60 credits for a degree? Don’t count on it

Credit creep is making it harder for community college students to complete an associate degree, according to a Complete College America survey. In theory, college students need 60 credits for an associate degree and 120 for a bachelor’s degree, but none of 104 associate degree tracks surveyed had a median requirement of 60 credits or less.

Many associate degrees now require 70 credits or more, notes Inside Higher Ed.

Nate Johnson, a higher education data expert who managed the survey, said he was surprised that half of the community colleges surveyed did not have a single program limited to 60 credits, including general education degrees and those aimed at students who transfer to four-year institutions.

. . . The likely reason for the credit inflation, he said, is a common one in higher education. “People tend to add things without taking anything away.”

Students who change majors often need to take extra courses. Some take more courses to earn credits that will transfer after realizing earlier credits aren’t useful. On average, students who earn an associate degree have racked up 80 credits, according to Complete College America. Many give up before they complete a degree.

Some states — Maryland, Indiana and South Dakota — are setting credit limits for associate degrees. California Gov. Jerry Brown wanted to limit community college students to 90 credits at the low in-state rate, but the Legislature rejected the idea.

Community colleges help train teachers

Community colleges are helping train a new generation of K-12 teachers, reports Community College Week.

Samuel Simpson, 54, a high school math teacher at All City High School in inner-city Rochester, is one of the first fellows of the Community Center for Teaching Excellence (CCTE), which is based at Monroe Community College (New York). “My efforts in doing the kinds of best practices that many people in the education field talk about doing — looking at data, using it to inform instruction, and teaching differently and smarter — have brought significant results,” Simpson said.

Community college educators, university professors, high school teachers and the Center for Governmental Research are collaborating on “high-impact teaching strategies” through CCTE, reports Community College Week.

 A number of fellows incorporated collaborative learning techniques in their classes, such as peer teaching, paired writing and group note-taking, to increase student engagement. A few teachers experimented with integrating 21st-century technology tools into their lessons, such as creating digital versions of their notes with embedded audio and having students contribute to blogs.

MCC Assistant Professor Maria Brandt and a colleague are working with a teacher at Rush-Henrietta Senior High School to create common writing assignments and assessments.

 Focused on improving students’ abilities to read critically and communicate coherently and accurately, they had students write summaries of selected authors’ work and evaluate their own writing at the beginning and middle of the fall semester.

“Through the course of the semester, students in my English 101 class have improved in two areas: their ability to summarize a text and their sense of the importance of reading closely, that you cannot formulate an accurate and responsible argument without understanding the texts involved,” Brandt said. “The students are much more aware now that they need to listen first or read well to grow as readers and writers.”

“Our goal is to better understand the gap between how high school students are performing on average and how first-year college students are performing on average and help them have higher success levels,” Brandt said.

Many schools need science, technology and math teachers.  Community College Week looks at STEM programs at Cerritos College (California) and Rio Salado (Arizona), which belong to the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs (NACCTEP).

Ten Maryland community colleges now offer a fully transferrable associate of arts in teaching degree in secondary math, writes Colleen Eisenbeiser, director of the TEACH Institute at Anne Arundel Community College. Nine offer secondary chemistry and eight offer physics.

Two Maryland community colleges partner with their local school systems “to recruit, prepare, place, and instruct career changers in hard to fill secondary content areas, including math, chemistry, physics, and technical education.” Anne Arundel has helped a variety of career changers become certified teachers, including a computer software engineer, a health information analyst lawyer, a nurse, researchers from a lab that studies the habits of migratory birds and the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a biologist who worked at the National Aquarium and National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

A new way to teach basic skills

Learning Matters TV’s John Tulenko looks at how Maryland community colleges are rethinking remediation.

For-profits face tighter state rules

While new federal rules for for-profit colleges are stalled, for-profit colleges face more state-level regulation, reports Stateline.

Maryland’s Legislature has passed legislation eliminating all state aid to for-profit schools, banning commissions or bonuses for student recruiting, and requiring for-profit schools to contribute to a fund to protect students if any college in their group breaches a contract.  Gov. Martin O’Malley says he’ll sign the bills.

California will restrict for-profit colleges’ eligibility for Cal Grants, state-funded college scholarships.

Nebraska legislators are expected to approve a bill streamlining the regulatory process for all colleges, for-profit or not, and increasing accountability once colleges are approved.

However, tighter controls on the accreditation of for-profit colleges failed this year in North Dakota.

Bills regulating for-profit colleges have been proposed in Arizona, Iowa, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Texas and Utah. In addition, attorneys general in Florida, Illinois, Iowa and Kentucky have launched investigations of for-profit schools.

