Scholarship promise raises blacks’ grades

Black students raised their grades significantly when they were promised college scholarships, concludes an Education Next report on the Kalamazoo Promise.

Public school graduates in Kalamazoo, Michigan are guaranteed a full scholarship to any public college or university in the state. Once in college, they must maintain a 2.0 average to keep receiving the scholarship.

The Promise reduced behavior problems for all high school students and “had a dramatic positive effect on high school GPAs” for African-Americans. By the third year of the program, African-American students raised their GPAs by 0.7 points.

It’s not clear whether scholarship promise programs are the best use of the money, writes Nora Caplan-Bricker in New Republic.

The Pittsburgh Promise — a college scholarship for a 2.5 GPA — motivates students to try harder to raise their grades, a study found.

In El Dorado, Arkansas, Promise-eligible third graders had pulled ahead of students in nearby towns by 14 points in math and 12 points in literacy four years later.

Online learners don’t do as well

Online community college students are less likely to complete their course and earn lower grades than students in face-to-face classes, concludes a new Community College Research Center study.

Before expanding online enrollments, improve the quality of online courses, researchers advise.

Study: Parent aid lowers college grades

When parents pay their children’s college costs, students earn lower grades but are more likely to graduate, concludes a new study by Laura T. Hamilton, a sociology professor at University of California at Merced.

As parental aid increased, students’ GPAs decreased. “Students with parental support are best described as staying out of serious academic trouble, but dialing down their academic efforts,” Hamilton wrote.

Today’s college students spend an average of 28 hours a week on classes and studying — and 41 hours a week on social and recreational events, another study found.

According to Hamilton’s study, students with no parental aid in their first year of college had a 56.4 percent chance of graduating in five years, compared with 65.2 percent for students who received $12,000 in aid from their parents.

Grants and scholarships, work-study, student employment and veteran’s benefits do not have negative effects on student GPA, said Hamilton. Students may feel they’ve earned the money and take their responsibilities more seriously.

Rethinking placement tests

Colleges are rethinking placement exams, concludes a new Jobs for the Future report, Where to Begin? Researchers have found that placement exams have very high stakes and are weak predictors of college success. Furthermore, it’s not clear that developmental classes improve student outcomes. “Many students required to take remedial classes could have succeeded in college-level coursework,” recent studies suggest.

Math and English assessments provide at best a narrow picture of students’ readiness for college. Placement tests do not measure many of the skills needed for college success—including persistence, motivation, and critical thinking. And only some students need most of the assessed math skills.

Some colleges in New Jersey and California are relying less on placement test results and more on high school grades or other measures of college readiness.

Also being explored are practices such as mainstreaming students into college-level courses with extra support, basing placement on students’ academic goals, and allowing them to make their own placement decisions.

Florida and Virginia are aligning assessments to their curricula instead of using off-the-shelf tests. Texas hopes to develop a  diagnostic assessment to evaluate students’ strengths and weaknesses. In the future may be assessments of students’ cognitive strategies, such as critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as on-cognitive factors such as persistence and motivation.

Until recently, students were advised not to bother studying for college placement exams. Now high schools and colleges are trying to help students prepare for the tests.

In some high schools, juniors take college placement tests to provide an early warning of what college requires and chance to catch up in 12th grade. Community colleges also are trying to help prospective students brush up on math or English skills before they’re placed in developmental classes.

Study: ‘Dual’ career tech helps underachievers

Career-focused dual enrollment programs helped disadvantanged and underachieving students in California graduate from high school and succeed in college, concludes a three-year Community College Research Center study funded by the Irvine Foundation. Compared to similar students in the control group, career-tech students who took college classes in high school were more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to enroll in a four-year rather than a two-year college, less likely to be placed in a remedial college course and more likely to persist in college and earn more credits.

Almost 3,000 California students participated in eight dual enrollment programs that paired their high schools with nearby community colleges. Sixty  percent were students of color, 40 percent came from non-English speaking homes and one third had parents with a high school education or less.

Earlier CCRC studies found career-technical dual enrollment is associated with improved college persistence, credit accumulation and grades. This study is one of the first to demonstrate that dual enrollment can work for students who might not otherwise enroll in college or succeed, if they do.

Among recommendations for policymakers, the researchers urged California to compensate both high schools and community colleges for dual students and waive college fees. In addition, the state should ensure that “dual” college credits are portable, so students don’t need to repeat coursework. Eligibility should not be limited to high achievers, the report recommends. “Following the standard of student eligibility for community colleges, the state should encourage broad access and prevent students from being disqualified by grades or test scores alone.”

Other recommendations:

• Continue to make dual enrollment available on both the high school and college campuses. Courses on the college campus provide a fuller and more authentic college experience; college opportunities must also be available at high school for students who lack transportation.
• Explore ways to ensure authenticity of the high school-based program format. Courses delivered at high school must have the same rigor and quality as college campus-based courses, and students must be held to the same standards of achievement as those in campus-based programs.
• Provide professional development to dual enrollment instructors. High school teachers may need greater assistance in creating a college-like atmosphere, and college instructors may need insights into scaffolding and other pedagogical strategies to support high school students.

California’s dual enrollment programs are struggling financially, evaluators noted. Because of funding cuts, some community colleges can’t provide seats in college courses for high school students.  Two of the career-tech programs studied were discontinued in 2011 due to lack of funding.

Study: More job hours won’t doom GPA

While all work and no study makes Jack a dull boy, adding one to 10 work hours doesn’t hurt community college students, concludes a Community College Research Center study. A modest increase in work hours “had very small negative effects on GPA and may have had positive effects on credits earned,” the study found.

