Boston colleges will ‘blend’ with edX

Two Boston community colleges will partner with edX, Harvard and MIT’s online learning venture, on a “blended” class, reports the Harvard Crimson.

Beginning in spring, Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown and MassBay Community College’s greater Boston campuses will offer a modified version of edX’s “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming,” an online class based on MIT’s introductory computer science course.

Community college professors will provide classroom instruction and support, while three MIT professors will teach the online course.

The Gates Foundation is supporting the collaboration with a million-dollar grant.

“At the end of the day, the purely online experience doesn’t capture the in-person interaction that we all care about,” said Anant Agarwal, edX president and an MIT professor.

EdX currently offers nine online courses open to hundreds of thousands of students around the world.  Agarwal plans to offer more blended courses, particularly at community colleges.

Obama puts college costs on agenda

Rising college costs was on the agenda this week, when President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan met with college leaders at the White House. Most were chancellors of large state university systems, but Thomas Snyder of Ivy Tech Community College was invited along with the presidents of the three nonprofits, the all-online Western Governors University, Carnegie Mellon and Berea College.

New financial aid policies to encourage completion were discussed, said Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, who also testified before Rep. Virginia Foxx’s committee on streamlining college costs.

. . . there seemed to be some consensus at the White House meeting that the federal government should develop policies on financial aid, its biggest tool, to spur a higher graduation rates, whether by limiting the number of semesters for which students could receive aid, requiring them to attend full-time, or doling out aid bit by bit to discourage students from dropping out mid-semester, or other approaches.

Requiring full-time attendance to qualify for Pell Grants would have a huge impact on community college students.

College leaders also talked about the importance of linking colleges with K-12 education and the potential for technology to cut costs.

“If we’re going to address the 37 million adults with some college and no degree, we can’t just tweak the existing model,” said Robert W. Mendenhall of Western Governors University, an online nonprofit university. “Mostly in higher education, technology is an add-on cost that doesn’t change the model at all. We need to fundamentally change the faculty role, and use technology to do the teaching.”

Larry D. Shinn, the president of Berea College, did not disagree. “We’re structured in a 19th-century model, but I think we all know now that blended learning, combining technology and classroom learning, can let us educate for less cost,” he said. “The question is how we get there from here.”

“Technology can help us educate more students faster and better.”said Jared L. Cohon, the president of Carnegie Mellon, which has developed online classes used at other universities.

No for-profit colleges made the guest list.

Open-access universities and community colleges have the most experience in controlling costs, writes Jonathan Gibralter, president of Frostburg State in Maryland.

President Obama plans to continue to talk about the problem of college affordability, which was spotlighted by the Occupy protests.

A new job training model

A new model for job training combines a curriculum designed by a private company, online tutorials and four weeks of community college classes, writes Ed Sector’s Kevin Carey.

Joe Kitterman’s company, 180 Skills, has partnered with Boeing and Edmonds Community College, in the northern suburbs of Seattle, to teach airplane manufacturing skills. The 12-week program starts with online classes designed by 180 Skills.

In the first eight weeks, students work full time through self-paced courses, learning core concepts in manufacturing processes, terms of art, and the kinds of machines used in Boeing plants. Virtual simulations developed by 180 Skills teach students exactly how to use sophisticated manufacturing equipment.

Students sit for a series of proctored exams, and if they pass with a score of at least 90 percent, they earn two technical certificates. Then they move on to a final four weeks of live instruction conducted by Edmonds. The whole course costs $4,800, and students emerge with 27.5 college credits. In the first year of the program, which started in 2010, the vast majority of enrollees graduated and moved on to job interviews at Boeing.

Kitterman, a former factory manager, had tried in-factory training, but concluded it was expensive and ineffective. Community college classes also didn’t work well for factory workers, who were embarrassed to speak up in class when they didn’t understand the material. Kitterman turned to online training to get workers started on learning new skills before they move on to classroom instruction. The online training also ensures that students are ready to take advantage of the college’s expensive equipment, Carey writes.

Boeing has hired more than 75 percent of the program’s 424 graduates.


College creates program for working adults

Adults will full-time jobs can get on the fast track to a degree at Cañada College, south of San Francisco, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The Working Adults program will help participants earn an associate degree from the community college in two or three years by allowing them to take online courses and attend classes on Thursday nights and Saturdays, organizers said.

“Every credit earned in this program is transferable to public and private colleges and universities,” Sarah Perkins, Cañada’s vice president of instruction, said in a news release. “Students will follow a predetermined plan of classes, (which will eliminate) guesswork about degree and transfer requirements.”

Students will earn a two-year degree with an emphasis in social and behavioral science or the humanities. That will prepare them to earn a bachelor’s degree in education, law, business and other fields.


