“Stopping out” — taking a semester or more off — is very common for Texas community college students, according to a new study, reports USA Today. Ninety-four percent of community college students who first enrolled in 2000 stopped out at least once, Toby Park, a Florida State professor, found.
Of students who completed a degree, 76 percent were one-time stopouts. Taking two or more breaks sharply cut the odds of completion.
Mentoring and personal relationships were what kept Tim Semonich, now a junior at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., enrolled at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem on his second try.
Semonich dropped out his first semester, thinking that college wasn’t for him. After working for two years, he decided to give college a second chance.
“The second time, I put more effort in and made connections with professors and deans,” Semonich says.
The more he got involved with school activities, such as speech team and student government, the more he enjoyed it. Semonich later went on to earn a full scholarship to Moravian.
Taxpayers spent nearly $4 billion from 2004 to 2009 on community college students who dropped out after their first year, reports USA Today.
Celeste Brewer stopped out of the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College (Florida). ”If I was offered work, then I would skip class because I had to pay my bills,” she says. She got a third chance at Miami Dade College, where she’s close to a degree in aviation administration.
After one year at the University of California, Michelle Willens stopped out. Forty years later, she’s working on a bachelor’s degree. In The Atlantic, she writes about what it’s like to be a middle-aged college student.
With an average of 1,000 students for every advisor, most community college students are figuring things out on their own, notes the National Journal. Advising software is trying to fill the guidance gap.
”A lot of community-college students end up taking courses that don’t count, either toward their degree in the community college, or, if they want to transfer somewhere, that their transfer school’s not going to accept,” says Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teacher’s College at Columbia University.
Students who switch paths can run out of financial-aid eligibility and drop out.
Software developed by Washington research and consulting company Education Advisory Board has helped four-year schools like Georgia State University increase graduation and retention rates. As the EAB tries to develop a similar product for two-year schools, it finds itself up against a much bigger challenge.
“We actually think that the moment where education is imperative, and currently lacking, is at the very beginning of a student’s life cycle at an institution—really the intake process,” says Sarah Zauner, research director of EAB’s community college forum. The proposed tool would encourage students to define their goals, and then alert them when they veer off track.
EAB’s product alerts advisers at four-year schools, but the two-year version will be designed for use by students.
The product—still in its early stages—would invite students to answer questions about academic strengths and interests, their family income and time constraints, and the degree or certificate they’re aiming for. Based on that information, the tool would suggest majors and degree programs, and provide information on salaries earned by comparable graduates of those programs. The two-year product would alert students when they veer off course and give them advice, like directions to the campus tutoring center.
“E-advising” isn’t new at community colleges, says Jaggars. Most online systems help students plan and warn if they’re off track. But not all students use e-advising.
Even when online information is clear, students like to “have some kind of a person” to go to with questions, says Jaggars. Her team advised Michigan’s Macomb Community College to free counselors “to spend less time dealing with the logistics of enrolling students in courses and more time helping them set goals.”
Despite President Obama’s call for more college graduates, only 54 percent of students earn a two- or four-year degree in six years, reports the National Student Clearinghouse. The graduation rate is nearly flat, notes the Hechinger Report.
However, community colleges raised the six-year completion rate by 1.1 percentage points to 37.4 percent. That includes the 9 percent who earned a degree after transferring to four-year institutions.
Graduation rates also inched up for students who started at public universities in 2007.
While 76 percent of full-time students earned a degree, only 22 percent of part-timers graduated in six years with another 11 percent still enrolled.
The National Student Clearinghouse’s full report, due in December, will include college students who earned credits in high school through dual enrollment programs.
Most community college students enroll in remedial classes. Most remedial students never earn a credential. However, ending remediation won’t raise completion rates, argue USC Professor William G. Tierney and graduate student Julia C. Duncheon in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.
Reformers are targeting remedial education, they write.
Lawmakers in Florida have made remedial classes in math, reading and English optional for students entering community colleges in fall 2014. The placement tests to assess these skills will be optional as well.
Meantime, Tennessee and Connecticut have passed legislation making it easier for students to bypass remediation and enroll directly in courses that lead to graduation and completion of a major. And California State University has lowered its math and English placement test cutoff scores, requiring fewer students to do remedial coursework.
Unprepared students who enroll in remedial classes don’t do any better than similar students who skip remediation, according to Community College Research Center studies. But other research suggests very low-skilled students benefit from remedial education, write Tierney and Duncheon.
Before making remedial classes optional — or eliminating them — colleges should try other options, they argue.
“Accelerated” (or “mainstreaming”) programs mix low- and high-performing students in college-level classes. Students can get extra help in a support class or lab.
