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.

Louisiana Jump Starts career tech ed

Louisiana’s Jump Start plan will revamp career technical education, reports the Baton Rouge Advocate. High schools, community colleges and employers will form regional teams to create courses and orkplace training for 11th and 12th graders.

Jump Start students will split their day between traditional courses and vocational training. They will have a chance to earn a ” career diploma” and job credentials.

Louisiana hopes to qualify graduates for jobs in construction, engineering, manufacturing, energy, transportation and health care. 

The state Department of Education released possible scenarios:

Under one example, an 11th- grade student who wants to be an electrician would split her day between classes in English III, financial math and basic electricity and a bus trip to a local industry, where she learns how to use power tools.

. . . In another example, a high school senior who wants a certification in manufacturing might spend half a day at school taking classes in applied chemistry, English IV and a class that offers mock job interviews. The afternoon would include a trip to a community college for two more classes, including one in environmental automation.

Currently, only 1 percent of the state’s high school students earn a career diploma.

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.

States link aid to credits earned

Every year states hand out $11 billion in college aid — usually without tracking whether students earn a degree. That’s changing, according to the Hechinger Report. Some states are linking student aid to progress toward a degree.

In Indiana, 40 percent of aid recipients complete a four-year degree in six years. Next year, aid recipients will be required to complete 24 credits a year to get aid for the next year. Those who complete 30 credits or more will get an additional $600 a year in aid at public colleges and universities and $1,100 more at private ones.

In most states, state aid runs out after four years of study, but many students don’t look ahead. And when the aid stops, they go into debt for a fifth (or sixth) year — or drop out.

Nationally, less than 58 percent of students at four-year universities and colleges graduate within six years, aaccording to Complete College America. Only 14.3 percent of degree-seeking students at two-year colleges earn an associate degree within three years.

 Paradoxically, many state financial-aid programs pay for a maximum of 24 credit hours annually – 12 per semester – which isn’t enough for a student to reach the 120 credits typically needed to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. Thirty percent of full-time students at four-year universities and 72 percent at community colleges take even fewer than that and quickly fall behind, Complete College America reports.

In West Virginia, 70 percent of financial aid recipients who are required to take 30 credits a year earn a degree in six years, compared to 48 percent of all the state’s four-year college students. Similar pilot programs are showing signs of success in Louisiana, Ohio and New Mexico.

There have been similar proposals to tie federal financial aid to graduation rates by forgiving federal student loans for low-income students who graduate within four years, rewarding students with larger grant amounts for taking at least 30 credits per year and requiring students who drop out to pay back the government for any grant money they received.

Critics warn struggling students might fail if forced to take more credits.

Colleges announce new performance metrics

Colleges and universities should be judged by student progression and completion, employment outcomes, repayment and default rates on student loans, institutional cost per degree and student learning, concludes a report by HCM Strategists for the Voluntary Institutional Metrics Project.

Eighteen institutions — community colleges, online institutions, for-profit and non-profit colleges and one research university — have worked for more than two years to develop the performance measures with funding from the Gates Foundation.

Many in higher education believe “if colleges don’t figure out how to measure the quality and value of their product, lawmakers will do it for them, writes Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.

Participating colleges had hoped to release institutional “dashboards” based on the new metrics, but there were too many problems measuring employment and learning outcomes.

Many data-driven efforts are aimed at students and their families, notes Fain. VIMP is designed for legislators. “Policy makers often seek data on too many variables, resulting in data overload and lack of focus,” the report said.

The new performance measures try to take into account different colleges’ circumstances. Colleges that serve many low-income students won’t have the same graduation or loan repayment rates as elite colleges that enroll predominantly well-off and well-prepared students. VIMP rates each institution against its predicted performance range.

To measure efficiency, the dashboards include a cost-per-degree metric. Unlike other data sets, this one included operating costs but stripped out capital expenses, which can cloud the picture of what colleges spend to educate students.

College completion measures include part-time as well as full-time students and account for transfers, total credits attempted and time to a credential. However, collecting all that information is burdensome, the report admits.

(The employment measure) connects higher education data with unemployment insurance information, analyzing wages and employment status one and five years after graduation. Whether students were attending graduate school after completing is also factored in.

However, only a few states and colleges currently connect those sources of data, according to the report. And there is no standardized approach to for reporting employment outcomes.

Measuring student learning proven to be most difficult challenge. The project tried “to develop metrics for both core skills and major-specific — or upper-division course equivalent — learning,” but couldn’t find appropriate tests to do so.

The 18 participants include the community college systems of Indiana, Kentucky and Louisiana and community colleges in Texas, Maryland, Arizona and Kansas.

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.

CCs get $500 million for job training

Community colleges will get $500 million in federal grants to fund job training. The Labor and Education departments will work together on the program, which will focus on  “skills development and employment opportunities in fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, as well as science, technology, engineering and math careers through partnerships between training providers and local employers.”

In addition, Jobs for the Future’s Accelerating Opportunity Initiative will give $1.6 million each to Illinois,KansasKentuckyLouisiana and North Carolina to fund adult education and job training.

“Many employers are currently unable to fill well-paying jobs because applicants lack the skills,” says JFF President and CEO Marlene B. Seltzer. “Today’s good jobs require education beyond high school and training that prepares workers with practical skills that employers need. Accelerating Opportunity focuses on educational programs that lead to the credentials workers need to secure a family-sustaining job and long-lasting career opportunities.”

