Structure leads to success

Community colleges are improving pass rates and persistence by integrating “high-impact practices” into coherent academic and career pathways reports the Center for Community College Student Engagement. A Matter of Degrees: Practices to Pathways links a clear class attendance policy, participation in a student success course and on-time registration to completion of remedial and gatekeeper courses and persistence.

Guttman Community College students working  in the Information Commons.

Guttman Community College students use Mediascape technology to collaborate in the Information Commons.

Structured group learning experiences — orientation, accelerated or fast-track developmental education, first-year experience, student success course and learning community — increased the odds of success significantly.

“Attending college should not be a series of disconnected classes and experiences, but instead, it should be a complete-and completed-educational journey,” says Kay McClenney, center director emeritus.

Among the colleges placing students in structured pathways are: Alamo Colleges (Texas), Miami Dade College, Guttman Community College (New York City) and Long Beach City College (California).

Klamath Community College (Oregon) has designed career pathways leading to certificates.

Lake Washington Institute of Technology (Washington) has increased success rates by integrating basic skills instruction with vocational instruction through the states I-BEST approach.

High school grades vs. placement tests

High school grades are a better predictor of success in college courses than placement tests, argues Eloy Oakley, president/superintendent of Long Beach City College (LBCC) in California. He testified at a Senate education committee hearing on improving minority students’ college success.

A few years ago, when LBCC relied on placement tests, 90 percent of new students were placed in remedial courses, reports Community College Daily. In 2012, under the Promise Pathways initiative, the college shifted to assessing high school transcripts.

The college — where more than 83 percent of students come from minority ethnic groups and 62 percent are first-generation college students — also provided these students with clear, first-semester education plans and registration priority to ensure that they enrolled in foundational courses right away.

As a result, the completion rates of transfer-level English in the first year jumped from 12 percent to 41 percent, according to LBCC. For transfer-level math, it rose in the first year from 5 percent to 15 percent. Students in these programs had the same success rates as those who were directed in several semesters of developmental education.

LBCC works closely with the city’s school district to determine whether students can handle college-level courses.

Entrepreneurship for all

Entrepreneurship isn’t just for educational elites, reports Community College Week. Innovation Fund America — a joint project of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Ohio’s Lorain County Community College — is helping open-access colleges back local entrepreneurs.

Lorain’s foundation founded the IFA in 2007 as Northeast Ohio struggled to replace manufacturing jobs.

The IFA offers support to new and young businesses through pre-seed stage access to capital, intensive coaching and mentoring, with internship and educational opportunities for students. Since its founding, the IFA has invested nearly $6.5 million in about 100 companies, creating more than 300 jobs and providing more than 150 paid internships for LCCC students

The IFA will fund pilots at Catawba Valley Community College (NorthCarolina), Long Beach City College (California) and Johnson County Community College (Kansas).

Kauffman focuses on entrepreneurship education. The idea is catching on, reports Community College Week. The National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship, founded in 2002, now counts more than 300 college members.

Catawba Valley’s community has been hit hard by the collapse of furniture manufacturing and textile mills. The college is moving from job training to job creation.

Last month, the college announced the start of Innovation Fund North Carolina, which is planning to award $1.2 million in grants and loans to high-tech startups across the state over the next year. The future of the state economy, said college President Gordon Hinshaw, now depends on new business startups and small businesses. The grants will focus on startups related to agriculture, advanced manufacturing, health care and information technology.

Money will go to businesses in the “pre-seed” stage, those that have exhausted their personal resources, don’t have investors or venture capital backing but need capital to grow. . . . Businesses must agree to intense coaching and mentoring and agree to take on students for paid internships.

Workforce development experience makes community colleges a natural place for entrepreneurship initiatives, Hinshaw said. “Our boots are on the ground every day. We are charged with making connections with our citizens. That’s our job.”

