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.

‘Gainful employment’ rules are ‘awful’

The new “gainful employment” rules are “awful,” “unfair and discriminatory,” writes Richard Vedder on Minding the Campus. An Ohio University economist, Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

The gainful employment rules apply to vocational programs at career colleges (primarily for-profit) and community colleges. If the goal is to stop wasting government money,”why not scrutinize students majoring in, for example, sociology, from Wayne State University?” asks Vedder. “Only 10 percent of students graduate in four years at Wayne State, and over twice as many default on loans as graduate in that time span.”

Moreover, while dropouts and loan defaults are high at many for-profits, when one corrects for the socioeconomic and academic characteristics of the students, the findings are decidedly more mixed. For example, the for-profits have roughly double the proportion of African-American students as do other institutions, and black students disproportionately come from low-income homes with high incidence of college attrition.

. . . I happen to disagree fundamentally with the “college for all” approach of the Obama Administration, but if you are going to pursue it, why attack the very providers who most aggressively are trying to help meet your goals? The for-profits disproportionately enroll poor first-generation students, and who are members of minorities. Moreover, accounted for properly (including state subsidies for public schools, taxes paid by for-profits, etc.), the for-profits use fewer of society’s resources per student.

The six-year completion rate for students at two-year for-profit colleges is 62.4 percent, the National Student Clearinghouse reports. At community colleges, which also enroll many disadvantaged students, the completion rate is 39.9 percent.

Finally, the “gainful employment” regulations say a borrower shouldn’t have to spend more than 12 percent of total income (20 to 30 percent of so-called discretionary income) to repay student loans. A person earning $35,000 a year with $4,800 annual loan repayments would not be considered gainfully employed. “If the individual in question went from a $20,000 job before going to school to a $35,000 job with a $4,800 loan commitment, that person has advanced considerably,” Vedder argues.

Repeal the Higher Education Act and “radically rethink federal provision of aid to students,” he concludes.

Students at a community college in rural Texas may lose all access to federal aid, including Pell Grants, because of a new regulation on defaults, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Colleges try to recruit, retain black men

Community colleges are developing programs to recruit and retain black men, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. At the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco, Marilyn Riley described Mesa Community College‘s summer program for high school students.

To help familiarize students with support services like advising and tutoring, groups of students are sent off with a list of a half-dozen offices with instructions to interview someone there and report back to the class.

. . . Students take two required courses during the summer, each of which earns them three college credits. One covers basic college-success skills, like time management and study techniques.

About half the participants end up enrolling at the Arizona community college.

“African-American Pride and Awareness” tries to persuade black males they belong on campus  and “can control their own destiny,”  said Karen Hardin, chair of the counseling department.   Successful graduates are recruited as peer mentors.

LaTonya Jones, a student adviser at Houston Community College, described its community-service and bonding activities for black men. On Chivalry Day, Men of Honor participants tutor local schoolchildren, wear their club shirts and ties and pass out carnations to women. Jones is working on a plan to gear college classes to the needs of black men.

An economics class, for instance, might cover financial planning for black men, while a history or English class would encompass black history and literature.

“If we can get them through the core,” she said, “they’ll graduate.”

Black men often lack the confidence to speak up in class, said San Diego State Professor J. Luke Wood, who runs the Minority Male Community College Collaborative.  In addition, “a lot of men are reluctant to ask for help because it makes them look weak,” he said.

AACC lists 77 minority-male success programs on its Web site, but Wood estimates there are 70 more.

Georgia boosts black male enrollment, graduation

Black male college enrollment rose by 80 percent in Georgia from 2002 to 2011, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Black males earned nearly 60 percent more college degrees and the six-year graduation rate increased to 40 percent for black males who started college in 2005, “an 11 percentage-point uptick since the program’s inception.” The African-American Male Initiative, a statewide program, reported its results at the American Council on Education’s annual meeting.

At the College of Coastal Georgia . . .  incoming black male freshmen can take part in a “Summer Bridge & Go” program, which includes eight weeks of advanced instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics, and a chance to connect with campus mentors.

Columbus State University, meanwhile, offers Projecting Hope, which aims to help black male students from rural areas. Georgia Highlands College has a first-year experience program for black males by way of the Georgia Highlands African-American and Minority Male Excellence organization.

The ACE discussion of boosting minority success also featured the Academy for College Excellence, a program for “struggling but strong” community-college students that began at Cabrillo College in California, and North Carolina A&T University’s Middle College, a single-sex public high school for male students on the university’s Greensboro campus.

Colleges collaborate on remedial ed

Colleges with many minority students are restructuring remedial education as part of Lumina Foundation’s Models of Success program, reports Rethinking Remedial Education. Minority-serving institutions are collaborating to improve instruction, revamping placement systems and improving student services.

California State University, Monterey Bay partnered with Cabrillo College and Hartnell College to create the Collaborative Alliance for Postsecondary Success (CAPS). CAPS has brought together about 10 faculty representatives from each campus to regularly exchange best practices and collectively develop innovative courses for students enrolled in remedial math and writing.

