Obama: Expand college opportunity

“We want to restore the essential promise of opportunity and upward mobility that’s at the heart of America,” President Obama said at a White House summit on higher education. “If we as a nation can … reach out to [low-income] young people and help them not just go to college, but graduate from college or university, it could have a transformative effect.”

The “story of opportunity through education is the story of my life,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, who grew up in a working-class family and went to Princeton. 

The administration asked colleges and universities to encourage low-income students to apply to challenging schools, start college preparation earlier, expand college advising and improve college remediation.

In California, the three branches of the higher education system – community colleges, state universities, and the University of California – will jointly reach out to seventh-graders in the state to encourage them to prepare for college and understand financial aid options.

Only 1 in 4 community college students in remedial classes go on to earn a degree, notes the White House report, Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students.  Summit participants have committed to “strengthening instruction, using technology, better supporting students in remediation, and reducing the need for remediation.”

Achieving the Dream, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Jobs for the Future will work with community colleges and other higher education groups to develop and implement promising practices that accelerate progression through remediation and gateway courses.

Update:  It was “a productive meeting,” Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System​, told Community College Daily. “It will be the broad access institutions that will play the big role​ — not the nation’s elite universities. There needs to be more focus on leveraging the nation’s community colleges to promote access and college/university completion at more affordable rates.”

“The summit helped to reframe the current rhetoric around higher education, away from the issues of rating and affordability,  to issues of access for low-income students, our importance for economic competitiveness, and the need for increased public and private investment in our work,” said  Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College (Pennsylvania). “The administration has clearly recognized our role in workforce development. I am pleased that our important role in transfer was recognized today in such a public way, by so many, including our university colleagues.”

Making the most of 12th grade

“College and career readiness” is the goal — but not the reality — for all high school graduates.  Making the Most of 12th Grade in the Common Core Era, a policy brief by the Community College Research Center and Jobs for the Future, looks at ways to help students who aren’t on track for success.

Currently, 68 percent of community college students and 40 percent of students at open-access four-year colleges require one or more remedial classes, according to the CCRC. While 43 percent of community college students who need remediation graduate in eight years, only 28 percent of remedial students complete a credential.

Seven states and the District of Columbia — plus a number of school districts — are creating “transition” curricula to help low-scoring 12th-graders avoid remediation in college. Usually, these involve a special course, online tutorials and sometimes help with study skills and “college knowledge.”  Tennessee’s SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) pilot uses a mix of online and teacher-led learning to teach key math competencies.

The Southern Regional Ed Board has designed model literacy and math courses for high-risk students.

Early college high school and dual enrollment programs also can help high-risk students prepare for college, the policy brief concludes. Once in community college, accelerated remediation  and redesigned developmental math (statistics and quantitative reasoning for non-STEM students) show promise.

“Acceleration is more motivating than remediation,” writes Joel Vargas of Jobs for the Future. “The students who will struggle most with the Common Core are likely to be the same ones who struggle now to graduate high school and enroll in college. They will be disproportionately low-income and minority youth, often English language learners, whose parents did not attend college themselves.”

5 states create student success centers

Statewide student success centers are trying to boost community college completion rates in five states, writes Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.

The Kresge Foundation provided three-year grants to start centers in Michigan, Arkansas, Ohio, Texas and New Jersey. The foundation plans to fund three more, working with Jobs for the Future.

Caroline Altman Smith, a senior program officer for Kresge, said the goal is to knit together viable completion strategies in a central place in each state. The new hubs become places for both administrators and faculty members to share intelligence and bring ideas back to their campuses.

. . . A recently released policy paper from Jobs for the Future tracks the genesis of the centers. The first step came when a “critical mass” of community colleges signed on to the completion-oriented reforms led by Achieving the Dream, a national organization, according to the paper.

“The colleges and their supporting associations came to believe that their hard work could be strengthened and amplified if there were some statewide, cross-college supports in place,” the paper said, including common data sets and professional development opportunities.

