Completion plans face growing pains

Scaling up completion efforts is a challenge for community colleges, reports Community College Daily.

For example, Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) in Washington improved completion rates by drafting individualized education plans for students nearing a degree. Nearly all students in the pilot went on to graduate. But it proved hard to expand the program.

“We hand-looked through every transcript of the identified pilot students, all of whom had 60 credits toward an AA degree,” says Wendy Samitore, vice president of student services. “We had no other way to do it.”

Community colleges must shift their focus “from access to success,” says Mary Frances Archey, vice president of student success and completion at the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania. “It’s about ensuring the open door does not become a revolving door.”

At Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) in South Dakota, two-thirds of students complete a vocational credential. Focus is the key to completion, says Deb Shephard, LATI president.

Students are not allowed to simply wander into and around the system. There is no general education track. Every LATI student is accepted into a specific technical program — welding or building, for example — and the college develops a pathway, including which courses to take and in which order.

. . . Faculty double as advisers and are charged with catching students before they drop out. The college offers co-requisite remediation, in which students who are not quite at college level take one day of tutoring a week, along with required college-level classes.

Single-mission technical colleges often have much higher graduation rates than community colleges, which try to prepare students for bachelor’s degrees and for jobs.

‘Skill builders’ succeed without a degree

skill buildersSuccess doesn’t always mean a degree or certificate for community college students. “Skill builders” who complete a few vocational courses can raise their earnings by as much as 15 percent, concludes The Missing Piece. The LearningWorks brief is based on a study by Peter Riley Bahr, a University of Michigan associate professor.

California community college students raised their pay by passing one to three courses in water and wastewater technology, criminal justice, electronics, information technology or manufacturing, the study found.

One in seven first-time California community college students enroll in six or fewer credits per semester. Most do well in their courses, but they don’t earn a credential or transfer. These students are considered failures. But some are skill builders who have other goals, such as earning an industry certification or state license, moving to full-time work and raising their pay.

As more states seek to link funding to student outcomes, colleges need ways to evaluate skill builders’ gains, Bahr concludes. Success can’t be measured solely by certificates and degrees.

Vedder: Student aid should reward success

Federal student aid should reward success, said Richard Vedder at a Brookings Institution event last week. An Ohio University economist, Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

Despite rapid growth in federal student aid since 1971, lower-income students make up a smaller share of college graduates, Vedder pointed out. As federal aid expands, state governments spend less and universities charge more.

He believes financial aid has “contributed to high dropout rates, mediocre levels of student work effort and academic performance” and underemployment for college graduates.

I think we are probably over-invested, not under-invested, in higher education in the United States, creating a credential inflation arising from using degrees as an obscenely expensive screening device, one involving massive wastes of potentially highly productive human resources.

Phasing out federal aid isn’t politically viable, at least in the short run, so we need to “correct two perverse incentives,” Vedder argues.

First, there needs to be rewards for good academic performance and negative financial consequences for poor performance. . . . Second, colleges should have skin in the game. Their inappropriate admissions decisions or inattention to floundering students massively contributes to loan defaults, yet they face no adverse consequences. That needs to change.

Beyond that, simplify the system, restricting aid to more affluent families, doing away with PLUS loans and tuition tax credits, in line with RADD (Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery) recommendations.  We also should convert Pell Grants into progressive performance vouchers. . . . No full-time student should get money for more than five years. “A” students graduating in less than four years should get a small bonus for saving the government money and as a reward for high academic achievement.

Federal policy should encourage private approaches to financing, such as letting students “contract to forfeit part of post-graduate earnings in return for financial support of college,” Vedder argues.

CC success includes graduates — and transfers

Community college success rates are higher when transfers who go on to earn degrees are counted, notes the Hechinger Report.

Of the estimated one in four students who start at community colleges and then move on to four-year institutions, more than 60 percent ultimately graduate, the National Student Clearinghouse reports. And another 8 percent who haven’t finished haven’t dropped out, the study says; they’re still enrolled.

