Community colleges are in the national spotlight, said Richard Rhodes, president of Austin Community College, at the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges in San Francisco. ”The expectations are higher than they’ve ever been before, but legislators are beginning to understand the trajectory and pathways of our students.”
In addition to tracking the three-year graduation rates of first-time, full-time students, a small minority of community-college students, new accountability measures look at success rates in remedial classes and the number of students complete 15 or 30 credit hours.
One challenge facing two-year colleges, according to the speakers, is that colleges are having to educate more students from more-diverse backgrounds with less money.
At Northern Virginia Community College, for instance, the college’s enrollment has grown by 28 percent over the past four years, while its state budget allocations have shrunk by 20 percent.
Panelists also discussed reforming remedial education, including placing fewer students in non-credit courses and embedding remediation in college-level courses.
Fifty-four percent of students born into high-income families around 1980 completed a college degree compared to 9 percent of those born into low-income families, concludes Gains and Gaps: Changing Inequality in U.S. College Entry and Completion by Martha Bailey and Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan. While low-income students improved their college graduation rate by four points compared to those born in the early 1960s, high-income students improved by 18 points, widening the gap.
Inequality in educational attainment has increased slightly for men and sharply for women since the early 1980s, researchers found.
Sex differences in educational attainment, which were small or nonexistent thirty years ago, are now substantial, with women outpacing men in every demographic group. The female advantage in educational attainment is largest in the top quartile of the income distribution.
“The gap between rich and poor in both college entry and college completion widened by almost twice as much for women as it did for men,“ writes Peter Orszag in the Washington Monthly‘s College Guide.
It can’t simply be that wealthy families directly or indirectly buy advantages for their children. If this were the case, why wouldn’t it work as well for sons as for daughters?
For those born around 1980, 70 percent of high school graduates go on to college, compared to about half of graduates born around 1960. Low-income students are much less likely to complete high school, explaining about half of the college gap. Requiring students to stay in school until age 18 would make more low-income students eligible to attend college, Orszag writes. But it won’t help much if graduates aren’t prepared for college.
College persistence and completion is much lower for low-income students.
Less than 60 percent of students enrolled full-time at four-year colleges graduate within six years, the College Board has shown, and less than 30 percent of full-time students at two-year colleges graduate within three years.
. . . Among those born around 1980, only about a third of college students from low- income families got their degrees, compared with about two- thirds of those from affluent families.
Low-income students are much more likely to start at community colleges, which have very low graduation rates.
Remedial students in Community College of Denver‘s FastStart were more likely to complete remediation and take and pass gatekeeper math courses, concludes a Community College Research Center study. However, FastStart was not linked to increased persistence or accumulation of college-level credits.
Fast Start was designed for students who test into at least two levels of developmental education in a particular subject area. The program combines multiple semester-length courses into a single intensive semester, while providing case management, career exploration, and educational planning services.
Acceleration, rather than case management, appeared to be “the catalyst driving superior course performance outcomes,” the study concluded.
FastStart has added learning communities that combine a developmental and college-level course. That may improve retention rates, researchers speculate.
The new federal College Scorecard will let students and parents see “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck,” said President Obama in his State of the Union speech. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office will launch its own community college scorecard, reports EdSource Today.
The federal scorecard is “very four-year centric data,” explained Patrick Perry, Vice Chancellor for Technology, Research and Information Systems for California Community Colleges. “It tracks first-time, full-time freshmen degree-seeking students. That’s a small percentage of who’s coming to us.”
The community college scorecard, known as AARC 2.0, will track six “momentum points” correlated with student success. These are based on progress over six years.
Persistence Rate – the percentage of students seeking a degree or transfer to a four-year school who remain enrolled for three consecutive terms,
30 Unit Rate – the percentage of first-time students seeking a degree or transfer who earn at least 30 units,
Student Progress and Attainment Rate – the percentage of degree-or-transfer seeking students – separated into cohorts of those who start in basic skills and those who begin in college-level classes – who earn a degree, earn a certificate or transfer to a four-year college or university,
Basic Skills Progress Rate – the percentage of students who start out in remedial classes who go on to succeed in college-level courses,
Career Technical Education – the percentage of students who complete a career technical education program and earn a degree, earn a certificate or transfer, and
Career Development and College Preparation Rate – the completion rate for students in non-credit career development and non-credit college prep courses, such as English as a second language, which are offered at about a third of the state’s community colleges.
