Creating structured pathways to graduation will help more community college students achieve their goals, said presenters at the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco.
Completion by Design, a Gates Foundation initiative, is working with community colleges on mandatory student advising and structured course sequences, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. College leaders from North Carolina, Ohio and Florida discussed their efforts.
Jobs for the Future‘s completion campaign focuses on getting students into college-level classes as quickly as possible.
Many students who end up in remedial courses don’t need to be there, but they don’t realize the importance of the tests that colleges often use as the sole placement criterion, said Gretchen Schmidt, a program director at Jobs for the Future. ”They didn’t prepare, they had kids in the hall running around, or they rushed through the test to get back to work … and as a result they ended up two levels down” in developmental courses.
Students who start in remedial courses rarely earn a degree. Recent research has shown students placed in high-level developmental courses do just as well at the college level.
North Carolina now lets high school graduates with a 2.6 grade point average or better skip community college placement tests and start at the college level.
A new Connecticut law limits state funding for remedial education to a single course.
Florida may “cut off nearly all support for stand-alone remedial education,” reports the Chronicle.
Lenore P. Rodicio, director of Miami Dade College‘s Completion by Design effort, worries that’s going too far.
“Seventy percent of our students come in needing some kind of remedial education, many of them from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and this could close the door to them,” she said.
Her college offers a one-week boot camp for students who place into remedial education to allow them to zero in on the skills they need to improve, and it’s looking at other ways to get students into credit-bearing courses faster.
In another session, California Community Colleges chancellor Brice Harris discussed the state’s new “student-success agenda,” which includes encouraging students to develop a study plan, dropping reliance on a single remedial placement test and giving new students priority for registration over perennial students who aren’t moving toward a credential.
Success rates in developmental math tripled – in half the time — at community colleges using Statway, the Carnegie Foundation’s new statistics-based program, an analysis has concluded. In an intensive yearlong program, students learn basic math skills and take college statistics for credit.
Statway began at 19 community colleges and two state universities in fall 2011. After one year, 51 percent successfully completed the math sequence with a C or better in college statistics. By contrast, only 15.1 percent of remedial math students at the same colleges earned math credits after two years if they started in conventional remedial courses. The one-year success rate was 5.9 percent. Even after four years, only 23.5 percent passed a college-level math class.
“These are the students that community colleges especially need to serve well,” Carnegie President Anthony S. Bryk said. “A disproportionate number are minority, from families whose primary language is not English, and typically where neither parent has a post-secondary degree.”
Students in Quantway, which stresses quantitative reasoning, also are showing signs of success, said Carnegie officials, but the program is too new to produce outcomes data.
Both Statway and Quantway stress what Carnegie calls “productive struggle” or “productive persistence.”
It’s not about guessing what the teacher wants to hear or about finding a particular answer. It is about the process of thinking, making sense, and persevering in the face of not knowing exactly how to proceed or whether a particular approach will work.
In addition, instructors connect facts, ideas, and procedures to help students understand what they’re doing and carefully sequence problems to provide “deliberate practice.”
Both Pathways use face-to-face and online learning.
Instructors make math relevant, said Carnegie officials at a press conference.
By applying math concepts to determine the braking distance of their cars, for instance, rather than simply plugging numbers into an equation and hoping for the right answer, students see the connection with their lives, Carnegie officials said.
“Students tell us they’re learning mathematics that matters to them instead of a series of disconnected math concepts,” said Karon Klipple, who directs the Statway program for Carnegie.
Sixty to 70 percent of new community college students are placed in remedial math, Carnegie estimates. More than 80 percent never qualify for a college-level math course.
Instead of focusing on outcomes — degrees attained — researchers need to understand students’ pathways through community college, argues Peter Riley Bahr of the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education in What We Don’t Know About Community College Students.
“Pathway” includes: “student course-taking behavior; enrollment patterns; course outcomes; choice of program of study; use of advising, tutoring, and other support services; and a variety of other features that ultimately determine long-term student outcomes.”
. . . student pathways are treated as a mysterious blackbox: students enter college with a given set of characteristics and exit college with or without a credential, but the term-by-term decisions and experiences of students between entry and exit remain largely a mystery.
The policy brief is part of The Changing Ecology of Higher Education series for the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford.
Improving completion requires understanding the higher education “ecosystem,” writes Sanford C. Shugart, president of Aspen Prize-winning Valencia College in Florida.
Community colleges “are being asked to achieve much better results with fewer resources to engage a needier student population in an atmosphere of serious skepticism where all journalism is yellow and our larger society no longer exempts our institutions (nor us) from the deep distrust that has grown toward all institutions,” writes Shugart in Inside Higher Ed.