Some colleges create “learning communities” for low-scoring students, while others create mixed groups. At Kingsborough Community College in New York, low-scoring students in learning communities took and passed more college-level courses.
Many students — especially graduates of low-performing, high-poverty high schools — need an academic safety net, Tierney and Duncheon argue. Throwing unprepared students into college coursework will not raise completion rates.
In an essay, a journalism professor recalls a pleasant, hard-working journalism major who was “illiterate.” She’d received B’s in English before, she claimed. He struggled with whether to fail her — until she plagiarized.
How did “Kari” get so far in college without being able to read or write?
“Millions of young people will never attend four-year colleges,” writes Sarah Carr in the Wilson Quarterly. “America must do more to equip them to secure good jobs and live fulfilling lives.”
“College for all” is seen as the solution to poverty, writes Carr. President Barack Obama asked every American to pledge to attend at least one year of college.
In New Orleans, the city of Carr’s book, Hope Against Hope, reformers created college-prep charter schools.
At schools that have embraced the college-for-all aspiration, career and technical education is seen as being as outdated as chalkboards and cursive handwriting. Instead, the (mostly poor and mostly minority) students are endlessly drilled and prepped in the core humanities and sciences—lessons their (mostly middle- or upper-income and mostly white) teachers hope will enable the teenagers to rack up high scores on the ACT, SAT, and Advanced Placement exams and go on to attend the four-year college of their dreams (although it’s not always clear whose dreams we’re talking about).
Idealism should be tempered with pragmatism, Carr writes. Only one-third of low-income college students earn bachelor’s degrees by their mid-20s. Drop-outs may be thousands of dollars in debt.
A 2011 Harvard report, Pathways to Prosperity, described strong demand for “middle-skill” workers with vocational certificates or associate degrees. For example, electricians average $53,030, dental hygienists $70,700 and construction managers $90,960, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“College for all” isn’t a smart state or national education policy, but can make sense as the mission of a single school, responds Michael Goldstein, founder of MATCH, a high-performing charter school in Boston.
In Boston, many traditional high schools describe themselves as college prep, but they’re sort of half-hearted about it. Few alums actually graduate from college. College rah-rah is absent. But so is career rah-rah. There is no rah-rah. I’m not sure how Carr thinks about such schools.
College is the dream of low-income black and Hispanic parents, Goldstein writes. When a large, open-admissions high school in Boston surveyed parents — mostly black or Hispanic single mothers without a degree — more than 80 percent wanted their son or daughter to go on to college.
I’m not sure I agree that educators in urban college prep charters, see career and technical education as “outdated.”
. . . I think more typically — there’s a perception that the vo-tech offerings themselves are terrible, with really bad track record of actually connecting kids to the right jobs, the air-conditioning repair jobs that Carr writes about.
Boston’s vo-tech high school is considered by far the worst public school in the city.
MATCH has considered launching a vocational charter school, then measuring how graduates do in the job market, he writes.
To keep students from running up college debt, MATCH is helping graduates enroll in community college with an explicit transfer path after two years: “Kids say: ‘I’m going to Bunker Hill College to study X, then I’ll transfer as a junior to U-Mass’.”
Community colleges have low graduation rates, Goldstein acknowledges. He fears a “peer effect” that “normalizes dropping out.”
Washington Monthly‘s 2013 college rankings include the best community colleges: Saint Paul College (MN), North Florida Community College (FL), North Dakota State College of Science (ND), Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WI) and Lawson State Community College (AL) top the list.
The Monthly relied on the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), which asks about teaching practices, student workload, interaction with faculty, and student support, and U.S. Department of Education measures of student retention and completion.
Some of the worst community colleges are in the otherwise thriving San Francisco Bay Area, writes Haley Sweetland Edwards.
City College of San Francisco is slated to lose accreditation next year because of “broken governance and fiscal mismanagement,” she writes.
If that happens, it will mark by many measures the most catastrophic implosion of a community college in our nation’s academic history. And more to the point, City College’s roughly 85,000 students, most of whom are minority or working class, will be out of luck. While they’ll be allowed to transfer with their credits, commute to another institution, or simply stick it out during the turmoil, the truth is that many won’t. They will be added instead to the roster of hundreds of thousands of students in the last decade who have enrolled in a community college in the greater San Francisco Bay Area with the hope of getting a credential or degree, of clawing their way to a better job and into the middle class, but have left school empty-handed.
Nearly all the schools in the Bay Area are bottom-feeders in the Monthly‘s community college rankings, which uses the same metrics as the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Out of 1,011 colleges rated, San Francisco City College ranked 842. In the East Bay, Laney College was 882, the College of Alameda was 971 and nearby Berkeley City College was 982. Heading south, “San Bruno’s Skyline College scored a relatively sparkling 772, but neighboring College of San Mateo, where a director of information technology was recently charged for selling the school’s computer equipment and embezzling the cash, ranked 845. Cañada College ranked 979. North of the city, the College of Marin ranked 839.