The centers are located in states with relatively decentralized community college systems.

The Ohio center got off the ground last year. Ruth Silon, who taught English at Cuyahoga Community College for 34 years, is its director. “You have 23 separate cultures” at Ohio’s 23 community colleges, Silon said. The center is trying to help create a “state culture” around college completion.

California community college leaders are considering applying for a grant to create a student success center to coordinate completion campaigns in the state, which has 112 community colleges.




Gates puts $472 million into completion agenda

The Gates Foundation has spent $472 million on higher education since 2006, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education special report. Some $343-million was spent after January 2008, when the foundation announced it would focus on helping low-income young people complete college credentials. The Lumina Foundation, the largest private foundation devoted solely to higher education, “spent a little more than half that amount over the same period” on a similar completion agenda.

Gates’s rise occurs as an unusual consensus has formed among the Obama White House, other private foundations, state lawmakers, and a range of policy advocates, all of whom have coalesced around the goal of graduating more students, more quickly, and at a lower cost, with little discussion of the alternatives. Gates hasn’t just jumped on the bandwagon; it has worked to build that bandwagon . . .

Gates-funded research has spurred state lawmakers to limit remediation and link higher ed funding to graduation rates and other success measures, reports the Chronicle.

“Working alongside the Lumina Foundation through intermediaries like Complete College America and another nonprofit, Jobs for the Future, the Gates Foundation has helped influence higher-education policy at the state level to a degree that may be unprecedented for a private foundation.”

Complete College America has persuaded 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, to join an alliance dedicated to improving college completion rates.

Critics say Gates and its allies push too hard for completion at the expense of educational quality.

“You create this whole hyped-up, get-it-done-fast mentality,” says Debra Humphreys, vice president for policy and public engagement for the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Remediation reforms, such as pushing students quickly into credit-bearing courses, are creating pushback.

Lydia Jandreau, a 44-year-old massage therapist, needed two semesters of remedial math to prepare for a nursing program at Gateway Community College, in Connecticut. Starting next year, Gateway will be allowed to offer only a single semester.

With one semester, “I could have muddled by with a C and gotten the basic concepts,” Ms. Jandreau says. “But the way I look at it, I’m building my academic house, and I want it to have a solid foundation.”

A Connecticut legislator sponsored the law limiting remedial courses after attending a Complete College America “remediation institute,” notes the Chronicle.

Only a quarter of community college students who start in remedial courses earn a certificate or associate degree within eight years, says Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

Saverio Perugini, a professor and academic coordinator of the math department at Gateway, says Connecticut’s new law will “put the kibosh” on his department’s own efforts to streamline remediation.

While he understands the frustration in seeing so few students who start out in remedial education succeed, limiting them to a single semester of remediation isn’t likely to work for students who are too far behind, he worries. “How do you add polynomials if you can’t add basic numbers?” he asks. “It’s like taking a Little Leaguer and putting him straight into the majors.”

Many remediation experts agree. Patti Levine-Brown, president of the National Association for Developmental Education, says the push to eliminate most free-standing developmental-education courses ignores academic research showing that poor and minority students will be disproportionately hurt if they’re placed in college courses before they’re ready.

Influenced by Complete College’s research, Tennessee now allows remedial coursework in community colleges, but not state universities. Florida lets students decide if they’ll take remedial courses.

Complete College America also encourages states to link a portion of state higher education funding to colleges’ graduation rates.

Structured paths lead to success

Creating structured pathways to graduation will help more community college students achieve their goals, said presenters at the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco.

Completion by Design, a Gates Foundation initiative, is working with community colleges on mandatory student advising and  structured course sequences, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. College leaders from North Carolina, Ohio and Florida discussed their efforts.

Jobs for the Future‘s completion campaign focuses on getting students into college-level classes as quickly as possible.

Many students who end up in remedial courses don’t need to be there, but they don’t realize the importance of the tests that colleges often use as the sole placement criterion, said Gretchen Schmidt, a program director at Jobs for the Future. “They didn’t prepare, they had kids in the hall running around, or they rushed through the test to get back to work … and as a result they ended up two levels down” in developmental courses.