In addition, student progress data will be disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender.
Grants to low-income students had little lasting impact on their performance, concludes a MDRC study at Borough of Manhattan Community College and Hostos Community College, both in New York City.
Based on their enrollment and completion levels, study participants received grants of up to $1,300 for each of two semesters, and some received a similar-sized grant for a third (summer) semester. In each term, a student received $200 for registering for six or more credits, another $450 if still enrolled by the middle of the term, and $650 for achieving a grade of C or better (or the equivalent in developmental courses) in at least six credits.
Students who received the performance-based grants were likelier to enroll for that term, compared to the control group. But a year after students received grants, the average recipient hadn’t earned more credits or registered for more semesters.
“This suggests that while the program was effective when students were eligible for scholarships, the effects on enrollment and credits earned dissipated after the program ended,” the authors write. (The relatively small number of grant recipients at Hostos, a much smaller institution where the students are older and the program was housed in a student services division of the college, did accumulate more credits than their peers did, the authors note.)
While “bare bones” grants may not work, other forms of aid show promise at other colleges, said Reshma Patel, project and data manager for the Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration Project. Studies are testing the effect of offering advising and tutoring services and larger scholarships. ”We have had consistent findings across the sites, in terms of improvements in credit accumulation,” she said.
Student success courses, also known as College 101, have the potential to help students adjust to community college, persist and graduate, but need to focus on key skills, according to a new study from the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.
College 101 courses . . . typically try to impart non-academic college “know-how” by providing information about college and campus services, assistance with academic and career planning, and instruction in study habits and personal skills. These courses are based on the premise that non-academic skills and behaviors are often as germane to college success as academic preparation, and are an increasingly popular intervention as two- and four-year institutions seek to improve graduation rates.
While College 101 courses provided students with important information, students need more opportunities to apply and practice skills, researchers concluded. The lessons were not re-enforced in students’ academic classes.
Earlier CCRC research has found that College 101 students earn more credits in their first year and are more likely to make it to their second year. However, the benefits fade over time.
College 101 courses should focus on the most important non-academic skills students must master to succeed in college, researchers recommended.
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.
Only 9 percent of low-income students complete a bachelor’s degree by age 24. American RadioWorks reporter Emily Hanford looks at the importance of Grit, Luck and Money in determining who persists to a degree.
She defines grit as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.” In a paper, she writes that “the gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.”
Grit can be learned, Duckworth believes.
It takes more grit to earn an associate’s degree than a bachelor’s, her research shows. ”If you’re going to get through a two-year college where the attrition rate is 50 or maybe even 75 percent, maybe you do need more grit to surmount all those obstacles,” says Duckworth.
Houston’s YES Prep, a high-performing charter school for low-income minority students, is trying to help first-generation college students cope with challenges and persist to a degree. Even academically strong students have trouble in college, reports Hanford.
. . . at YES, where most of the students are from poor families, close to 70 percent of students score as well on the SAT as students from middle-income families, and they score significantly better than other minority students in America.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is this: Less than 10 percent of YES Prep alumni take remedial classes when they get to college. Nationally, as many as 60 percent of incoming college students have to take some sort of remedial class.
. . . Based on academic preparation alone, one could reasonably expect that 80 or 90 percent of the students would graduate from college.
But that didn’t happen.
Nearly all YES Prep graduates go to college, usually to four-year institutions. Only 40 percent complete a college degree in four years; 28 percent drop out and the rest are still trying to finish.
YES Prep gives students a lot of support to get them ready for college — maybe too much. In college, the support system is gone. Often their parents can’t help.
The school has hired two counselors to work with alumni and created partnerships with several private colleges that can provide counseling and support to first-generation college students.
Among Hanford’s profiles of persistence is Paul Longoria, a 2007 YES graduate, who enrolled in community college when his first-choice college, Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, turned him down. YES Prep counselors were worried.
