‘I saw college as a foreign country’

Karina Madrigal “thought college would be too challenging,” perhaps “impossible,” she writes in an Education Week commentary. Her parents, Mexican immigrants, hadn’t made it past middle school. “I saw college as a foreign country that my kind . . . dare not enter.” Dual enrollment made college possible for her. As a high school student in La Joya, Texas, she started taking classes at South Texas College.

Before I attended my first course, I pictured my future classmates receiving guidance from their college-educated parents, giving them a clear advantage over me. I believed the professors would speak past me.

Once she’d experienced a college class, “I began to realize the possibilities.”

First-generation college-going students need a way to make the connection between high school and college, particularly when it comes to applying to college, choosing courses, and receiving guidance along the way. . . . The transition from high school to college should not feel like a blind leap. It should be a strategically designed pathway that gives students, particularly those for whom college is not an expectation, the opportunity to reach the goal of higher education.

The first in her family to finish high school, Madrigal was graduated with 50 college credits. She completed a bachelor’s degree in two years, then a master’s and, in 2013, a PhD in educational leadership. She teaches dual enrollment classes at South Texas College.

There are many dual enrollment success stories, Madrigal writes. “My success was not a result of my intellect or greater academic aptitude, but rather an education program designed to make my story possible.”

$10K degree isn’t impossible after all

When Gov. Rick Perry challenged Texas’s public universities to craft four-year degrees costing no more than $10,000, many said it was impossible, recalls Thomas K. Lindsay, director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Three years later, 12 Texas universities have announced $10,000 bachelor’s degrees and the idea has spread to Florida, Oklahoma and Oregon.

The rapid expansion of $10,000 degree offerings has not satisfied the “It’s impossible” critics. They note that the fledgling programs are limited to a few subject areas, mostly the applied sciences, and argue that the same model cannot work in other fields. Moreover, they point out, a number of the new offerings charge students $10,000 but do not actually reduce their schools’ cost of instruction and materials.

That’s a valid critique, writes Lindsay. The current $10,000 degree programs reduced the price charged to the student but ignored Perry’s suggestion to cut costs by using online learning and competency-based exams.

However, that’s changing.

Three higher-education partners — Texas A&M University-Commerce, South Texas College, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) — just launched the “Affordable Baccalaureate Program,” the state’s first public university bachelor’s degree combining online learning and competency-based standards. Developed by community-college and university faculty . . . a new degree in organizational leadership can cost as little as $750 per term and allows students to receive credit for as many competencies and courses as they can master each term.

According to THECB’s website, students arriving “with no prior college credits should be able to complete the degree program in three years at a total cost of $13,000 to $15,000.” Students who enter having already satisfied their general-education requirements can complete the degree in two years, while those entering with “90 credit hours and no credential” can complete the degree “in one year for $4,500 to $6,000.”

Nationwide, college tuition and fees have risen 440 percent over the past 25 years, roughly four times the rate of inflation and nearly twice the rate of health-care cost growth, writes Lindsay. Total student-loan debt has risen to $1.2 trillion. Increasing federal subsidies so students can borrow more to pay higher tuition is fiscally unsustainable. So is increasing state subsidies for higher education.

Latinos narrow graduation gap

The Latino college completion gap is narrowing for full-time students, reports Excelencia in Education in a new report. The gap fell from 14 percent in 2012 to 9 percent in 2014: 41 percent of Latinos graduate in 150 percent of the normal time compared to 50 percent of all first-time, full-time college students.

However, almost half of Latino college students are enrolled part-time. Their completion rates remain very low.

Miami Dade College, South Texas College, El Paso Community College, East Los Angeles College and Florida International College enroll the most Latino students. “Four of the top five are predominantly community colleges,” said Deborah Santiago, chief operating officer and vice president of policy at Excelencia.

Miami Dade, El Paso and South Texas also rank in the top five for awarding associate degrees to Latinos, along with Valencia College and University of Phoenix Online. “We are seeing the closure in the achievement gaps in some states, but not all,” said Santiago.