Grades trump placement tests in Long Beach

Prompted by research questioning the reliability of placement tests, Long Beach City College will use high school grades to decide whether students need remedial classes, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Edward Yacuta felt rushed and nervous when he took a test to determine whether he was ready for college-level English classes at Long Beach City College.

The 18-year-old did poorly on the exam, even though he was getting good grades in an Advanced Placement English class at Long Beach’s Robert A. Millikan High School.

Most community colleges would assign students like Yacuta to a remedial class, but he will avoid that fate at Long Beach. The two-year school is trying out a new system this fall that will place students who graduated from the city’s high schools in courses based on their grades rather than their scores on the standardized placement tests.

About 85 percent of new community college students in California place into remedial English and 73 percent into remedial math. Two-thirds of remedial students will not earn an associate degree or transfer to a four-year university.

Long Beach City College discovered 60 percent of students placed in remedial English classes had earned an A or B in high school English, while 35 percent of those who tested into college-level English had earned a C or D in high school.

California law requires the use of multiple criteria — such as test scores, study skills, educational background and goals — to determine which classes to place students in. But the placement test is the primary tool, and transcripts and grade point averages are not widely used.

In response to the Long Beach initiative and research, the office of California’s community colleges chancellor is conducting a statewide study to determine whether high school transcripts and grade point averages should be incorporated into placement decisions at the state’s 112 two-year colleges.

Starting new students at the college level wouldn’t just raise success rates, said Sonia Ortiz-Mercado, dean of matriculation and early assessment in the chancellor’s office. “At a time when the colleges are financially strapped and course capacity is limited, being able to get them through quicker is important.”

Long Beach Unified typically sends 1,400 graduates to the city college: Only 170 place into college English and 130 into college math. That will rise to 800 in college English and 450 in college math when grades are taking into account, the college predicts. It’s estimated the average student will save a semester and a half of remedial coursework.

On Dev Math Revival, Jack Rotman proposes using grades and placement tests to identify students who can start in college-level courses with “just-in-time” remedial help. Other students may need a semester to develop academic and study skills or a full year of intensive, linked courses in reading, writing, math and learning skills.

Early birds get less sleep, higher grades

Students who avoid early-morning classes get more sleep — and lower grades, concludes a study at St. Lawrence University. The late birds socialize more and drink more than other students. The early birds are a bit sleepier, but earn higher grades.

Illinois: B students earn C’s in college

Students who earned B’s at public high schools in Illinois average a C+ at state universities and community colleges, according to a Chicago Tribune analysis of graduates from 2006 to 2008. College-bound graduates averaged a 3.08 in high school, but only a 2.52 at state universities and community colleges. Some high school’s graduates did much better than others.

“More and more students seem to be less prepared for college; particularly math and English skills are not where we would like them to be when they come to college,” said Chancellor Rita Cheng, at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Freshmen there finished their first year with a 2.52 GPA.

The average community college student earned a 2.84 grade point average in high school and a 2.3 in the first year of college, while those who enrolled in four-year public universities declined from a 3.37 in high school to a 2.78 in their first year.

Only 29 of more than 600 public high schools graduated students who averaged a 3.0 or better at state universities in their first year.

College and K-12 officials blame the performance declines on myriad factors, from inadequate high school preparation to high school grade inflation, new-found independence and increased partying away from home.

Grades often improve after the first year — if students make it that far.

At my alma mater, Highland Park High School, graduates who went on to a state university or community college averaged a 3.33 high school GPA, but only a 2.85 in their first year of college, according to the searchable data base.

Graduates of several dozen Chicago-area high schools earned first-year GPAs lower than 2.0, often the benchmark for academic probation.


Students do better with same-race prof

Community college students perform better when the instructor is the same race or ethnicity, according to a study published by the National Bureau for Economic Research. The effect is greatest for blacks and younger students, concludes “A Community College Instructor Like Me: Race and Ethnicity Interactions in the Classroom.”

Researchers studied the grades and persistence of more than 30,000 students at De Anza College near San Jose.  A majority (51 percent) of De Anza students are Asian-American with some coming from low-income immigrant families and others from affluent homes. Twenty-eight percent are white, 14 percent Latino, 4 percent black and 3 percent “other.”

Approximately 70 percent of instructors are white, 15 percent are Asian-American, 8 percent Latino and 4.5 percent black.

I wonder if the results would be the same at a college with more black and Latino students and instructors.

All groups did best in course completion and grades with a same-race instructor and worse with a different-race instructor, notes Inside Higher Ed.

Among all nonwhite groups, the study found a gain of 2.9 percentage points in the proportion of students completing courses taught by instructors of the same race as students — cutting in half the gaps in minority vs. white course completion rates. (Among all students in all non-recreational courses, 24 percent of white students drop out, compared to 26 percent of Asian students, 28 percent of Latino students, 30 percent of black students and 28 percent of other, nonwhite students.)

. . . of those students who don’t drop out, 89 percent of white and Asian students pass, compared to 82 percent of black students; and 68 percent of white and Asian students who complete courses earn at least a B, while only 53 percent of black students do. For black students taught by a black instructor, there was a gain of 13 percentage points — among those who completed the course — in the proportion earning a B or higher.

It’s not likely that minority instructors grade same-race minority students leniently, researchers conclude, pointing to dropout rates that occur before the instructor has handed out any grades. In addition, same-race instructors have little effect on achievement by students 22 and older.

If the students were reacting to discrimination by instructors, the impact should be evident among older students as well, the authors write. The authors write that they suspect younger students “are likely to be susceptible to role-model effects, while older students are not.”

While hiring more black and Latino instructors would give an academic boost to traditional-age students in these groups, it would hurt the performance of Asians and whites, the researchers pointed out.