Community colleges should be free


Following Tennessee’s lead, several states are considering free tuition for community and technical college students.

Community Colleges Should Be Free, editorializes Scientific American. Community colleges train technicians for jobs in leading-edge industries and serve as gateways to higher education for first-generation, minority and working-class students.

The Tennessee Promise is showing the way. Starting next year, high school graduate will pay no tuition at two-year community colleges and technical schools.

However, many community college entrants have weak basic skills. Only 32 percent of Tennessee students complete a credential. Gov. Bill Haslam’s program includes “mentors” to help students succeed.

 To ensure that the newly enrolled reach graduation day, administrators of community colleges must emphasize accelerated remedial programs to get students through the basics and into career-related classes quickly enough to avoid the frustration and despondency that lead to elevated dropout rates.

The two-year colleges should also give serious consideration to new teaching methods that could maximize the time teachers have to interact with their students. Bill Gates, whose foundation has contributed tens of millions to remedy the failings of two-year schools, recommended in a speech last year that community colleges experiment with “flipped classrooms.” Students watch lectures from MOOCs (massive open online courses) at home. In class, instead of getting lectures, they complete homework-like exercises, with personalized instruction from professors and teaching assistants.

Oregon plans a Promise bill.  Mississippi legislators rejected the idea, but may come back to it next year. Now a Texas politician has proposed making community and technical college free to high school graduates in her state.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, wants the state to invest $2 billion in a Texas Promise Fund modeled after the Tennessee plan. “It is time to get Texans prepared for the jobs of the future,” said Van de Putte. Students would have to exhaust their federal grant aid and pay for their non-academic fees, books and living expenses.

In Michigan, the Kalamazoo Promise — funded by local philanthropists – guarantees college or university tuition to graduates of district-run public schools. Grades and AP enrollments are up and suspensions are way down, reports Politico. But, nine years after the Promise was announced, college dropout rates remain high for Kalamazoo students.

Brian Lindhal, a 2012 graduate of Loy Norrix High School, had a rocky start at Kalamazoo Valley Community College last fall. After earning a B in English and a D in history his first semester, he didn’t sign up for the winter term. “It didn’t click,” says Lindhal, 20, who works full-time at a company that restores garments after fires and floods. He plans to go back next semester. “I know a lot of people in other places would kill to have what I have,” he says sheepishly.

Rochester, New York also has a Promise program, writes Michael Holzman on Dropout Nation. Very few blacks — and even fewer black males — read proficiently in ninth grade and go on to earn a diploma at Rochester’s high schools. Only nine percent of blacks earned a degree in six years at Monroe Community College. The completion rate was five percent for black males.

What works for remedial students?

What works for remedial students? The Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness (CAPR) will assess new approaches to remedial assessment, placement and instruction.

The Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, in collaboration with MDRC and scholars at Stanford, University of California at Davis and Vanderbilt, has been awarded a five-year $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to create the center.

Three major studies are planned:

A national study to survey the characteristics of developmental students, the dominant remedial practices across two- and four-year colleges, and the nature and extent of reforms that have been recently implemented or are in process.

A randomized control trial in partnership with the State University of New York’s community college system to test the effectiveness of a “data analytics” assessment and placement system that relies on more information, including high school records, than the traditional method of placing students into remedial education.

A randomized control trial at several Texas community colleges comparing the New Mathways Project—a program developed by the Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin to engage students in more active learning of math curricula that are tailored to specific academic pathways—with the traditional remedial and introductory college math sequence.

In addition, CAPR will investigate innovative approaches to remediation, including California’s Early Start.

CCRC’s Thomas Bailey and MDRC’s Lashawn Richburg-Hayes will lead the new center.

States don’t track students college readiness and progress through remediation with any consistency, concludes an Education Commission for the State report, Cure for Remedial Reporting ChaosA companion report recommends creating a national “framework” for measuring and reporting on remediation.

$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.

Texas shows college options, pay-offs

What will it cost to major in dental hygiene at the nearest community college? What’s the average first-year and median earnings? What’s the graduation rate? Texas has created a useful cost-benefit guide for prospective college students, writes Fawn Johnson in the National Journal magazine.

The searchable MyFutureTx.com can be customized to reflect the searcher’s location, household income, and SAT scores. It will help a future college student browse possible careers, majors and college options, warn about college costs and debt and predict future earnings.

