Community college leaders are trying to double the number of graduates by 2020 to meet President Obama’s targets. It’s not easy, writes Stacy Collett in Community College Journal.
For administrators at Harper College in Illinois, 10,604 is the magic number—it’s the college’s share of the 5 million additional community college graduates President Obama challenged the nation’s two-year career and technical institutions to contribute to the economy by 2020. (That’s in addition to the college’s current trajectory of 21,000 credentialed students by 2020.)
Harper started by reaching out to students who were a few credits short of an associate degree. Some already had earned those credits at other institutions; others just needed a few classes. Now that the low-hanging fruit has been picked, raising the number of graduates will get harder.
“Many people working in community colleges still do not understand how abysmal our graduation rates or our student retention rates or course completion rates are,” says Angela Oriano, associate director at the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) at the University of Texas at Austin.
Completion rates are up 125 percent at Snead State Community College (SSCC) in Alabama since it started a campaign encouraging students to “finish what you start.” The college redesigned orientation, eliminated unneeded requirements, such as speech and computer training, and even dropped a $15″cap and gown” fee.
When Cindy Miles became chancellor at California’s Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District (GCCCD) in 2009, a dismal 3 percent of the 4,000 freshmen who entered the college in 2006 had earned a degree, yet 1,900 had successfully transferred to a four-year university by 2009.
“High numbers of transfer students who come to us don’t care if they get that degree,” Miles explains. “We’re trying to ascertain what the student’s version of success is, and we’re now trying to show value in the associate degree before they transfer.”
Four-year graduation rates are much higher for students who transfer with an associate degree.
The Roadmap Project at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in Pennsylvania helps students plan their college career and understand all the support services available. The first-year experience initiative includes mandatory orientation and success seminars, help from a success coach and access to walk-in “math cafés” staffed by faculty volunteers.
Retraining adults for high-demand jobs and improving graduation rates are the priorities for Iowa community colleges, reports the Gazette. Half the students who enrolled in 2009-10 earned a credential or transferred within three years. Colleges are trying to improve that number.
Des Moines Area Community College is among the schools that now requires an orientation course for all students, said Jeremy Varner, administrator of the community colleges division with the Iowa Department of Education. Other colleges are putting resources into more advising and early-warning programs for when students begin to struggle, he said.
“Getting more through to graduation — that’s where a lot of that focus is,” Varner said.
Kirkwood Community College hopes its math “emporium” will improve retention, ’said Math and Science Dean Lori Woeste.
Students work in a computer lab where an instructor is always on hand for one-on-one discussion, and the students work at their own pace. . . . students signs up for the Prep for College Math course, where they demonstrate competency in the “modules” they are confident about and then focus their time on the areas where they need work, Woeste said.
College officials hope state funding will improve next year, easing the tuition burden on students and funding job training. Iowa is focusing on training workers for jobs in nursing, information technology and advanced manufacturing.
Determined to raise retention rates, Klamath Community College mandated orientation and advising and eliminated late registration, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed. The cost of improved retention was lower enrollment. The small college in southern Oregon saw enrollment fall 20 parent last fall, cutting state funds by $800,000, more than 7 percent of Klamath’s total annual budget.
“We have a system that doesn’t reward student success,” said Roberto Gutierrez, the college president. “It rewards seat time.”
Klamath Community College is an Achieving the Dream partner institution.
Achieving the Dream is a vocal supporter of “make it mandatory,” a refrain often used by Kay McClenney, an expert on community colleges and director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement. McClenney, backed by research, argues that mandatory orientations and advising can boost student retention rates.
For example, prior to last year, only 50 percent of students at Klamath were attending orientation. College officials said that means those students were missing out on vital information about the college and how to navigate it.
Yet many colleges resist the mandatory approach, feeling it is paternalistic and too prescriptive for the large numbers of adult students who attend community colleges, where the average age of students typically hovers around 25. And red tape and hassles, like mandatory scheduling, can discourage students who may have been on the fence about attending college in the first place.
Students who can’t make the time to go to orientation or meet with an advisor probably won’t make the time for college classes, Gutieriez believes.
Banning late registration is hard adult students, who are juggling jobs and family duties. But it’s clear that late registrants have very high failure rates.
Klamath’s new policy “resembles recent decisions by a few for-profits, including the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University, which have created free trial periods” for prospective students, Fain writes. Those who realize they’re not ready for college can quit without using up financial aid, running up debt — or raising the university’s failure statistics.
