Not ready for college: Will Common Core help?

Washington state hopes the switch to Common Core standards will cut the college remediation rate, reports the Seattle Times. A majority of community college students fail college placement tests, especially in math. The new standards claim to prepare students for college and careers.

The Washington Student Achievement Council, a new state agency, wants to test 11th graders for college readiness using the new Common Core-aligned tests. Students could use 12th grade to get up to the college level.

But some warn about linking a college readiness strategy to Common Core.

“I think waiting on the Common Core, given the politics that have developed around that now, is a pretty risk strategy for linking K-12 and higher ed,” said Penn researcher Joni Finney, one of the authors of a report that makes a long list of recommendations for improving higher-education outcomes in Washington. Finney praised the state of Texas for developing its own rigorous 11th-grade tests, and starting to beta-test the exams now.

Gene Sharratt, the executive director of WSAC, argues that Common Core is being well-received in Washington. The state is working with the Smarter Balance Consortium to develop 11th-grade tests, which are expected to be ready for beta testing in the 2015-16 school year.

Sharratt sees a slightly different risk ahead. His worry: That colleges may decide Common Core standards do not align with their requirements for college-level subjects. Even if students pass the 11th-grade tests, they still may need to take developmental classes in college.

In Maryland, community college leaders also hope Common Core standards will reduce the need for remediation, reports the Baltimore Sun.

Harford Community College faculty have been working with high school teachers to write learning objectives and lesson plans based on the new standards.

Core-aligned tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC, will replace state exams. PARCC evaluates 11th graders’ college readiness, so they have a year to catch up. The PARCC exam eventually could be used as a community college placement exam, replacing Accuplacer.

Maryland legislates college readiness, completion

Maryland’s college readiness and completion law is shaking up the state’s education system, reports Paul Fain in Inside Higher Ed. The comprehensive law, passed six months ago, affects the K-12 system, community college and state universities.

The measure requires high schools to test students on their college readiness — in both math and English — before they finish their junior years. By 2015 high schools will need to create “transition” courses for students that are deemed unprepared for college-level courses in those subjects.

On the higher education side, public institutions in the state must require students to complete at least one credit-bearing, non-remedial math and English course as part of the first 24 credits they earn.

Community college leaders are optimistic the measures will help improve student success rates. Nearly all their “suggested amendments were adopted in the final version,” writes Fain.

Some 44.4 percent of Maryland adults held an associate degree or higher in 2009. Legislators hope to raise that to at least 55 percent by 2025.

The legislation requires public, four-year institutions to accept more credits that students earn at Maryland community colleges. And it will make both community colleges and four-year institutions be more thrifty with their programmatic degree requirements. Under the law, four-year institutions must set a limit of 120 credits for bachelor’s degrees, with some exceptions. Likewise, most associate degree programs will be 60 credits.

In Maryland community college graduates were accumulating an average of 75 credits to earn a degree in 3.8 years.

The law requires high schools to pay most of the cost for up to four dual enrollment courses. That’s expected to boost the number of high school students taking college courses.

CCs cancel cheap health insurance

Many “students have found themselves in health care limbo this semester,” reports CBS New York. “Community colleges in New Jersey used to offer cheap health insurance for hundreds of dollars a year” but cancelled coverage because the new federal health care law bans barebones policies.

Upgrading the college’s plan to meet Obamacare rules would cost “more than a thousand dollars per student,”  said Stephen Nacco, a vice president at Union County Community College.

Students like Carlos Arias depended on the low-cost health care.

“I’m kind of healthy right now but I am worried that when something happens I’m not going to go to the hospital,” Arias said.

If students can sign up for Obamacare, many should qualify for subsidized policies. So far, few have been able to navigate the web site. Younger students may be insured on their parents’ health plans.

Community colleges in Maryland are cutting adjuncts’ hours to avoid paying for health insurance, reports the Baltimore Sun. Employers must provide insurance to workers who average 30 hours a week or more.

Cash-strapped community colleges in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Howard and Prince George’s counties, among other places, have pre-emptively limited adjuncts’ hours, starting this year. Expanding health coverage to such instructors would cost schools across the state $17 million, officials at the Maryland Association of Community Colleges estimated.

Community colleges in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and other states also have limited adjuncts’ work hours.

In Maryland, most adjuncts make less than $2,500 per course, which means less than $23,000 a year under the new limits.

Art history instructor Amy Poff can teach no more than three classes per semester at the Community College of Baltimore County this year. Poff, who also teaches at Harford Community College, has added a class at Howard Community College.

Immigrants learn English, job skills

Maryland community colleges have added English as a Second Language and GED programs to serve a growing number of immigrant students.

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At Prince George’s Community College’s (PGCC) International Education Center, health care careers is the most popular program for immigrant students. But many need to improve their English. “PGCC and four other community colleges in Maryland created an accelerated program—modeled on Washington state’s I-Best program—that provides language and skills training,” reports Community College Times.

In addition to Latinos, PGCC draws students from Africa and other countries.

About 25 percent of the nation’s 6.5 million degree-seeking community college students were foreign born in 2004-05, according to a U.S. Education Department report​.

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.