ASSOCIATE DEGREES: Top 5 Institutions Awarding to Hispanics, 2011-12

Rank Institution State Sector Grand Total Hispanic Total % Hispanic
1 Miami Dade College FL 4yr Public 11,959 7,958 67
2 El Paso Community College TX 2yr Public 3,790 3,244 86
3 University of Phoenix – Online 4yr Private For-Profit 39,341 2,424 6
4 South Texas College TX 4yr Public 2,292 2,138 93
5 Valencia College FL 4yr Public 7,974 2,129 27

California, which has the highest numbers of Latino students, lags in graduating them: Only 15 percent of the state’s Latino students completed a degree or certificate in 2010-11.  “Why does California, the state with the largest Latino population in the nation, not have a single college break into the top five nationally for awarding degrees to Latinos?” asked Santiago.

Florida does much better in enrolling — and graduating — Latinos.

Latinos make up 22 percent of K-12 students and 17 percent of the population, reports Excelencia.  The median age for Latinos is 27, compared to 42 for non-Hispanic whites.

Twenty percent of Latino adults have earned an associate degree or higher compared to 36 percent of all adults.

Texas creates 3-year ‘affordable’ bachelor’s

three-year bachelor’s of applied science degree will cost $13,000 to $15,000 for Texas students, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. The competency-based degree was developed by South Texas College and Texas A&M University at Commerce under the aegis of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Students will mix online and face-to-face learning.

The degree emphasizes organizational leadership, the board said, adding that the program “will culminate with a digital-capstone experience where students will apply their knowledge and skills to real-world business problems.”

The coordinating board said that the new offering was “a faculty-driven initiative, developed by community-college and university faculty,” but “we also listened to what national and regional employers are saying they really want: graduates with critical-thinking skills who are quantitatively literate, can evaluate knowledge sources, understand diversity, and benefit from a strong liberal-arts and sciences background.”

Shirley A. Reed, South Texas College’s president, said in a statement that the new degree “is a transition from colleges measuring student competencies based on time in a seat to now allowing students to demonstrate competencies they have acquired in previous employment, life experiences, or personal talents.”

Two years ago, Gov. Rick Perry called on the state’s colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees that would cost students no more than $10,000 each, notes the ChronicleUT-Permian Basin offers a $10,000 bachelor of science four-year degree, while UT-Arlington and UT-Brownsville offer similar programs, developed through partnerships with community colleges and school districts.

The Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Program is supported by the College for All Texans Foundation and by a two-year, $1-million grant from Educause and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Online instruction will upend the economics of higher education, according to The Economist.

What will college cost?

What will college cost? The U.S. Education Department’s updated College Affordability and Transparency Center shows institutions with the highest and lowest tuition prices and net prices (cost of attendance minus financial aid).

Students can find the community colleges with the lowest net prices. Those with the lowest tuition are all in New Mexico and California. Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque is the cheapest at $675 a year.

University of Pittsburgh-Titusville tops the list of the most expensive community colleges with tuition of $11,118 a year.  New Hampshire community colleges also are costly, averaging more than $7,000 a year. Florida Keys Community College posts the highest net price at $22,933 a year because of high local living costs.

There’s also an option to search for job training programs, but it’s not very complete. College Navigator is a better source.

Students can track which colleges are raising tuition and net prices the fastest. For example, Fort Berthold Community College in North Dakota tripled its net price from $2,163 in 2008 to $6,675 in 2010. South Texas College more than doubled tuition from $2,148 to $5,160 in two years. Of course, even community colleges that have hiked tuition or net price rapidly are still cheaper than most for-profit or four-year alternatives.

Collaboration means less remediation

Community colleges can reduce the need for remediation by collaborating with feeder high schools to prepare students, reports Inside Higher Ed. 

In California, Long Beach City College faculty worked with Long Beach Unified teachers to align high school and college courses. By using high school grades, not just placement tests, to decide who can start in college-level courses, LBCC dramatically lowered remediation rates.

For example, 53 percent of the group took transfer-level English courses in their first semester, while only 5.5 percent of students from the same high school district took the courses the previous year – meaning they were 10 times more likely to jump directly into credit-bearing English. And their passage rate of 62 percent was roughly the same as the college’s typical passage rate in English.

Fully 60 percent of the students in the program, which is dubbed “Promise Pathways,” placed into transfer-level English courses, compared to 11 percent of the college’s overall student population.

LBCC now places 31 percent of Promise Pathways students in college-level math, compared to 7 percent of students overall.

South Texas College, located near the U.S.-Mexican border, has works closely with high schools to prepare students for college.  Sixty-eight partner high schools offer dual enrollment programs, giving students a head start on an associate degree.

