Study: Online learning boosts completion

Does Online Learning Help Community College Students Attain a Degree?  Yes, in some cases, concludes research by Peter Shea, an associate professor of education at the State University of New York at Albany.

Online community college students in Virginia and Washington state have higher failure and dropout rates, according to earlier studies by the the Community College Research Center.

Shea, who used to run SUNY’s online education system, found the CCRC’s conclusions “counterintuitive,”  he told Inside Higher Ed. Online education’s flexibility and convenience should help students advance, he believes.

In contrast to the CCRC studies, the Albany research found that students who had enrolled in at least one online course in their first year did not come into college with better academic preparation than did those who took no courses at a distance.

And students who took online courses at a distance were 1.25 times likelier to earn a credential (certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree) by 2009 than were their peers who had not taken any online courses. Those who started college with a goal of attaining a certificate (rather than a bachelor’s degree) and took online courses were 3.22 times as likely to earn a credential than were students who did not take online courses.

Shea used a nationally representative data set, he points out. Virginia and Washington state could be outliers.

Shanna Jaggars, a co-author of the Community College Research Center studies, said the Albany study may include more adult students.  “For older students who are working full-time and have children, the ability to maintain a full-time load by mixing in one or two online courses per semester may outweigh the negative consequences of performing slightly more poorly in each online course they take.”

Online learning reveals generation gap

MOOC enthusiasts should consider a Community College Research Center survey that found many college students want “in-person discussion and on-the-spot feedback,” writes Mandy Zatynski on The Quick and the Ed. There’s a generational divide in online learning separating young students from those 30 and older, she writes.

. . . my brother and I are galaxies apart in terms of technology, even though he’s only six years younger. He has never known a world without computers, while I still remember the awe of searching on the Internet for the first time. He reads news from a screen; I flip through the Sunday paper. In college, he learned on computers in campus labs; I bought textbooks and highlighted relevant passages. I can’t reach my brother by calling him, but if I send a text message, my phone will buzz with an immediate reply.

She sides with the community college students who want to go to brick-and-mortar classrooms, listen to a live human being and ask questions in real-time. But the rising generation of students may prefer the convenience of an online course.

In the survey, students said they were more likely to take “easy” courses online – meaning ones they could teach themselves – but preferred a face-to-face environment for more complicated courses, such as science and foreign language. This speaks to a growing need to move general education curricula online, much like the University System of Georgia does with eCore. Students there can take the first two years of their four-year degree online, before moving into classes on campus required for their major. If more universities moved in this direction, it could streamline articulation agreements and transfer processes for students, ensuring that they wouldn’t lose credit if they decided to switch institutions—as many college students do.

The future of higher education is more likely to blend online and face-to-face coursework than to go all MOOC, Zatynski predicts.

CC enrollments down by 3.1%

College enrollments declined by 1.8 percent in fall 2012 — 3.1 percent at community colleges, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. For-profit colleges took the biggest hit with a drop of 7.2 percent.  Enrollment fell by 0.6 percent at four-year public colleges and universities, and rose by half a percentage point at four-year private nonprofit colleges.

College enrollments typically rise and fall with the unemployment rate, notes Inside Higher Ed.

So the fact that the enrollment boom that colleges enjoyed as the economy tanked in 2008 and 2009 has begun to reverse itself is in many ways to be expected.

But that suggests that the philanthropic and government efforts to get significant numbers of adults to go to college (or to return there) to pursue President Obama’s goal of driving up the number of Americans with a postsecondary credential may not be bearing much fruit.

Enrollment declines were bigger for full-time students, compared to part-timers, and for those aged 24 and older (-3.4 percent) compared to traditional-aged students (-0.7 percent).

Boomers are back in college for retraining

Baby boomers are heading to community colleges for job retraining, reports USA Today.  While people over 50 make up 5 to 6 percent of community college enrollment, according to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the numbers are increasing.

AACC’s Plus 50 Initiative encourages colleges to create programs geared to older students.  When Plus 50 started in 2008 with 13 community colleges, the focus was on enrichment classes. But that changed quickly.

“The timing of the program coincided with the economy tanking,” says Mary Sue Vickers, director of the Plus 50 Initiative. “401(k)s dropped dramatically. Home values dropped. The colleges saw more and more of the people coming were coming for workforce training or retraining.”