Two-tier tuition advances in California

California will experiment with much higher fees for high-demand community college classes, if Gov. Jerry Brown signs a bill on his desk. Long Beach City College officials have been pushing two-tier tuition to cut wait lists, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Legislation that has passed both the state Senate and Assembly would create a pilot project allowing colleges to charge all students non-resident tuition — as much as $200 per unit — for high-demand classes during summer and winter terms. Those classes include transfer-level English, algebra and history, which typically have long waiting lists.

“This gives our college one more tool to use to open up access to courses in high demand and will materially impact the ability of students to transfer and get a higher degree,” said Long Beach City College President Eloy Oakley.

However, there’s plenty of opposition. “This bill will create two classes of students, those who can pay and finish and those who can’t,” said Andrea Donado, the student trustee in the Long Beach Community College District. “It’s not the mission of a community college to be like a private college.”

The controversy is a replay in many respects of an attempt by Santa Monica City College last year to offer high-priced core classes in a summer extension program alongside regular state-funded courses. The effort was abandoned after the statewide community college chancellor said it violated education codes. The proposal roiled the campus; student protesters were pepper-sprayed at a college board meeting.

Gov. Brown has pledged not to raise community college fees, but hasn’t said whether he’ll sign or veto the bill.

With new funding this year, California’s community colleges are offering more courses and enrolling more students, but most still have wait lists for popular courses.

Collaboration means less remediation

Community colleges can reduce the need for remediation by collaborating with feeder high schools to prepare students, reports Inside Higher Ed. 

In California, Long Beach City College faculty worked with Long Beach Unified teachers to align high school and college courses. By using high school grades, not just placement tests, to decide who can start in college-level courses, LBCC dramatically lowered remediation rates.

For example, 53 percent of the group took transfer-level English courses in their first semester, while only 5.5 percent of students from the same high school district took the courses the previous year – meaning they were 10 times more likely to jump directly into credit-bearing English. And their passage rate of 62 percent was roughly the same as the college’s typical passage rate in English.

Fully 60 percent of the students in the program, which is dubbed “Promise Pathways,” placed into transfer-level English courses, compared to 11 percent of the college’s overall student population.

LBCC now places 31 percent of Promise Pathways students in college-level math, compared to 7 percent of students overall.

South Texas College, located near the U.S.-Mexican border, has works closely with high schools to prepare students for college.  Sixty-eight partner high schools offer dual enrollment programs, giving students a head start on an associate degree.

. . . the high school partnerships have helped drive down remedial placement rates to 17 percent, an extremely low number for a college that serves a largely lower-income, first-generation college population. The remedial placement rate has dropped by 45 percent since 2004, and Shirley A. Reed, the college’s president, credits dual enrollment as being a big part of that improvement.

“The high schools have accepted responsibility for college readiness,” Reed said. “Now we share in the responsibility.”

Preparing students for college success is the high schools’ job, write Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers in an Ed Week blog.

Grades trump placement tests in Long Beach

Prompted by research questioning the reliability of placement tests, Long Beach City College will use high school grades to decide whether students need remedial classes, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Edward Yacuta felt rushed and nervous when he took a test to determine whether he was ready for college-level English classes at Long Beach City College.

The 18-year-old did poorly on the exam, even though he was getting good grades in an Advanced Placement English class at Long Beach’s Robert A. Millikan High School.

Most community colleges would assign students like Yacuta to a remedial class, but he will avoid that fate at Long Beach. The two-year school is trying out a new system this fall that will place students who graduated from the city’s high schools in courses based on their grades rather than their scores on the standardized placement tests.

About 85 percent of new community college students in California place into remedial English and 73 percent into remedial math. Two-thirds of remedial students will not earn an associate degree or transfer to a four-year university.

Long Beach City College discovered 60 percent of students placed in remedial English classes had earned an A or B in high school English, while 35 percent of those who tested into college-level English had earned a C or D in high school.

California law requires the use of multiple criteria — such as test scores, study skills, educational background and goals — to determine which classes to place students in. But the placement test is the primary tool, and transcripts and grade point averages are not widely used.

