Latinos narrow graduation gap

The Latino college completion gap is narrowing for full-time students, reports Excelencia in Education in a new report. The gap fell from 14 percent in 2012 to 9 percent in 2014: 41 percent of Latinos graduate in 150 percent of the normal time compared to 50 percent of all first-time, full-time college students.

However, almost half of Latino college students are enrolled part-time. Their completion rates remain very low.

Miami Dade College, South Texas College, El Paso Community College, East Los Angeles College and Florida International College enroll the most Latino students. “Four of the top five are predominantly community colleges,” said Deborah Santiago, chief operating officer and vice president of policy at Excelencia.

Miami Dade, El Paso and South Texas also rank in the top five for awarding associate degrees to Latinos, along with Valencia College and University of Phoenix Online. “We are seeing the closure in the achievement gaps in some states, but not all,” said Santiago.

ASSOCIATE DEGREES: Top 5 Institutions Awarding to Hispanics, 2011-12

Rank Institution State Sector Grand Total Hispanic Total % Hispanic
1 Miami Dade College FL 4yr Public 11,959 7,958 67
2 El Paso Community College TX 2yr Public 3,790 3,244 86
3 University of Phoenix – Online 4yr Private For-Profit 39,341 2,424 6
4 South Texas College TX 4yr Public 2,292 2,138 93
5 Valencia College FL 4yr Public 7,974 2,129 27

California, which has the highest numbers of Latino students, lags in graduating them: Only 15 percent of the state’s Latino students completed a degree or certificate in 2010-11.  “Why does California, the state with the largest Latino population in the nation, not have a single college break into the top five nationally for awarding degrees to Latinos?” asked Santiago.

Florida does much better in enrolling — and graduating — Latinos.

Latinos make up 22 percent of K-12 students and 17 percent of the population, reports Excelencia.  The median age for Latinos is 27, compared to 42 for non-Hispanic whites.

Twenty percent of Latino adults have earned an associate degree or higher compared to 36 percent of all adults.

‘College premium’ is exaggerated

The “college premium” has been exaggerated by high-profile studies, write Andrew G. Biggs and Abigail Haddad in The Atlantic. So has the payoff for majoring in a STEM field.

Smarter people are more likely to earn a college degree and to major in engineering, science and math, they write.

Only 58 percent of new college students who began in 2004 had graduated six years later, according to federal data. “Dropout rates are even higher at less selective colleges, whose students are presumably most on the margin between attending college following high school and entering the workforce.”

Calculating returns to education only for those who attend college and graduate is like measuring stock returns for Google while ignoring those for General Motors.

High school students who go on to college are quite different from those go directly to the workforce, they write.

(The collegebound) took a more rigorous high school curriculum, scored better on tests of reading and math, came from higher-income families, were in better physical and mental health, and were less likely to have been arrested. These are all correlated with higher earnings regardless of whether a person attends college . . .

Controlling for “both the risk of not graduating from college and differing personal characteristics” cuts the “earnings boost attributable to college attendance” in half, write Biggs and Haddad.

Graduates in technical fields earn significantly more than graduates in “softer” majors, studies have shown. “High school graduates aiming for high-earning majors such as engineering enter college with higher average SAT scores, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, while those aiming for lower-paying majors have lower average SAT scores,” write Biggs and Haddad. “High-paying jobs also entail longer work hours.”

Half of vets complete a degree or certificate

Half of veterans who used the GI Bill completed a vocational credential or college degree from 2002 through 2013, according to research released by the Student Veterans of America. About one in three of the veterans earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The veterans’ 51.7 percent completion rate is close to the six-year graduation rate for younger, non-veterans, 56.1 percent. However, the rates aren’t directly comparable since the veterans’ survey included vocational certificates and job training and gave vets 10 years to reach completion.”

Still, “researchers say veterans appear to be doing better than other so-called non-traditional students — those who delay attending college, enroll part-time or have children, factors common with many current veterans,” reports USA Today. Completion rates are much lower for older students.

