Community colleges are worried about staying relevant “if massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other forms of online learning begin to offer students a high-quality, convenient, and low-cost pathway to a college degree,” writes Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers’ College, Columbia, in CCRC Currents.
So far, however, community college students find it difficult to learn online, according to CCRC studies.
We found that in the majority of online courses, students had little meaningful interaction with their instructors. While the courses frequently required interaction with peers in online discussion boards or chat rooms, most students did not value this peer-to-peer interaction and said it felt both artificial and of little educational value.
Students told us that if they expected to struggle in a subject or really “wanted to learn something,” they preferred a face-to-face classroom where they had more contact with the professor. In online courses, they reported, they were more or less on their own.
Online instructors expected students to be independent learners “able to manage their time, take initiative, and generate their own
approach to mastering course material.”
In What We Know About Online Course Outcomes, the CCRC summarizes its research on community college students’ success in all-online courses, looks at how online courses can be improved and discusses how online instructors “might create a more robust presence in their courses in order to improve student engagement and retention.”
Twenty-five community colleges have been named finalists for the Awards of Excellence sponsored by the American Association of Community Colleges. Awards will be given in five categories: Emerging Leadership, Student Success, Exemplary CEO or Board, Advancing Diversity and Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership.
The finalists and winners will be honored April 23 during the closing brunch of the 2013 AACC Convention in San Francisco.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the Student Success Act, which cuts off fee waivers for students who fall below a C average for two semesters in a row and requires colleges to provide orientation, assessment, placement, counseling and education planning help to new students. At least two-thirds of students qualify for fee waivers. Full tuition has risen to $46 per unit, still below the national average. The bill was amended to remove a provision cutting off waivers for students who’ve already earned 110 credits.
In addition, community colleges will report the academic performance of students with breakdowns by race and socioeconomic status.
It’s hoped students will move more quickly to achieve their goals, freeing up spaces in a system that now places nearly half a million students on wait lists for the classes they need.
In addition, Brown signed bills expanding digital access to free college textbooks.
Improving student success at Dayton’s Sinclair Community College began in 2005, when the college began to work with Achieving the Dream (ATD), writes Kathleen Cleary, associate provost for student success, on Accelerating Achievement. But that was just the first step.
. . . we approached improving student success, particularly for underserved populations, as a way of life at the college, rather than a program that would have a beginning and ending. With the Developmental Education Initiative (DEI), we . . . began to make bolder, more aggressive changes in our pedagogy, structures, and curriculum.
When we learned that we were granted funding for Completion by Design (CBD), we took a different approach and made the conscious decision to be high profile, even creating a statewide Completion by Design office on campus.
Achieving the Dream focused Sinclair on “use of data, policy changes, and a commitment to enhancing teaching and learning,” Cleary writes.
Faculty began tracking student success in gatekeeper courses in developmental and college-level English, reading, and math. When faculty saw their success rates, they began to experiment with new ways of teaching and structuring courses. Policy changes such as the no late registration policy were watershed moments for the college as we made a cultural shift from an access-centric institution to an access and success focus. Another hallmark of our ATD work was the creation of the Center for Teaching and Learning, which has provided professional development on topics including student engagement, diversity in the classroom, and increasing student success and completion.
DEI initiatives such as math modules, accelerated English and early support in high school helped accelerate students’ progress through developmental education.
With Completion by Design, Sinclair and other Ohio community colleges hope to “create a seamless pathway” to graduation for students.
California’s plan to focus community colleges on student success is “pure behaviorist claptrap based on fictional students being taught in fictional ways by fictional teachers,” writes David Clemens in California Dreamin’ on the National Association of Scholars blog.
California’s system — 2 1/2 million students at 112 community colleges – needs retooling, writes Clemens, an English professor at Monterey Peninsula College. Thanks to the taxpayers, students pay only $36 per credit hour, soon to rise to $46. Many receive fee waivers. Some are there to take lower-division courses before transferring, learn trades or take remedial courses, but colleges have been unable to resist the temptation to “turn everything into college and rake in the dough,” he writes.
Tiny tot swim club members and geriatric flamenco dancers: college students! Fourth grade level readers and doodad ceramicists: college students! Ellipticals, Yoga, Weaving Practicum, Volleyball Practicum, fitness, fitness, fitness: count `em all and hear that cash register ring! Cheap golf, cheap tennis, cheap swimming pool, cheap fitness center, cheap kilns and studios, all subsidized by taxpayers. And with dozens of financial aid options available under a blizzard of acronyms, often these “students” pay nothing at all. Too many are not students at all either, but attend classes only to collect edu-welfare, to prevent deportation, or to maintain athletic eligibility.
