It all started, Ginny Donohue says, when a friend of her daughter sought advice on how to get into college.
He was chronically homeless, living from couch to couch. She pointed him in the right direction and helped him through the bureaucratic hoops to get into Cayuga Community College.
Then she helped a few more people, and a few more after that, and her reputation began to grow.
“People started stopping me in the grocery store to say, ‘Are you the lady that got Jack in?’ ” she said.
Eventually, Donahue quit her finance job and started the nonprofit, which has expanded from Syracuse to Utica and now New York City.
Program employees and volunteers take On Point’s clients on college visits, help them with their applications and financial aid forms and keep in close contact with them throughout their college careers, transporting them back and forth and visiting frequently to make sure they’re able to stay on track.
Eighty-four percent of On Point clients who went to two-year colleges went on to earn bachelor’s degrees or were in the process of doing so, a Syracuse University study found. Those who began in four-year colleges all completed their degrees within 4½ years.
On Point workers visit students twice a semester at four-year schools, every month at two-year schools, every week at Mohawk Valley Community College and New York City community colleges, and twice a week at Onondaga Community College.
Starting college can be difficult for adult students, who often have rusty academic skills. Zane State College (ZSC) in Ohio has developed a pre-enrollment program that offers “cultural and social supports, computer literacy and academic skills-building,” reports Community College Daily.
QuickStart, which is free to students, is helping students avoid remedial courses. Of the 56 percent who complete the program, 60 percent are able to start in college-level reading and 40 percent in college-level composition.
Three other Ohio community colleges have adopted QuickStart.
QuickStart participants can earn three credits by mastering basic math and writing skills. They’re ready to “hit the ground running” when they officially enroll at ZSC, said Becky Ament, dean of developmental education. “It lowers the stakes for adult learners, easing concerns about failure,” she said.
Originally designed in an online format, QuickStart was adapted when students said they preferred face-to-face interaction, said Ament. “When you’re trying to build someone’s confidence, that encouragement and praise and mentoring is so important.”
It’s time to “boldly go” beyond the credit hour, writes Allen Goben, president of Heartland Community College in Illinois. In a series of meetings, Goben asked faculty, continuing education professionals and education, business and industry leaders to imagine starting a higher education system from scratch. They suggested replacing credit hours with assessment of learning outcomes. Students could “stack” learning modules, courses, certificates and degrees as they move toward their goals.
• A robust learning and prior learning assessment structure would be developed . . . Students who already have certain knowledge or skills would be allowed to move on to other learning experiences . . .
• If needed, lower testing fees would be used to document already-acquired knowledge and skills while comparatively higher fees would be charged for full instruction and instructional support, so that people and organizations offering these services would be able to sustain themselves.
• A thorough career and interest inventory and advising structure would fuel all goal setting, planning and monitoring, as well as adjustments in student learning and progress toward eventual career, college and life success.
• A tremendous mentoring program would anchor the approach where classroom efforts, lab experiences and self-guided tutorials would be complemented by apprenticeships, internships and one-on-one and/or small group mentoring.
• All of education would be built around the learner and learning needs, and this would require a high degree of interaction and personalization as each learner’s needs were explored and supported.
If higher education were based on learning outcomes, there’d be no need for the traditional “silos of liberal arts, career/technical/vocational education, allied health and continuing education,” concludes Goben.
We need to streamline the path to higher education by making it easier for community college students to transfer, writes Brian C. Mitchell, director of the Edvance Foundation, in the Huffington Post.
The vast majority of incoming community college students plan to earn a four-year degree, yet just 29 percent will transfer and only 16 percent will go on to earn a bachelors degree or higher, Mitchell writes. By contrast, 60 percent who start at a four-year institutions will earn a bachelor’s degree.
Edvance’s Nexpectation Network will work on building pathways that enable students to move from community college to a bachelor’s degree to the workforce. That starts with preparing students for the academic challenges ahead. Transfer students will need “the capacity to speak well, work cooperatively, write, apply quantitative methods, and use technology,” Mitchell writes. If community colleges do their part, four-year colleges and universities must commit to reserving openings for transfers and supporting their success.
. . . we need to identify students likely to seek a four-year degree as early as possible . . . Students and their families must be encouraged to “imagine the possible” as they plan their postsecondary education. Counselors — especially a new group of success counselors paid for through savings recovered as the recruitment costs per student decrease at four-year schools — must work through economic, familial, social and cultural barriers to find “best fit” transfer schools and tap into the $18 billion in institutional aid available each year.
Students who never made it through high school usually don’t make it through community college. But Florida’s Santa Fe College is improving the odds through a mentoring program for GED students called Pathways to Persistence.
Fifty-five percent of GED students drop out of community college in their first year, Pathways founder Angela Long tells Community College Times.
Pathways offers support through hand-picked mentors—Long chooses a match based on initial scholar interviews—who range from professors to administrators or other college staff, plus a crew of volunteer peers from college organizations for tutoring assistance.
. . . “The goal is to make GED students feel so special that they have an impact on the country and to give them a voice to tell us what is working in education, what has failed them, and how we can make it better,” Long says.
. . . Mentors meet with assigned mentees at least once a week the first month of the program, and every other week thereafter, following assigned topics that include how to pick classes and talk about financial assistance. Mentees also attend a weekly 3-credit course in the fall semester and attend leadership seminars and luncheons with key SFC members.
Thirty students started in last fall and another 20 joined in spring 2012. More than half earned a 3.0 GPA or higher.
