Despite record enrollments, community colleges don’t get much respect, notes College Bound. In a recent Gallup Poll, only one in five people “strongly agreed” that community colleges offer high-quality education.
Community college leaders can improve the sector’s image by taking responsibility for student outcomes, writes J. Noah Brown, president of the American Association of Community College Trustees, in First in the World: Community Colleges and America’s Future. Brown calls for measuring the success rates of a variety of students, including part-time students.
Brown also encourages community colleges to communicate their results and better orient new students. If schools are indeed good stewards of the public dollar, he writes, their success should be rewarded by the government. The new Voluntary Framework for Accountability is part of that effort.
Government funding for community colleges is at the lowest point in 20 years, notes College Bound.
College graduation counts will include part-time students, returnees and transfers, according to a new U.S. Education Department “action plan.” That could raise community college graduation rates, now at 22 percent, to 40 percent, estimates the American Association of Community Colleges. Currently, federal statistics count only full-time, first-time students and treat transfers as dropouts if they don’t complete an associate degree before going on to a four-year institution.
“Not all students take a linear path in their pursuit of higher education,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Many students work full-time and are balancing family obligations while also attending school. These new outcome measures will accurately demonstrate how postsecondary schools are preparing students for success in different ways.”
The plan will implement the recommendations of the Committee on Measures of Student Success (CMSS).
Do College Completion Rates Really Measure Quality? Not very well for community colleges, writes Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center in a Chronicle of Higher Education discussion.
To start with, federal data is based on the proportion of first-time, full-time, “degree seeking” students who obtain a degree within 150 percent and 200 percent of the “normal” time. These are a small minority of community college students.
Students who transfer before completing an associate degree are counted as ”noncompleters,” a serious distortion.
Certificates and associate degrees are combined in one measure. Since certificate programs have higher completion rates, a community college with more certificate programs will have a higher graduation rate than one with fewer certificate programs, even if the quality of certificate and degree programs in the two colleges is the same.
Completion rates lack crucial measures of quality. Graduation rates can be raised by lowering standards. Or colleges may have programs with high completion rates in occupational areas for which there are few or only low-quality jobs. So a comprehensive measure of institutional performance should also include indicators of program quality such as measures of student learning or employment outcomes.
Also on the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s new College Completion site, Jeff Selingo looks at The Rise and Fall of Graduation Rates and Eric Kelderman explains how colleges are trying to improve how they collect data on completion.
Nobody knows the college graduation rate because we’re unwilling to track individual students, writes Andrew Gillen, research director for the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Federal data counts only first-time, full-time students and counts most transfers as dropouts, even though 38 percent of students are part-timers, one third transfer and others drop out and back in.
The fact that we spend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on higher education and can’t determine something as basic as a national graduation rate is a dereliction of duty.
Student Unit Records — databases that assign each student an individual number — would make it possible to calculate an accurate, meaningful graduation rate, Gillen writes.
Matching educational records from a SUR with earnings data from the IRS would allow for accurate employment outcomes to be published for each college and program. Such information would help students make better decisions which would in turn help discipline and focus colleges.
Bad colleges oppose SURs: Accurate data would take away their excuses, writes Gillen. Good colleges are opposed too, “terrified of being compared to other schools on something like value-added earnings.”
Privacy advocates also oppose tracking students, but “convincing methods of safeguarding privacy while implementing a SUR have been developed, Gillen writes.
Expand financial aid to part-time, non-credit students seeking job skills faculty and students told U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a town hall meeting at Tallahassee Community College last week, reports Community College Times.
President Obama wants two-year colleges to help train an additional two million Americans for jobs.
”I can’t overstate how important the role community colleges are going to play, helping our country get back to where we want to go,” Duncan said.
Many students in adult education and non-credit training programs don’t qualify for financial aid and scholarships, despite their need, said Kristina Pereira, an adult education specialist at TCC.
People seeking short-term job training should be eligible for aid, TCC President Jim Murdaugh told Community College Times. For example, a TCC student was enable to enroll in a certificate course that would have lead to a good job because he didn’t have the $500 fee and didn’t qualify for student aid, Murdaugh said.
“There is no mechanism to provide any help to these folks,” Murdaugh said, noting that current rules on federal student aid eligibility “disadvantage” part-time and non-credit students enrolled in courses that can usually be completed in 90 days with jobs waiting for them. Eligibility requirement should factor in programs that successfully lead to employment.
“That should be the litmus test for success,” Murdaugh said.
Many laid-off workers seek short-term training to get back into the job market quickly.
California community colleges will give enrollment priority to new students and those following a course of study leading to a credential under a reform plan approved by the system’s board of governors Monday after a three-hour hearing, reports the Los Angeles Times. Students who’ve earned more than 100 credits will be last in line for classes and will not be eligible for fee waivers. Recreational and enrichments classes will pay their own way or be dropped.
Some protest the changes will make it harder for low-income, minority and part-time students to access community colleges.
The Legislature will consider the reforms, many of which require amending education codes.
Proposed by a state task force, the reform package aims to increase graduation and transfer rates.
Among the 22 recommendations are proposals requiring all colleges to use a single assessment for English and math skills and prioritizing registration and fee waivers for students who have concrete goals, such as a degree, certificate or transfer to a four-year college.
Course offerings and schedules would be aligned with student needs, including a focus on basic skills and classes needed to transfer. Campuses would also be required to publish score cards detailing their performance in such areas as completion rates.