“Looking at the obstacles and the issues that student vets have to deal with. … I think we’re doing quite well,” says D. Wayne Robinson, a former Army command sergeant major and now president and CEO of Student Veterans of America.

. . . Studies have shown that about half of those veterans eligible for the GI Bill after World War II obtained a training certificate or college education, as did about two-thirds of Vietnam veterans, according to a 1976 VA study.

Veterans often pursue degrees in business, social sciences, homeland security, law enforcement and firefighting, and computer and information services, the survey found.

Seventy-nine percent of veterans start at a public college or university, notes Ed Central. Most choose a community college. The completion rate was 50.8 percent for enrollees in public schools, 63.8 percent for private nonprofits and 44.9 percent for for-profit colleges.

The National Student Clearinghouse analyzed nearly 800,000 college records.

Lost credits hurt transfer students

Lost credits make it difficult for community college transfers to earn a bachelor’s degree, concludes a new City University of New York study. The more credits earned but rejected by the four-year institution, the less likely a transfer will graduate.

Students who start at a community college with hopes of earning a bachelor’s are less likely to reach their goal than similar students who start at a four-year college or university. The study estimates a 17 percent graduation gap for full-time, traditional-age students. The usual suspects — inadequate academic preparation and community colleges’ vocational emphasis — aren’t the primary factors, the authors write. Community college students don’t “cool out” on their desire for a bachelor’s degree. Nor is it true that community college students receive lower aid levels after transfer. For the most part, it’s the lost credits, the CUNY study concludes.

Six-year outcomes by starting institution type (Source: National Student Clearinghouse)

Fifty-four percent of community college transfers would earn a bachelor’s degree, if not for lost academic credits, researchers estimate. Currently, only 45 percent complete a four-year degree in four years.

“Loss of credits is a tax on transfer students,” CUNY researcher David Monaghan said.

Eighty-one percent of community college students say they plan to transfer and earn a four-year degree. But only 42 percent of BA-intending students actually transfer.

The average full-time student takes 3.8 years to earn a two-year degree and 4.7 years to get a four-year degree, estimates Complete College America. The average student earns 80 credits for an associate degree that requires 60 and 136.5 for a 120-degree bachelor’s degree.

Retaking courses costs time and money, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed

“About 14 percent of transfer students in the study essentially began anew after transferring,” according to the paper. Fewer than 10 percent of their community college credits were accepted. A majority — 58 percent — transferred 90 percent or more of their credits. The remaining 28 percent lost between 10 and 89 percent of their credits.

To avoid transfer hassles, community colleges in more than 20 states now offer four-year degrees, typically in vocational fields. California legislators are considering the option for the state’s 112 community colleges.

A new report on college completion from the National Student Clearinghouse estimates that 36.5 percent of students who start at community college will complete an associate degree in six years, while 15 percent will complete a four-year degree. Completion rates are much higher for exclusively full-time students and traditional-age students.

CC start may raise odds of completion

Some students who want a four-year degree raise the odds of success by starting at a community college, concludes Understanding the College Dropout Population, a Calder working paper by Erin Dunlop Velez of the American Institutes of Research. That’s especially true of those who are the first in their families to attend college.

Conventional wisdom says starting at community college lowers success odds, notes Jill Barshay in the Hechinger Report. In 2009, Bridget Terry Long and Michal Kurlaender estimated students who began at community colleges were 14.5 percent less likely to complete bachelor’s degrees within 9 years compared to similar students who started at four-year institutions.

“About 70 percent of four- year college drop-outs have a higher predicted probability of success beginning at a four-year college,” Velez writes.  “But for the other 30% of the sample, their predicted probability of bachelor’s degree attainment would have been higher had they started at a two-year college. This is particularly true for first-generation college students, about 40% of which would have been more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree had they begun at a two-year college.”

