How many students are learning online? The federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS, is unreliable, concludes a study by the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies and consultant Paul Hill.
“After billions of dollars spent on administrative computer systems and billions of dollars invested in ed-tech companies, the U.S. higher education system is woefully out of date and unable to cope with major education trends such as online and hybrid education, flexible terms and the expansion of continuing and extended education,” Hill and Russ Poulin, deputy director of research and analysis for WCET, write in a summary of their findings.
. . . “It’s shocking when you think about two things,” Hill said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed. “We’re moving more and more in this country to talking about data, scorecards, holding colleges accountable. It’s this whole culture of data-driven accountability, but we’re not ready.”
IPEDS is notorious for miscounting community college students, writes Matt Reed, the Community College Dean. The federal data system is designed for 18- to 22-year-old full-time, dorm-dwelling students supported by their parents. It doesn’t do well with adults.
It shouldn’t matter whether a student makes progress in a regular semester, an accelerated semester, or even an intersession. With competency-based programs starting to catch on, the entire ‘semester’ edifice is making less sense anyway.
We shouldn’t conflate stopping out with dropping out, as the current system does. Students who need to work full-time while going to school often have to take time off along the way . . . The trend towards “stackable” credentials is based on an overdue recognition that students move in and out of college for economic reasons, and it’s better to give them something useful before they go. But in the current data, those stopouts count as attrition, and are held against us.
Community colleges should be judged on how they help students learn something useful in the time — and aid — they’ve got, writes Reed. If IPEDS can’t adapt, perhaps it should go the way of the dinosaurs and be replaced by a better system.
For-profit colleges charge $35,000 for an associate degree, on average, more than four times the cost at the average community college, writes Ashlee Kieler in the Consumerist. Why does anyone go to a for-profit college? Flexibility and convenience draw many students, she writes. And for-profit colleges spend heavily on marketing.
In 2000, for-profit colleges enrolled 3 percent of postsecondary students. By 2009, that had soared to 9 percent, reports College Board. Community colleges’ share dropped from 43 percent to 40 percent.
For-profit college students see a more convenient and flexible learning experience, according to a report from Stanford’s National Center For Postsecondary Improvement. “Freed from the traditional academic schedules and even from many of the fixed costs of infrastructure and expensive facilities, the [school] is able to offer courses at more convenient times and in more convenient locations.”
For-profit colleges were leaders in offering online and evening courses to students with jobs and family responsibilities.
For-profit colleges also tend to have names that sound more like a traditional university — some even have “university” in their names — which has a certain aspirational appeal to it. The phrase, “I went to Heald College” may have a better ring to it than “I went to Bucks County Community College,” even if the student got the same or better education at the school with the clunkier name.
For-profit colleges rarely make students take remedial courses before taking courses than count for a credential. Instead, basic skills instruction is integrated into for-credit courses. That’s a policy some community colleges are trying.
Like community colleges, the for-profit sector enrolls many students who are 25 to 40 years old. However, for-profit college students are much more likely to be living in poverty, reports the Institute for Higher Education Policy. They use federal grants and loans to pay for college.
“Only 35 percent of community college students take out loans to pay for school,” says Suzanne Martindale, staff attorney at Consumers Union. By contrast, “86 percent of for-profit college students take out loans.”
However, Kieler doesn’t mention another reason students may choose a for-profit college. On average, two-year for-profit colleges, which focus on job training, have much higher completion rates than community colleges, which have academic and job training missions. For-profit vocational programs are very structured. Some community colleges are adding structured pathways to improve completion rates.
Washington state’s community colleges plan to offer an online, competency-based associate degree in business, reports Katherine Long in the Seattle Times. Students will be able to complete the degree in 18 months — or earlier, if they’ve already earned applicable college credits.
The program is designed for working adults.
Tuition will cost $2,666 for a six-month term and students who take a full load will be eligible for federal and state financial aid.
Graduates who transfer to a state university will be halfway to a bachelor’s degree in business administration. All their credits will be counted.
“The student will earn a transcript that will look like a regular college transcript,” said Jan Yoshiwara, deputy executive director for education at SBCTC. “What’s different is the mode of delivery.”
Competency-based degrees give students a chance to earn credit for what they already know how to do. A student who can demonstrate that he or she has strong writing skills, for example, could skip over parts of an English-composition course. In some courses, a student would take a test to prove he or she has already mastered parts of the subject; in others, the student may complete an assignment, Yoshiwara said.
Students will study composition, lab science, accounting, economics, business calculus, public speaking, political science, sociology and statistics. “Washington community colleges already teach those subjects online — even lab science, which involves using a kit to do experiments at home, and public speaking, in which students record themselves giving speeches,” reports Long.
Western Governors University-Washington, which offers competency-based bachelor’s and master’s degrees, helped design the program.
Competency-based education is “a remarkably logical way to reach students,” said Jean Floten, chancellor of WGU-Washington and formerly the president of Bellevue College. “It’s well-suited to people who have a clear goal in mind, and are self-motivated, and can navigate technology in an independent setting.”
Competency-based programs in information technology are in the works at 11 community colleges. Western Governors University, a pioneer in online competency-based education (CBE), is helping with the pilots with financial support from the U.S. Labor Department and the Gates Foundation, write Sally Johnstone, WGU’s vice president for academic advancement, and writer Thad Nodine on Inside Higher Ed.