So the AACC refocused the program in 2009 on work-related issues and expanded it this year with an additional 11 schools, hoping those schools can be models for the nation’s 2,200 two-year postsecondary institutions.

Older students prefer accelerated programs that can be completed quickly, such as training to be tax return preparers or security officers, says Jerone Gamble, completion coordinator at the College of Central Florida.

“It’s strange being older than your teachers,” says David Reiser, 56, of the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook, Ill. Reiser started Joliet Junior College‘s automotive technology associate’s degree program in January after being laid off last year from his job as a construction estimator.

Colleges try to meet the physical needs of older students. Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, Mass. tells instructors to print syllabi in large type and wear microphones for lectures in big classrooms.


Where the boys are, but the men aren’t

At Community College Dean’s school, 48 percent of students just out of high school are male. Overall, only 38 percent of students are male.

By the time you pass the early twenties, the students are overwhelmingly female. But the fresh-out-of-high-school group is almost even. And to the extent that I’ve seen national statistics, they pretty much tell the same story.

Women will come back to school at any age. But with the guys, if you don’t catch them early, you probably won’t catch them at all.

Men are falling far behind women in formal education. Nearly one in four women had earned a bachelor’s degree by age 23, compared to one in seven men, according to a Labor Department report.

Older students struggle to succeed

Older students are returning to college, hoping to complete degrees that will qualify them for better jobs, reports The Missourian.  But the road to a degree is long and bumpy for mid-life students.

At 36, Roger Smith is a full-time health sciences major at University of Missouri with hopes of a nursing career.  His wife and 19-year-old son are community college students.

Mid-life students such as Smith juggle school projects, homework and midterm exams with household chores, paying bills and putting food on the table. They sit in college classrooms surrounded by 19- and 20-year-olds, then go home to spouses and children of their own. They put themselves in debt, deferring sleep and material luxuries for the promise of more security.

In 2006, an estimated 6.7 million older adults were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. That’s nearly triple the number enrolled in 1970.

A high school graduate, Smith installed water filtering systems until he injured his knee, which required surgery.  He worked as a garbage truck driver, a school bus driver and a semi driver, but recurring knee injuries put him on disability. “No longer able to do hard labor, he wasn’t qualified to do much else,” reports The Missourian.

With four years at a community college, but no degree, Smith enrolled at MU in August 2007. His wife, Aquita, began taking classes at Moberly Area Community College, also studying health sciences, in 2007. She receives a Pell Grant. The Smiths’ oldest son, 19-year-old Rogerick, also is studying at Moberly. Because he’s partially blind, he receives disability funding. The Smiths have two younger children and two elderly parents at home.

Finding time for both school and family or work commitments is one of the biggest challenges for adults returning to school, according to a 2006 study from Capella University, an online university based in Minneapolis.

. . . Aquita Smith has been frustrated that the community college doesn’t seem to accommodate nontraditional students. She sometimes must miss class because of her kids, and this creates problems when professors enforce strict rules about late assignments and don’t post notes online.

“We deal with different stuff than younger students do,” she said.

With both parents in school, there’s less free time for the family, said Rogerick. “I think it’s a good thing, though. They just want us to have what they never had growing up.”

There is no typical college student

The typical college student isn’t typical, reports NPR in an interview with Kathryn McCormick, a single mother, full-time waitress and student in the Physician’s Assistant program at Valencia Community College in Orlando, Florida.

“Sleep is sometimes not an option,” McCormick tells host Neal Conan. She tried college several times in the past 13 years. Now she’s convinced she needs an education to earn a decent living.

Conan asks Education Sector‘s Kevin Carey if Kat McCormick is “our typical college student” today.

CAREY: There are many, many Kat McCormicks in America today. We see students all over the country, particular with a 10 percent unemployment rate, a lot of people going back to college to get credentials to upgrade their skills to be more competitive in the job market. A lot of students who don’t go directly from high school to college, who live their lives for a while, who start families, who have jobs and then eventually decide they need that credential in order to get a good job.

. . . If you go back to the early 1970s, less than half of all students who graduated from high school went on to college. Today, it’s over three-quarters. And the reasons are pretty clear. The gap in earnings between people who have a college degree and people who don’t have one has widened substantially over time.

Some 73 percent of undergraduates don’t fit the stereotype of the full-time student just out of high school, reports the National Center for Education Statistics.