Success courses become mandatory

More community colleges are requiring first-year students to take a success course, according to the American Association of Community Collleges’ 21st Century Virtual Center.

At Durham Technical Community College, in North Carolina, students map their academic goals, says Gabby McCutchen, assistant dean of student engagement and transitions. “They can set goals for themselves based on what their strengths and interests are, as well as what careers are available to them and what careers are growing, versus what careers are being outsourced or replaced by technology.”

At Oklahoma’s Tulsa Community College (TCC), remedial students and those who receive free tuition through Tulsa Achieves are required to take the success course.

“We try to look at, in goal setting and time management, ‘What are the obstacles you can see to being successful?’” explains Lori Coggins, who runs the school’s Academic Strategies program. “How can we problem solve in advance, so that when that problem — your child gets sick or you get behind in your coursework — comes up, you don’t panic.”

At TCC, nearly 86 percent of the students who took the Academic Strategies course persisted to the next semester compared with 64 percent of those who didn’t take the course.

Retention rates also are up at Durham Tech: 85 percent of students who took the success course persisted compared with about 70 percent of students who did not enroll in the course.

‘When you struggle, you’re growing’

Developmental math students often expect to fail, writes Gay Clyburn on the Carnegie Commons blog. Many believe in gender or race stereotypes about who’s “a math person” and who isn’t.

Carnegie’s alternative math pathways — Statway in statistics and Quantway in quantitative reasoning— teach students that ability is malleable. A “Starting Strong” exercise is designed to mitigate what David Yeager calls “learned helplessness.” Students read an article explaining that neuroscience shows that, with enough effort, they can grow their brain.

Just reading this article on brain growth has shown a significant  effect on student persistence and success in a randomized trial, says Yeager.

Statway and Quantway have tripled success rates for remedial math students in half the time, reports Clyburn. “Carnegie has been able to maintain this level of student accomplishment, even as the initiative has grown to include new colleges, new faculty, and many more students over the past three years.”

At the annual Community College Pathways National Forum,  Yeager urged instructors to create a class culture that expects success. Students need praise after accomplishment (not before), frequent encouragement and continuous feedback, he said.

Students should be told the brain is like a muscle, Yeager said.  “The more you use it, the better it works.” Or, “the more you practice, the smarter you become.”

He recommended phrases to use, such as “when you struggle, then you’re growing.”

Persistence rate declines

Persistence rates are declining for first-time college students, reports the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Overall, the persistence rate — the percentage of students who return for a second year — dropped 1.2 percent since 1009. Of all students who started college in fall 2012, 68.7 percent returned to college at any U.S. institution in fall 2013, and 58.2 percent returned to the same institution.

In the two-year public sector, persistence has fallen 2.3 percentage points since 2009, while the retention rate has dropped 1.1 percentage points.

Of all students who started community college in fall 2012, 57 percent returned to college at any U.S. institution in fall 2013, and 46.5 percent returned to the same institution. For full-time starters, the persistence rate has fallen 2.8 percentage points since 2009, while the retention rate has dropped 2.2 percentage points. For part-time students, the persistence rate has fallen 1.1 percentage points since 2009, while the retention rate has increased 1.0 percentage points.

Text nudges boost persistence

More than 18 percent of Pell recipients with a B average or higher didn’t reapply for aid for a second year of college, a recent study reports. Close to half did not return to college and those who did return had lower persistence rates than students who had reapplied for aid,

Text-message reminders to apply for aid can boost persistence for community college students, according to a new working paper, Freshman-Year Financial-Aid Nudges. The nudges cost only $5 per student.

Researchers designed a series of messages about financial aid, refiling the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (Fafsa) and maintaining satisfactory academic progress, a precondition of receiving aid, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A group that had helped the students in high school with college and aid counseling, uAspire, sent the messages.

The messages were designed to both connect students with advising and remind them about deadlines and requirements.

. . . The messages made a difference for community-college students. Sixty-four percent of such students in the control group persisted to their second year. For those who got the messages, the rate was 12 percentage points higher: 76 percent.

Messages didn’t affect the re-enrollment rate — 87 percent — of  students at four-year colleges and universities.

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

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.”