Klamath’s graduation rate for first-time, full-time students is only 17 percent; another 31 percent transfers. That could improve in the future: Fall-to-winter retention rates jumped from 60 percent for first-year students to 80 percent this year.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the Student Success Act, which cuts off fee waivers for students who fall below a C average for two semesters in a row and requires colleges to provide orientation, assessment, placement, counseling and education planning help to new students. At least two-thirds of students qualify for fee waivers. Full tuition has risen to $46 per unit, still below the national average. The bill was amended to remove a provision cutting off waivers for students who’ve already earned 110 credits.
In addition, community colleges will report the academic performance of students with breakdowns by race and socioeconomic status.
It’s hoped students will move more quickly to achieve their goals, freeing up spaces in a system that now places nearly half a million students on wait lists for the classes they need.
In addition, Brown signed bills expanding digital access to free college textbooks.
The L.A. Trade Bridge Academy provides free orientation for all students — informing them of how to create an education plan, enroll in courses, and access financial aid and other campus resources. New students and returning students can also take a diagnostic test to determine their placement in Math and English courses. Afterwards, students can enroll in free non-credit shortened refresher courses to help them strengthen their knowledge of certain concepts so they are better prepared for the official placement test and matched with the right courses.
. . . Early results show that student enrollment in a second term is up by 10% and refresher courses have increased the number of students successfully completing math or English courses by 11%.
Other Southern California schools, such as Long Beach City College, Mt. San Antonio College, San Bernardino Valley College, and Pasadena City College, also are improving student supports such as orientation, educational planning and assessment and placement, according to Campaign for College Opportunity.
Universities are trying to ease “transfer shock” for new students who aren’t 18-year-old, first-timers, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The 200 transfer students ate Huli Huli chicken and wore plastic leis at a recent luau held in their honor at USC. But more important than food or party favors, participants said, was the camaraderie and encouragement to join the campus mainstream.
Among the organizers was Rebecca Obadia, who transferred from Santa Monica College to USC last year and experienced the stress of starting at a new university midway through a degree program. Obadia, 26, a public relations major, helped revive a transfer student group at USC and is now its president. Transfer students “don’t have the same needs as freshmen and were not welcomed the way they should have been all these years,” she said.
In addition to designing special orientation sessions, colleges and universities are “requiring special classes, bolstering counseling, establishing clubs, setting aside housing and offering more scholarships,” reports the Times.
Transfers aren’t “the forgotten students” anymore, said Janet L. Marling, executive director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at North Georgia College and State University.
With drop-out rates high, universities value transfer students’ tuition payments.
California’s state universities are trying to move transfers to a degree as quickly as possible to make room for new students. Community college transfers to the University of California campuses has increased by 22 percent since 2007; transfers to second-tier California State University schools have held steady.
Aaron De Sal, a Coast Guard veteran, transferred from Santa Monica College last fall to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The psychology major, who is 27 and receives veterans assistance for tuition, said it took some adjusting to the faster paced quarter system from the longer semesters at community college. Just as challenging, he said, was arriving at Cal Poly years after classmates. He said the special orientations helped, as did starting a club for veterans.
“You start out as an outsider at a different time of your college career than most people,” he said. “Socially you’ve got two years to make up.”
Transfers are as likely to complete a degree as other students, but transfers’ grades dip in their first term. Pressured to finish a degree in two years, they need immediate academic advising.
At one of the recent daylong orientations at Cal State Los Angeles, about 200 new transfer students heard about financial aid, health clinics, housing and social clubs, and were escorted on walking tours. They talked to academic advisors and were allowed to register for classes ahead of some other groups.
Cal State L.A. requires transfer students to take a two-credit “transition” course on study habits, research methods and career choices. Many transfers are working and some are raising children.
“College success is dependent not only upon academic preparation but also upon a host of important skills, attitudes, and behaviors that are often left unspoken,” conclude Melinda Mechur Karp and Rachel Hare Bork in They Never Told Me What to Expect, so I Didn’t Know What to Do, a new Community College Research Center study conducted at three community colleges.
Community college students must be their own advocates, study participants said. One instructor put it:
Students who do not seek out advising, students who do not ask questions or who do not have self-advocacy skills to go, “something doesn’t look right here,” may truly not get the help that they need until they apply for graduation and receive that letter saying, “Oops, you still have these four requirements.”
Students “need to be told that there are distinct expectations to which they will be held in the community college, given examples of those expectations, and shown (or, ideally, allowed to practice) strategies for meeting these expectations,” the researchers write. “This could be carried out in college orientation or College 101 courses, or even in meetings with college applicants or in high schools.”
Students who don’t come from middle-class, white families especially need explicit instruction in collegiate norms, expectations, and understandings.