“It is my job to ensure that businesses — and these schools are businesses — are following Kentucky’s consumer protection laws,” Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway wrote in an op-ed for the Lexington Herald-Leader.


Maryland colleges serve military vets

Maryland is mobilizing to serve military veterans attending community colleges and public universities, reports Community College Times. Colleges have signed the Maryland Campus Compact for Student Veterans pledging to create a “go-to” person or office to help veterans deal with GI Bill paperwork, counseling and other issues.

College of Southern Maryland (CSM), enrolls 456 veterans.

“Following the Marines, I wasn’t getting the job I wanted. I knew I needed to get a degree,” said (Vicente) Chavarria, who enrolled at CSM in January 2010 to begin his pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Chavarria said that the process of applying for and using his GI benefits has been easy for him through CSM’s online services.

“I go onto veterans services on the CSM website to file for my benefits,” Chavarria said. “All paperwork and registration is done electronically, which makes everything easier.”

Now experienced in the benefits process, Chavarria is a work-study student helping CSM advise and process paperwork for other student veterans.

The compact also requires “training for faculty, staff and student leadership to promote greater awareness of veterans’ issues” and encourages campuses to create student veteran organizations to provide peer support.

Two new veterans groups are supporting — and attacking — for-profit colleges, writes Daniel Luzer in  the Washington Monthly’s College Guide.

Veterans who choose to use their GI Bill benefits at for-profit colleges are “discriminating customers” who see  “good value,” writes Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Ryan Berg, founder of Returning Veterans of America, disagrees, arguing that for-profit colleges exploit veterans


More degrees in Maryland

Many more Maryland students will earn associate degrees, pledge community college leaders.  From the Baltimore Sun:

The Maryland Association of Community Colleges, made up of college presidents from the state’s 16 community colleges, signed the pledge to increase the annual number of students earning degrees from two-year colleges by 7,300 students statewide. About 12,000 students currently earn an associate’s degree or program certificate each year.

The goal would enable Maryland to do its part to meet President Obama’s goal of making the U.S. the world’s leading nation in college graduates by 2020.

CC transfers rise in Virginia, Maryland

Thanks to an improved transfer pipeline, public universities in Virginia and Maryland are drawing more community college students, reports the Washington Post.

Community college transfers rose 36 percent in Maryland and 34 percent in Virginia from 2000 to 2008, outpacing overall college enrollment growth in those states. Transfers to the University of Virginia doubled in that time, to more than 280 annually, which represents just under 10 percent of the typical junior class. Transfers were up 17 percent at the University of Maryland, 27 percent at George Mason University and 53 percent at Towson University. Each of them accepts more than 1,000 transfers a year.

Transfer students are three times as likely as freshmen to come from low-income homes.  Many have worked for several years, so they’re older than typical undergraduates. However, they complete a degree at the same rate as others.

In the past, community college students had trouble figuring out which credits would transfer to which universities for which majors.

Maryland higher-education leaders are rolling out new statewide two-year degrees, accepted at every public four-year college. An online database gives community college students the transfer value of each course.

Virginia’s community colleges have worked out transfer agreements with the state’s public universities.

Maryland: Start at community college

Maryland university leaders are telling students to start at community college to save money, reports the Baltimore Sun.

“If we’re going to find a way to keep higher education affordable, community colleges are going to play a very significant role,” says William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the state’s university system.

Maryland’s state university system is creating uniform course requirements to facilitate transfers and “investing grant money to help community colleges keep their students in programs until they complete them,” reports the Sun.

“There’s this transformational thing happening around community colleges,” says Nancy Shapiro, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at the state university system. “They’re probably the most exciting place to be in higher education.”

The university system is seeing more transfers from community colleges. Those who become full-time students graduate at the same rate as students who started as freshmen.

Students who complete teacher education, nursing and engineering programs at two-year colleges are guaranteed junior status at any state university that admits them. (Half of Maryland teachers started at a community college.)  Colleges are trying to develop more majors with a seamless transition.

Other possible lures for transfers include discount-price credits, more flexible schedules designed to mimic those at community colleges and joint admission programs that would guarantee students the chance to move on to specific four-year universities.

With a Lumina Foundation grant, the university system is advising two-year colleges on redesigning remedial math and English composition courses.

Enrollment is surging at community colleges. “In Baltimore County, popular classes meet at 6 a.m. and on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons,” reports the Sun. If more students are persuaded to start at a community college, Maryland will need to provide more funding for instructors and classrooms.