Students who start in remedial courses rarely earn a degree. Recent research has shown students placed in high-level developmental courses do just as well at the college level.

North Carolina now lets high school graduates with a 2.6 grade point average or better skip community college placement tests and start at the college level.

A new Connecticut law limits state funding for remedial education to a single course.

Florida may “cut off nearly all support for stand-alone remedial education,” reports the Chronicle.

Lenore P. Rodicio, director of Miami Dade College‘s Completion by Design effort, worries that’s going too far.

“Seventy percent of our students come in needing some kind of remedial education, many of them from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and this could close the door to them,” she said.

Her college offers a one-week boot camp for students who place into remedial education to allow them to zero in on the skills they need to improve, and it’s looking at other ways to get students into credit-bearing courses faster.

In another session, California Community Colleges chancellor Brice Harris discussed the state’s new “student-success agenda,” which includes encouraging students to develop a study plan, dropping reliance on a single remedial placement test and giving new students priority for registration over perennial students who aren’t moving toward a credential.

JFF: ‘Early college’ boosts college enrollment

Students in “early-college high schools” are more likely to complete high school and go on to college, reports Jobs for the Future. Ninety-three percent of students in JFF’s network — 246 early-college schools with 75,000 students — complete a high school diploma in four years,  compared to a national average of 75 percent, according to the JFF report. Seventy-six percent of network graduates enroll immediately in college, compared to a national rate of 68 percent.

At early college high schools open for at least four years, 23 percent of students earn a college certificate or associate degree along with their high school diploma.  The average early-college graduate earns 36 college credits. That’s equivalent to more than a year of college — if all credits are accepted for transfer.

Saving money on college is a big issue for early-college students and their parents, reports JFF. More than half of early-college students come from low-income families, more than two thirds are Latino, black or Native American and xx percent are the first in their family to attend college.

The early-college model appears to be working, reports College Bound.

Allowing students to take even one college-level class in high school can significantly increase the chances of going to and completing college, research from JFF last fall revealed.

The American Institutes for Research has evaluated the Early High School College Initiative and found students in these schools outperform their peers on state standardized assessments and have higher on-time graduation rates than students in surrounding districts.

To reach students with the most need, JFF is shifting early colleges from a small schools model to a “systemic high school reform strategy, writes Joel Vargas on the JFF blog. With a five-year, $15 million federal Investing in Opportunity (i3) grant, JFF will partner with Denver Public Schools, Educate Texas, Brownsville ISD, and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD to spread the early college design to 30,000 new students.

Spiders show where the jobs are

In a fast-moving economy, spiders are showing colleges where the jobs, so they can target job training, writes the Hechinger Report. Artificial-intelligence spiders “crawl through search engines” to read online “help wanted” ads daily. Colleges can update — or eliminate — job programs quickly.

Federal labor data can be two years out of date or more, said John Dorrer, a program director at Jobs for the Future. Without current information, “We’re training people for jobs that don’t exist, and not training people for jobs that do.”

Based on real-time labor-market information, the Lone Star College System in Texas will close three programs next fall, in aviation management, hospitality management and computer support. It found that employers prefer four-year to two-year degrees in the first two cases, and were outsourcing work in the third. But it is adding programs to train oil and gas drillers and CT-scan technicians, for which there is burgeoning demand.

. . . Cabrillo College in California thought its program in medical assisting was doing well—until spidering technology showed there wasn’t much hiring going on in the field, and a survey of graduates confirmed that fewer than 30 percent had jobs in it. So the college raised the program’s standards to a level employers told them they needed.

Archana Mani took time out of the workforce to raise her children and discovered her master’s in information systems wasn’t enough to qualify for a job. She enrolled in Oakland Community College near Detroit, which was offering an accelerated course to train programmers to build and test new software applications. Once spiders told the college about the demand, it took only three months to create the course. Mani completed the program and was hired by a quickly expanding branch of Hewlett-Packard in Pontiac, Mich.