. . . Montana’s Salish Kootenai College (SKC) partnered with fellow Tribal College and University, Fort Peck Community College, to . . . identify the factors that contribute to the retention and success of American Indian postsecondary students who required remedial coursework in mathematics and English.

The Lumina MSI-Models of Success program focuses on improving  first-generation students, low-income students and students of color.

Equal access, but less success

More students are starting — and completing — college, according to Replenishing Opportunity in America, an Education Trust report on its Access to Success Initiative. “Improvements are driven largely by African-American, Latino, American-Indian and low-income students.”

At community colleges, low-income and minority students are well represented.  At four-year institutions, the access gap for low-income freshmen has been cut in half, but there’s been little progress for black and Hispanic students.

When it comes to success, the report is not as positive.

Success rates at two-year colleges remain low, and gaps persist. Four-year institutions have made gains, improving graduation rates for all students. But success among low-income students and students of color has not yet moved fast enough to begin closing the completion gaps.

The gap in college attainment rates between white students and students of color is bigger now than it was in the 1970s, Ed Trust warns.

Open admissions vs. completion agenda

Community colleges’ historic open admissions agenda could be threatened by the push to increase completion rates, warns the American Association of Community Colleges in a policy brief, Why Access Matters. The easiest way to raise graduation rates is to turn away poorly prepared students. But that would be a mistake, the brief argues.

Community colleges enroll many high-risk students, including many minority and low-income students.

. . . a focus on completion has the potential to influence just who is allowed to take advantage of educational opportunities. In policy conversations, especially those concerned with policies related to access and choice, there is a silent movement to redirect educational opportunity to “deserving” students.

Colleges and universities “that provide the broadest swath of opportunity must be incentivized to continue providing access,” the brief argues. “Access to college, for everyone, matters.”

Beyond good and evil

For-profit colleges aren’t inherently evil — or good, writes Michael Horn, co-founder of the Innosight Institute in an American Enterprise Institute paper, Beyond Good and Evil.

The U.S. government has tied dollars to its goal of expanding access to higher education, Horn writes. For-profits have responded by expanding access.

Corrupt practices can occur at non-profit as well as for-profit colleges, he argues. It’s not the business model that makes the difference. What matters is whether colleges are “delivering on what society is paying them to do.” And “is the law asking them to do the right thing?”

The U.S. Education Department is close to finalizing “gainful employment” regulations that would cut off  loans to career training programs whose graduates have high debt and default rates.  It’s expected to hit the for-profit sector hard. If extended to the historically black colleges, 93 percent would fail the gainful employment test, said Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, at an event organized by Lanny Davis, a for-profit higher education lobbyist.

Alford and Mario H. Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, called for a study of the rule’s impact on low-income and minority students, who disproportionately attend for-profit career colleges.  Jesse Jackson issued a separate statement also calling for an impact study.

Early college high schools show promise

Early college high school graduates are earning college credits and coping with college challenges, reports Jobs for the Future, which runs the Early College High School Initiative.

There are 230 early college high schools with 50,000 students in 28 states. Seventy-five percent partner with community colleges to enable students to earn college credits while working toward a high school diploma; others partner with four-year institutions or with both two-year and four-year colleges.

Seventy percent of students are racial or ethnic minorities, while 59 percent come from low-income families. Many will be the first in their families to go to college. Despite this, early-college students are much more likely to earn a high school diploma and somewhat more likely to go straight to college, compared to other students, reports Jobs for the Future in Unconventional Wisdom: A Profile of the Graduates of Early College High School.

In 2009, 24 percent of graduates who were enrolled in their early college school for four years earned an associate’s degree or two years of college credit; 44 percent earned at least a year of college credit.

A second report, Early College Graduates: Adapting, Thriving, and Leading in College found graduates of Wallis Annenberg High School in Los Angeles and the Dayton Early College Academy in Ohio were adapting well to college challenges.

They had learned coping strategies in high school that encouraged them to reach out for help from teachers, use campus resources such as writing centers, and maintain just enough work hours not to overwhelm their studies.

These students were also quick to assume leadership roles on and off campus and the early college experience appeared to inform students’ thinking about their focus in college, the research team concluded.

Accelerating College Readiness Lessons from North Carolina highlighted five design principles for model schools:

Each staff member embraces responsibility for preparing every student for college success; teachers use a consistent set of instructional strategies proven to accelerate learning; students receive intensive and individualized supports to overcome academic barriers; students are coached to take full ownership of their learning over time; and staff collaboration extends beyond institutional borders.

A report on Texas, which has 44 early college schools, found graduates at two school earned about $6,220 per student in college scholarships.

Closing the graduation gap

Universities brag about recruiting minority students, but what about graduating them? The college graduation gap for blacks and Hispanics is disturbing, reports Education Trust.

At private institutions, 73.4 percent of white students earned their degrees within six years, while only 54.7 percent of black students and 62.9 percent of Hispanic students made it through the schools they started.

Some colleges and universities have closed the graduation gap, such as Georgia State and University of Miami.  Others show huge gaps: University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee graduates 17.9 percent of blacks, 26.1 percent of Hispanics and 46.1 percent of whites.