CCs use online classes as ‘cash cow’

Community colleges see online classes as a “cash cow,” charges Rob Jenkins, a professor at Georgia Perimeter College, on Chronicle of Higher Education. Community college leaders have embraced online education with religious fervor, he writes. Nobody argues that they’re consistently better in teaching students or that students are clamoring for them, though parents, full-time workers and military personnel find them convenient. “It’s because colleges can produce online courses much more cheaply while charging roughly the same tuition.”

Critics of the online rush will be branded as heretics, he writes.  Yet studies show lower success rates in online courses compared to face-to-face classes. Clearly, online learning has limitations.

Several years ago, his college tried to place an entire associate degree online. But what about public speaking?

Conventional wisdom back then dictated that you couldn’t really teach a speech course online. To whom would the students give their speeches? How would they collectively become engaged as audiences or learn to analyze the speeches of others, as they do in a traditional classroom? I sided with the establishment. Speech, I decided, was just one of those courses that students would have to come to campus to take.

That is, until one of the faculty members in my department took it upon herself to solve the problem, through a combination of strategies that required students to videotape themselves, give speeches in front of church, school, or civic organizations, and observe and evaluate similar speeches by others. Her online public-speaking course became the template not just for our college but for the entire state system.

An online speech course isn’t as good as a face-to-face class, Jenkins writes. But, done well, it’s almost as good — and that’s a godsend for students who can’t attend college in a traditional way.

But that doesn’t mean all students can succeed in online courses.

Teaching at another college some years ago, he proposed testing students to see if they can handle online courses, just as they’re tested to see if they’re ready for college-level math and writing. He was shot down. Online enrollment had to keep growing to balance the budget.

Online enrollments across the country are strong and growing, while success rates stay about the same: abysmal. I attended a session at the “Innovations 2011″ conference a couple of months ago, held in San Diego by the League for Innovation in the Community College, where I learned that some colleges were beginning to experiment with the kinds of controls I recommended. Software companies now market products designed to determine, up front, whether students can handle the workload, the pedagogical approach (heavy on reading), and the technical demands of the online environment, and some of those products have shown promise. That sort of approach just makes a world of sense.

But many colleges won’t do it, because they’re afraid of losing enrollment, Jenkins writes.

I’d like us to be more honest with students. . . . Online courses require a tremendous amount of self-discipline and no small amount of academic ability and technical competence. They’re probably not for everyone, and I think we need to acknowledge as much to students and to ourselves.

Soon, most courses will have an online component.  Hybrid courses, combining face-to-face and virtual elements, are the future, he writes. But not everything can be taught well online.

Online classes aren’t a cash cow, writes Community College Dean. Some 81 percent of community colleges cap online class enrollments so students can have contact with the instructor.

CCs do more with less

Community college leaders say they’re trying to educate more students with less money, according to a Campus Computing Project survey released at the meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges in New Orleans.

Sixty-nine percent of community college presidents and district chancellors reported higher enrollment and 58 percent reported cuts in their operating budgets, notes Inside Higher Ed.

In his keynote address Saturday, AACC President Walter Bumphus said community colleges should speak “with one voice” and refuse to be “timid” when seeking funding.

Enrollment growth at community colleges appears to be slowing, the survey revealed. Fewer colleges report rapid growth.

 As for the financial picture, midyear budget cuts are becoming less common as the economic recovery continues. Thirty-one percent of community colleges reported them this year, compared to 54 percent last year and 61 percent in 2009. The average midyear cut also declined from 7 percent last year to 5 percent this year.

Eighty-two percent of community college presidents reported rising online enrollment.

“Student demand rather than efforts to reduce instructional costs clearly drives the gains in online enrollments in community colleges,” explained Kenneth C. Green, director of the Campus Computing Project.

Online students more likely to fail

Online students are less likely to succeed than students in traditional classes at Washington state community and technical colleges, according to a five-year study released by the Community College Research Center at Teachers’ College, Columbia University. Results were similar to those found in a parallel CCRC study in Virginia.

Online students were employed for more hours and and had demographic characteristics associated with stronger academic preparation, compared to students in hybrid and traditional classes. However, after controlling for student characteristics, online students were more likely to withdraw or fail.

In addition, students who took online coursework in early terms were slightly but significantly less likely to return to school in subsequent terms, and students who took a higher proportion of credits online were slightly but significantly less likely to attain an educational award or transfer to a four-year institution.

Students who took hybrid courses were similar demographically to students in face-to-face courses and were equally likely to complete their courses.

“Given the importance of online learning in terms of student convenience and institutional flexibility, current system supports for online learning should be bolstered and strengthened in order to improve completion rates among online learners,” the report recommends.

Colleges check for aid cheats

Community colleges are cracking down on distance-learning fraud, reports Community College Times.

Rio Salado College (RSC) in Arizona has stepped up its security since it was targeted by a fraud ring five years ago.

In 2006 and 2007, Trenda Lynne Halton fraudulently obtained more than $500,000 in student loans by recruiting more than 60 people to register as students at RSC for the purpose of applying for Stafford loans and Pell grants, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General reported.

