Most transfers earn 4-year degree

Sixty percent of community college transfer students earn a bachelor’s degree within four years and another 12 percent were enrolled but hadn’t graduated, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Graduation rates are significantly higher for transfers with an associate degree:  71 percent earn a bachelor’s within four years and another 9 percent are still trying.

Forty-five percent of  four-year graduates in 2010-11 had previously enrolled at a two-year college, a September NSCRC report found.

However, community college transfers are an elite group. Only one in five community college students transfers to a four-year college or university, notes College Bound.

Most new community college students have very high goals: More than 80 percent of students are aiming for at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Forty-four percent want a graduate or professional degree. Remedial students have slightly higher aspirations: Only 16 percent are working toward a certificate or associate degree.

Yet, only 5.9 percent of community college students complete a bachelor’s degree within five years. Another 13.1 percent earn an associate degree and 7.4 percent earn a certificate, reports NCES.

High hopes

Hope helps college students achieve their goals, according to researchers, reports Allie Grasgreen in Inside Higher Ed.

A growing (but still small) body of research is finding that students with high levels of hope get better grades and graduate at higher rates than those with lower levels, and that the presence of hope in a student is a better predictor of grades and class ranking than standardized test scores.

While some people are more hopeful than others, college students can be trained to visualize goals and imagine how they’ll overcome obstacles to achieve their goals, say researchers. Now some colleges hope to improve student success by encouraging student hopefulness.

Chaffey College in California, is teaching hope theory to instructors in a summer institute. First, they get a “low-hope syllabus” with challenging assignments and no advice or offers to help. Instructors tell them they’ll probably fail and ignore their questions. Then they switch to a high-hope syllabus.

The training raises faculty awareness, says the aptly named Laura Hope, dean of instructional support. In class, they try to encourage positive thinking.

. . . a comment from a student or professor with a “determinism about failure” – say, “I was never very good at this” or “I knew I wouldn’t do well on this test” might prompt a response of “Well, why not?” or “let’s talk about what you need to do to do better next time.” The student should see him- or herself as the agent of success or failure, Hope said, distinguishing the practice from “cheerleading.”

Chaffey now tests incoming students’ hopefulness “for a longitudinal study to help identify which students might need interventions, and when.”


Impossible dreams: Squash or support?

Professors shouldn’t squash students’ dreams, writes Isaac Sweeney, citing a would-be art teacher who was told she’d never find a job. “Maybe professors can tell students that their goals will be hard to achieve, but they shouldn’t squash the goals completely.”

Several commenters disagreed, saying their students’ career plans are unrealistic.

Misanthroopic789, who teaches statistics at a community college, said 75 percent of students plan to go to graduate school, usually in a medical field.

However I know that nearly half of them will either give up or fail out before the end of the semester.  I bite my tongue and tell them how wonderful their goals are, but I really worry that many have set themselves up for failure.  More realistic goals NOW would result in finished programs as opposed to debt without degrees.

Margray, a community college math teacher, discovered that most of his students think they’ll make $100,000 to $200,000 a year — to start — with two-year degrees in social services or early childhood education.

 . . . pretty much all said that their parents told them that if they went to college, they would make three or four times the money that the parents had done.  So they took their middle-aged parents salaries, multiplied by four, and assumed that would be their starting salary.

. . . So I gave them a homework assignment to gather salary and benefit information about their expected field, find out about expected future openings, talk to people in the field about what people in that job actually do, gather information about apartment costs, how much their parents spend on groceries in order to estimate food costs, health insurance, car insurance, and so on in order to develop a future budget.  They were horrified.  I had girls in my office in tears, upset parents on the phone going on about destroying dreams, and faculty in some of those fields upset with me and worried about their future enrollment if students found out how low the salaries and expected job openings were.

After the assignment, Margray suggested they come up with “a plan B, C and even D,” take courses that might impress an employer, such as drafting, accounting or programming, and raise their grades.

Was I killing dreams?  Maybe, but should I have been better to let these young kids cruise along thinking that a two year degree is going to mean big bucks, and having totally unrealistic ideas about what doing a particular job entails?

Most of our students say that they want to be doctors, nurses, or teachers.  They seldom seem to recognize that medicine has anything to do with science, and that teachers need to spend a good deal of time on math and writing.  They have no idea of the job market.  They really don’t know what kind of work is out there or what that work would entail.

In my newspaper days, a high school teacher asked students to write about their goals for a project I was doing. Even the F students said they were going to college. Kids who were barely passing their high school’s easiest courses thought they’d be doctors and lawyers. One girl wrote, “I will be a peedatrisin.” I think she meant pediatrician.

The teacher decided that the next assignment would ask students: What can you do today to help you achieve your goals?

Vision: Let’s do something now

Colleges’ strategic plans usually set large, long-term goals, writes Mitch Smith on Inside Higher Ed.  “Vision (Insert Far-Off Year Here)” is a typical title, he writes.  It’s hard to see progress. A Rochester, New York community college has a different aproach:

Monroe Community College has its own set of long-term aspirations, but has also started a series of modest but tangible 100-day projects to improve the college. The first task: streamline the application and enrollment process so that prospective students have to create one password instead of three.

Anne Kress, the college president, sees 100 Days to Innovation as a way to move toward the big goals. Making it easier for students to enroll — by June 2 — will serve the college’s big goal of increasing enrollment eventually.

Monroe will select another 100-day project this summer, and one possibility is already in the works. The college wants to offer a one-credit class through community organizations designed to expose adults to college. By working with the Urban League or YWCA, Kress hopes to enroll nontraditional students who might have never pursued higher education but are intrigued by a program Monroe offers.

Improving institutional effectiveness and accountability is everyone’s strategic goal, says Kress. “But what does that mean, and how do you break that down to a micro level?”

“Mission statement rewrites, strategic planning and quality initiatives have no direct bearing whatsoever on student learning or program completion,” according to parody writer Jeffrey Ross, co-creator of the fictional Copperfield Community College and a professor at a real community college.

“At the control group institutions [No Plan Institutions—NPIs] all strategic plans, organizational studies, mission statement rewrites and quality control committee work activities were pulled, ceased, removed, bludgeoned, discarded, ignored, then sealed and buried for five years. Student completion rates for two-year AA degrees? Just nine years.”

“At the experimental group institutions [Too Many Plans Institutions—TMPIs] we encouraged constant mission statement rewrites, sustainability policy development, hired consultants to streamline strategic plans, created and duplicated feedback loops, retained additional administrators in important quality control areas and constantly asked for evaluations from internal and external stake beholders and steak eaters. Student completion rate for two-year AA degrees? Only ten years.”

The analysis  found only one  “statistically significant input variable” determining college success: the student.