White House plans new college summit

The White House will host a second College Opportunity Summit on Dec 4.  The meeting will focus on encouraging first-generation, low-income and minority students to enroll in college, persist and earn degrees.

Community colleges, which received little attention in the first summit in January, have been the focus of attention by the Obama administration.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Munoz hosted a discussion last week with community college and nonprofit leaders on effective ways to help poorly prepared college students.

Fourteen community colleges made commitments to improve remedial education. For example, Macomb Community College will mandate a college skills course for all remedial students, reports Inside Higher Ed.

In July, the White House and the Harvard Graduate School of Education convened K-12 and higher education leaders to explore strategies to improve the effectiveness of college advising and support school counselors.  Another working session focused on college readiness and enrollment.

Education Department funding will support a new Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR) led by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia and the social policy research organization MDRC. The center will focus on college readiness research.

In addition, Khan Academy will work on technology-based solutions to improve student success in developmental math.

Adjuncts lack training, support

Community colleges depend heavily on part-time faculty but rarely treat them as “full partners in promoting student success,” charges Contingent Commitments: Bringing Part-Time Faculty Into Focus, a new report by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE).

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Adjuncts teach 58 percent of community college classes, CCCSE reports. They work for much less money than full-time instructors and for minimal or no benefits.

Part-timers teach the neediest students: More than three-quarters of developmental education faculty are adjuncts.

Adjuncts are less likely to refer students to counselors, tutors or labs, perhaps because they’re less aware of support services.

Though many part-time faculty express their passion for teaching and commitment to student success, many also see themselves as outsiders in the colleges where they work. Many do not find out whether they will be teaching classes until just days before the term begins. Their access to orientation, professional development, college services, or office space to do their own work and meet with students is limited or simply unavailable. They rarely, if ever, are engaged in interaction with their peers or in campus discussions about the steps colleges need to take to improve student learning, persistence, and completion.

In focus groups, adjuncts complained they’d never been told how to make copies or find their mail boxes.

Embracing Non-Tenure Track Faculty,, edited by Adrianna Kezar, suggests ways colleges could improve working conditions for the “new majority” of contingent instructors.

Report: Scrap most remedial courses

College remedial education requires  “transformation,” not just tinkering, concludes a national coalition of higher education groups. Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education recommends scrapping most remedial courses. Instead, most poorly prepared students  would be placed in college-level, for-credit courses with extra support, such as tutoring, computer labs and extra classroom time.

The report was issued by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, Complete College America, Education Commission of the States, and Jobs for the Future.

 “Half of all America’s undergraduates and 70% of its community college students begin college in at least one remedial course, and only one in four remedial community college students ever make it to graduation day,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

For every 10 students assigned to three or more semesters of remedial English, fewer than three ever complete a college-level English class. Only one in 10 students assigned to three or more semesters of remedial math passes a first-year college-level math course.

The report also calls for changing requirements so students take the subjects they need for their program of study, but don’t have to take irrelevant courses. That means not everyone would take algebra.

“This is especially important in math, which is the most significant barrier to college success for remedial students,” said Uri Treisman, director of the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin. “Too many students today are required to pass college-level algebra when statistics or quantitative literacy would be much more appropriate preparation.”

In a joint statement, the groups called for “immediate, large-scale changes” to turn remediation from a barrier to a gateway.

The remedial PhD

Remedial education is usually left to adjuncts. However, doctoral programs in remedial and developmental education are in the works, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Grambling State offers an EdD in developmental education and Texas plans to create EdD programs at Sam Houston State University and Texas State University and the field’s first PhD at Texas State.

Thomas R. Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College Columbia University, likes the attention to remedial education, but thinks a remedial PhD is too narrow.

But he said that many people who do research on remedial education at his center at Teachers College didn’t earn doctorates in the field, nor do they work at centers that focus only on remedial education. In Bailey’s case, his PhD is in economics, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“It’s important that we think about developmental education in a broader context,” he said. “Many of the students we’ve labeled as remedial aren’t that different from the students we’ve said are college-ready.”

The demand for remedial education isn’t expected to diminish any time soon.