What for-profit colleges do right

For-profit career colleges have much higher graduation rates than community colleges, writes Matt Reed, who’s worked in both sectors. Here’s how for-profits get more students to completion.

It starts with minimal or no remediation, writes Reed. At DeVry, very few students started in remedial courses. When he moved to County College of Morris in New Jersey, he was surprised to see a majority of students placed in remediation.

Since I taught freshman comp at DeVry for a while, I can attest that the placements weren’t because the students were all fully polished upon arrival.  They were not.  101 was a punishing course to teach, since you had to try to meet students where they were.

Math was a different issue, but even there, there was a premium on putting students in the highest level class they could conceivably pass.

For-profit colleges take the eat-dessert-first approach, writes Reed. Students don’t have to wait to start training for jobs.

Students at for-profits are there to get jobs.  . . . And since many students have had checkered academic pasts, they’re sensitive to revisiting scenes of earlier failures.

Most traditional colleges force students to eat their vegetables — basic math, English, and the usual distribution requirements — before getting to what the students recognize as the reason they’re there.

. . . DeVry, and apparently other for-profits . . . offered a lot of A.A.S. degrees — associate’s of applied science, as opposed to associate of science or associate of arts — to reduce the amount of gen ed.  And the gen ed courses it did require were spread evenly through the program, or even backloaded.  Students started with dessert, and only got to the veggies at the end.

DeVry required a “college success” course, like many traditional colleges. It also required a “career development” course that covered how to write a resume, how to handle an interview and how to dress on the job. Those were things most students didn’t already know.

At Holyoke Community College where Reed is vice president for academic affairs, “eat dessert first” means linking developmental math to students’ intended major.  “We’ve moved career advising to the first semester, to help students identify goals before they choose majors,” Reed writes. “And we’re looking at ways to help students get through developmental coursework more quickly, so they don’t just throw up their hands in frustration and walk away.”

The dean comes out

Community College Dean, an Inside Higher Ed blogger, is coming out with a book — and with his real name. Matt Reed, vice president for academic affairs at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts has written Confessions of a Community College Administrator, due out in January. When he started the blog, he was was the liberal arts dean at the County College of Morris in Randolph, New Jersey.