His principles for moving the needle on student completion start with a caution: “Be careful what and how you are measuring — it is sure to be misused.”
. . . Consider a student who comes to a community college, enrolls full-time, and after a year of successful study is encouraged to transfer to another college. This student is considered a noncompleter at the community college and isn’t considered in the measure of the receiving institution at all.
. . . Is there any good reason to exclude part-time students from the measures? How about early transfers? Should non-degree-seeking students be in the measure? When is a student considered to be degree‐seeking? How are the measures, inevitably used to compare institutions with very different missions, calibrated to those missions? How can transfer be included in the assessment and reporting when students swirl among so many institutions, many of which don’t share student unit record information easily?
Completion rates should be calculated for different groups depending on where they start — college ready? low remedial? — so students can calculate their own odds and colleges can design interventions, Shugart recommends. College outcomes measures should be based on college-ready students and should reflect the value added during the college years.
Students experience higher education as an “ecosystem,” Shugart writes. Few community college students get all their education at one institution.
They swirl in and among, stop out, start back, change majors, change departments, change colleges. . . . Articulation of credit will have to give way to carefully designed pathways that deepen student learning and accelerate their progression to completion.
Students need to know that completion matters, writes Shugart. Florida has “the country’s strongest 2+2 system of higher education” with common course numbering, ”statewide articulation agreements that work” and a history of successful transfers. Yet community college students are told to transfer when they’re “ready,” regardless of whether they’ve completed an associate degree.
Students at Valencia, Seminole State, Brevard and Lake Sumter are offered a new model, “Direct Connect,” which guarantees University of Central Florida admission to all associate degree graduates in the region. “It is something they can count on, plan for, and commit to. Earn the degree and you are in.”
Learning is what matters, Shugart adds. Increasing completion rates improves the local economy and community only if students learn “deeply and effectively in a systematic program of study, with a clearer sense of purpose in their studies and their lives.”
He suggests: designing degree pathways across institutional boundaries, encouraging students to “make earlier, more grounded choices of major,” requiring an associate degree to transfer and providing transfer guarantees. In addition, Shugart calls for research on higher education ecosystems and new metrics for measuring performance.
Andrea Levy, Statway instructor at Seattle Central Community College, talks about how she gives developmental math students the intellectual and emotional support they need to persist and succeed. The Carnegie Foundation’s alternative math pathways stress “productive persistence,” a mix of effective learning strategies and the tenacity to keep working when the going gets tough.
After three weeks in Carnegie’s math pathways, students showed greater enthusiasm for math, less anxiety and more confidence they could improve with hard work, reports the Pathways Blog. Carnegie believes these indicators “powerfully predict whether students persist in the course and whether they obtain higher grades.”
We need to streamline the path to higher education by making it easier for community college students to transfer, writes Brian C. Mitchell, director of the Edvance Foundation, in the Huffington Post.
The vast majority of incoming community college students plan to earn a four-year degree, yet just 29 percent will transfer and only 16 percent will go on to earn a bachelors degree or higher, Mitchell writes. By contrast, 60 percent who start at a four-year institutions will earn a bachelor’s degree.
Edvance’s Nexpectation Network will work on building pathways that enable students to move from community college to a bachelor’s degree to the workforce. That starts with preparing students for the academic challenges ahead. Transfer students will need “the capacity to speak well, work cooperatively, write, apply quantitative methods, and use technology,” Mitchell writes. If community colleges do their part, four-year colleges and universities must commit to reserving openings for transfers and supporting their success.
. . . we need to identify students likely to seek a four-year degree as early as possible . . . Students and their families must be encouraged to “imagine the possible” as they plan their postsecondary education. Counselors — especially a new group of success counselors paid for through savings recovered as the recruitment costs per student decrease at four-year schools — must work through economic, familial, social and cultural barriers to find “best fit” transfer schools and tap into the $18 billion in institutional aid available each year.
To conform with City University of New York’s Pathways program, which is designed to help community college students transfer credits, English professors at Queensborough Community College were told to cut an hour from four-hour composition courses. They refused. In response, a college vice president, Karen Steele, sent the department a memo threatening to cancel the composition courses and tell students to take composition at other CUNY campuses. The enrollment drop would force the college to cancel job searches for full-time faculty, send layoff notices to adjuncts and possibly lay off full-time professors, Steele wrote.
Faculty are furious, reports Inside Higher Ed. After the memo was attacked on several blogs – The Danger of Ignoring Shared Governance, and CUNY Declares War on Rebel English Department were two headlines — the college president told faculty there’s no retaliation plan: “The potential consequences as described in Vice President Steele’s email illustrate the worst case scenario — one we are prepared to work mightily to avoid,” wrote Diane Call.