Only 18 percent of degree-seeking community college students complete a two-year degree in three years, according to federal data.  However, 40 percent of students with at least 30 community college credits will earn a degree in time, including transfers who graduate from four-year schools, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

Nearly a third of all students transfer at least once in five years; 17 percent transfer at least twice.

Most community college students who transfer haven’t completed an associate’s degree, the report said. Fifty-six percent will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree. The success rate is higher — 72 percent — for transfers who’ve completed an associate degree.

Colleges try to recruit, retain black men

Community colleges are developing programs to recruit and retain black men, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. At the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco, Marilyn Riley described Mesa Community College‘s summer program for high school students.

To help familiarize students with support services like advising and tutoring, groups of students are sent off with a list of a half-dozen offices with instructions to interview someone there and report back to the class.

. . . Students take two required courses during the summer, each of which earns them three college credits. One covers basic college-success skills, like time management and study techniques.

About half the participants end up enrolling at the Arizona community college.

“African-American Pride and Awareness” tries to persuade black males they belong on campus  and “can control their own destiny,”  said Karen Hardin, chair of the counseling department.   Successful graduates are recruited as peer mentors.

LaTonya Jones, a student adviser at Houston Community College, described its community-service and bonding activities for black men. On Chivalry Day, Men of Honor participants tutor local schoolchildren, wear their club shirts and ties and pass out carnations to women. Jones is working on a plan to gear college classes to the needs of black men.

An economics class, for instance, might cover financial planning for black men, while a history or English class would encompass black history and literature.

“If we can get them through the core,” she said, “they’ll graduate.”

Black men often lack the confidence to speak up in class, said San Diego State Professor J. Luke Wood, who runs the Minority Male Community College Collaborative.  In addition, “a lot of men are reluctant to ask for help because it makes them look weak,” he said.

AACC lists 77 minority-male success programs on its Web site, but Wood estimates there are 70 more.

Excelencia: What works for Latino college success

At Miami Dade College, pass-Math is boosting Latino pass rates in gatekeeper math courses, improving retention and reducing math anxiety. A program at LaGuardia Community College strengthens counseling to help Latino and other low-income students move from remedial to college-level courses. San Diego State’s peer Mentoring program (pMp) helps community college transfers handle the transition.

Small programs produced real gains for first-generation Latino students, concludes Excelencia in Education’s Growing What Works report.

Only 21 percent of Latino adults 25 and older have completed an associate degree or higher, compared to 40 percent of all U.S. adults.  More Latinos are enrolling in college — especially community college — but success rates are low.

The report spotlights a variety of programs.

The Mother-Daughter Program at Knox College (Illinois) counseled families on the importance of completing a degree. “Latino families make decisions together and an informed family is more supportive,” says Deborah Santiago, Excelencia’s vice president of policy. Some mothers decided to enroll in college after participating with their daughters.

Some programs target male Latinos, who have higher dropout rates. At Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York, Doorway to Success focused on improving male students’ study habits, engagement and retention. The Clave Latino Male Empowerment program at Union County College in New Jersey includes learning communities, a monthly lecture series, professional development opportunities and a social and professional support network for business and economics students.

CC students crave college connection

Community college students want to be more connected to faculty, classmates, coursework and career exploration, according to Connection by Design. The report is based on focus groups of current and former students conducted by WestEd and Public Agenda for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation‘s Completion by Design initiative.

Students wanted community colleges to engage them in classes and campus life, but they said mandatory orientation or student success courses must be high quality and relevant to their goals to be worth time in their busy schedules.

In the discussions, students spoke like consumers — saying they wanted more individualized help, if not in-person through personal emails or texts. Students felt most college websites fall short and would welcome more interactive features. Too often students said in making college-related decisions, they don’t know what questions to ask until it is too late.