Indiana: 28% earn credential in 6 years

IndianaCompletion rates are low at Indiana’s public two-year colleges, reports the state Commission for Higher Education. The six-year completion rate for students seeking certificates or degrees is 28.2 percent. That includes transfers and students who earned a lower-level credential than originally sought.

Two-year public colleges spend an average of $31,369 for each degree produced, half the per-degree cost of four-year colleges and universities.

At Ivy Tech, the state community college system, the cost per degree is $30,120. Ivy Tech’s six-year completion rate — any credential at any campus — is 27.7 percent for full-time students and 20.8 percent for part-timers.

Only 15.7 percent of blacks who start at Ivy Tech have earned a credential within six years, compared to 26.8 percent of Hispanics, 29.6 percent of whites and 35.7 percent of Asians.

At Indiana’s four-year colleges and universities, the six-year completion rate is 68.6 percent. That includes any degree at any campus.

Two-year colleges focus on advising

Ohio community colleges are trying to strengthen counseling to lower the high dropout rate, reports NPR’s StateImpact Ohio

“College is an intimidating place for students, particularly for first generation students or returning students who make up a lot of our community college population,” says Suzanne Cox, a counselor at Cuyahoga Community College.

More than 60 percent of Tri-C students attend part-time.  Cox says students tend to be older than traditional college students, and many juggle school with a full time job and caring for their children or parents.

. . .  “Having that connection with someone who cares, who says I’m here for you, I’ll encourage you.  If you need me, here’s my card, just that simple act of encouraging someone is really, really important,” Cox says.

But as much as she tries, Cox says she doesn’t always have much time to build a relationship with every student she advises.  Students are required to attend orientation and see a counselor when they first enroll, but after that it’s up to them to seek out academic advising when they need it. Some may see an advisor only once during their entire college experience.

Only 20 percent of first time, full time, two-year college students complete an associate’s degree within three years. Community colleges are trying to raise graduation rates, says Melinda Mechur Karp, a researcher at Columbia University’s Community College Research Center. “Advising is a really critical component.”

Counseling centers at community colleges “don’t have enough staff and they don’t have enough funds,” Karp says. The median caseload is 441 students per counselor, according to a 2011 survey by the National Academic Advising Association.

Some two-year colleges are “turning to online academic program planning tools that will send a red flag to an advisor when a student is veering off track,” reports State Impact Ohio. Many require new students to attend orientation or a “college success” class.

CC leaders question college ratings plan

Dubious about President Obama’s plan to rate colleges’ value, community college leaders grilled U.S. Education officials at the Community College National Legislative Summit, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Linking college ratings to federal aid raises will be challenging, admitted Jeff Appel, a deputy undersecretary of education.

Under Mr. Obama’s plan, colleges that performed well in the ratings would be rewarded with additional federal dollars while colleges that performed poorly would lose some aid. Skeptics fear such a system would punish colleges that serve many low-income and minority students and would encourage open-access institutions to tighten their entrance criteria or dumb down their standards.

More federal dollars could flow to selective colleges with wealthier students said Peter L. Mora, president of Atlantic Cape Community College, in New Jersey.

Pauline T. Jaske, board chair of Waukesha County Technical College, in Wisconsin, suggested that the administration place less emphasis on a college’s graduation rate and more on whether its students achieve the goals they came to college with—transferring to a four-year institution, earning a job promotion, or simply gaining additional skills. “If they reached that goal, that’s a success,” she argued.

Mr. Appel said the department was considering using the results of alumni surveys as a measure in its ratings, saying satisfaction scores could be “potentially useful” to consumers.

Michele Bresso, associate vice president for government relations at Kern County Community College, in California, asked for relief from redundant and sometimes conflicting reporting requirements. 

There may be streamlining opportunities, said Mr. Appel, despite the “triad” of federal, state and accreditor oversight.

The White House plans to release a draft rating system in the spring and publish the first ratings in the 2014-15 academic year. Then the president will ask Congress to link federal aid to the ratings. 

