With an average of 1,000 students for every advisor, most community college students are figuring things out on their own, notes the National Journal. Advising software is trying to fill the guidance gap.
”A lot of community-college students end up taking courses that don’t count, either toward their degree in the community college, or, if they want to transfer somewhere, that their transfer school’s not going to accept,” says Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Teacher’s College at Columbia University.
Students who switch paths can run out of financial-aid eligibility and drop out.
Software developed by Washington research and consulting company Education Advisory Board has helped four-year schools like Georgia State University increase graduation and retention rates. As the EAB tries to develop a similar product for two-year schools, it finds itself up against a much bigger challenge.
“We actually think that the moment where education is imperative, and currently lacking, is at the very beginning of a student’s life cycle at an institution—really the intake process,” says Sarah Zauner, research director of EAB’s community college forum. The proposed tool would encourage students to define their goals, and then alert them when they veer off track.
EAB’s product alerts advisers at four-year schools, but the two-year version will be designed for use by students.
The product—still in its early stages—would invite students to answer questions about academic strengths and interests, their family income and time constraints, and the degree or certificate they’re aiming for. Based on that information, the tool would suggest majors and degree programs, and provide information on salaries earned by comparable graduates of those programs. The two-year product would alert students when they veer off course and give them advice, like directions to the campus tutoring center.
“E-advising” isn’t new at community colleges, says Jaggars. Most online systems help students plan and warn if they’re off track. But not all students use e-advising.
Even when online information is clear, students like to “have some kind of a person” to go to with questions, says Jaggars. Her team advised Michigan’s Macomb Community College to free counselors “to spend less time dealing with the logistics of enrolling students in courses and more time helping them set goals.”
Financial aid counselors should “rethink their role in student retention” to help first-generation students, writes Sara Goldrick-Rab on Education Optimists. Helping students succeed should be a “cross-campus effort.”
“Students who have overcome enormous challenges” to get to college often struggle academically, she writes. They must make Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) — usually a C average — to retain financial aid.
However, many first-generation students don’t know how to raise their grades and “are ill-equipped to sort out good advice from bad advice,” writes Goldrick-Rab.
They have little external support, experience more family crises, work longer hours, and are often more averse to taking on loans. While they might want to seek out help from others, that help is often offered only during daytime hours when their schedules are packed. In addition, when told they they should take on loans, they feel alienated and misunderstood.
Financial aid officers, often the first to know a student is in trouble, should sound an early warning. This would trigger proactive efforts to offer comprehensive advising that “integrates academic, financial, and family support.”
El Camino College (California) publishes a report on students who lose aid due to failure to make SAP. More colleges should be “open and honest” about the challenges, Goldrick-Rab concludes.
President Obama’s higher education plan praises performance funding in Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee, but two new Community College Research Center (CCRC) studies find “little evidence that performance funding improves student success,” says researcher Kevin Dougherty. “It remains very much in the experimental stage.”
Envisioning Performance Funding Impacts and Performance Funding for Higher Education look at Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee, which have tied substantial higher education funding to student success measures, such as retention and graduation rates.
. . . in states where funding for public colleges and universities is tied to student performance, colleges struggle to pinpoint the causes of poor student outcomes, develop and implement meaningful solutions, and track whether the solutions are improving student success. Additionally, performance funding has the potential to produce strong negative side effects, such as lowered standards, decreased access for at-risk students, and a weakened faculty voice.
“State policymakers tend to assume that if there is enough money on the table, schools will figure out how to get retention and graduation numbers up,” Dougherty says.
But colleges need help to research their problems and find solutions. Without that, there’s a risk they’ll improve their numbers by restricting access and lowering expectations. Performance funding plans should include “financial incentives for enrolling at-risk students and systems to track whether colleges are keeping up academic standards,” Dougherty advises.
“Life coaching” is raising success rates for first-year students at Wallace State Community College and Central Alabama Community College, reports Community College Times. PAVES (Partnership for Accelerated Learning through Visualization, Engagement and Simulation is funded by a U.S. Labor Department job training grant.
Coaches help students balance college, work and family life, but do not advise on which classes they should take. They are “motivators, resources and sounding boards.”
Suzanne Harbin, WSCC’s director of advancement, said all of the coached students in the licensed practical nurse program continued their education in the program, while those who opted out of coaching did not all continue.
“Are there other factors involved? Sure there are, but if you have 100 percent of our students who were coached and were retained, that says a lot,” Harbin said.
There were some students, Harbin added, who—though they didn’t stay in the program they started—did remain enrolled at college, entering a new program of study.Their decision to switch was due in part to the coaching process, where the student discovered the program they first entered wasn’t a good fit.
Nursing student Stephanie Casey, who’d been out of college for 12 years, signed up for PAVES. “They can give me insight on where I’m not seeing what I’m doing wrong, where they can hurt my feelings, versus my family, who won’t,” she said.
Coaches talk with students, email or text message as often as once a week, depending on the student’s preferences.