. . . A nearby community college offers 31 courses in Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Astronomy combined. The same college offers 13 flavors of remedial English and over 200 courses in Art, PE, Physical Fitness, and Theatre Arts, most of them repeatable. Cha-ching.
Only 25% of community college students ever earn a degree, complains Gov. Jerry Brown. This is “mission failure,” responds Clemens. “Many students aren’t there for college.”
California taxpayers aren’t willing to fund that model any more. The new plan caps enrollment and closes “enclaves of dubious academic merit.” In addition, the task force called for standardizing course names and numbers, descriptions, outcomes, placement and assessment.
But it’s all based on a fantasy, writes Clemens.
“There’s a story that each member of this Task Force wants to be true . . .” and a gauzy fantasy unfolds. Imaginary students are college-ready upon high school graduation and eager to learn (because we so want it to be true!); students have a major and an academic plan after one semester and are upper-division-ready after two years of community college (hurry, please!); students are job-ready upon college graduation (it has to be!); and remediation is trimmed and/or accelerated (the 33-year-old student who struggles to read Harry Potter will be soaking up Joyce and Heidigger in a matter of weeks).
All this will be done with software — placement software, instructional software, assessment software — the task force dreams.
The plan maintains “the poisonous fiction that college is for everyone,” Clemens writes.
In grand behaviorist fashion, the recommendations obsess over inputs and outcomes, testing, benchmarks, loss points, and scorecards, virtually ignoring the greatest influence on student learning: the student.
Will a “data-driven culture of evidence” produce a new kind of student? “Dream on,” writes Clemens.
Next week, California’s community colleges will consider 22 proposals to improve graduation and transfer rates, reports the Contra Costa Times. The Student Success Task Force‘s recommendations include:
Design statewide tests to determine each entering student’s competence in math and English. As it stands, each of the state’s 72 college districts is responsible for coming up with its own tests, meaning students who take classes at more than one campus may need to take several exams on the same subject.
Require students to choose a major. Studies have shown that students who choose a major their first year have much higher graduation rates.
Require first-year students to start remedial work immediately. Fewer than half the students who need only a single remedial math course ever complete their community college work.
In addition, community college leaders should work with K-12 educators, who are implementing new Common Core Standards for reading and math, said Erik Skinner, executive vice chancellor for the community college system. “As K-12 updates its standards, higher education needs to be at the table,” he said.
California’s low high-school graduation requirements are a “ticket to remediation,” said Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education and an emeritus education professor at Stanford.
Valencia’s Start Right program has raised student success rates by providing early advising and orientation and redesigning introductory courses. “All the failure occurs at the front door,” says Sandy Shugart, the president since 2000.
. . . because data showed that students who start classes late are the least likely to complete them, nobody could add a course that had already met, even once. But the school didn’t want to slow anyone’s progression. So for the classes first-time students typically take, Valencia created “flex start” sections a month into the semester for students enrolling late.
. . . Two-fifths of Valencia students—including all those with the greatest developmental needs—now take a course called Student Success, where they create a personalized education plan and learn organizational skills. ow.
As a result, more remedial students are passing and moving on to college-level classes.
“Finalists with distinction” are: Walla Walla Community College (Washington), West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, Kentucky), Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD) and Miami Dade College (Florida). Each will receive $100,000.
Go here to view the webcast of the event in Washington, D.C.
Community colleges should be included in the discussion about excellence in higher education, writes Kevin Carey.
Measuring student success by speedy degree completion could hurt students who combine part-time studies with jobs and family responsibilities. write Susan Bernadzikowski and Jennifer Levi in an Inside Higher Ed op-ed. Both teach English at Cecil College in Maryland.
While “many students are wandering around college campuses lacking motivation and wasting resources,” others will persist until they earn a degree, they write.
When standing at the front of the class room, we don’t have to look beyond the first row of students to encounter the combat veteran who juggles two jobs just to pay for housing in the projects; a so-called traditional-age college student who at 17 is struggling to raise a child of his own; a bright, multilingual immigrant who is in the U.S. for political asylum; a young woman who, since her youth, has been the sole caregiver of a parent disabled by an accident.
. . . financial needs necessarily trump educational ones as they struggle to fill their tanks with gas to get to campus. They skip class to attend job interviews, they pick up extra shifts at the expense of homework, and they disappear mid-semester to take a temp job because they have to.
Many faculty aren’t aware of the completion agenda, they write. Those who are aware fear unintended consequences.
