Late registration is not an option at the College of Southern Nevada, reports Inside Higher Ed. Till this year, students could join a class within three weeks of its start date. Now they must sign up by the night before the first class.
“Retention is far lower for students who register late,” said Rhonda Glover, national director of data coaching and data strategy for Achieving the Dream, a completion-oriented nonprofit group that works with the College of Southern Nevada and many other community colleges.
By preventing students from entering a class they’re unlikely to complete, Glover said “you’re actually supporting those students in more positive ways than you’re hurting them.”
“Students would wait until the last minute,” says Dennis Soukup, who chairs the college’s applied technology department. That made it hard to teach or to know how many instructors would be needed.
Some fear the neediest students will be shut out. “The policy is going to block low-income students from enrolling,” said Sondra Cosgrove, a history professor. “They’re the students who have the most problems.”
Late registration hurts students, argues Glover at Achieving the Dream. Her former employer, Valencia College, improved retention by requiring on-time registration, along with other completion policies. Students adjusted, she said. “Once you make the rules, they abide by it.”
CSN added shorter-term courses, usually eight weeks long, with later start dates. A marketing campaign included a flier that read “R.I.P. Late Registration” and included a picture of a tombstone.
Community college can be the first step to a teaching career. The National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs (NACCTEP) is working to diversify the teacher workforce, reports Community College Week.
Leeward Community College in Oahu is trying to encourage Native Hawaiian and Filipino students to earn an AA in teaching. Half of public school students — but only 15 percent of teachers — come from these ethnicities.
Leeward’s AAT program reaches out to high school students and to teacher aides. Students complete an academic plan. Peer mentors — current or former AAT students — provide counseling and tutoring. That’s raised completion rates to 80 percent.
At Santa Ana College in California, would-be teachers can turn to the Center for Teacher Education (CFTE) for help. Seventy-nine percent are Latino and a majority of first-generation college students, says Steve Bautista, a coordinator and counselor.
For most of our low-income students, the cost of books is one of the biggest barriers to attending college. One of the most successful and popular services and strategies for retention has been the Center’s Textbook Loan Program. Students who want to participate are required to register with the center, attend an information session on the pathway to teaching, and develop an educational plan with a counselor. In return, the students have the opportunity to borrow textbooks . . .
Once CFTE identifies students who want to be teachers, counselors can explain pathways to teaching, connect students to support services and help them “develop an educational plan that will lead to graduation and transfer,” writes Bautista. Retention rates are high.
Student retention has improved at New York City community colleges that offer the ASAP program, writes Matt Reed, in response to an Atlantic story. ASAP requires students to enroll full-time and provides “intrusive” advisors who function as “something between a truant officer and a personal trainer,” writes Reed. “It even works well for students who start out in developmental courses, which is no small achievement.”
Among other things, it solves — by essentially ruling out — the institutional dilemmas of student enrollment volatility. Students are enrolled year-round, with January and summer costs covered by the program. (Financial aid still largely assumes the fall-and-spring semester model.) The support staff is well stocked, and the total enrollment in the program is capped. And the budget per student is approximately double the budget per student where I work. Double our budget, and I bet we could get some results, too.
. . . Beyond the money, though — and let’s not forget the money — a program like that succeeds to the extent that it makes students resemble students at traditional colleges. There’s a constituency for that, but it’s only one constituency among many.
Nontraditional students “don’t have the option of dropping everything to attend full-time,” Reed observes. He cites an argument in Slate: “Failure is actually one of the greatest strengths of our higher education system,” writes Tressie McMillan Cottom. “In no other country can a student fail so often, so spectacularly, with such a low penalty. Especially for nontraditional students, failure may be underrated.”
The full-time, double-the-cost ASAP model isn’t a practical answer for most colleges, Reed concludes.
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.