Free college for sophomores?

Maine students should pay no tuition in their sophomore year at a University of Maine campus, proposes Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democratic candidate for governor.  ”One-third of first-year students don’t continue on to their sophomore year,” the “Sophomore Year Free” plan states. “Affordability is a major obstacle” to completion.

Michaud also proposes giving the state’s community colleges an extra $1 million to add summer classes.

“Sophomore Year Free” encourages persistence, writes Matt Reed in Inside Higher Ed. “Because it holds off the reward until the second year, it pre-screens for folks who aren’t serious or capable.”

At the community college level, it would be hard to define “sophomore year.” What about part-timers, transfers and students who started out in developmental courses? “Free” would leave a lot of federal financial aid on the table.

Still, using pricing to reward desired student behavior is “worth exploring,” writes Reed.

DeVry, a for-profit, used “plateau pricing” when Reed worked there. Students paid for the first 12 credits in a semester; the next four credits were free. That encouraged them to take more credits and finish on time.

Another option is a refundable “graduation deposit” paid on enrollment. Students would get the money back only if they earned a credential. It would be a financial hardship for students, writes Reed.

If it forced students to think about their commitment to completion, it might cut enrollment drastically.

Mapping the college path

The Postsecondary Success Collaborative has released its Asset Map, which helped raise college enrollment and persistence rates by more than 30 percent among African American and Latino students.

High schools in Miami, Philadelphia and San Francisco used the tool to evaluate students’ needs and the school and community resources available to help them succeed in college.

“There are too many well-meaning programs and services trying to get students into college that work in isolation and lack expertise in certain areas or require additional funding,” says Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, Director, Postsecondary Success at FHI 360. “Asset mapping identifies these programs and services, highlights where they are succeeding and exposes gaps where students need more support. Schools then work strategically with education, business, government and community sectors to help more students to access, and succeed in higher education.”

According to a report based on an independent five-year evaluation,  ”the asset mapping tool not only helped raise college enrollment rates, but also helped raise college persistence rates by 32 percent for African American and Latino students in schools that had particularly strong leadership and commitment to PSC.”

Getting past algebra

Algebra scares many community college students, writes Sophie Quinton in National Journal. Two-thirds place into remedial math. Fewer than one in four who start below the college level earn a certificate or degree in eight years.

Arica Hawley used to dread math class. She would look at problems and not even know where to begin. When Hawley, 37, went back to Tacoma (Wash.) Community College last fall to finish her associate’s degree, she placed into a pre-algebra course—eighth-grade-level material.

Students who test two or three levels below Algebra II, which is considered college math, have to pass several remedial courses before they can start earning college credit. ”It eats up time and financial aid, especially when we have students who have to retake those courses three, four, and five times,” says John Kellermeier, a TCC math instructor.

Instead of remedial math, Hawley took Statway, a college-level statistics course for students who haven’t mastered high school math. She earned a college math credit.

The Carnegie Foundation developed two one-year courses — Statway and a quantitative-reasoning course called Quantway — to get students out of the remedial rut. Statway includes high school algebra and college-level statistics. Quantway starts with developmental math, but moves to college-level quantitative reasoning in the second semester.

Both courses allow faculty to teach algebra relevant to the college-level material, and to public debates and questions students will face in the workforce. In Statway, students learn to read graphs, determine probability, and detect bias in data. They brainstorm ways to prove or disprove theories, like the assertion by astrologers that birth dates determine personality traits.

Students are grouped into threes or fours and may stay in those groups throughout the course. The groups work through the material together every day, and are responsible for keeping each other up to speed.

. . . The courses also include exercises that address math anxiety. Many students believe they’re just not ‘math people.’ “If we don’t change how they see themselves, they’re going to realize a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Bernadine Chuck Fong, the director of Carnegie’s developmental math initiative.

Statway was launched in the fall of 2011 at 19 community colleges and two state universities. Fifty-one percent of students earned a college credit within a year, compared to 5.9 percent of community college students who start in remedial math.

Thirty campuses in 11 states now are implementing Statway and 22 are using Quantway.

Students do better when they believe they can succeed, feel that they belong in the classroom, and feel connected to their peers and teacher, says Fong.

It helps to have a ‘success coach’

When Virginia Hughes earned an associate degree at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, she invited her “success coach”  to the ceremony, writes Jon Marcus on the Hechinger Report.  Laura Harill, a retired hospital administrator, helped the first-generation college student fill out forms, apply for financial aid and choose courses.

The privately funded tnAchieves—or “Tennessee Achieves”— recruits volunteers to help students enroll in college and persist.

Coaching appears to lower college dropout rates.

 “If you’re low-income, if you’re first-generation, if no one in your neighborhood has ever gone to college, it can be very scary,” said Krissy DeAlejandro, executive director of tnAchieves. Students “might have questions we all take for granted, such as, what is a semester? What does that word mean? And just when you think you’re finished, it’s, oh, no, we still need this filled out. It all becomes very arduous and frustrating for the students.”

Personalized coaching doesn’t have to be face to face. College students who were coached by phone, email, and text messages were 15 percent more likely to stay in school, a Stanford study found.

At Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Ala., 87 percent of  students coached in the fall enroll in the spring, about eight percentage points higher than the rate for uncoached students.

In Tennessee, 75 percent of students coached by tnAchieves make it to their second year of college, compared to the state average of 59 percent. Twenty-six percent get associate’s degrees within three years, compared to 11 percent for other Tennessee students.li

Online learners don’t do as well

Online community college students are less likely to complete their course and earn lower grades than students in face-to-face classes, concludes a new Community College Research Center study.

Before expanding online enrollments, improve the quality of online courses, researchers advise.

Study: More aid helps needy students

Increasing need-based aid helped low-income Florida students stay in school, enroll in a public university and earn a bachelor’s degree in six years, concludes a National Bureau of Economic Research study by Benjamin Castleman and Bridget Terry Long.

Looking Beyond Enrollment: College Access, Persistence, and Graduation investigated the Florida Student Access Grant, which supplements the federal Pell Grant, reports Inside Higher Ed.

. . . researchers compared students who were eligible for the $1,300 FSAG grant with students whose expected family contribution amounts were just above the cutoff, but were still eligible for Pell Grants. So presumably the students who received an FSAG grant came from similar low-income backgrounds as the ones who did not.

. . . “Our paper isn’t looking at aid vs. no aid,” said Castleman, an acting assistant professor of education at the University of Virginia. “We’re looking at how a greater amount of aid affects students. In the context of need-based aid, increasing the aid which students were eligible for had a range of positive outcomes.”

The additional $1,300 in grant aid eligibility increased the probability of immediate enrollment at a public, four-year university by 12 percent. Those students were also likelier — by 4.3 percentage points — to stay continuously enrolled through the spring semester of their freshman year.

The FSAG grant had the biggest impact on students who graduated in the top 25 percent of their high school class. “I think our work suggests that there is a population of kids who are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds but have worked hard in high school to make college a reality,” Castleman said. “Giving additional aid has a profound impact in helping these students not only get to college, but to also earn a degree down the road.”

In the spotlight

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.

Diploma gap widens between rich, poor

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.

FastStart boosts math success, but not retention

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.

California plans community college ‘scorecard’

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.