New students will be required to go through orientation to help choose the right classes. That will require more funding for counselors and other student services. Many who spoke to the board doubted the money would be allocated.
Others spoke in support of the plan.
“I do believe this is the greatest opportunity this system has ever had to close the achievement gaps that exist in California’s community colleges,” said Eloy Oakley, superintendent and president of Long Beach City College.
While the reforms are an improvement, part-time students and those seeking a liberal education could be short-changed, argues a Los Angeles Times editorial.
All students would be required to articulate a goal by the end of the first year of college, and a full educational plan by the end of the third semester. In addition, the state would target its funding of the colleges to discourage them from offering courses that aren’t showing up in those educational plans.
. . . The mandate for educational plans should be based on the number of credits taken, not on a point in time. The colleges hope to persuade more students to enroll full time, because such students have higher graduation rates. But pushing a student who needs to work into full-time studies could be counterproductive.
In addition, the plan should give students more leeway to take courses outside their study plans, the Times editorializes. ”A computer student who wants to take a literature course to deepen her education should be encouraged to do so, as long as she doesn’t go beyond her allotted 100 credits. . . Colleges don’t just churn out degrees and certificates; they’re supposed to encourage students to think big and try new things.”
The enrollment boom may be over at community colleges: Enrollment declined by 1 percent in the last year, according to a report (pdf) by the American Association of Community Colleges and the National Student Clearinghouse. However, there are few empty seats. Compared to 2007, community colleges are serving 22 percent more students.
While full-time enrollment declined slightly, part-time enrollment increased slightly, notes Inside Higher Ed.
Last year’s decline was due to a drop in
The end of the boom will
More community college students are receiving Pell Grants, the report concluded. Thirty-four percent of Pell funding went to community college students in 2011, up from 31 percent in 201.
Some community college students “should borrow more and work less” to increase their completion odds, says Sandy Baum, co-author of a College Board report, in a University Business article by me.
Working one’s way through college is the norm for community college students: 85 percent work part- or full-time.
. . . “People who work 10 to 15 hours do OK,” Baum says, but as work hours increase, grades slide.
“The worst thing students can do is go part-time or work full-time. Both drastically reduce their chance of completion,” says Debbie Cochrane, a program director for The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).
Community college drop-outs were half as likely as graduates to report receiving financial aid or scholarships in a 2009 Public Agenda study. Six in 10 community college students surveyed were working more than 20 hours a week; a quarter worked more than 35 hours a week.
Only 3.3 percent of part-time community college students complete a bachelor’s degree, according to a federal study.
Here’s the sidebar on helping students access financial aid.
Of course, working less and borrowing more can be a risky business, especially for students who don’t complete a marketable degree. “It’s probably true that if community college people borrowed more, they’d probably see a modest increase in graduation rates,” says Richard Vedder, an Ohio State economist who runs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. But “community college students are in much more precarious financial positions” than four-year students, Vedder warns. “The consequences of failure are substantial.”
Measuring student success by speedy degree completion could hurt students who combine part-time studies with jobs and family responsibilities. write Susan Bernadzikowski and Jennifer Levi in an Inside Higher Ed op-ed. Both teach English at Cecil College in Maryland.
While “many students are wandering around college campuses lacking motivation and wasting resources,” others will persist until they earn a degree, they write.
When standing at the front of the class room, we don’t have to look beyond the first row of students to encounter the combat veteran who juggles two jobs just to pay for housing in the projects; a so-called traditional-age college student who at 17 is struggling to raise a child of his own; a bright, multilingual immigrant who is in the U.S. for political asylum; a young woman who, since her youth, has been the sole caregiver of a parent disabled by an accident.
. . . financial needs necessarily trump educational ones as they struggle to fill their tanks with gas to get to campus. They skip class to attend job interviews, they pick up extra shifts at the expense of homework, and they disappear mid-semester to take a temp job because they have to.
Many faculty aren’t aware of the completion agenda, they write. Those who are aware fear unintended consequences.
What if the rush to accelerate completion waters down curricula and generates a population of people with credentials, but no real education? What if faculty jobs, government funding, student aid, and so forth are tied to the number of students we get through, rather than the number we educate? And as Jonathan Lightman of the California Community College system asked in Inside Higher Ed, what if acceleration comes at the expense of bright students who need “time with exploration … before they know what their talents are.”
Bernadzikowski and Levi are collecting short stories of student successes and struggles for a book entitled Why My Story Matters.
Graduation or transfer should be counted as success for community college students, recommends the Committee on Measures of Student Success (CMSS). The federal panel voted to approve its 26-page report (pdf) to the U.S. Education Department this week.
The committee recommended including part-time, degree-seeking students in the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which currently counts only full-time students, and collecting data on federal student aid recipients and remedial students.
Committtee member Linda Thor, chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District in California, said the panel’s recommendations would not be overbudensome and are consistent with the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA), a system of voluntary measures developed by AACC to help college determine how well they are serving students and to help them improve.
Both the CMSS and VFA call for including part-time students in graduation measures and “extending the time that students are given to count as completers.”
However, AACC did not agree with the committee’s recommendations on tracking students in developmental education and student transfers. Defining developmental education students would be difficult, as more colleges are using new strategies to address developmental education, such as including remedial students in regular college-credit courses, according to two-year college advocates.
AACC also opposes tracking community college transfers only if they enroll in four-year institutions. “Lateral transfer to a two-year college is frequently a path to achieving education success,” the association said.