Some faculty leaders believe Pathways “takes too much power away from individual campuses and departments, and that easing transfer could come at the expense of academic rigor,” notes Inside Higher Ed. Those fears now have been inflamed.
Unable to find enough paying students (or taxpayers), colleges will start to collapse, predicts Community College Dean. With them will go the expectation that a four-year degree is the default goal for all students.
1. Outside of California, the first major wave of collapses will occur among the small, undistinguished, tuition-driven privates. I can understand paying premium tuition for a premium degree, but $90,000 x 4 for a nothing-special degree? The only way they could survive is with “discount rate” levels that would imperil their survival. I just don’t see it.
2. In California, the publics will start dropping first, and probably very soon.
I agree completely with his first prediction. I don’t think California’s public universities or community colleges will close. I think they’ll rely much more heavily on online classes. And they may stop taking poorly prepared students.
The collapses will trigger “massive movement away from the four-year degree as the default model,” the dean predicts.
Instead of the “many paths to one place” model that American higher education offers now, we’ll have a “many paths to many places” model. That will mean certificates and certifications of various sorts, and possibly two-year degrees. Although that will mean wrenching transitions for many of the providers that are built entirely around the four-year degree, on balance, it may not be an entirely bad thing. At least it may help with the burgeoning “dropouts with debt” problem.
New providers will spring up to offer alternative credentials, he predicts. Employers may return to doing their own training, if they can ensure trainees won’t jump ship quickly.
“People at the elite outposts of higher ed will be the last to know,” the dean concludes.
Latino students are struggling to complete community college and move on to a university, reports the Long Beach Press-Telegram. While more students are enrolling, it’s taking longer to graduate — or not.
Gerardo Raya enrolled in college in 2008 with the hopes of graduating in four years and scoring a job as an animator or illustrator.
But four years later, Raya is still at Long Beach City College struggling to finish the minimal coursework he needs to transfer to a four-year university.
The 24-year-old said he’s had trouble balancing his work as a recreational aide for a local high school while trying to study for a full load of classes. He’s had to drop classes over the years due to work conflicts and financial problems, but Raya said he’s hopeful he can transfer to Cal State Long Beach next year.
Raya is not alone. The college transfer rate for Latino students is about half that of white students — 14 percent compared with 28 percent — according to the Campaign for College Opportunity, based in California. Only 20 percent of Latino students in community college complete an associate degree or transfer after six years, compared to 37 percent of whites.
“Over half of the children in public schools are Latino, and these are the people who are going to make up our future workforce,” said Michele Siqueiros, the campaign’s executive director.
A grant from the Lumina Foundation is helping funding LBCC’s Promise Pathways Initiative, which starts in the fall. The college is working with Long Beach Unified, which is now 64 percent Latino, to “align college and high school courses, establish assessments and early interventions, and encourage more students to take transfer-level courses in math and English in their first semester,” reports the Press-Telegram. LBCC already partners with the school district and Cal State Long Beach to offer the College Promise, which includes a free first semester at LBCC.
Why do so few Latinos graduate? Blogger Donald Douglas, a political science professor at LBCC, blames weak K-12 preparation and work habits. “Top that off with a lot of kids coming from recent immigrant families, often the first in their family to attend college (and there’s less linguistic and knowledge-based support in the home environment), and the basic foundation of learning isn’t as strong as it might be in other demographics.”
Community colleges must redesign remedial math education, write Anthony Bryk, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Thomas Toch, who directs the foundation’s Washington office, in an Inside Higher Ed commentary. Carnegie is working with 27 community colleges to teach statistics and quantitative reasoning to students who’ve done poorly in math in their K-12 years.
There are units on “Seven Billion and Counting,” “The Credit Crunch” and “Has the Minimum Wage Kept Up?” Students learn math through themes such as citizenship and personal finance. It’s rigorous stuff, but relevant and engaging, requiring students to use the tools of algebra, statistics, data visualizations and analysis to solve meaningful, real-world problems as a way of thinking mathematically.
Instructors in the network have replaced traditional homework with “problem- and scenario-based exercises,” Bryk and Toch write.
Faculty collaborate across different campuses to “build common instructional systems and improve the program.”
Students earn college credit for completing the new “pathways,” speeding their way to a certificate or degree.
So far, students who complete the new courses test nearly as well as students who complete college-level statistics, Bryk and Toch write. Compared to colleges’ typical remedial students, pathway students earning C’s or better in the first semester are much more likely to move on to the second semester. In surveys, they express less math anxiety and are more confidence in their ability to learn math, if they work at it.