How to earn a low-debt bachelor’s degree

Starting at a community college will cut the cost of a bachelor’s degree, but students have to be savvy to make it work, writes Lisa Ward in the Wall Street Journal.

Transferring credits can be be “complicated and confusing,” she writes. Students and parents should research whether their state has coordinated community college and state university credits.

For example, California, Louisiana and Texas guarantee admission to a four-year state university to any student who earns an associate degree at an in-state community college. Florida has the same guarantee for an associate of arts, but transfers will need high grades and prerequisites to get into popular majors at prestigious schools.

Some states, including Texas and Florida, use the same numbering system for community college and state university courses. Psych 101 is the same at every school, making it easier for students to know which credits will transfer.

Hybrid degree programs also help transfers earn low-cost bachelor’s degrees.

 Houston Community College and University of Texas at Tyler designed a program where students can earn an associate’s degree in engineering from HCC and then enroll at UT Tyler, as long as their grade-point average is 2.5 or higher. The program sets the student up for a bachelor’s degree in mechanical, electrical or civil engineering.

“It costs $19,000, for all four years, if you live in-state,” says David Le, who is enrolled in the program. “No one ever believes me when I tell them how cheap it is,” says Mr. Le, who lives at home because the program is taught entirely at HCC’s campus.

Earning college credit in high school also cuts the cost of a degree. Most schools offer Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses that enable students to earn college credit. Increasingly, students can earn credits through “dual enrollment” or “early college” classes, which often are taught by community college instructors.

“In many cases, dual enrollment and early college are the absolutely cheapest way to earn college credit because it’s free,” says Dilip Das, assistant vice provost at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Colleges try to recruit, retain black men

Community colleges are developing programs to recruit and retain black men, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. At the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco, Marilyn Riley described Mesa Community College‘s summer program for high school students.

To help familiarize students with support services like advising and tutoring, groups of students are sent off with a list of a half-dozen offices with instructions to interview someone there and report back to the class.

. . . Students take two required courses during the summer, each of which earns them three college credits. One covers basic college-success skills, like time management and study techniques.

About half the participants end up enrolling at the Arizona community college.

“African-American Pride and Awareness” tries to persuade black males they belong on campus  and “can control their own destiny,”  said Karen Hardin, chair of the counseling department.   Successful graduates are recruited as peer mentors.

LaTonya Jones, a student adviser at Houston Community College, described its community-service and bonding activities for black men. On Chivalry Day, Men of Honor participants tutor local schoolchildren, wear their club shirts and ties and pass out carnations to women. Jones is working on a plan to gear college classes to the needs of black men.

An economics class, for instance, might cover financial planning for black men, while a history or English class would encompass black history and literature.

“If we can get them through the core,” she said, “they’ll graduate.”

Black men often lack the confidence to speak up in class, said San Diego State Professor J. Luke Wood, who runs the Minority Male Community College Collaborative.  In addition, “a lot of men are reluctant to ask for help because it makes them look weak,” he said.

AACC lists 77 minority-male success programs on its Web site, but Wood estimates there are 70 more.

Adjuncts average $2,987 per 3-credit course

Average pay for adjuncts at colleges and universitiesis $2,987 for a three-credit course, reports The Adjunct Project, which is crowdsourcing information on salaries and working conditions. Community colleges pay much less than most four-year universities, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Adjuncts at 16 colleges reported earning less than $1,000.”

Joshua A. Boldt, a writing instructor in Georgia, is working with The Chronicle on a web site that sorts data by department, college, and region of the country.

At top research universities, adjuncts average $4,750 per three-credit course. Adjuncts at rural, medium-sized, two-year institutions, where pay is the lowest, average $1,808 per three-credit course.

In California, where faculty at two- and four-year public institutions are unionized, the average pay is $3,888 per course, according to data reported to the Adjunct Project as of last month. In Texas, by contrast, a state where unions are rare, the reported pay is lower: $2,805 per course.

Salaries are lower in the humanities: Adjuncts who teach English reported earning an average of $2,727 per course.  At Houston Community College, adjuncts average $1,200 to $2,200 for a three-credit English course. The national average for adjuncts who teach engineering is $4,789 per course.

Only 22 percent of adjuncts reported that they were union members. Seventy percent don’t serve on governance committees.

“We’re not compensated when we do that,” Peter Feiden, an adjunct economics professor at Montgomery College, in Maryland, says of part-time faculty members there. He earns about $3,000 per course at Montgomery and about $6,000 per course at Catholic University of America, where he is also an adjunct.

Few adjuncts qualify for health insurance, retirement or other benefits.

About half of all faculty members — 70 percent at community colleges — are part-time adjuncts, estimates a 2010 survey by the American Federation of Teachers. Eighty percent of community college faculty teach part-time, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

Universities keep turning out English PhDs even though there are fewer full-time jobs, writes Mark Bauerlein. That makes it easy to find people to teach freshman composition for low pay and no benefits.

CC of Qatar graduates first class

Qatar’s new community college has graduated its first class with help from Houston Community College,, reports the Texas Tribune.

DOHA, Qatar — Ahmed Mohamed Al-Hassan hit an educational glass ceiling. He needed a higher-education degree to move up the ladder at Aspire Logistics, the company that manages Doha’s massive sports complex. Although he had graduated from high school a decade before, his grade-point average was too low to enroll at Qatar University.

. . .  Now, Hassan is the first in his family to go to college, mostly taking night classes as he continues to work full time.

On May 15, less than two years after CCQ opened, 11 students became the country’s inaugural community college graduates.

HCC was chosen as a partner because it’s helped colleges in Vietnam, Brazil and Saudi Arabia with accreditation.

‘Crazy College of Qatar’

Houston Community College helped open the first community college campus in Qatar, but the project has struggled with “disagreements over accreditation, high faculty turnover and growing worries that the dean hired by the Qataris to lead the effort was working against” HCC, reports the Houston Chronicle.

Enrollment has reached 750 students — with males and females taught separately — but students have not received HCC credits as originally promised. At this point, students can’t use their coursework to transfer to the six U.S. universities with Qatar campuses, though months of student protests forced a deal that will let community college graduates transfer to Qatar University.

Things were so bad last spring an HCC administrator in Qatar wrote HCC Chancellor Mary Spangler that Community College of Qatar, or CCQ, had become known as “the Crazy College of Qatar.”

HCC projects a $4.6 million profit from the Qatar contract by 2015. So far, the college has made $640,034 from the deal.

HCC , one of the nation’s largest community college systems, also has been involved in projects in Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Brazil.

Students test iPad instead of books

Can e-readers replace textbooks? Houston Community College Southwest, which previously tried the Amazon Kindle in several courses, is testing the Apple iPad, reports Community College Times.

“Our student population is constantly on the go, juggling work, family life and attending classes,” says Paul Garcia, a life sciences professor at the college. “Having a mobile device that is big enough to actually see text and lectures is an excellent resource both educationally and financially for our students.”

Students in selected courses will be loaned an iPad for the semester with free downloads of the textbook and lectures, study guides, practice quizzes and video clips; they can contact classmates and the instructor via webmail.

While the iPad starts at $500, HCC-SW students may spend $800 a semester on textbooks,  according to the college.

“It’s hard having to come up with the money to buy books every semester,” says Mari Hernandez, an anatomy and physiology student at HCC-SW. “With the iPad, I was able to download it for free and start studying right away, instead of waiting until I could afford to buy the book.”

Instructors must change teaching methods to keep students engaged, Garcia says. “In using the iPad, we can show the students movies and animations and give them a wide array of multimedia resources that they can tap into.”