Completion gap is wide for first-gen students

Are College Degrees Inherited? asks Ronald Brownstein in National Journal. The children of college graduates are much more likely to enroll in college and earn a degree compared to children from “no-degree” families. Only 23 percent of first-generation students earn a degree compared to 55 percent from two-degree families, according to a new College Board/National JournalNext America Poll.

The decision to go straight from high school to postsecondary education is critical: Those who enrolled immediately in two- or four-year college or in vocational training were more than three times as likely to complete a credential than those who moved from high school into the workforce. Students from no-degree families are less likely to try college or job training.

Ninety percent of the straight-to-college group said they would do so again, while a majority of the work-first group said they wish they’d sought more education. 

For those who chose two-year schools, the big reasons were that “it cost less” (a resounding 75 percent) or that they considered it “easier to balance other obligations like family or work” (63 percent). For those who entered vocational training, cost (75 percent) and balancing other obligations (53 percent) were also big reasons—but so were the belief that it offered more job-relevant training (67 percent) and doubt that they could academically handle a two- or four-year school (47 percent).

Fewer than one in four who went straight to college said they were unprepared for college work.

Only about one in eight said family obligations interfered or that they spent too much time in remedial courses. About one-third in each case said they didn’t “receive enough guidance or direction from the college,” didn’t find course topics “interesting or relevant,” or found it difficult to be on their own for the first time.

. . . Hispanics (35 percent) were more likely than whites or blacks (around one-fourth in each case) to describe themselves as academically unprepared. Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians were all at least twice as likely as whites to say they spent too much time in remedial courses—or that they faced complicating family obligations.

Students from no-degree families who went straight to college didn’t report more transition or readiness issues. But less than 60 percent completed a degree, compared with 70 percent of those from two- and one-degree families. Since fewer enroll, the completion gap is large.

Survey respondents split on whether young people “need a four-year college degree in order to be successful.”

“It’s become so expensive, it’s sort of priced itself out,” said Tammy Hasson, a retired home-health aide.

California faces demand for college, job training

In Educating Julio, California Competes looks at where the state’s community colleges should grow to meet student demand and promote equity.
The report looks at two students: Julio is interested in the building trades, but doesn’t know how he can find a training program. Pablo has been admitted to University of California at Merced, but is thinking about enrolling at Santa Monica College with hopes of transferring to UCLA.

Pablo and his middle-class parents will search for the best educational choices. The “squeaky wheel gets the seat.”

Julio “won’t even realize there is a welding program at his nearby college unless someone finds him and talks to him.” His unmet demand for job training will be invisible.

The current system favors the status quo, concludes California Competes. Under the state’s governance system, community college boards can’t approve new programs or change the curriculum without approval from the faculty senate. That lets incumbent instructors protect their turf. “Even if launching a welding program is the right move to attract and retain Julio as a student, it may not happen if key interest groups have other priorities in mind.”

Funding rewards colleges that play it safe. Opening a new campus in a high-need neighborhood or starting classes in new fields is risky. If the students don’t enroll, the college could miss targets. It’s safer to offer classes in “the subjects and locations where enrollment is most certain.”

Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget, California’s community colleges finally will be able to increase enrollment. Growth should be funded by regions rather than districts, the report argues.

Formal district boundaries have become increasingly obsolete. In the wake of Proposition 13, the colleges became primarily state-funded. While colleges used to impose barriers or costs on out-of-district students, colleges now enroll any California resident on equal terms.

Statewide, nearly a third of all students cross the invisible district lines to enroll at what may or may not be the nearest community college. At the extreme, nearly nine out of ten students at Santa Monica College live outside of the district.

Most California high school students are not eligible for state universities: Only 38 percent of graduates complete college-prep courses with a C or better. Factoring in students who don’t graduate on time, only 30 percent of students — 20 percent of Latinos and 18 percent of blacks — can enroll directly in a state university. 

Obama: ‘Take a job-driven approach’

Apprenticeships and employer-sponsored job training will prepare young people for middle-class jobs, President Obama said last week at a Pittsburgh community college. 

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited Community College of Allegheny County last week to announce $500 million for community college job-training programs and $100 million for apprenticeship grants. The money is the last installment of funding approved in 2009.

“In today’s economy it has never been more important to make sure that our folks are trained for the jobs that are there and the jobs of the future,” Obama said. “We have to move away from a train and pray approach. We train them and we pray that they get a job.” Instead, “we need to take a job-driven approach,” the president said.

The president and vice president toured CCAC and met with “mechatronics” students preparing for manufacturing jobs. Mechatronics “sounds like something Godzilla would be fighting,” Obama joked.

Community colleges will compete for the job training grants by partnering with industry associations and employers. “This competition will focus, in part, on partnerships that create programs in high-growth fields, such as information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing, as well as programs that provide college credit or industry-wide skills certification,” reports U.S. News.