What if the rush to accelerate completion waters down curricula and generates a population of people with credentials, but no real education? What if faculty jobs, government funding, student aid, and so forth are tied to the number of students we get through, rather than the number we educate? And as Jonathan Lightman of the California Community College system asked in Inside Higher Ed, what if acceleration comes at the expense of bright students who need “time with exploration … before they know what their talents are.”
Bernadzikowski and Levi are collecting short stories of student successes and struggles for a book entitled Why My Story Matters.
Corporate interests are pushing the “completion agenda” and turning community colleges into “job training factories,” charges a letter from the American Federation of Teachers to instructors in two California community college districts, Grossmont-Cuyamaca and San Diego. The instructors are represented by the union, reports the LaMesa Patch.
California community colleges’ Student Success Task Force report calls for “a dumbed-down, totally instrumental view of our mission that focuses nearly exclusively on making community colleges more efficient machines cranking out workers for business,” charges the letter, written by Jim Miller, who teaches at San Diego City College, and Jonathan McLeod, who teaches at San Diego Mesa College.
Students are allowed to “wander” though the curriculum, according to the report, which calls for tracking students’ progress.
If only we do a better job of tracking and push our lax, waste-filled system with more accountability measures, all will improve despite a historic budget crisis the largest gap between the rich and the poor in modern history, and the legacy of systemic racism.
While the task force did not endorse linking state funding to student outcomes, its original charge, Miller and McLeod suspect that will be next.
The Lumina Foundation, which strongly supports the completion agenda, and other “corporate-funded ‘external partners’,” assisted the task force, notes the AFT letter. Lumina collaborates with ALEC, which the letter excoriates for many paragraphs.
So when Lumina joins forces with ALEC it means more than just a move toward influencing legislative policy; it means they are part of a larger network of monied interests pushing our country further toward plutocracy and corporate domination.
. . . Corporate interests collaborating to impose the business model in public higher education want efficient workers trained to follow top-down orders, not critical thinkers who might question their agenda or buck up against the slow creep toward “outcomes based funding” that would serve as a Trojan horse for privatization.
The task force recommends encouraging students to “declare a program of study upon admission” and requiring declaration by the end of their second term.
Students who declare a program of study are much more likely to complete a certificate or degree, according to a Community College Research Center study. But the real motive is to squelch intellectual exploration, the letter asserts.
Undeclared students should lose enrollment priority after their third term, the report recommends. So would students who don’t follow their education plan.
That would help new students who often can’t get into the courses they need because continuing students — including those enrolled for years without completing a degree — have priority. But it would make it harder for students to take courses that don’t lead to a credential.
In addition, the report recommends that students pay the full cost of courses outside their education plan.
Woe to the career tech student who might venture to take a course in geography, philosophy, or fine arts! What is the utility of radiation technology or mathematics students enrolling in political science to learn about legislative processes or the impact of free-trade agreements on the national economy and labor force demand?
Students will be able to “wander” for two terms before they decide on a plan, if the task force recommendations are adopted. How many years should they spend taking classes that don’t help them reach their goals?
Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott and Constance Carroll, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District and a member of the Student Success Task Force, defended the success plan in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The “old guard within the community college establishment” opposes the task force recommendations “because they claim they are prescriptive, limit faculty control and deviate from the historic mission of serving all students regardless of their intentions, writes Gary Hart, a former state education secretary, in the San Jose Mercury News. But the system isn’t serving students now: Only 30 percent complete a credential or transfer within six years.
A day after a federal panel released its final report on new measures of success for community college students, the American Association of Community Colleges released its Voluntary Framework of Accountability, which tries to persuade community colleges to adopt “rigorous” performance standards and chart students’ progress.
Community colleges are under pressure to raise graduation rates, notes Inside Higher Ed.
The framework calls for colleges to track student cohorts through academic and job-training courses by ethnicity, Pell status and need for remediation.
The student-success task force’s recommendations overlap with the VFA initiative.
. . . both groups recommend including student transfers in graduation rates, which would give a more flattering picture of the sector’s performance — and a more accurate one, colleges say, given the large number of community college students who transfer to other institutions.
However, there are differences in the two efforts. For example, the association’s guidelines do not suggest that lateral transfers – from one community college to another – should be included in graduation rates, while the task force did.
Some community college presidents have worried that “participating in the voluntary accountability project will be labor-intensive and expensive,” notes Inside Higher Ed.
Collecting the data “will be a challenging process, initially,” said Alex Johnson, president of the Community College of Allegheny County, which was a pilot site. But participation will help colleges improve their performance and signal their commitment to accountability, said Johnson, who was on the framework’s steering committee.