GED + job training = motivation

Louisiana has shifted adult basic education from high schools to community colleges: Unemployed and underemployed adults can train for skilled jobs while studying for a GED through the Louisiana Community and Technical College System’s (LCTCS) Work Ready U, reports Community College Times.

Most Work Ready U students are training for jobs in construction trades and welding or health care jobs, such as nursing assistants, phlebotomists and pharmacy technicians.

Delgado Community College (DCC) now has 2,500 students in adult basic education, compared to 500 in 2007-08.  DCC is one of 10 Louisiana community colleges in Jobs for the Future’s Accelerating Opportunity program. “There is no reason why a student should need a GED before they start on a career pathway,” said Barbara Endel, national project director for Accelerating Opportunity.

Traditional adult ed courses didn’t provide enough structure and support, said LCTCS Chancellor Joe May.

When ABE was administered by the K-12 education system, it was run on an “open-entry, open-exit approach,” May said. That didn’t work so well with people who had dropped out of school, so there were high attrition rates.

. . . Work Ready U programs limit the number of people who come in at any one time and provide extra counseling and social services. Also, switching GED courses to community colleges allowed for more flexible scheduling, including evening hours, which are more convenient for adults with families and jobs.

“Pushing someone to get a GED requires a ton of effort, particularly for adults with families,” said DCC Chancellor Monty Sullivan. However, it’s worth the effort. More Work Ready U students are enrolling in credit-bearing courses. On average, they are less likely to drop out than regular students.

Last year Congress dropped Pell Grant eligibility for  high school dropouts who passed an “ability-to-benefit” test. To keep Work Ready U on track, DCC turned to foundations to fund tuition aid.

Report: Scrap most remedial courses

College remedial education requires  “transformation,” not just tinkering, concludes a national coalition of higher education groups. Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education recommends scrapping most remedial courses. Instead, most poorly prepared students  would be placed in college-level, for-credit courses with extra support, such as tutoring, computer labs and extra classroom time.

The report was issued by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, Complete College America, Education Commission of the States, and Jobs for the Future.

 “Half of all America’s undergraduates and 70% of its community college students begin college in at least one remedial course, and only one in four remedial community college students ever make it to graduation day,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

For every 10 students assigned to three or more semesters of remedial English, fewer than three ever complete a college-level English class. Only one in 10 students assigned to three or more semesters of remedial math passes a first-year college-level math course.

The report also calls for changing requirements so students take the subjects they need for their program of study, but don’t have to take irrelevant courses. That means not everyone would take algebra.

“This is especially important in math, which is the most significant barrier to college success for remedial students,” said Uri Treisman, director of the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin. “Too many students today are required to pass college-level algebra when statistics or quantitative literacy would be much more appropriate preparation.”

In a joint statement, the groups called for “immediate, large-scale changes” to turn remediation from a barrier to a gateway.

JFF: Dual enrollment boosts college success

Texas students who completed even a single college class in high school were significantly more likely to attend college and eventually graduate compared to similar students who weren’t in dual enrollment programs, reports Jobs for the Future in Taking College Courses in High School: A Strategy for College Readiness.

Dual enrollment students were more than twice as likely to enroll in a Texas two- or four-year college: 54.2% of dual enrollment graduates earned a college degree, compared to 36.9% of non-DE grads, and 47.2% of DE graduates earned a bachelor’s degree, compared to 30.2% of non-DE grads.

All groups did better, including students from low-income families and black and Hispanic students.

“A big question in education reform has been: ‘How do we increase the college readiness of those most likely not to go?’” said Joel Vargas, report coauthor and vice president of JFF’s High School Through College team. “Dual enrollment is a strategy states can use to help answer that question.”

The report also urged policymakers to support bearly college high schools that target minorities and low-income students. Texas has 49 early colleges, serving over 10,000 students statewide, and more than 90,000 students in dual enrollment.