Most of the pilots are starting with certificates in fields such as computer system specialist, business software specialist, networking and programming. Students will be able to build on their certificates to earn degrees.
In competency programs, students progress at their own pace as they demonstrate mastery of knowledge and skills. Learning– not time — is they key variable. At all 11 colleges, faculty members developed the new CBE courses, sometimes working with industry representatives.
For example, faculty at Sinclair Community College revised the curriculum to align with new Ohio standards in information technology and with industry certifications. Working with instructional designers, faculty members “mapped competencies to content and assessment items.”
In comparison, faculty at Washington’s Columbia Basin College are using existing student objectives and textbooks, write Johnstone and Nodine.
“Mapping course objectives to student learning outcomes to achieve student success; that is not new,” said Gina Sprowl, workforce education chair and professor of accounting (at Lone Star College in Texas). “But taking the course and building it to achieve specific outcomes from the outset, that was new.”
Alan Gandy, assistant professor at Lone Star, said . . . faculty are “breaking down the competencies, matching them to the assessments, so the student will see what piece they are working on in the puzzle. They’ll see the big picture, why they’re studying this and how it matches to the overall competency.”
While instructors are “content experts and mentors,”their roles have shifted “from delivering lectures to providing timely academic tutoring and engagement,” write Johnstone and Nodine.
Some colleges are adding support services. At Edmonds Community College in Washington, a “mentor” will check in with each student weekly and serve as a “coach, troubleshooter, strategist and enthusiast.”
When Gov. Rick Perry challenged Texas’s public universities to craft four-year degrees costing no more than $10,000, many said it was impossible, recalls Thomas K. Lindsay, director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Three years later, 12 Texas universities have announced $10,000 bachelor’s degrees and the idea has spread to Florida, Oklahoma and Oregon.
The rapid expansion of $10,000 degree offerings has not satisfied the “It’s impossible” critics. They note that the fledgling programs are limited to a few subject areas, mostly the applied sciences, and argue that the same model cannot work in other fields. Moreover, they point out, a number of the new offerings charge students $10,000 but do not actually reduce their schools’ cost of instruction and materials.
That’s a valid critique, writes Lindsay. The current $10,000 degree programs reduced the price charged to the student but ignored Perry’s suggestion to cut costs by using online learning and competency-based exams.
However, that’s changing.
Three higher-education partners — Texas A&M University-Commerce, South Texas College, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) — just launched the “Affordable Baccalaureate Program,” the state’s first public university bachelor’s degree combining online learning and competency-based standards. Developed by community-college and university faculty . . . a new degree in organizational leadership can cost as little as $750 per term and allows students to receive credit for as many competencies and courses as they can master each term.
According to THECB’s website, students arriving “with no prior college credits should be able to complete the degree program in three years at a total cost of $13,000 to $15,000.” Students who enter having already satisfied their general-education requirements can complete the degree in two years, while those entering with “90 credit hours and no credential” can complete the degree “in one year for $4,500 to $6,000.”
Nationwide, college tuition and fees have risen 440 percent over the past 25 years, roughly four times the rate of inflation and nearly twice the rate of health-care cost growth, writes Lindsay. Total student-loan debt has risen to $1.2 trillion. Increasing federal subsidies so students can borrow more to pay higher tuition is fiscally unsustainable. So is increasing state subsidies for higher education.
A three-year bachelor’s of applied science degree will cost $13,000 to $15,000 for Texas students, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. The competency-based degree was developed by South Texas College and Texas A&M University at Commerce under the aegis of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Students will mix online and face-to-face learning.
The degree emphasizes organizational leadership, the board said, adding that the program “will culminate with a digital-capstone experience where students will apply their knowledge and skills to real-world business problems.”
The coordinating board said that the new offering was “a faculty-driven initiative, developed by community-college and university faculty,” but “we also listened to what national and regional employers are saying they really want: graduates with critical-thinking skills who are quantitatively literate, can evaluate knowledge sources, understand diversity, and benefit from a strong liberal-arts and sciences background.”
Shirley A. Reed, South Texas College’s president, said in a statement that the new degree “is a transition from colleges measuring student competencies based on time in a seat to now allowing students to demonstrate competencies they have acquired in previous employment, life experiences, or personal talents.”
Two years ago, Gov. Rick Perry called on the state’s colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees that would cost students no more than $10,000 each, notes the Chronicle. UT-Permian Basin offers a $10,000 bachelor of science four-year degree, while UT-Arlington and UT-Brownsville offer similar programs, developed through partnerships with community colleges and school districts.
The Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Program is supported by the College for All Texans Foundation and by a two-year, $1-million grant from Educause and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Online instruction will upend the economics of higher education, according to The Economist.
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.”
Here’s how three community college teachers are using online learning to change the way they teach, reports Edudemic.
Meredith Carpenter explains how she “flips” instruction in economics and entrepreneurship classes at Haywood Community College (North Carolina).
Steve Lurenz of Mesa Community College (Arizona) uses an online forum to build a sense of community in his online history classes.
Paramedic Tom Stoudt, started Hero’s Academy, online training for emergency medical technicians in Illinois.