Job training has been “ignored by policymakers,” except when it’s criticized for being ineffective, writes Fawn Johnson on National Journal.  Now the White House hopes to get employers help design community college training and expand their own on-the-job training programs.

Why job-seekers pick for-profit colleges

Some career-focused students choose a for-profit college over a much cheaper community college, writes Sophie Quinton on National Journal.

In Virginia Beach, 27-year-old Darius Mitchell was “really tired of making $9 an hour.” After years working retail jobs, he consolidated previous student loans and took out more to enroll at ECPI University. He’ll graduate in May with an associate degree in network security and a job at Canon Information Technology Services.

At about $14,000 a year, tuition at ECPI is more than triple that of an in-state student at nearby Tidewater Community College. But low-income students are willing to cough up the money because programs are shorter, graduation rates are higher, and 85 percent of students move into jobs in their field of study — usually health care or technology — soon after graduation.

. . . Students are drawn here because, unlike at a community college, they can start classes every five weeks and attend on nights and weekends. Course material is also accelerated, so an associate’s degree can take just a year and a half to complete and a bachelor’s can take two and a half. Students don’t have to load up on courses to meet broad requirements; they only take classes relevant to the credential they want.

ECPI also offers job placement help. The career-services team helped Matthew Bailey, 43, find a job in tech support for InMotion Hosting. He’s working on a software development degree.

ECPI’s graduation rate of 40 percent for first-time college students is twice the graduation rate at the local community college, notes Quinton.  ”In 2011, ECPI awarded more computer science associate’s degrees to African-Americans like Mitchell than all the public community colleges in Virginia combined.”

Remedial reforms face resistance

Community colleges are reforming — or abolishing — remedial education, but some think remedial reforms have gone too far, reports Katherine Mangan for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Those who are the least prepared for college stand the most to lose from policies that push students quickly into college-level classes, according to some of the educators gathered here for the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges. And those students tend, disproportionately, to be minority and poor.

Appalachian State Professor Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education, fears “collateral damage” to minority and low-income students if states enact untried models for streamlining remedial education. “If you don’t pilot innovations before mandating them statewide, the unintended consequences will come up and bite you,” he said in an AACC session on developmental ed.

Florida has made remediation optional for most high-school graduates, notes Mangan. Connecticut now limits remediation to one semester, unless it’s embedded in a college-level course. “In statehouses across the country, groups like Complete College America are urging lawmakers to replace stand-alone remedial courses with models that are offered either alongside or as part of college-credit classes.”

“For many of these students, a remedial course is their first college experience, as well as their last,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

A Texas law, which takes effect next year, will place some remedial students in college-level courses, but “bump many of the least-prepared students from remedial education to adult basic education,” writes Mangan. 

 Karen Laljiani, associate vice president of Cedar Valley College (Dallas), said her college would be able to offer only two levels of remedial mathematics instead of four. Those at the upper end of the cutoff will be accelerated into credit courses, which has some faculty members worried about an influx of unprepared students.

The big question, though, is what will happen to students who used to place into the lowest levels of remedial math, some of whom might test at third-grade levels. Some might qualify for short-term, noncredit certificate programs that provide training for blue-collar jobs. And in some cases, remediation could be built right into the course.

The college may have to refer others to community groups that handle literacy and job training—a prospect that many community-college educators see as abandoning their open-door mission.

Jones said there are “no good answers” to what happens to the least-prepared students “when they insist on wanting an academic program.” 

‘Gainful employment’ rules are ‘awful’

The new “gainful employment” rules are “awful,” ”unfair and discriminatory,” writes Richard Vedder on Minding the Campus. An Ohio University economist, Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

The gainful employment rules apply to vocational programs at career colleges (primarily for-profit) and community colleges. If the goal is to stop wasting government money,”why not scrutinize students majoring in, for example, sociology, from Wayne State University?” asks Vedder. “Only 10 percent of students graduate in four years at Wayne State, and over twice as many default on loans as graduate in that time span.”

Moreover, while dropouts and loan defaults are high at many for-profits, when one corrects for the socioeconomic and academic characteristics of the students, the findings are decidedly more mixed. For example, the for-profits have roughly double the proportion of African-American students as do other institutions, and black students disproportionately come from low-income homes with high incidence of college attrition.

. . . I happen to disagree fundamentally with the “college for all” approach of the Obama Administration, but if you are going to pursue it, why attack the very providers who most aggressively are trying to help meet your goals? The for-profits disproportionately enroll poor first-generation students, and who are members of minorities. Moreover, accounted for properly (including state subsidies for public schools, taxes paid by for-profits, etc.), the for-profits use fewer of society’s resources per student.

The six-year completion rate for students at two-year for-profit colleges is 62.4 percent, the National Student Clearinghouse reports. At community colleges, which also enroll many disadvantaged students, the completion rate is 39.9 percent.

