LA Times: Add higher-cost courses

Charging more for community college extension courses during summer and winter breaks is a necessary stopgap, editorializes the Los Angeles Times. California is starting to restore funding to higher education, but it will be years before the state’s community colleges can offer enough courses to meet demand.

Though normally we would deplore creating a two-tiered educational system within the community colleges, now isn’t the time to stick to lofty principles about equal pricing for all. The loftiest thing that state legislators could do now is to help students of all financial backgrounds get through college. AB 955, by Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), would do that by allowing community college districts to offer extension courses over the summer and during winter vacation for which students would pay a higher price, much as they do for extension classes at California State University and the University of California.

Students would pay up to $200 per unit, or $600 for a three-unit class, close to five times as much as a regular state-subsidized class. Presumably, summer students would free up seats in low-cost courses.

Extension courses could be offered only if regular-price classes already were full, and would have to be offered in addition to the full menu of regular courses, not in place of them.

Opponents complain that this will create an elite system in which students with money will graduate earlier than others. To some extent that’s true, and it’s not something to cheer about. But what makes the proposal hard to resist is that it would help other students as well. Students who take extension classes free up seats in regular classes. Furthermore, one-third of the extension revenue would have to be spent on scholarships so that low-income students could attend the classes as well. The law would sunset in 2020, by which time, it’s hoped, the colleges will have adequate state funding.

Waiting months or years to get into low-cost classes is expensive for students, Williams points out. It can be cheaper to pay for an extension course and finish a credential. Rather than wait for a subsidized community college course, many students are paying high tuition at for-profit colleges that expand quickly to meet demand.

Denver remediates collegebound grads

More than 60 percent of Denver Public Schools graduates require remedial courses in college. Now Denver is providing free remedial math and English classes over the summer for collegebound graduates, reports the Denver Post.

Community College of Denver and Western Colorado Community College instructors will teach the courses at DPS schools.

The summer courses will cost DPS about $50,700. District officials said the program could save students and the state money in the long run.

KayLynn McAbee earned a 3.1 grade-point average in high school and was admitted to the University of Colorado-Pueblo. But she did poorly on placement tests. She signed up for summer remediation.

“I knew that if I took these classes that I would be better prepared for college, prepared to take on the workload and most likely finish college in four years, instead of the five years it would take if I had to take remedial classes,” McAbee said.

Students who get a C or higher during the summer won’t have the repeat the course at a Colorado university.

It’s sad that a B student isn’t prepared for college work.

California may add classes, raise fees

California community colleges could add courses in short summer and winter sessions — if students pay more, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. A bill that passed the Assembly this week would let colleges charge non-resident rates — $200 per unit — for new classes instead of the usual fee of $46 per unit.

Students who pay more for a high-demand class would free up spaces for other students during the regular semester, Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, said. “We must recognize the reality that the existing system is not meeting students’ needs,” he said.

The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges and several community college districts opposed the bill, saying it’s unfair to low-income students.

“If you fear a two-tiered system, I’ve got to wake you up: It’s already here,” Williams said. “There’s one tier that can get in and one tier that is locked out.”

After years of cutbacks, two-thirds of community colleges are offering more courses this summer, according to the chancellor’s office. Last summer, enrollment and course offerings hit the lowest level in 15 years, but the passage of a state sales tax increase provided an extra $210 million to community colleges.

In recent years, the state’s community colleges have been hit by $1.5 billion in funding cuts and turned away 600,000 students, according to a report published in March.

The shortage of community college seats “could keep 2.5 million Californians out of the system over the next 10 years,” reports KPBS. Latinos, who are the most likely to attend community colleges, will be hit hard, said Deborah Santiago, who heads research for Excelencia in Education. “Community colleges are, from a sticker price perspective, more affordable and, because they are in the communities where these students live, therefore accessible,” she said.

Pell changes hit community colleges

Last year’s changes to Pell Grants are “taking a heavy toll on community colleges and their students, depressing enrollments and squeezing the pocketbooks of thousands of students, if not pushing them out of the classroom altogether,” writes Paul Bradley on Community College Week.