The “ambitious timeline” is troubling, said Karin M. Hilgersom, president of Sullivan County Community College, in New York. She asked how the administration would get results that aren’t “garbage in and garbage out,” given the shortcomings of federal outcomes data.

Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News and designer of its college rankings, also questioned the Obama plan at a federal symposium, reports the Washington Post. Who’s in charge? he asked. How will decisions be reviewed?

How should community colleges be rated when many of their students are not really seeking degrees but instead are aiming for certificates or just taking a couple of random classes? And of those who are seeking degrees, many transfer to four-year schools without getting an associate’s degree. Shouldn’t that be considered a success? If so, how will the government track it?

If outcomes are not properly measured, “things start to get more dicey for community colleges,”said Patrick Perry, a vice chancellor of California’s huge community college system.

Should Pell be linked to performance?

Pell Grants help low- and moderate-income students go to college, but graduation rates are low. In an Education Next forum,  Isabel Sawhill, co-director of the Center on Children and Families and Brookings’ Budgeting for National Priorities Project, and Sara Goldrick-Rab, associate professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, discuss what to do about it.

Target federal aid to low-income, college-ready students, argues Sawhill.  Needy students who are likely to complete a degree could get more money, if well-to-do families gave up their tax subsidies and low performers weren’t eligible for Pell.

According to 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, only a small fraction of high school seniors are at or above proficiency in math and reading: 26 percent and 28 percent, respectively. This lack of preparation makes it difficult for them to do college-level work. For example, of younger students enrolling in college in 2003–04 with a high school grade-point average (GPA) below 2.0, only 16 percent had received a degree six years later, while 84 percent had not. The question we need to ask is whether taxpayers should foot the bill for students whose odds of success are so low.

Currently, Pell Grants are available to anyone with a high school diploma or GED. That doesn’t predict the ability to do college-level work, Sawhill writes.

Linking Pell to academic performance denies help to those who need help most, responds Goldrick-Rab. Instead, she proposes increasing the size of grants so low-income students can work less and study more. 

While 54 percent of wealthy Americans complete college, only 9 percent of low-income Americans earn a degree, Goldrick-Rab writes. The college gap is growing. 

The K–12 system remains overwhelmingly unequal, and chaining Pell eligibility to it even further ensures that both ends of the educational process remain unequally distributed. It transforms the Pell Grant from a policy aimed at transforming lives to one that simply rewards students lucky enough to be born into situations where their families are able to seize good high-school educations for them.

When it was first created, “the Pell Grant covered nearly 90 percent of the costs of attending a public college or university,” writes Goldrick-Rab. Today, the maximum $5,550 grant covers 30 percent of the average costs at state universities.

President Obama has proposed rating colleges and universities by “value.” One measure would be the graduation rate of Pell Grant recipients. Linking Pell to performance would make colleges look a lot better.

After growing very rapidly, the Pell program is running a $1.7 billion budget surplus this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Don’t give up on the longshots, writes Matt Reed. “Open-door public colleges exist to give people options.”

California limits fee waivers

By 2016, California community college students will need to meet academic performance standards to receive tuition waivers, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The fee waivers eliminate the relatively affordable tuition of $46 per credit that the system’s 112 colleges charge. But to remain eligible under the change, students will be required to maintain a 2.0 GPA for two consecutive terms. They will also lose access to the state subsidy if they fail to complete half of the credits they attempt in a semester.

Colleges plan to increase counseling services as part a series of changes designed to improve graduation and transfer rates. In addition to raising standards for waivers, incoming students will receive priority enrollment if they attend orientation sessions and develop education plans.

Tuition is waived for about 40 percent of the state’s 2.6 million community college students, reports the Los Angeles Times.

“We will do everything in our power to help students on financial aid succeed,” said community colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris, “but students need to know that they have a responsibility to keep up their end of the bargain.”

Restricting fee waivers will hurt low-income students who face many challenges, said Rich Copenhagen, a College of Alameda student and past president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges. “If you cut our fee waivers, they’re probably going to be gone from community colleges forever.”