. . . the high school partnerships have helped drive down remedial placement rates to 17 percent, an extremely low number for a college that serves a largely lower-income, first-generation college population. The remedial placement rate has dropped by 45 percent since 2004, and Shirley A. Reed, the college’s president, credits dual enrollment as being a big part of that improvement.

“The high schools have accepted responsibility for college readiness,” Reed said. “Now we share in the responsibility.”

Preparing students for college success is the high schools’ job, write Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers in an Ed Week blog.

Disabled students need help with college, jobs

Disabled students need more help transitioning to college and jobs, concludes a Government Accountability Office report. Students can apply for tutoring, job training and assistive technology help, but there’s little coordination between federal departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Social Security Administration, said the GAO. Once they leave high school, “it’s easy for these same young people to flounder in a maze of bureaucracy,” reports Ed Week.

Texas is helping disabled students navigate college and employment, report AP.

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — When Gabriel Rios began classes at South Texas College last month, he was dealing with worries beyond those that confront most incoming college freshmen.

Rios, an 18-year-old student who is deaf, was nervous about the college-level curriculum and advanced reading and writing levels he’ll need when he pursues a certificate in auto mechanics. But Rios knows older friends who are deaf have struggled adjusting to college, a challenge that puts college graduation rates for deaf individuals far below the national average.

But Rios is among a dozen students with disabilities who will receive the support services they need at STC through a five-year program designed to help them graduate and later secure employment.

Project HIRE — or Helping Individuals Reach Employment — will provide 50 Texas high school students with college and career coaches who will provide an array of services, including on-campus counseling, life skills training and job placement.

Project HIRE is helping South Texas College evaluate and improve services for students with disabilities, said Paul Hernandez, the college’s dean of student support services. Currently, the college offers lecture notes, sign language interpretation and extended time for tests to 300 students who’ve self-identified as disabled.

Colleges open door to high school dropouts

Community colleges are working with dropout recovery programs to help uneducated youths get back on track, reports Community College Times.

Back on Track, which offers academic and social supports, is a project of  Jobs for the Future (JFF), YouthBuild USA, the National Youth Employment Coalition(NYEC), and the Corps Network, with support from the Gates Foundation and Open Society Foundations.

In Ohio, faculty from Columbus State Community College (CSCC) teach courses at a YouthBuild school. The college has also worked out an articulation agreement with the program to provide for a smooth transition, said Mike Snider, former provost of CSCC who now works with the Ohio Association of Community Colleges.

Public two-year colleges in Ohio are “proud of our open door system,” Snider said, “but that’s not good enough. We’re moving the door out into the community.”

“Dropouts are an untapped asset,” he added. “We cannot afford to lose potential productive citizens.”

Back on Track students “are graduating from high school, enrolling in postsecondary education and persisting in the first year at two to three times the rate of their peers,” according to JFF.

NYEC, which provides education, work experiences and counseling to drop-outs, also claims a high success rate. Eight community colleges are working with NYEC programs in partnership with community-based organizations.

In Texas, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District has partnered with South Texas College to create the College, Career and Technology Academy, which allows former dropouts to complete their high school diplomas while taking community college courses. The program targets youths up to age 26 who lack five or fewer credits or failed their high school exit exam.

The 31,000-student school district has reduced the number of dropouts from 485 in 2005-06 to 42 in 2010-11.

On time or not at all

Ending late registration will improve success rates, predict officials at San Jacinto College in Texas. But it will cut tuition revenue and state funding. Failure rates are significantly higher for students who enroll late, notes Inside Higher Ed.

“When you’re funded based on the twelfth day of class, it encourages you to drive enrollment and just keep trying to focus on enrollment,” said Brenda Hellyer, San Jacinto chancellor. “But you’ve just got to go with your values. And one of our values is student success. We know we’re going to see results from this.”

Last fall, San Jacinto didn’t allow late registration for remedial courses.  Enrollment grew by 1 percent compared to a 7.5 percent increase for other courses.

Some would-be late registrants enrolled in the college’s “Take 2″ courses, compressed courses on 12-week schedules that start later in the semester.

This fall, no late registration will be allowed. That could affect hundreds of students.

The Texas Association of Community Colleges is lobbying for additional funding to reward community colleges that improve completion rates, instead of funding based solely on enrollment.

South Texas College abolished late registration in 2005. Enrollment declined by 3 percent, but some students would-be late registrants enrolled in “mini-mesters,” 12-week courses that start a few weeks into the semester.

Enrollment rebounded in subsequent years and completion rates have improved.