Improving community college completion rates is difficult and expensive, concludes a new study by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia.
Community colleges are under pressure to increase completion rates and efficiency, write Clive Belfield, Peter M. Crosta and Davis Jenkins. But “many students who fail to complete are far short of the program requirements.” Some strategies will provide more degrees for the dollar.
In the community college they studied, “there would be substantial gains in completion rates and efficiency from helping students transfer with an award and from helping students with 30+ credits to graduate.” However, persuading more students to persist is
“both an expensive and inefficient reform.”
It’s important to understand the whole college process, not just inputs and outputs, write Belfield and Jenkins in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.
Improving the quality of instruction in introductory courses won’t help if students can’t access high-demand majors, such as nursing. Pouring resources into one early intervention won’t help if other programs lose resources and decline in quality as a result. And increasing retention rates won’t improve efficiency if it leads students to drop out in their second year instead of their first. In fact, improved retention requires more upper-level courses (which tend to cost more) and makes colleges look less efficient if graduation rates remain unchanged.
If community colleges can find ways to improve students’ college readiness — perhaps by collaborating with feeder high schools — they’ll improve their efficiency significantly.
Retraining adults for high-demand jobs and improving graduation rates are the priorities for Iowa community colleges, reports the Gazette. Half the students who enrolled in 2009-10 earned a credential or transferred within three years. Colleges are trying to improve that number.
Des Moines Area Community College is among the schools that now requires an orientation course for all students, said Jeremy Varner, administrator of the community colleges division with the Iowa Department of Education. Other colleges are putting resources into more advising and early-warning programs for when students begin to struggle, he said.
“Getting more through to graduation — that’s where a lot of that focus is,” Varner said.
Kirkwood Community College hopes its math “emporium” will improve retention, ’said Math and Science Dean Lori Woeste.
Students work in a computer lab where an instructor is always on hand for one-on-one discussion, and the students work at their own pace. . . . students signs up for the Prep for College Math course, where they demonstrate competency in the “modules” they are confident about and then focus their time on the areas where they need work, Woeste said.
College officials hope state funding will improve next year, easing the tuition burden on students and funding job training. Iowa is focusing on training workers for jobs in nursing, information technology and advanced manufacturing.
Determined to raise retention rates, Klamath Community College mandated orientation and advising and eliminated late registration, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed. The cost of improved retention was lower enrollment. The small college in southern Oregon saw enrollment fall 20 parent last fall, cutting state funds by $800,000, more than 7 percent of Klamath’s total annual budget.
“We have a system that doesn’t reward student success,” said Roberto Gutierrez, the college president. “It rewards seat time.”
Klamath Community College is an Achieving the Dream partner institution.
Achieving the Dream is a vocal supporter of “make it mandatory,” a refrain often used by Kay McClenney, an expert on community colleges and director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement. McClenney, backed by research, argues that mandatory orientations and advising can boost student retention rates.
For example, prior to last year, only 50 percent of students at Klamath were attending orientation. College officials said that means those students were missing out on vital information about the college and how to navigate it.
Yet many colleges resist the mandatory approach, feeling it is paternalistic and too prescriptive for the large numbers of adult students who attend community colleges, where the average age of students typically hovers around 25. And red tape and hassles, like mandatory scheduling, can discourage students who may have been on the fence about attending college in the first place.
Students who can’t make the time to go to orientation or meet with an advisor probably won’t make the time for college classes, Gutieriez believes.
Banning late registration is hard adult students, who are juggling jobs and family duties. But it’s clear that late registrants have very high failure rates.
Klamath’s new policy “resembles recent decisions by a few for-profits, including the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University, which have created free trial periods” for prospective students, Fain writes. Those who realize they’re not ready for college can quit without using up financial aid, running up debt — or raising the university’s failure statistics.
Klamath’s graduation rate for first-time, full-time students is only 17 percent; another 31 percent transfers. That could improve in the future: Fall-to-winter retention rates jumped from 60 percent for first-year students to 80 percent this year.
Promising low-income eighth graders federal aid to pay future college expenses could motivate them to prepare for college, enroll and persist, predicts Accelerating College Knowledge: Examining the Feasibility of a Targeted Early Commitment Pell Grant Program, an analysis by Robert Kelchen and Sara Goldrick-Rab of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Students who qualify for a free school lunch in middle school are very likely to qualify for a Pell Grant in college — if they enroll, the study finds.
The persistently low college enrollment and completion rates of youth from poor families are partly attributable to their uncertainty about whether college is affordable. In the current system, concrete information about college costs arrives at the end of high school and is only available to those who complete a complex application. Evidence suggests this timing affects students’ motivation and ability to adequately prepare for college.
Simplifying the eligibility process to make an early Pell promise would increase the program’s costs by approximately $1.5 billion annually, researchers predict. However, “benefits would exceed the costs by approximately $600 million.”
For years now, philanthropists have guaranteed college aid to low-income students who complete high school, notes Inside Higher Ed. Recently, some towns and school districts have launched “promise” programs, which guarantee “some amount of college money to students who meet certain prerequisites.”
The researchers estimated that the guaranteed program would increase high school completion rates by about 10 percent, and that college retention and completion rates would increase by another 3 percent.
Since more educated workers earn more and pay higher taxes, an early Pell promise would more than pay for itself, the study concludes.