When non-profit Tiffin University partnered with for-profit Altius Education to create an online associate degree program, Ivy Bridge College was hailed as a model. Now the regional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, has shut down the online two-year college, reports the Washington Examiner.
The online community college offered an associate degree program that promised students an automatic transfer to one of over 150 traditional four-year institutions, depending on their GPA. Thanks to the program’s termination, about 2,000 students are now scrambling to find other accredited institutions that will allow them to finish their studies.
A March 2013 HLC investigation concluded that Ivy Bridge was not sufficiently under Tiffin’s control, had low retention rates and offered “very thin” content in some online courses.
By contrast, a 2010 HLC report praised Tiffin’s partnership with Ivy Bridge, saying, ”It addresses an underserved population through a strong curriculum, efficient and effective academic support, excellent instruction, and a very good online portal for program delivery.”
Ivy Bridge’s retention rates are low compared to bricks-and-mortar four-year institutions, but significantly higher than those at Ohio community colleges, according to the Examiner.
“The cited concerns about student success are BS,” an industry source who asked for anonymity for fear of retribution from accreditors told the Examiner. “Ivy Bridge catered to traditionally underserved adult part-time students and did quite well. HLC doesn’t ask for the same ‘success’ metrics from non-profit traditional institutions,” this source said.
In October 2012, the Gates Foundation gave Altius a $300,000 grant for providing “scalable access to quality college education” through “a robust student support model, proven pedagogical methods, and groundbreaking learning technologies.”
Higher education is a government-created cartel, writes Conn Carroll in an Examiner op-ed.
Ivy Bridge’s termination “could dump cold water on the online aspirations of some colleges, particularly ones that prefer to play it safe with their regional accreditor,” observes Inside Higher Ed.
A number of California community colleges face accreditation problems, reports the Los Angeles Times. It’s not just City College of San Francisco, which will lose accreditation next year unless it wins an appeal.
This month, the accreditation commission issued warnings to Los Angeles Valley, Orange Coast and six other campuses, while lifting sanctions from West Los Angeles and Harbor colleges and seven other campuses.
Of California’s 112 community colleges, one, College of the Sequoias in the Central Valley town of Visalia, is operating under the most serious penalty — “show cause” — meaning the college is substantially out of compliance with requirements and must correct deficiencies to remain accredited. Five other colleges are on probationary status, and 13 have been given warnings.
Colleges that aren’t accredited lose eligibility for state funding and federal financial aid. Students may not be able to transfer courses.
Many educators and others are questioning why so many California community colleges are struggling to maintain standards. A 2012 Cal State Sacramento research paper found that 62 institutions were on some form of sanction over the last decade and that the percentage of sanctions is increasing.
The state’s budget crisis, which led many public colleges to cut staff and slash programs, is one factor, said education experts. Others say colleges are under greater pressure from federal and state authorities to improve student retention and graduation rates.
California’s community college system is the largest in the nation, with 2.4 million students enrolled each year.
Houston’s San Jacinto College is expanding its Men of Honor program, which provides mentoring, networking and counseling for African-American males.
The college was shocked to learn that only 8 percent of black male students returned for a second semester. Since Men of Honor started four years ago, passing and retention rates have improved for participants.
Aaron Moore earned an associate degree in air conditioning technology. Photo credit: Rob Vanya
Once a gang member “running the streets, using and selling drugs,” Aaron Moore decided in prison to change his life. After his parole, he enrolled at San Jacinto and discovered Men of Honor. “I found mentors, and began to follow their good examples,” he said. “I also shared experiences, hopes, and plans with fellow Men of Honor members. We learned from each others’ experiences, and we would check on each other for accountability.”
Moore hopes to run his own air-conditioning business. He earned an associate degree in air conditioning technology in May and plans to study business at the University of Houston.
Ten percent of college-ready high school graduates don’t enroll in college and another 9 percent don’t make it to the second year, according to ACT’s 2013 Reality of College Readiness Report. As many as 43 percent of all ACT-tested 2011 graduates were not enrolled in college by fall 2012.
“Academic readiness is vital to college success, but other factors such as self-discipline, financial stress and effective educational planning can also have an impact,” said Steve Kappler, head of postsecondary strategy for ACT. “It’s important for students to find the right college, be aware of financial aid opportunities and ensure their major matches their personal interests, among other things.”
First-to-second-year retention rates for four-year colleges averaged 72.3 percent in 2008, down slightly from 1991. At the community college level, 55.7 percent of students returned for a second year in 2012, up slightly from the 2004 rate. The three-year persistence-to-degree rates was 25.5 percent in 2012, down from 38.8 percent in 1989.
Colleges and universities with higher-than-average retention rates were more likely to offer a comprehensive learning assistance center or reading, writing and math centers, earlier research found. In addition, these colleges had a program for first-generation students, more academic advisors and tutors, pre-enrollment financial aid advising, an academic skills diagnostic and advising integrated with career/life planning. In contradiction to recent trends, colleges with higher retention rates mandated remedial placement based on test scores, ACT found.
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.