Accelerating Opportunity hopes to create career pathways  leading to “marketable, stackable, credit-bearing credentials” in at least 40 community colleges  by 2014.

Congress asks: How are you cutting costs?

Controlling college costs was the topic of congressional hearings last week, reports Community College Times.

At Keeping College Within Reach, a House Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee hearing, college leaders discussed performance-based funding, accelerated credential completion, “prior learning” credits and streamlining transfers.

Federal higher education funding increased 155 percent over the last decade, yet students are paying more, said House Subcommittee Chair Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican.  “If government subsidies aren’t producing more affordable education in the current system, we cannot keep writing bigger checks,” she said. “We need to look to states and postsecondary institutions for creative solutions.”

Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, said enrollment has increased by 55 percent over the last five years while state support has dropped by 37 percent.

By merging colleges, nixing redundant courses, aligning programs with market demands, consolidating information technology systems and sharing operations such as payroll and auditing services, the system is saving about $30 million annually, according to May’s written testimony.

. . . When Louisiana examined its transfer process, it founds that students who earned an associate degree were losing 21-24 semester credit hours in the transfer. Today, students who earn an associate degree at any Louisiana community college can easily transfer to Louisiana State University or any of the state’s 14 universities as a junior, May said.

. . .  On average, students save $2,117, while the state saves $1,930 per transfer student, May said. In addition, transfer students with an associate degree also use about $2,750 less in federal Pell Grants because it costs them less to earn their baccalaureate.

“Credit-hour creep” — requiring more than 60 credits for an associate degree — was dialed back for all but a few degrees. Students saved time and money —  an average of $1,100 — and the state saved $792 per student.

Students who move slowly to a degree usually give up along the way, said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America. Jones also called for collecting data on part-time students, adult students and Pell recipients to determine what would help those students earn credentials.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Making College Affordability a Priority,  included testimony by Thomas Snyder, president of the Ivy Tech Community College system in Indiana, and Jim Murdaugh, president of Tallahassee Community College in Florida.

Raising tuition every year is not a “sustainable business model,” said Snyder, a former auto industry executive. Ivy Tech has streamlined textbook sales, registration, financial aid and procurement to save time and money, he said.

Ivy Tech’s Associate Accelerated Program (ASAP) lets low-income students earn a transferable degree in one year instead of two. By creating a learning community and including “significant wraparound services,” ASAP has raised completion rates to 75 percent, three times the national average for community college students.

Speeding students to a certificate or degree saves money, said Murdaugh. Tallahassee, which did not raise tuition this year, also requires underprepared students to take a college success course.

Massachusetts report urges centralization

Massachusetts should expand statewide control of its 15 community colleges argues a new report from the influential Boston Foundation. In the centralized system focused on job training, colleges should be judged and funded based on student performance, the report concluded.

The state’s community colleges “have failed to connect in a systemic way with prospective workforce, economic development and employer partners,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

As a result there is no way to make broad curriculum changes based on workforce needs, it argues, and colleges and community-based groups compete for resources rather than cooperate.

“There are good programs within the community college system, but the system as a whole is under-resourced, overly fragmented, and not well aligned with the needs of Massachusetts employers in the knowledge economy,” said Paul S. Grogan, the foundation’s president, in a written statement.

Virginia’s centralized community college system was offered as a model for Massachusetts.

Community college presidents believe they already collaborate, reports the Boston Globe.

“We think we’re doing a hell of a lot better job than we did in the past,’’ said William Messner, president of Holyoke Community College. “We’re on the case.’’

Job training “what we do,” said Ira Rubenzahl, president of Springfield Technical Community College, who was a panelist for the report’s presentation. “We’ve been doing it for 50 years.’’  “I’m concerned that [the proposed structural changes] will be disruptive at a time when our institutions are fragile.’’

The system needs “radical change,” not “tweaking,” responded Grogan.

Next door in Connecticut, the community colleges will share a state board with the Connecticut State University System, a move that’s not popular with college officials.

“Board consolidation is a trendy idea in some states, particularly when budgets are tight,” notes Inside Higher Ed. Louisiana may merge its higher education boards. A proposal in  Rhode Island would create a single K-12 and higher education board.

Decentralization is on the table in other states, such as Wisconsin, which may separate its flagship university from the rest of the state university system.

Louisiana: CC grads earn more, work more

Louisiana’s associate-degree graduates are more likely to find jobs — at higher pay — than graduates with four-year degrees, according to a state report.

Eighteen months after graduation, 72.5 percent of associate-degree graduates were employed in Louisiana, compared to 59.5 percent of graduates with bachelor’s degrees, 60.5 percent with master’s degrees, 38.3 percent with doctorates and 50.4 percent with professional degrees.

New associate degree holders — many with degrees in medical and technical fields — earned $3,000 a year more than new four-year graduates.

Engineering graduates with bachelor’s degrees were the top earners, starting at almost $57,000.

“In 1970, you could be middle class with a high school diploma or less and the sweat of your brow,” (Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell) said. In 2007, the study shows, only 39 percent of the “middle class” in Louisiana had only a high school education.

. . . “We see the need for a strong community college system,” he said. “Ideally, we’d have 60 percent of our students enrolled in community colleges and 40 percent enrolled in four-year institutions.”

Currently, 56 percent of students are in four-year institutions and 44 percent in community or technical colleges.

Over time, many four-year college graduates will earn more than two-year graduates, Purcell predicted.