After one year, the veterans center at Lee College in Texas is making a difference, reports Community College Times. The center provides financial and and career counseling, tutoring, registration assistance and referrals for healthcare, housing and other benefits.
“Lee College has definitely become much more veteran-friendly since the center opened,” said Michael Ellis, a student veteran who tutors at the center.
“When we first opened, students would stop by, get the information they needed and leave. But now, it’s a campus hot spot.
“Students come here to hang out, do homework, or get tutoring. Occasionally, a student who needs help or directions to a building will stop by, and another student who just happens to be there will volunteer to help out. It’s creating a culture of veterans helping veterans.”
Veteran enrollment has risen by 23 percent in the last year. Retention and completion rates have increased 10 percent and drops have decreased 55 percent. Grades are up slightly. More vets are finding jobs, said Ehab Mustafa, a veterans specialist at the college.
In Dreaming Big, the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education (CCCIE) recommends ways for community colleges to serve a new wave of young immigrants. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, announced by the Obama administration in June, will let undocumented immigrants who arrived as children stay in the U.S. and work legally, if they meet educational and other requirements. Many are expected to enroll in community colleges.
The report deals with increasing college access, extending financial aid to make college affordable, supporting college readiness and success, offering alternatives for adult learners and improving college retention and completion.
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.
Online students need consistent, personalized advising support, reports the League for Innovation in the Community College. While live chat is useful for answering simple questions, online students do best when they can form a relationship with someone who will help them develop academic and career plans.
Assigning an adviser who will work with a student throughout his or her career at an institution contributes to long-term student success. Through the use of online management systems such as Blackboard and Moodle advisers can maintain online office hours, compile advising notes, create bulletin boards, and host online chat groups (Dahl, 2004).
The Community College of Vermont piloted a Moodle “classroom” run by an adviser with weekly announcements, responses to questions, and check-ins with students. It’s not clear the advising made a difference: 54 percent of online students in the advisory group returned for the next semester, compared to 53 percent of those with no advising support.
In a follow-up survey, half of students who responded said they had no contact with the adviser.
Each student was emailed a “welcome to online advising” message at the beginning of the semester and received push emails during the semester from the Moodle site. Students were also emailed or called when they were reported absent from class during the semester. It appears evident that students do not consider the Moodle classroom dedicated to advising to be contact, since 73 percent of students entered the online advising sites.
Asked if online students could do without an adviser, 15 of 16 respondents said online students need an adviser.
Remedial courses usually fail to prepare students for college-level work, concludes a study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Remediation does not develop students’ skills sufficiently to increase their rates of college success,” concludes Judith Scott-Clayton, an assistant professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who wrote the paper with graduate student Olga Rodriguez.
Still, the remedial track may have other uses: At open-access colleges, the remedial track can be a low-cost way of sorting unprepared students out of crowded college-level courses, the paper suggests:
. . . an unadvertised but implicit function of remedial assignment may be to signal students about their likelihood of college completion; it may be efficient to both the student and the institution to realize this and adjust their investments sooner rather than later.
Moreover, regardless of its effectiveness in remediating skill deficiencies, remediation may still serve as an expedient form of student tracking. Even if remediated students never make it to college-level coursework, students in both remedial and college-level courses may learn more during their three semesters of attendance (the average, in our sample) than if they were all grouped in already-crowded college courses.
The study looked at first-time, degree-seeking students at six urban community colleges: Of those required to take the placement test, 90 percent required remediation in one or more subjects.
Remedial placement didn’t discourage students, the study found. While most quit college without earning a credential, so did students who started at the college level.
“Assignment to remediation has little influence, either positive or negative, on degree completion, degree/transfer, persistence, dropout or semesters enrolled,” the study found.
About 10 percent of community college classes are developmental, averaging $3,200 per incoming student or nearly $4 billion annually nationwide.
An estimated 25 percent of students placed in remedial math and up to 70 percent in remedial English would have earned a B or better in the entry-level credit-bearing course, the researchers estimated. However, few would have earned a credential.
If remediation is about keeping students out of college courses, courses should be redesigned , the researchers suggest.
Many remedial courses are designed explicitly to prepare students for college-level coursework in the relevant subject, which our analysis suggests they may never take. . . . A question for future research is what type of remedial curriculum is most valuable for students who may not continue beyond the course.
If the average student lasts only three semesters, maybe colleges should design three-semester-or-less job training programs that incorporate the reading, writing and math skills students will need in the workplace.
Students who never made it through high school usually don’t make it through community college. But Florida’s Santa Fe College is improving the odds through a mentoring program for GED students called Pathways to Persistence.
Fifty-five percent of GED students drop out of community college in their first year, Pathways founder Angela Long tells Community College Times.
Pathways offers support through hand-picked mentors—Long chooses a match based on initial scholar interviews—who range from professors to administrators or other college staff, plus a crew of volunteer peers from college organizations for tutoring assistance.
. . . “The goal is to make GED students feel so special that they have an impact on the country and to give them a voice to tell us what is working in education, what has failed them, and how we can make it better,” Long says.
. . . Mentors meet with assigned mentees at least once a week the first month of the program, and every other week thereafter, following assigned topics that include how to pick classes and talk about financial assistance. Mentees also attend a weekly 3-credit course in the fall semester and attend leadership seminars and luncheons with key SFC members.
Thirty students started in last fall and another 20 joined in spring 2012. More than half earned a 3.0 GPA or higher.