Finally, the “gainful employment” regulations say a borrower shouldn’t have to spend more than 12 percent of total income (20 to 30 percent of so-called discretionary income) to repay student loans. A person earning $35,000 a year with $4,800 annual loan repayments would not be considered gainfully employed. “If the individual in question went from a $20,000 job before going to school to a $35,000 job with a $4,800 loan commitment, that person has advanced considerably,” Vedder argues.

Repeal the Higher Education Act and “radically rethink federal provision of aid to students,” he concludes.

Students at a community college in rural Texas may lose all access to federal aid, including Pell Grants, because of a new regulation on defaults, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Job 1 is job training

Job training is job one for the fast-growing Louisiana Community and Technical College System, reports Community College Week.  The state is rebuilding its economy, says Monty Sullivan, the new president of LCTCS.

“We have an economy that is growing faster than nearly anywhere else in the country, which means our workforce needs are greater than ever,” says Sullivan.

 “We need to link the needs of employers with our educational institutions,” Gov. Bobby Jindal told the Associated Press. “I think our big challenge this session is getting ready for this manufacturing expansion.”

Only 27.9 percent of Louisiana’s working-age adults hold a two- or four-year college degree, well below the national average of 38.7 percent.

A number of states are stressing workforce development,  according to the Education Commission of the States.

In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley wants to create a Statewide Workforce Council of business and industry leaders to advise colleges on workforce needs. In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal has called for a Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative to bring together education officials, industry leaders and economic development officials to identify workforce needs. In Idaho, Gov. C.L. Otter wants to improve a workforce grant program to better target individual businesses and industry sectors.

Louisiana is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in training facilities and workforce “centers of excellence” linked to their regional economies.

 Baton Rouge Community College, for example, is planning a center that will focus on transportation and logistics; its home city is the ninth-largest port in the United States. Delgado Community College, in New Orleans, is home to a culinary arts and hospitality center of excellence.

Industry partners supply at least 20 percent of the funding. 

At Fletcher Technical Community College, the Deepwater Center for Workforce Excellence will train oilfield engineers and technicians. BP America Inc. contributed $4 million to pay for state-of-the-art equipment.

‘Corporate colleges’ make money

Employers are outsourcing job training to  “corporate colleges” run by community colleges, reports Inside Higher Ed. These employer-funded programs are money makers for colleges such as Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), located in Ohio, North Carolina’s Central Piedmont College and the Lone Star College System in Texas.

In Arizona, the 10-college Maricopa Community College District has opened Maricopa Corporate College. Marriott International is its biggest client. “We’re starting to market ourselves as a business,” said Rufus Glasper, the district’s chancellor.

Corporate colleges cater to the training needs of companies, including recent hires and workers who need to learn new skills. Programs are typically non-credit and customized based on the employer’s needs. They can be online or in person, and taught either on a college campus or taken directly to a company. Some of the most common programs are in management training, English as a second language, information technology, advanced manufacturing and welding.

Until recently, community colleges have worked with regional employers. In 2007, Tri-C spun off Global Corporate College, a   consortium of more than 50 community colleges and universities. Through Global Corporate, colleges can network to meet the training needs of national companies.

That’s how Maricopa landed Mariott, said Eugene Giovannini, president of the Maricopa Corporate College. “The network will deliver that training across the country.”

Maricopa hopes to triple the $1.5 million in corporate training revenue earned in a recent year, reports Inside Higher Ed. “This is very much a business decision,” said Giovannini.

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.

‘Skill builders’ don’t want degrees

 Not every college student wants a degree. “Skill builders” use community colleges to pick up expertise, writes Eddie Small on the Hechinger Report. Once they have what they need, they depart. If they’re counted as degree-seeking students — the only way to qualify for financial aid — that drives up the college’s dropout rate.

Kevin Floerke, 26, earned an archaeology degree from UCLA in 2010. Now he’s taking a course in fieldwork techniques at Santa Rosa Junior College in Northern California. He hopes to use the skills in his job leading tours for the National Geographic Society.  

Nearly a third of California community college students take one to four courses in a career or technical field, succeed and depart without a credential, according to a study called The Missing Piece.

Skill builders in California are concentrated in construction, real estate, computers, law enforcement, and early childhood education, according to Kathy Booth, co-author of the study. For most of them, the college credits led to wage increases. Students who took courses in information technology, for instance, saw their pay increase by 5 percent, and skill builders at California community colleges overall saw their median salaries go up from $49,800 in 2008-09 to $54,600 in 2011-12, the system reports.

Increasingly, colleges are evaluated — and sometimes funded — based on completion. A student who takes two IT courses, gets a raise and doesn’t re-enroll may be considered a dropout. “That’s a success story for that student and for the overall economy and society, but it’s hard to count,” said Paul Feist, spokesman for the California Community Colleges System.

Some colleges are creating “very short-term certificates” for skill builders, said Patrick Perry, vice chancellor of technology at the California system chancellor’s office.