Reclaiming the American Dream, the new American Association of Community Colleges‘ report, is brutally honest about community colleges’ shortcomings, writes Richard Kahlenberg in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“What we find today are student success rates that are unacceptably low, employment preparation that is inadequately connected to job market needs, and disconnects in transitions between high schools, community colleges, and baccalaureate institutions.” The report concedes that “developmental education as traditionally practiced is dysfunctional, that barriers to transfer inhibit student progress, that degree and certificate completion rates are too low, and that attainment gaps across groups of students are unacceptably wide.” These problems may seem obvious to the casual observer, but for a commission of the AACC, a group which describes itself as “the primary advocacy organization for the nation’s community colleges,” to openly admit such failures is remarkable.
Reclaiming the Dream recommends requiring orientation, first-semester counseling to get students into a structured program of study and embedding basic skills instruction into credit-bearing courses. It also calls on four-year institutions to agree on transfer courses, so students won’t lose credits as they move toward a bachelor’s degree.
The AACC report “plants the seed” for The Century Foundation’s Task Force on Preventing Community Colleges from Becoming Separate and Unequal, writes Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the foundation. The task force will pose critical questions:
Can we expect to provide equal educational opportunity when higher education is so deeply stratified – with the most selective four-year colleges educating 14 times as many rich kids as poor kids, while community colleges have almost twice as many poor students as wealthy ones?
Why does our system of public funding of higher education provide the fewest resources to the student most in need?
. . . can we call a system where 65 percent of students who start at a community college fail to earn a degree or credential after six years either efficient or equitable?
Community colleges can solve some of their own problems without more dollars, the report said. Funding should be structured to provide “incentives for promoting student success.”
Latinos make up about half of California’s college-age population, the statewide profile found.
In 2009, 57% of Latino students graduated from high school, and of those, only 16% met the A-G requirements for admission to the University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) and only half (8%) enrolled in one of those two systems.
In 2009, only 7% of Latinos age 25 and older held a baccalaureate degree in California, compared to 30% of all Californians.
Of Latino students who do go to college, over two thirds start at a California Community College, where only two in 10 earn a certificate, associate degree, or transfer after six years.
At community colleges, Latinos make up 34% of incoming degree-seekers, but comprise only 23% of the overall completers, a drop off rate higher than their white and Asian Pacific Islander peers.
“The college-going and success rates for Latino students in California are cause for significant alarm,” says Michele Siqueiros, executive director of Campaign for College Opportunity. “With the growing Latino population in our state and our increasing reliance on an educated workforce, all of our futures depend on it.”
Community colleges should require students to participate in orientation and diagnostic assessment and set education goals, the campaign advises. In addition, the campaign calls for encouraging more high school graduates to enroll directly in four-year state universities.
New-student enrollments are way down at for-profit colleges, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Companies have pulled back on aggressive recruiting practices amid criticism over their high student-loan default rates. And many would-be students are questioning the potential pay-off for degrees that can cost considerably more than what’s available at local community colleges.
“People are just frozen or deferring, delaying decisions to go to school,” said DeVry Inc. Chief Executive Daniel Hamburger in a conference call earlier this month. “The average person in the U.S. has become much more risk-averse and cautious when it comes to spending or committing to anything.”
Kaplan Higher Education lets new students take trial classes before enrolling and paying tuition: New-student enrollment declined by 47 percent in the last quarter.
Capella Education cut recruiters’ commissions and saw a 35.8 percent drop in new enrollments.
The specter of a hefty debt load dissuaded Jason Tomlinson from enrolling to study business at Berkeley College, a for-profit school with locations in New York and New Jersey. Mr. Tomlinson, now 25, said he would have had to pay more than $20,000 per year, for four years, for that school’s bachelor’s degree program.
On Mr. Tomlinson’s $8-per-hour salary as a part-time sales associate at the Gap, “it just didn’t seem realistic” he said. “I really did not want to go into that much debt.”
Mr. Tomlinson enrolled in LaGuardia Community College, where he pays $3,600 per year for his full-time associate-degree program in business management and works at the school’s fitness center to help cover expenses. A barber in his spare time, Mr. Tomlinson plans to open a high-end men’s day spa after graduating with his associate’s degree in business management this spring.
New enrollments are down by nearly half at Apollo Group’s University of Phoenix, the for-profit higher education leader, reports AP.
The three-week orientation program is now required of all prospective students with fewer than 24 college credits. The program is free, but those who don’t pass can’t continue. The company scrapped its financial incentive program for enrollment counselors and there’s less reliance on outside sales companies to generate leads, and more emphasis on finding corporate partners willing to help pay for their employees’ education.
In addition, a new social network, PhoenixConnect, links students to alumni who can provide job leads.
Officials expect the changes will lead to higher graduation rates and lower federal loan default rates.