MOOC builds English skills

Getting Ready for College English, a massive open online course (MOOC) that helps students avoid remedial courses has attracted more than 650 students from around the world.

Emily Rosado, who teaches at Montgomery College in Maryland, developed the free course. It includes video lectures, an interactive discussion board and instructor feedback.

Enrollment dips as jobs rebound

As the economy rebounds, community college enrollment has gone from boom to bust. Enrollment is down at community colleges in Maryland and Virginia, reports the Washington Post.

“The truth of the matter is that during the recession, we were the economic recovery plan for a lot of Virginia families,” said Jeffrey Kraus, assistant vice chancellor for public relations for the Virginia Community College System.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that community college enrollment nationwide fell 3 percent in fall 2013, similar to the previous year’s decline.

At Montgomery College, the largest community college in Maryland, enrollment fell by 5 percent. The college is back to the number of students enrolled in 2010.

In Virginia, Southwest Virginia Community College has lost 30 percent of its peak enrollment. However, Northern Virginia Community College — grown by nearly 6 percent.

NVCC President Robert G. Templin Jr. said the school “has made a concerted effort over the last eight or nine years” to reach out to students who might be the first in their families to go to college. Many are from minority, immigrant or low-income families in Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington counties. “We help them navigate the higher education landscape, which is pretty difficult if no one in your family has ever gone,” Templin said.

NVCC also is a major provider of transfer students to the state’s four-year institutions, including nearby George Mason University.

Many people don’t know that certificates or two-year degrees in certain fields can be a steppingstone to a well-paying career, said Jeffrey Kraus, spokesman for the Virginia Community College System.  “We need to go out and be talking to people who otherwise are not hearing the message of higher education,” he said. “Part of it is breaking through that ‘bachelor’s or bust’ mentality that a lot of folks have.”

Enrollment declines have forced Kansas community colleges to cut salaries, benefits and hiring, reports the Kansas City Star.

The economic fall and rise has made budgeting “so unpredictable,” said Johnson County Community College President Joe Sopcich in announcing $3.7 million in budget cuts. “Our projections calling for annual increases in enrollment and state aid (this year) were overly optimistic and unrealistic,” he said.

‘You have ambition, smarts, toughness’

Struggle is educational said Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein in a commencement speech at LaGuardia Community College, reports the New York Times.“You have the ambition, you have the smarts and you have the toughness,” he said.

Mr. Blankfein drew on his own journey – from a housing project in Brooklyn to the top of one of Wall Street’s mightiest firms – to offer life advice.

“My struggle to get to and through college turned out to be an advantage for me,” Mr. Blankfein said in his speech in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. “The disadvantages you have had become part of your personal history and track record, all advantages in your later life. So confidence is justified.”

Goldman Sachs, which is trying to improve its public image, works with LaGuardia to train entrepreneurs as part of the firm’s 10,000 Small Businesses program.

Blankfein grew up in the East New York section of Brooklyn, where his father sorted mail for the post office and his mother worked as a receptionist.  It was a “world of unlimited opportunity,” he told the graduates.

James Hazelrig, who earned a degree at Montgomery College in Maryland, had failed in his first try at college, he said in a commencement speech. He worked, married, became a father, bought a home and decided he would not fail again.

It’s interesting to me that at 20 I had no responsibility and couldn’t manage even a C average, yet at 30, working two part-time jobs while full time parenting, I have found the focus and discipline that allowed me to make the Dean’s List five times and maintain a 4.0 GPA for 70 new credits toward an engineering degree. I will receive my Associate of Science today and, in September, I will be attending a top ten nationally ranked aerospace engineering program at the University of Maryland.

“For those of us who have ever struggled during our academic career, today is just a little bit sweeter knowing how far we’ve come,” he said.

Adjuncts average $2,987 per 3-credit course

Average pay for adjuncts at colleges and universitiesis $2,987 for a three-credit course, reports The Adjunct Project, which is crowdsourcing information on salaries and working conditions. Community colleges pay much less than most four-year universities, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Adjuncts at 16 colleges reported earning less than $1,000.”

Joshua A. Boldt, a writing instructor in Georgia, is working with The Chronicle on a web site that sorts data by department, college, and region of the country.

At top research universities, adjuncts average $4,750 per three-credit course. Adjuncts at rural, medium-sized, two-year institutions, where pay is the lowest, average $1,808 per three-credit course.

In California, where faculty at two- and four-year public institutions are unionized, the average pay is $3,888 per course, according to data reported to the Adjunct Project as of last month. In Texas, by contrast, a state where unions are rare, the reported pay is lower: $2,805 per course.

Salaries are lower in the humanities: Adjuncts who teach English reported earning an average of $2,727 per course.  At Houston Community College, adjuncts average $1,200 to $2,200 for a three-credit English course. The national average for adjuncts who teach engineering is $4,789 per course.

Only 22 percent of adjuncts reported that they were union members. Seventy percent don’t serve on governance committees.

“We’re not compensated when we do that,” Peter Feiden, an adjunct economics professor at Montgomery College, in Maryland, says of part-time faculty members there. He earns about $3,000 per course at Montgomery and about $6,000 per course at Catholic University of America, where he is also an adjunct.