Students want schools to better anticipate their needs and provide them with clear information, especially if they are at risk of dropping out and could benefit from extra services. And supports should be offered beyond the freshman year, many in the focus groups felt.

Many former students who have dropped out want colleges to invite them to return and let them know how to do so.

Most students wish their college had provided them with more structured opportunities to explore their academic and career options.

Students in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Texas participated in the focus groups.

Report: Pell completion quota threatens access

College access and college success are in conflict, writes Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb.com and FinAid.org. Low-income, minority and other high-risk students are significantly less likely to complete a degree. “One of the easiest ways to increase graduation rates is to exclude high-risk students.”

Kantrowitz analyzes proposals to require colleges to graduate a minimum percentage of Pell recipients to retain eligibility. Community colleges would be “hit the hardest,” he finds. Funding would shift to four-year institutions and to more selective schools.

A 20% minimum graduation rate threshold on institutional Pell Grant eligibility would cut overall Pell Grant funding at community colleges by more than $5 billion. While 4-year for-profit colleges would also lose nearly $1 billion, the for-profit sector as a whole would experience a net gain of more than $500 million in Pell Grant funding.

A 20% minimum graduation rate threshold on institutional Pell Grant eligibility would cause the average graduation rate for Pell Grant recipients to increase by 8.5 percentage points, but there would be a net 1% decrease in the number of college graduates.

Graduation rates are significantly lower for  first-generation college students, low-income students, single parents, students who lack a high school diploma, adults, full-time workers and part-time students, he writes. Pell dollars would shift from the neediest students to those with more advantages.

About one eighth of students pursuing four-year degrees come from high-risk groups, compared with more than half of students in associate’s degree programs and two thirds of students in certificate programs, Kantrowitz writes.

For-profit colleges enroll many high-risk students: Pell recipients at for-profit colleges are less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree, but more likely to earn an associate degree or certificate.

Instead of restricting access to Pell Grants, Kantrowitz suggests doubling or tripling the average grant to help low-income students earn degrees.

College graduates pay more than twice as much in federal income taxes as high school graduates. Every dollar invested in the Pell Grant program yields more than two dollars in profit to the federal government over the typical recipient’s work-life.

He calls it a “bold” idea. Yes. And very unlikely.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again—for free

If at first you don’t succeed, you can try again —for free — at Missouri State University-West Plains, a public two-year institution, reports Community College Times.

“We’re telling students that if they go to all of their classes, do all of their assigned homework, communicate with their instructors and advisors and use our free tutoring services, they will earn acceptable passing grades,” said Chancellor Drew Bennett. “If, however, they faithfully do all of these things and still earn below a 2.0 grade point average, we will let them, for one time only, retake courses where they earned a D or F grade tuition free the next regular semester.”

The school has given students “10 Steps to Success” to help them do well.  “If students use the outlined techniques, they should become successful, and if they don’t the first time and are willing to try again, so are we,” said Gary Phillips, chair of the faculty senate.

Gray expectations

“College success is dependent not only upon academic preparation but also upon a host of important skills, attitudes, and behaviors that are often left unspoken,” conclude Melinda Mechur Karp and Rachel Hare Bork in They Never Told Me What to Expect, so I Didn’t Know What to Do, a new  Community College Research Center study conducted at three community colleges.

Community college students must be their own advocates, study participants said. One instructor put it:

Students who do not seek out advising, students who do not ask questions or who do not have self-advocacy skills to go, “something doesn’t look right here,” may truly not get the help that they need until they apply for graduation and receive that letter saying, “Oops, you still have these four requirements.”

Students “need to be told that there are distinct expectations to which they will be held in the community college, given examples of those expectations, and shown (or, ideally, allowed to practice) strategies for meeting these expectations,” the researchers write. “This could be carried out in college orientation or College 101 courses, or even in meetings with college applicants or in high schools.”

Students who don’t come from middle-class, white families especially need explicit instruction in collegiate norms, expectations, and understandings.