Halton charged the “straw students” a fee of $500 to $1,500 to participate in the scheme. She then went online posing as each student, enrolled in the courses and even did some homework to given the impression that it was a real student.

Halton is now serving a 41-month prison sentence for conspiracy, mail fraud and financial aid fraud.

Lansing Community College (LCC) in Michigan spotted aid scammers last year:  A dozen people using the same address submitted the same paperwork, enrolled in courses with no prerequisites and used the same IP address to apply for financial aid.

LCC has since implemented procedures to tag suspicious activities or information, such as students who apply for financial aid from out of state, students who apply for courses that don’t relate to their major and multiple registration attempts, which can indicate that someone is trying to enroll in whatever courses are available.

LCC also requires students to show up for orientation. College officials say they’re detecting potential fraud before aid is given, so few applicants are referred for prosecution.

In 2004, Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) in Nevada discovered a million-dollar scam perpetrated by a woman who registered her children and grandchildren as online students at colleges in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Texas and Nevada to collect financial aid.

Colleges can require online students to have a unique user name and password or require proctored examinations. In addition, TMCC faculty check to see if students haven’t checked into class in the first weeks of the semester.

Some young people enroll in class but never participate so they can claim they are “full-time students” to get lower rates on car insurance or be included in their parents’ health insurance policies.

New ways to build skills, careers

We must “re-think, re-design and re-connect” career education, argues “New Approaches to Acquiring Skills and Building Careers in a 21st Century Global Job Market” by Mitch Rosin, editorial director at McGraw-Hill Education, and Barbara Bolin, president of the National Organization for Career Credentialing.

The stigma against vocational education has lead to a 70 percent decrease in federal funding for workforce development from 1994 to 2010, the authors write. Yet the percentage of jobs described as “skilled” continues to increase, rising from 15 percent of all jobs in the 1950s to 85 percent of jobs today. In a recent survey, 61 percent of employers report being unable to fill many job openings because of poor applicant skills, notes Bolin.

The Obama administration is funding the Community College and Career Training Grant Program and trying to connect local employers with community colleges. However, community colleges aren’t prepared to handle the increasing demand for low-cost education and job training.

The report recommends:

  • Sector-based job training programs (sometimes called bridge programs) that focus on training applicants for particular industries while stressing both academic and career education;
  • The Career Readiness Certificate, a standardized  skills credential that is universally recognized, portable, and transferable between industry sectors; when combined with an academic credential such as a high school diploma or GED, it provides a foundation upon which people can build their careers;
  • Reinvention of the GED test to become more standardized and academically rigorous;
  • A greater investment in community colleges to expand enrollment and enhance resources and infrastructure; and
  • Providing greater access to online learning and resources that benefit adult learners and have shown to increase the number of U.S. job-seekers with GED credentials, post-secondary degrees and other professional credentials.
  • The report also recommends tools to help job-seekers decide on their career paths, such as McGraw-Hill Education’s Contemporary Workforce Connects, which “helps learners acquire the specific skills they need to qualify for specific jobs.”

    How to do the $10,000 degree

    A $10,000 bachelor’s degree is a realistic goal, writes Publius Audax, a humanities professor at a Texas university, on Pajamas Media. Gov. Rick Perry wants state universities to offer a low-cost path to a degree. Texas should pick 25 of the most important and popular majors and design three-year bachelor’s programs, Audax proposes. Then the curriculum could be streamlined by “eliminating all electives and standardizing all required courses.” The state would need 412 courses to meet requirements in 25 majors.

    Select the state’s top scholars and scientists to design the courses, videotaping the best lecturers, purchasing the copyright of the best textbook materials, and designing a suite of web-based learning tools. This would require a significant one-time investment of approximately $500K per course, for a total of $200 million.

    . . . Require all state universities to offer all 412 courses to their students at a cost of only $250 per, plus $400 per semester for registration services and IT support. If a student took five courses per semester for three years, the total cost per student of the degree would be $9,900. Each student would be given free access to the state’s library of videotaped lectures, the online textbooks, and the web-based tools. The university would provide online discussion sections and laboratory sections.

    For each instructor teaching 150 students, the state university would receive $75,000 in tuition, he calculates, not counting the administrative fee.

    The low-cost, low-touch degree would be backed by an exam to demonstrate mastery.

    Provide mandatory state-wide standardized tests for each year of each program, providing an accurate measure of student learning. The College Learning Assessment, as well as CLEP and GRE Subject exams, could be used to measure students’ progress in critical thinking, logic, writing skills, and discipline-specific competencies.

    Well-prepared, motivated learners could earn a $9,900 degree in three years. The average college student, shaky on math and writing skills and used to hand-holding in high school, isn’t likely to make it without a lot more support. But it would be very interesting to see how many students would rise to the challenge in hopes of saving time and money.