In response to the Long Beach initiative and research, the office of California’s community colleges chancellor is conducting a statewide study to determine whether high school transcripts and grade point averages should be incorporated into placement decisions at the state’s 112 two-year colleges.

Starting new students at the college level wouldn’t just raise success rates, said Sonia Ortiz-Mercado, dean of matriculation and early assessment in the chancellor’s office. “At a time when the colleges are financially strapped and course capacity is limited, being able to get them through quicker is important.”

Long Beach Unified typically sends 1,400 graduates to the city college: Only 170 place into college English and 130 into college math. That will rise to 800 in college English and 450 in college math when grades are taking into account, the college predicts. It’s estimated the average student will save a semester and a half of remedial coursework.

On Dev Math Revival, Jack Rotman proposes using grades and placement tests to identify students who can start in college-level courses with “just-in-time” remedial help. Other students may need a semester to develop academic and study skills or a full year of intensive, linked courses in reading, writing, math and learning skills.

Latinos struggle to graduate

Latino students are struggling to complete community college and move on to a university, reports the Long Beach Press-Telegram. While more students are enrolling, it’s taking longer to graduate — or not.

Gerardo Raya enrolled in college in 2008 with the hopes of graduating in four years and scoring a job as an animator or illustrator.

But four years later, Raya is still at Long Beach City College struggling to finish the minimal coursework he needs to transfer to a four-year university.

The 24-year-old said he’s had trouble balancing his work as a recreational aide for a local high school while trying to study for a full load of classes. He’s had to drop classes over the years due to work conflicts and financial problems, but Raya said he’s hopeful he can transfer to Cal State Long Beach next year.

Raya is not alone. The college transfer rate for Latino students is about half that of white students — 14 percent compared with 28 percent — according to the Campaign for College Opportunity, based in California. Only 20 percent of Latino students in community college complete an associate degree or transfer after six years, compared to 37 percent of whites.

“Over half of the children in public schools are Latino, and these are the people who are going to make up our future workforce,” said Michele Siqueiros, the campaign’s executive director.

A grant from the Lumina Foundation is helping funding LBCC’s Promise Pathways Initiative, which starts in the fall. The college is working with Long Beach Unified, which is now 64 percent Latino, to “align college and high school courses, establish assessments and early interventions, and encourage more students to take transfer-level courses in math and English in their first semester,” reports the Press-Telegram. LBCC already partners with the school district and Cal State Long Beach to offer the College Promise, which includes a free first semester at LBCC.

Why do so few Latinos graduate?  Blogger Donald Douglas, a political science professor at LBCC, blames weak K-12 preparation and work habits. “Top that off with a lot of kids coming from recent immigrant families, often the first in their family to attend college (and there’s less linguistic and knowledge-based support in the home environment), and the basic foundation of learning isn’t as strong as it might be in other demographics.”

California transfer plan helps, but not much

California community college students still have trouble transferring credits to state universities, despite a plan to streamline transfers, concludes an analysis by the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Under the new law, community colleges are supposed to create associate degrees designed for transfer to the California State University system. Students who earn these degrees should be able to start at a CSU with upper-division standing to earn a bachelor’s degree in two years.

Community colleges need to increase the number of associate degrees for transfer and CSU campuses should maximize the number of academic programs to which these degrees can be applied, the report recommended.

If voters don’t approve a tax increase in November, Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget calls for cutting $250  million from the University of California and CSU system and $300 million from community colleges.

Already, CSU enrollment freezes have blocked mid-year transfers. Community college students are taking longer to complete an associate degree because they can’t get into essential classes.

Is Community College Still a Path to Dream College? asks Sharee Lopez. She enrolled in Long Beach City College‘s honors program with hopes of transferring to her dream school, Berkeley. She’s not paying much for her classes, but she’ll need an extra year to fulfill prerequisites. A neuroscience major, she can’t get into the science classes she needs.

Keeping Long Beach’s promise

Despite budget cuts, Long Beach Unified, Long Beach City College and Cal State University Long Beach will deepen their commitment to the Long Beach College Promise, a joint effort to help students transition from high school to community college to a four-year university.