If you’re a high school student in Texas and dream of a career in the arts, you might want to know that fine-arts and studio-arts graduates at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls make, on average, about $10,000 more per year than alumni who majored in the same subjects at Sul Ross State University in Alpine—and that the disparity lasts for 10 years after graduation. Yet the total cost of a bachelor’s degree is the same at both schools, around $42,000. The average time to complete the degree is also about the same, a little more than five years.

Several states have developed websites with data on graduates’ earnings, job opportunities across majors, and comparisons of colleges’ costs, writes Johnson. Texas’ site is the most sophisticated.

Anthropology majors who graduated in 2002 make an average of only $46,000 after 10 years on the job, the site warns. Economics majors from 2002, by contrast, earn about $100,000.

Investigating a career as a dental hygienist, I used the site to find eight community colleges that offer an associate degree in dental support services for an annual net price less than $5,000. Statewide, the average time to a dental support degree is 5.4 years, but 84 percent of graduates are employed. The average first-year pay is $44,747. By the 10th year, that’s up to $53,213 — better than graduates with a bachelor’s in anthropology.

But not all dental hygienists do that well. El Paso Community College graduates start at $24,435 and rise to $39,768 in 10 years.

Texas Reality Check encourages young people to estimate their spending, then shows pay, after taxes, for hundreds of careers. A child-care workers can expect to take home $1,233 a month, the site estimates. That’s one third the take-home pay of a dental hygienist.

How to earn a low-debt bachelor’s degree

Starting at a community college will cut the cost of a bachelor’s degree, but students have to be savvy to make it work, writes Lisa Ward in the Wall Street Journal.

Transferring credits can be be “complicated and confusing,” she writes. Students and parents should research whether their state has coordinated community college and state university credits.

For example, California, Louisiana and Texas guarantee admission to a four-year state university to any student who earns an associate degree at an in-state community college. Florida has the same guarantee for an associate of arts, but transfers will need high grades and prerequisites to get into popular majors at prestigious schools.

Some states, including Texas and Florida, use the same numbering system for community college and state university courses. Psych 101 is the same at every school, making it easier for students to know which credits will transfer.

Hybrid degree programs also help transfers earn low-cost bachelor’s degrees.

 Houston Community College and University of Texas at Tyler designed a program where students can earn an associate’s degree in engineering from HCC and then enroll at UT Tyler, as long as their grade-point average is 2.5 or higher. The program sets the student up for a bachelor’s degree in mechanical, electrical or civil engineering.

“It costs $19,000, for all four years, if you live in-state,” says David Le, who is enrolled in the program. “No one ever believes me when I tell them how cheap it is,” says Mr. Le, who lives at home because the program is taught entirely at HCC’s campus.

Earning college credit in high school also cuts the cost of a degree. Most schools offer Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses that enable students to earn college credit. Increasingly, students can earn credits through “dual enrollment” or “early college” classes, which often are taught by community college instructors.

“In many cases, dual enrollment and early college are the absolutely cheapest way to earn college credit because it’s free,” says Dilip Das, assistant vice provost at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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.

Stopout rate is 94% at 2-year colleges

“Stopping out” — taking a semester or more off — is very common for Texas community college students, according to a new study, reports USA Today.  Ninety-four percent of community college students who first enrolled in 2000 stopped out at least once, Toby Park, a Florida State professor, found.

Of students who completed a degree, 76 percent were one-time stopouts. Taking two or more breaks sharply cut the odds of completion.

Mentoring and personal relationships were what kept Tim Semonich, now a junior at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., enrolled at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem on his second try.

Semonich dropped out his first semester, thinking that college wasn’t for him. After working for two years, he decided to give college a second chance.

“The second time, I put more effort in and made connections with professors and deans,” Semonich says.

The more he got involved with school activities, such as speech team and student government, the more he enjoyed it. Semonich later went on to earn a full scholarship to Moravian.

Taxpayers spent nearly $4 billion from 2004 to 2009 on community college students who dropped out after their first year, reports USA Today.

Celeste Brewer stopped out of the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College (Florida). “If I was offered work, then I would skip class because I had to pay my bills,” she says. She got a third chance at Miami Dade College, where she’s close to a degree in aviation administration.

After one year at the University of California, Michelle Willens stopped out. Forty years later, she’s working on a bachelor’s degree. In The Atlantic, she writes about what it’s like to be a middle-aged college student.

