, and $168 million in savings to the state, which could create space for an additional 58,560 students.

Time is a key part of the “college affordability crisis,”  Siqueiros told the Los Angeles Times.

During the recession, California’s 112 community colleges lost $1 billion in funding. “Because of the lack of state funding, we had to reduce our workload and students were on long waiting lists, so that was a big factor,” said Francisco Rodriguez, the new chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District.

Shut out of the classes they needed, some students signed up for whatever courses had empty seats to remain eligible for financial aid, the study found.

The report recommends:

Get students in and through pre-college level classes faster and improve the way students are placed into college level math and English

Require campuses to do a better job of matching class offerings with student needs

Increase college funding to restore classes so that students can get the courses they need and graduate more quickly

Encourage students to enroll full-time and take a full 15-credit course load every semester

Increase financial aid knowledge, simplify the financial aid process, and increase the amount of financial aid available to students so that more students can attend college full time and graduate on time

Provide information on time to degree to students, policymakers and researchers

Many community college students nationwide earn extra credits, writes researcher Matthew Zeidenberg in a 2012 working paper. Good advising could help students save time and money, while raising their odds of completing a degree.

Students may need to experiment to gain clarity about academic and career goals; they may be taking courses that deepen their knowledge or improve their skills more generally; and there may be labor market returns to more credits independent of a credential. On the other hand, students may . . . lack information about the correct courses to take to complete a program of study, or they may accumulate excess credits when their required classes aren’t available, thus forcing them to enroll in “extraneous” courses that allow them to maintain full-time status for financial aid.

Colleges could “direct undecided students to intensive one-on-one academic and career counseling” while using “light-touch” or e-advising for students with clear goals, Zeidenberg writes. “Such a system could electronically track every student and contact them via email if they register for courses that do not advance them in their declared program or will not transfer to their target institution, and offer alternative registration options that would satisfy these goals.”

Georgia’s Guided Pathways to Success is designed to help students earn the credits they need — without excess credits — to cut the time and cost of earning a degree.

Georgia boosts black male enrollment, graduation

Black male college enrollment rose by 80 percent in Georgia from 2002 to 2011, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Black males earned nearly 60 percent more college degrees and the six-year graduation rate increased to 40 percent for black males who started college in 2005, “an 11 percentage-point uptick since the program’s inception.” The African-American Male Initiative, a statewide program, reported its results at the American Council on Education’s annual meeting.

At the College of Coastal Georgia . . .  incoming black male freshmen can take part in a “Summer Bridge & Go” program, which includes eight weeks of advanced instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics, and a chance to connect with campus mentors.

Columbus State University, meanwhile, offers Projecting Hope, which aims to help black male students from rural areas. Georgia Highlands College has a first-year experience program for black males by way of the Georgia Highlands African-American and Minority Male Excellence organization.

The ACE discussion of boosting minority success also featured the Academy for College Excellence, a program for “struggling but strong” community-college students that began at Cabrillo College in California, and North Carolina A&T University’s Middle College, a single-sex public high school for male students on the university’s Greensboro campus.

Skills gap is small, but growing

The “skills gap” is no big deal now — but it could be in the future, if we don’t take steps to train new workers, writes Harold Sirkin, a Boston Consulting Group partner, in Businessweek.

The shortage of skilled welders, machinists, and industrial machinery mechanics represents less than 1 percent of U.S. manufacturing workers, Sirkin estimates.  Only seven states and five cities — Baton Rouge, Charlotte, Miami, San Antonio, and Wichita — have significant shortages.

However, that could change in the next 10 years as manufacturing grows and baby boomers retire. The average high-skilled manufacturing worker in the U.S. is 56 years old, according to government data.

Technical and community colleges are working with employers to train workers in some parts of the country,  Sirkin writes.

In Georgia, for example, a program called Quick Start provides companies with customized workforce training and retraining, free of charge, in partnership with the state’s technical colleges.

Here in Chicago, the Austin Polytechnical Academy teaches students all aspects of industry and has its own manufacturing training center.

“Most high-skill manufacturing jobs require only a high school education and on-the-job training,” yet few companies recruit in high schools, Sirkin writes. And manufacturing doesn’t appeal to young people seeking bachelor’s degrees, even though half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed.

The question we need to ask bright young people today is this: Would they be better off with a college degree in mass communication, “poli sci,” or sociology that gets them a job as a retail clerk or waiting tables, or would they be better off with a real skill that qualifies them for a high-paying manufacturing job?

After years of high unemployment and rising college costs, students are wising up about borrowing for a degree in what we used to call “fuzzy studies.” But advanced manufacturing — and other technical careers — may not be open to students with weak math and science skills.