So the question here is clear: How is it that a region of the world that prides itself on its booming growth and vibrant market—on “growing the jobs and companies of the future”—presides over a system of higher education that is so broken for so many?
California’s community colleges granted only 10.6 certificates or degrees per 100 students enrolled over a three-year period, almost 40 percent worse than the national average, Edwards writes.
Funding is a problem:
Year after year, the community colleges have fallen victim to what one administrator described to me as the “Jan Brady problem”: the least “pretty” of California’s three sisters of higher education, it’s perennially “overshadowed and under-loved.”
In addition, California community colleges are “a confederacy of semiautonomous fiefdoms.” State oversight is weak. “Shared governance” laws require district boards to share power with faculty, students, administration and staff. In some districts, board meetings become “hair-pulling, mudslinging turf wars that feel a little like Robert’s Rules of Order meets Lord of the Flies.”
In places where the local leadership is good—even visionary—the colleges are quite good, too. In places where the local leadership is bad or mediocre, the colleges are truly terrible. “Some campuses have a culture of destruction and some have a culture of collaboration,” observes Utpal Goswami, who became president of the College of the Redwoods just before the school was slapped with the regional accrediting agency’s most severe sanction.
Santa Barbara City College was a co-winner of this year’s Aspen Prize. The College of Marin, which serves a similar population, “grants only about eight certificates or degrees per 100 students over a three-year period—a success rate that’s barely half of Santa Barbara’s.”
Increasing need-based aid helped low-income Florida students stay in school, enroll in a public university and earn a bachelor’s degree in six years, concludes a National Bureau of Economic Research study by Benjamin Castleman and Bridget Terry Long.
Looking Beyond Enrollment: College Access, Persistence, and Graduation investigated the Florida Student Access Grant, which supplements the federal Pell Grant, reports Inside Higher Ed.
. . . researchers compared students who were eligible for the $1,300 FSAG grant with students whose expected family contribution amounts were just above the cutoff, but were still eligible for Pell Grants. So presumably the students who received an FSAG grant came from similar low-income backgrounds as the ones who did not.
. . . “Our paper isn’t looking at aid vs. no aid,” said Castleman, an acting assistant professor of education at the University of Virginia. “We’re looking at how a greater amount of aid affects students. In the context of need-based aid, increasing the aid which students were eligible for had a range of positive outcomes.”
The additional $1,300 in grant aid eligibility increased the probability of immediate enrollment at a public, four-year university by 12 percent. Those students were also likelier — by 4.3 percentage points — to stay continuously enrolled through the spring semester of their freshman year.
The FSAG grant had the biggest impact on students who graduated in the top 25 percent of their high school class. “I think our work suggests that there is a population of kids who are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds but have worked hard in high school to make college a reality,” Castleman said. “Giving additional aid has a profound impact in helping these students not only get to college, but to also earn a degree down the road.”
The eight recommendations include “suggestions that colleges work to ensure that veterans have the support of faculty members and campus leaders, and use uniform data to track veterans’ success,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.
More than 250 colleges and universities are participating in the initiative, the president said.
Most GI Bill-using veterans enroll in community colleges and for-profit institutions.
At a growing number of community college campuses, Single Stop USA counselors help low-income students access government services and benefits so they can stay in school, reports Businessweek.
On the morning of Turner Gray’s English 201 final at the Borough of Manhattan Community College last spring, a city marshal evicted her and her two kids from their Bronx apartment. She’d fallen behind on rent after the city cut off her welfare because it mistakenly thought she wasn’t working. Money troubles had forced Gray to quit school once before. This time she had somewhere to turn for help. Gray went to her school’s Single Stop USA office, where a worker lined up emergency funds from BMCC and, after days of phone calls and paperwork, helped sort out the misunderstanding with the city. “I was back in my apartment in a week and a half,” Gray says.
On average, Single Stop clients access at least $5,400 in services and benefits that would otherwise go unclaimed, estimates McKinsey. The program now has offices at 17 community colleges in seven states.
“You are doubling the Pell Grant,” says Sara Goldrick-Rab, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who’s studying the program. “That’s real money.”
. . .Goldrick-Rab found that Single Stop’s New York programs are on track to reduce dropout rates by 20 percent to 30 percent. That would be “quite a sizable and meaningful” effect if the results hold up over the long term, Goldrick-Rab says. “Research shows it’s really hard to move the dial for this population.”
Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College calls Single Stop “the most effective and efficient program that we’ve ever had.”