CC offers one-stop student services

Creating one-stop student services has changed the campus culture at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), reports Community College Times.

CNM Connect offers the college’s 30,000 students access to achievement coaches, financial coaching, study skills workshops, free tax preparations and more in one location.

. . . “It’s the front door of our college,” said CNM President Katharine Winograd.

In 2006, the CNM Center for Working Families began bundling services for needy students. With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Kresge Foundation, CNM expanded to serve all students.

Students use Connect to pick up scholarship applications, plan finances and use the free tax preparation services. They visit achievement coaches, who help students set goals, select classes and evaluate the  consequences of dropping a class or enrolling part time instead of full time.

First-time students who accessed CNM Connect in fall 2011 had a retainment rate of about 80 percent, compared to 72 percent for those who didn’t use the services. Of the non-first-time students who used the services in fall 2011, 79 percent returned in spring 2012, compared to a 67-percent rate for those who didn’t access the services.

Before CNM Connect, student services staffers were specialized: A financial aid employee only answered financial aid questions. With additional training and access to information on the computer system, staffers can help students solve a range of problems.

Community colleges draw more young, middle-class students

Community colleges will become “separate and unequal” unless they recruit more middle-class students, argues a Century Foundation task force.

In hard times, middle-class families are taking a second look at low-cost community colleges. Nationwide, 22 percent of college students with family incomes over $100,000 attended community colleges last year, up from 16 percent four years ago, according to Sallie Mae.

Younger, wealthier students demand more from community colleges, reports Inside Higher Ed.

“Community college gradually is gaining wider acceptance as the default option out of high school,” said Stephen G. Katsinas, director of the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center.

Relatively affluent young students are typically better-prepared academically and have a good chance of earning a degree. They are also more likely to attend full-time, require less remediation than their peers and can be cheaper for community colleges to educate.

But this group is also demanding, as traditional-age students want a full campus experience with amenities like fitness centers and extracurricular activities, which can mean new buildings and strained student service budgets. They are also more likely to seek out counselors, experts said.

Raritan Valley Community College in suburban New Jersey is seeing a surge of young, middle-class students who plan to earn bachelor’s degrees. The college remodeled the cafeteria, expanded the fitness center and started planning a new student life and leadership center.

The increase in full-time students paying full-time tuition — usually for less-expensive general education courses — has helped offset the costs.

The rise in middle-class students seeking academic classes is good for low-income and career-tech students, writes Community College Dean. When the Great Recession raised enrollment, his college saw some displaced workers and many 18-year-olds who would have started at four-year colleges in better times.

The well-intended political leaders who are looking at cc’s as training centers should be careful what they wish for. The vocational programs we run are generally far more expensive to run than the classic liberal arts classes; they require specialized equipment and facilities, for starters, and the class sizes tend to run lower. A dirty little secret of higher ed finance is that certain disciplines – the chalk-and-talk liberal arts classes, mostly – subsidize higher-cost disciplines. All those full-to-the-brim psych classes help pay for the small and expensive nursing clinicals. Take away the psych classes, and the college’s per-student costs will skyrocket.

When privileged students demand the services that “real” colleges offer, then single moms will have access to those services too, the dean writes.

Where the money goes

Community colleges, which spend only $10,000 per student annually, are the workhorses of an increasingly stratified higher education system, reports the Delta Cost Project in Trends in College Spending 1998-2008: Where Does the Money Come From? Where Does It Go? What Does It Buy? The U.S. average for higher education spending is $19,000 a year;  private research universities spend $35,000 per student.

“While the United States has some of the wealthiest institutions in the world, it also has a ‘system’ of postsecondary education with far more economic stratification than is true of any other country,” Jane Wellman, executive director of Delta Project told the New York Times.

Undergraduate and graduate enrollments grew by 26 percent from 1998-2008, with community colleges growing the fastest. Tuition rose 36 percent at community colleges over the decade, compared to 45 percent at public research universities but only 21 percent at private research universities.

People are right to suspect wasteful spending, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. Tuition raises have outpaced inflation and family income with “no discernible payoff in quality, opportunity or results,” the report finds.

. . . many private colleges raised tuition despite explosive growth in private gifts and endowment income in the three years before the recession. As the report states, those healthy revenue streams just enabled higher overall spending rates.

At all levels of higher education, the share of funding for instruction (faculty pay and benefits)  declined, while colleges spent a larger share of budgets on administration, academic support (libraries, computer labs) and students services (counseling, financial aid and recreation). From the New York Times:

“This is the country-clubization of the American university,” said Richard K. Vedder, a professor at Ohio University who studies the economics of higher education. “A lot of it is for great athletic centers and spectacular student union buildings. In the zeal to get students, they are going after them on the basis of recreational amenities.”

. . . Even at community colleges, with their far smaller budgets, spending on student services increased 9.5 percent, compared with 3.4 percent for instruction.

The spending spree is over, Wellman said. Now, “policy makers as well as university presidents and boards must learn to be better stewards of tuition and taxpayer dollars.” she said.