Some propose requiring Pell recipients to earn more credits and capping remedial courses, making it harder for students to complete a certificate or degree.

Turner Gray, a 36-year-old freshman at Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York, is a single mother with two children who’s been unemployed for two years. She hopes to earn a business administration degree. But it will take longer because Pell no longer covers summer courses.

Excluding summer courses from the Pell Grant program was just one of the changes approved by Congress last June as it scrambled to plug a $1.3 billion gap in the Pell program, which has been growing for more than a decade as college enrollments have soared. The cost of the Pell Grant program doubled in cost to $36.5 billion in the four years ending in 2010, gobbling up an ever-growing share of discretionary funding of the U.S. Department of Education.

There were 19.4 million applicants for the grants last year, compared with 9.5 million a decade earlier. The changes enacted by Congress excluded about 100,000 students nationwide from the program.

At Montgomery County Community College in suburban Philadelphia, 10 percent of Pell recipients received less money or no grant at all, estimated college President Karen A. Stout. Many were enrolled in summer nursing courses designed to help students earn their degrees sooner. “Not only have the changes hurt students, but they have hurt the overall goal of college completion,” she said.

Under new eligibility limits, students can receive Pell aid for 12 semesters, down from 18. “The Pell Grant clock starts ticking while they are taking developmental classes that won’t count toward a college degree,” writes Bradley.

The change also could hurt students who have trouble transferring credits from a community college to a four-year college or university

To qualify for the maximum grant, students must come from families with an annual income of $23,000 or less, down from the previous level of $32,000.

The Pell changes resulted in lower enrollment at nearly all Mississippi and Alabama community colleges, concluded Steven G. Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama. He projected larger enrollment declines when eligibility limits kick in.

Transfer works in two directions

While most community college students say they want to transfer to a four-year institution, transfer works in two directions, concludes a new National Student Clearinghouse report: Within six years, 14.4 percent of first-time students who started at a four-year institution in the fall of 2005 had enrolled at a two-year institution in the regular school year.  More than half of reverse transfer students didn’t return to a four-year college or university. By the end of the six-year study period, two-thirds of reverse transfer students hadn’t earned a bachelor’s degree and were not enrolled in a four-year college or university. About half had dropped out, while the rest had earned a community college credential or were still enrolled at community college.

While reverse transfer to a community college isn’t a good route to a bachelor’s degree, four-year students who enroll in summer classes at a community college are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree, reports Inside Higher Ed.  “About 78 percent of students at four-year institutions who enrolled in a community college for a summer session and then returned to their original institution successfully earned a degree, according to the report, substantially outpacing the 58 percent graduation rate of those who never attended a community college.”

California colleges cut summer classes

Nearly two-thirds of California community college districts have cut summer classes by 50 percent or more, reports the Los Angeles Times.

“This will be the most severe summer we’ve faced in terms of course offerings,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott. “We have many four-year students who come back home and want to pick up a course or two in the summer and they can’t. There are a lot of individuals out of work who would like to have some training in the summer and can’t. We have great demand but inadequate supply.”

“It’s a great tragedy in California that we are delaying education for students because they can’t get the classes they need,” Scott said.

Mt. San Jacinto College in Riverside County, which offered 97 for-credit classes last summer, is down to eight this summer.

William Diaz, a community-college chemistry major, couldn’t get into a prerequisite chemistry class at any of the Los Angeles community college district’s nine campuses.  Without the class, he’ll have to wait an extra year to transfer to Cal State Northridge.

Even though the seven-hour class with a lab session at East Los Angeles City College is full and makes for a difficult commute from his home in South Los Angeles, he plan to show up on July 5, the first day.

“I know there’s got to be some students who will drop, so I’ve come up with a whole plan to bring my own seat, like a beach chair, and just sit there and talk to the teacher. It’s an important class, and I feel like I’m fighting against the clock,” said Diaz, 22, who has a 3-year-old son and works as a teaching assistant at the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, a high school in downtown Los Angeles.

Students who fear more tuition hikes are trying to complete as much coursework as possible.