Chinese, Saudis choose U.S. colleges

Fewer international students are enrolling in U.S. community colleges, while more are choosing baccalaureate colleges, according to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors 2013 report.

Community colleges’ international enrollments fell by 1.4 percent in 2012-13, the fourth consecutive decline, notes Community College Times. The number of international students increased by 2.9 percent at baccalaureate colleges.

The Houston Community College System in Texas has 5,333 international students this academic year, followed by Santa Monica College in California with 3,471 students and De Anza College in California with 2,728 student. Lone Star College in Texas with 2,112 students and Northern Virginia Community College with 1,901 students rounded the top five community colleges.

China is sending an increasing number of students to U.S. colleges and universities.

“Chinese students and their parents are looking for high quality education, get the importance of international education and it’s making America the No. 1 destination because we actually have the capacity to absorb international students,” said Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the institute.

The number of Saudi students increased by 30 percent thanks to a government scholarship program.

Texas stacks energy credentials

Texas community colleges are creating stackable credentials for oilfield workers, reports Inside Higher Ed. Oil and gas workers can qualify for an entry-level job, then return to college for more training.

Community colleges are working hard to keep up with petrochemical companies’ demand for workers. The jobs pay well, and many associate degree-holders earn $50,000 to $70,000 a year right out of college.

Students can start at one college, move to follow the jobs and enroll at a new college without losing credits.

Several community colleges have teamed up to create a central core of 36 credits toward a 60-credit associate degree aimed at oil and gas workers. Those courses, which include 15 credits’ worth of accreditor-mandated general education requirements and 21 credits of specialized soft and mechanical skills training, are designed to transfer around the state.

Each credential “stacks” on the one before. “Courses for shorter-term certificates count toward degrees,” notes Inside Higher Ed.

A “marketable skills achievement award,” which takes 9 to 14 credits, leads to an entry-level job.

Next up is a “level one” certificate, which usually takes a year to complete. For example, a basic certificate in process technology at Brazosport is 15 credits. Others can be more involved, with 18 or more credits.

Level two certificates follow. They tend to be somewhat-specialized 30-credit programs. Eventually students can wrap up 60-credit associate degrees in production or processing technology.

That’s not even the last step. Some community colleges have partnered with four-year institutions to create transitions to bachelor’s programs for oil and gas workers. Brazosport, for example, has a transfer agreement with the nearby University of Houston at Victoria for a bachelor’s in applied technology.

Large employers, such as Chevron and Dow Chemical, require an associate degree for new hires. But they’ll hire interns who are working on a degree for as much as $22 an hour.

Texas colleges plan to create stackable credentials for other fields, such as allied health careers and information technology.

North Carolina’s community colleges have created a “green jobs” pathway.

Higher ed pays — for technical grads

Higher Education Pays: But a Lot More for Some Graduates Than for Others concludes a Lumina-funded report by Dr. Mark Schneider, the president of College Measures. “What you study matters more than where you study,” says Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research (AIR).  Learning technical and occupational skills pays off, even for graduates of low-prestige colleges and universities. A music, photography or creative writing graduate from a prestige university will struggle.

Schneider analyzed first-year earnings of graduates of two-year and four-year colleges in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Some short-term credentials, including occupational associate’s degrees and certificates, are worth as much or more than bachelor’s degrees, the study found. For example, Texans with technical associate’s degrees averaged more than $11,000 more than four-year graduates in their first year in the workforce.

Certificates that require one or two years of study may raise earnings as much as an associate degree, especially a transfer-oriented degree.

In Texas, certificate holders earned almost $15,000 more on average than graduates with academic associate’s degrees, but about $15,000 less than graduates with technical associate’s degrees.

Not surprisingly engineering degrees have the biggest payoff, followed by nursing and other health-related fields. What is a surprise is the weak demand for biology and chemistry graduates. “The S in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is oversold,” the report found.

Despite the clamoring for more students to focus on STEM, the labor market shows less demand for science skills. Employers are paying more, often far more, for graduates with degrees in technology, engineering and math. There is no evidence that Biology or Chemistry majors earn a premium wage, compared with engineers, computer/information science or math majors. The labor market returns for science are similar to those of the liberal arts, like English Language and Literature.

Women now make up a majority of biology graduates and about half of chemistry majors.

“Prospective students need sound information about where their educational choices are likely to lead” before they go into debt, the report concludes.