Colleges and universities need to strengthen support systems to ensure reverse transfer students don’t stall, writes Mandy Zatynski on The Quick and the Ed. Some 14 percent of four-year college students transfer to a two-year college, according to a recent study.
Students who have reverse-transferred report doing so for a multitude of reasons: to save money, to change career goals, to adopt a new learning environment, or in response to life-changing events, such as a newborn baby or a death in the family. The community college campus, with its low-cost degrees and certificates that are almost certainly linked to specific skill sets and jobs, addresses many of those concerns.
But many don’t achieve their goals. About one third of reverse transfers will return to a four-year institution, a third persist in community college and a third drop out, the study found.
Reverse transfer students need help to navigate the obstacles along the way, writes Zatynski.
First and foremost, articulate and streamline transfer processes, so students lose as few credits as possible and are not stuck in courses they’ve already taken—a process known as “swirling” that often leads to dropping or stopping out.
Work closely with reverse transfer students before (and after) they make a decision. Sketch out a long-term plan, with the student’s end goal, so the student can see the impact of their decision to transfer—and likely prolong the time to degree completion. Are there other options?
Connect transfer students with appropriate counseling and mentoring services, particularly if a life-changing event or other obstacle has forced the student to a local, two-year institution. These services will be crucial in helping the students balance life and school.
Help students who want to return to a four-year institution get there. Direct them to general education courses that are transferrable; ensure that they are not wasting time in courses that won’t count later.
Serve the all-important mentoring role, particularly for those students who come to a two-year institution because of the smaller, more personalized learning environment. Providing that contact and relationship can give a student identity on a large college campus.
With growing concerns about high college costs, reverse transferring could be “a logical and practical solution for a growing number of today’s college students,” Zatynski concludes.
More California Latinos are graduating from college, according to a state profile by Excelencia in Education. The number of Latinos earning undergraduate degrees grew by 13 percent in the state between 2006 and 2008, while other groups saw an 8 percent increase.
However, the college gap is large: Only 16 percent of Latino adults are college graduates, compared to 39 percent of all working-age adults in the state.
Some 75 percent of Latino college students are enrolled in community colleges, which have low graduation rates. Looking just at first-time, full-time college students, the Latino completion rate is 35 percent, compared to 47 percent for similar white students, the profile found.
Several pilot programs are boosting Latino success rates, Excelencia notes.
The group suggests that California policy makers focus on closing the gap through programs that provide institutional support for community-college students transferring to four-year institutions, like the University of California’s Puente Project, or peer and faculty mentoring, such as California State Polytechnic University’s Science Educational Enhancement Services.
“A combination of low college enrollment coupled with low college completion rates spells disaster for Latinos and the California economy precisely at a time when we are predicted to face a shortage of one million more college graduates by 2025,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of Campaign for College Opportunity, in response to the Excelencia report.
The campaign recommends expanding Early Commitment to College, which tells middle-school students about college opportunities and financial aid, funding state colleges and universities to serve the growing Latino young adult population and improving transfer pathways between community colleges and the California State University system.
“Current Latino college completion rates are an urgent call to action. The young and growing Latino population can spell long-term economic prosperity for California if smart investments and reforms are made today,” said Siqueiros.
“In some ways, mentoring is just good teaching,” said Will Benedicks, a professor of history at Tallahassee Community College, as part of a panel at the American Historical Association meeting in Boston. From Inside Higher Ed:
At its best, mentoring should be tailored to each student, and be open, honest and direct, the panelists said. Benedicks described how he shares with his students his own life story as a Vietnam veteran who returned to college at 30 — when he was ready to do so. It is a way to show struggling traditional-age students that they need to think about college in the context of their life’s path. “For many students, you are the first adult-to-adult relationship that they’ve had,” said Benedicks. “Essentially, mentoring at a community college is helping students establish the template for their academic career — somewhere else.”
Faculty members are seldom rewarded by their colleges for mentoring students, the panelists agreed. Instructors may feel a deep sense of satisfaction, but shouldn’t expect a raise or a favorable tenure decision.
Children who grow up in foster care often drop out of high school; few earn a college degree. In the Los Angeles area, five school districts are trying to support the academic success of foster children, reports Education Week.
The Education Pilot Program, which includes tutors and mentors, won a high rating in the federal Investing in Innovation, or i3, competition.
Sarah Mitchell, an 18-year-old who has been part of the foster system since age 5, said she was starting to get lost before entering the program in Pomona.
. . . She started to fall behind in sophomore year, and fell further behind after transferring to Pomona High School and missing the first two weeks of junior year.
Ms. Mitchell said she focused less on grades than on fitting in as a new student until Rocio Angeles-De Loera, the district social worker assigned to her high school, showed up at her house.
“Rocio came over to my house, and we went over a goal sheet of everything I wanted to achieve, both long-term goals and short-term goals, and how I could maintain my focus on graduating,” she said. “That was when I thought, ‘OK, I want to go to college,’ and I started buckling down and doing the right thing. She was always pushing me.”
Mitchell was able to make up credits in a special summer school, putting her back on track for graduation.
A preliminary evaluation by the Casey Family Foundation found that more than 90 percent of seniors participating in the program graduate, compared with one-third of foster students not in the program in Los Angeles County, and that more than 80 percent have enrolled in college, compared with 15 percent of foster students statewide. By the end of the 2009-10 school year, 100 percent of participating students had passed the portions of the California High School Exit Exam required for graduation.
Mitchell now attends a Pomona community college, Mt. San Antonio College. She hopes to become a cardio-thoracic surgeon.