According to the data YES has on how its students do at various kinds of colleges, students who go to community colleges have the hardest time graduating. Only a handful of YES students start at community colleges, but about 13 percent who start at a four-year school end up transferring to a community college. Less than 10 percent of those who transfer to community colleges earn an associate’s degree, according to YES Prep data. Less than 5 percent end up earning a bachelor’s.
Ignoring his counselors’ advice, Longoria went to San Jacinto Community College in Houston for one year, then transferred to Sam Houston State. Despite studying a “transfer sheet” to find the right community college courses, he learned many of his credits wouldn’t transfer.
“You almost feel cheated,” he says. “I put in the time, I put in the effort, I surely put in the money. And you’re telling me that it didn’t matter.”
He retook courses and began a criminal justice major. After two years, he switched to kinesiology and transferred to the University of Houston, which had a strong program. Once again he had to repeat some classes, costing him another year in college. He expects to earn his bachelor’s degree in December 2013, more than six years after he completed high school.
Colleges are rethinking placement exams, concludes a new Jobs for the Future report, Where to Begin? Researchers have found that placement exams have very high stakes and are weak predictors of college success. Furthermore, it’s not clear that developmental classes improve student outcomes. “Many students required to take remedial classes could have succeeded in college-level coursework,” recent studies suggest.
Math and English assessments provide at best a narrow picture of students’ readiness for college. Placement tests do not measure many of the skills needed for college success—including persistence, motivation, and critical thinking. And only some students need most of the assessed math skills.
Some colleges in New Jersey and California are relying less on placement test results and more on high school grades or other measures of college readiness.
Also being explored are practices such as mainstreaming students into college-level courses with extra support, basing placement on students’ academic goals, and allowing them to make their own placement decisions.
Florida and Virginia are aligning assessments to their curricula instead of using off-the-shelf tests. Texas hopes to develop a diagnostic assessment to evaluate students’ strengths and weaknesses. In the future may be assessments of students’ cognitive strategies, such as critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as on-cognitive factors such as persistence and motivation.
Until recently, students were advised not to bother studying for college placement exams. Now high schools and colleges are trying to help students prepare for the tests.
In some high schools, juniors take college placement tests to provide an early warning of what college requires and chance to catch up in 12th grade. Community colleges also are trying to help prospective students brush up on math or English skills before they’re placed in developmental classes.
Career-focused dual enrollment programs helped disadvantanged and underachieving students in California graduate from high school and succeed in college, concludes a three-year Community College Research Center study funded by the Irvine Foundation. Compared to similar students in the control group, career-tech students who took college classes in high school were more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to enroll in a four-year rather than a two-year college, less likely to be placed in a remedial college course and more likely to persist in college and earn more credits.
Almost 3,000 California students participated in eight dual enrollment programs that paired their high schools with nearby community colleges. Sixty percent were students of color, 40 percent came from non-English speaking homes and one third had parents with a high school education or less.
Earlier CCRC studies found career-technical dual enrollment is associated with improved college persistence, credit accumulation and grades. This study is one of the first to demonstrate that dual enrollment can work for students who might not otherwise enroll in college or succeed, if they do.
Among recommendations for policymakers, the researchers urged California to compensate both high schools and community colleges for dual students and waive college fees. In addition, the state should ensure that “dual” college credits are portable, so students don’t need to repeat coursework. Eligibility should not be limited to high achievers, the report recommends. “Following the standard of student eligibility for community colleges, the state should encourage broad access and prevent students from being disqualified by grades or test scores alone.”
• Continue to make dual enrollment available on both the high school and college campuses. Courses on the college campus provide a fuller and more authentic college experience; college opportunities must also be available at high school for students who lack transportation.
• Explore ways to ensure authenticity of the high school-based program format. Courses delivered at high school must have the same rigor and quality as college campus-based courses, and students must be held to the same standards of achievement as those in campus-based programs.
• Provide professional development to dual enrollment instructors. High school teachers may need greater assistance in creating a college-like atmosphere, and college instructors may need insights into scaffolding and other pedagogical strategies to support high school students.
California’s dual enrollment programs are struggling financially, evaluators noted. Because of funding cuts, some community colleges can’t provide seats in college courses for high school students. Two of the career-tech programs studied were discontinued in 2011 due to lack of funding.