Few adjuncts qualify for health insurance, retirement or other benefits.

About half of all faculty members — 70 percent at community colleges — are part-time adjuncts, estimates a 2010 survey by the American Federation of Teachers. Eighty percent of community college faculty teach part-time, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

Universities keep turning out English PhDs even though there are fewer full-time jobs, writes Mark Bauerlein. That makes it easy to find people to teach freshman composition for low pay and no benefits.

Computer lab replaces math class

A giant math lab staffed by tutors has replaced entry-level math classes taught by professors at Virginia Tech, reports the Washington Post. The model is spreading to other universities and to community colleges.

Students can take self-paced lessons online in their dorm rooms or come to the Math Emporium, where placing a red cup on a monitor summons human assistance. (Tests and quizzes must be taken in the Emporium.)

The Emporium is the Wal-Mart of higher education, a triumph in economy of scale and a glimpse at a possible future of computer-led learning. Eight thousand students a year take introductory math in a space that once housed a discount department store. Four math instructors, none of them professors, lead seven courses with enrollments of 200 to 2,000.

. . .  Virginia Tech students pass introductory math courses at a higher rate now than 15 years ago, when the Emporium was built. And research has found the teaching model trims per-student expense by more than one-third, vital savings for public institutions with dwindling state support.

“When I first came here, I was like, ‘This is the dumbest thing ever,’ ” said Mike Bilynsky, a freshman from Epping, N.H., who is taking calculus. “But it works.”

Montgomery College in Maryland and Northern Virginia Community College have created their own math labs modeled on the Emporium.

The lab format “seems to work best in subjects that stress skill development — such as solving problems over and over,” the Post reports.

Each lesson typically starts with an online lecture or reading passage, then leads to a series of problems. Students receive instant feedback; hints are dispensed and wrong answers explained. The module ends in a quiz. Faculty design every course and have added modest improvements over the years, such as interactive animation and embedded links that hark back to previous lessons.

The lab gives students lots of practice in problem solving and lets students move at their own pace. That’s especially useful for students who are weak in basic skills.

Levy: CC profs are overpaid

College professors aren’t working very hard at community colleges and universities that focus on teaching rather than research, argues David C. Levy in a Washington Post commentary. Now  president of the education group at Cambridge Information Group, Levy is a former university chancellor.

For example, Maryland’s Montgomery College (an excellent two-year community college) reports its average full professor’s salary as $88,000, based on a workload of 15 hours of teaching for 30 weeks. Faculty members are also expected to keep office hours for three hours a week. The faculty handbook states: “Teaching and closely related activities are the primary responsibilities of instructional faculty.” While the handbook suggests other responsibilities such as curriculum development, service on committees and community outreach, notably absent from this list are research and scholarship.

Faculty members teaching 12 to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks spend 360 to 450 hours per year in the classroom and perhaps an equal amount of time preparing for class and grading papers, Levy writes. That puts their workload at 36 to 45 percent of the hours non-academic professionals.

If the higher education community were to adjust its schedules and semester structure so that teaching faculty clocked a 40-hour week (roughly 20 hours of class time and equal time spent on grading, preparation and related duties) for 11 months, the enhanced efficiency could be the equivalent of a dramatic budget increase. Many colleges would not need tuition raises or adjustments to public budget priorities in the near future.

“Montgomery College’s dedicated faculty members . . . mentor, counsel, advise and more,” responds DeRionne P. Pollard, president of Montgomery College, in a letter to the editor. “They spend untold hours preparing lessons, addressing the different learning styles of students, developing and measuring learning outcomes, and updating and revising curricula to ensure a meaningful learning experience. … Judging them merely on the number of hours they spend in the classroom is like judging surgeons on the number of hours they’re in the operating room or judging attorneys on the time they spend in the courtroom.”

Professors spend three hours preparing for one hour in the classroom, plus extra hours advising students and serving on committees, claims Marybeth Gasman, a professor at a research university.

Is this the norm for community college professors?

 

‘Occupy MoCo’ is summer school class

Maryland’s Montgomery College will host “Occupy MoCo!”, a two-week summer school class for high school students.

“People all over the planet are taking democracy into their own hands and working together to create solutions for a better world,” reads the course description for YOU392.

“Take advantage of this interactive opportunity to learn critical thinking skills that will help you in college and gain insight into becoming a global leader of the 21st century. Learn about the Occupy Wall Street movement and explore real-life human rights implications. Review social justice concepts and explore human rights issues related to current events. Young people hold the power to change their community, their schools, their future — are you ready to join the movement for justice?”

The class “does not take a stance on the Occupy movement,” asserts Elizabeth Homan, the college’s director of communications. Students “will participate in role-playing, read newspapers, and learn how people voice opinions in the community,” but will not take any field trips, Homan said in an email to FoxNews.com.

After publicity generated complaints about indoctrination, Montgomery College changed the course description. The new one  is here:

Around the world, growing numbers of people are making their voices heard. This class provides a unique, creative opportunity to discuss social issues and protests in the past and present. What are the frustrations behind them? How are they portrayed? How do you evaluate what you hear? We need to be savvy consumers of information, to learn how to question and evaluate, and, how and when to voice our positions.

The “interactive” class promises to develop insights into leadership and critical thinking skills.