Georgia spends millions on remedial ed

Georgia is spending millions of dollars on college remedial classes, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Georgia’s colleges are trying to improve remedial education by developing new curricula, requiring students to attend class more often and using technology to provide individualized instruction. But some question whether colleges should even be serving students who can’t handle the academic rigor.

By fall 2012 the university system, which includes eight two-year colleges, no longer will admit students who need remedial courses in reading, English and math.  Students will have two attempts, instead of four, to pass each reading and English class and three tries, instead of five, to pass two math classes.

The state’s remediation rate dropped in the 1990s but increased in recent years as enrollment skyrocketed. Also, the system implemented a pilot program eliminating the SAT requirement at 16 campuses. These colleges tend to enroll older adults, those who work full-time and students who are also caregivers at home. The pilot program is scheduled to end in 2011.

Atlanta Metro now offers a free class to prepare students to pass placement tests that determine if they are ready for college-level courses. The college also expanded the remedial math class to include a third-day lab.

South Georgia College is working with the Carnegie Foundation Mathway Project to move students quickly from a newly designed remedial math class to college-level math the following semester.

Georgia Perimeter College is experimenting with computer programs that allow remedial math students to work at their own pace.

It’s no wonder so many students aren’t ready for college math, writes a high school teacher on Ricochet. Georgia adopted a trendy “integrated” math curriculum in 2005.  The “average student is completely lost.”

‘Community college’ goes global

Community colleges educate 46 percent of U.S. undergraduates, 58 percent of students in Israel, 20 percent in Korea and France, and 26 percent in Japan, reports Inside Higher Ed. The community college concept has gone global.

Rosalind Latiner Raby, co-editor of the book Community College Models (Springer, 2009), looks at community colleges and similar programs in 30 countries. Many are adding the ability to transfer to a four-year college.

LaGuardia Community College worked with the Universidad Central de Chile to create the Community College de Santiago.

In creating the community college, “the board took into account, among other reasons, the great need existing in Chile of preparing students who after a period of two years at the university are prepared to get a job at the level known in Chile as technician,” Luis Merino, the Universidad Central’s vice rector of academic affairs, explained in an e-mail. “Well-prepared technicians are badly needed in our country.”

. . . Students can earn dual degrees, from the Community College de Santiago and LaGuardia, in accounting, business administration, computer technology/telecommunications, computer operations/computer network administration and security, and computer science. When students complete the two-year degree, they can get a job or transfer their credits and continue their studies at the Universidad Central.

“The challenge is really about open access and transfer. Those very new concepts are challenging to develop around the world,” said Gail Mellow, LaGuardia’s chancellor.

Many countries see community colleges as a way to develop a trained workforce, says John Halder, president of Community Colleges for International Development, a nonprofit association.  CCID is working to help establish Gori Community College in the nation of Georgia and helped start the Center for Vocational Education in Madras, which became Madras Community College.  In 2009, Indira Gandhi National Open University announced plans to set up 500 new community colleges by 2011.

Houston Community College is helping set up the Community College of Qatar.

Essentially, the community college has contracted with HCC to hire faculty and teach a HCC curriculum in Qatar. “The intent at the end of five years is to withdraw from that contract and they will then take over,” said Mary Spangler, HCC’s chancellor. In its first year, the Community College of Qatar will offer coursework in English as a Second Language and associate degree programs in math, science, computer science and business.

In the Middle East and North Africa, community colleges are setting up workforce programs, reports Community College Times.

Red Rocks Community College (Colorado), Al-Huson University College and Al-Balqa Applied University (Jordan) will work to expand Jordan’s green-collar workforce by establishing an associate degree program in solar energy technology.
Highline Community College (Washington) and Mataria Technical College (Egypt) will leverage the U.S. college’s  workforce development expertise to create educational pathways at the Egyptian college that will lead to skills jobs.
Gateway Technical College (Wisconsin) and Ecole Superieure de Technologie Oujda (Morocco) will focus on automotive diagnostics training.
Eastern Iowa Community College District and Muscatine Community College (Iowa) and Al Quds College (Jordan) will examine economic empowerment through entrepreneurship.

Community colleges are vital to economic recovery, writes Gene Budig, a College Board advisor,

Both China and India have noticed, with envy, the advancement of community colleges in the U.S., and they are responding with modified two-year replicas. They know what their economic engines will require, and two-year institutes and colleges are part of the mix.

Community colleges have the flexibility to provide training to meet workforce needs, said Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, at a forum on workforce development.