The College Promise offers a semester of tuition-free community college, guaranteed enrollment for qualified CSULB applicants, college education classes for parents, and college preparation courses for high school seniors, reports John Fensterwald of Educated Guess on Thoughts on Public Education. (John was a colleague when we worked for the San Jose Mercury News editorial pages in days of yore.) A new college readiness assessment will be added soon.

Statewide, only 30 percent of students graduate with a two- or four-year degree after six years. Three-quarters of community college students and more than 50 percent of California State University students arrive on campus unprepared for college level math and/or English. Long Beach Unified’s ambitious goal, says Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser, is to reduce to zero the need for remediation – at least for those students headed to CSULB.

A Long Beach native, Steinhauser graduated from both LBCC and CSULB. His district, the third largest in California with 86,000 students, is 52 percent Latino and 16 percent African American.

California State University’s Early Assessment Program (EAP) warns high school juniors if they need online remediation courses or CSU-designed English classes to prepare for college-level classes. Starting in the summer of 2012, CSU will require non-proficient students to show they have started  remediation before enrolling at a CSU campus.

Starting next year, all Long Beach Unified juniors will take the English portion of the EAP, regardless of whether they plan to attend a CSU school. Those who don’t pass will be required to take a special English class in 12th grade in place of an elective. Those who pass the Promise’s new college readiness assessment will be exempt from LBCC’s entrance exams and will get priority enrollment. Eventually, CSULB may accept the assessment as well.

Last year, 500 Long Beach graduates took advantage of the free semester at LBCC, worth about $400 each. Next year, an estimated 1,800 students are expected to qualify.

Other elements of the Promise include a four-week course for high school parents on how to prepare their kids for college, as well as field trips to college campuses for elementary students (LBCC for fourth graders, CSULB for fifth graders, and, starting next year for sixth graders, trips to private colleges like the University of Southern California and to University of California campuses). In addition, LBCC and CSULB have been working with LB Unified teachers on improving algebra instruction.

In 2009, 74 percent of Long Beach Unified graduates went on to college, up from 68 percent in 2007.  About one third of graduates enrolled in LBCC. Their retention rate — two thirds remained enrolled a year later — is twice the average for students from other high school districts.

CSULB enrolled 650 Long Beach Unified graduates this year, compared with only 450 the year before.

Colleges use data to improve

California’s community colleges must commit to change in order to raise graduation and transfer rates for black and Latino students, write Estela Mara Bensimon, Alicia C. Dowd and Linda J. Wong of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California. By analyzing data closely, some Los Angeles community colleges are leading the way, they write.

Under a new law, community college students who complete 60 units with a C average or better will be guaranteed third-year status at a California State University campus. But Latino and black students, who make up 40 percent of the community college population, need help to benefit from the streamlined transfer process.

In 2008, L.A. Southwest College . . . found that from fall 2002 to spring 2007, only 13% of its black students who enrolled in basic-skills math went on to college-level math. The performance of its Latino students was better but not satisfying: 32% of English-learners had progressed from basic math to college math.

. . . Learning support services for students were beefed up. Math teachers moved their student advising hours from their offices to the school’s math labs. Tutoring focused on the content of math courses, and lab hours were added to each of the basic-skills math courses.

Long Beach City College examined thousands of records of first-time students enrolled between 1999 and 2005.  A large number of students, including many blacks and Latinos, had dropped out when they were only one or two courses short of being eligible for transfer.

The college concluded that students hadn’t received enough help or information to complete the transfer process or qualify for financial aid.

In response, the college’s website now features information on transfer requirements and procedures, and a transfer academy was established to speed up the paperwork involved in moving from a community college to a four-year school. The school has committed itself to monitoring the transfer rates of black and Latino students to see how the changes are working.

Another new law gives the community colleges’ board of governors two years to develop a plan to improve completion and transfer rates. Data analysis will be key to improving success rates for high-need students in the community college system.