Community colleges “are asked to educate those students with the greatest needs, using the least funds, and in increasingly separate and unequal institutions,” concludes Bridging the Higher Education Divide, a report by a Century Foundation task force. “Racial and economic stratification is connected to unequal financial resources as well as to unequal curricula, expectations, and school cultures.”
Forty-four percent of U.S. college students attend community colleges. Most fail to earn a certificate or degree in six years. While more than 81 percent of entering students say they want to transfer and earn at least a bachelor’s degree, only 11 percent will succeed within six years.
Worse enrolling in community college appears to lower the odds of success for the best-qualified students. Among low-income students who’ve completed trigonometry, a mark of college readiness, 69 percent who start at a four-year college or university will earn a bachelor’s degree, compared to 19 percent who start at a community college.
Funding should go to colleges that serve students with the greatest needs and produce the best outcomes, such as job placements, degrees and transfers to four- year institutions, the report argues.
In order to promote equity and avoid incentives for “creaming” the most well prepared students, funding should be tied to distance traveled and progress made—that is to say, consideration of where students start as well as where they end up. In addition, the number of nontraditional, minority and low-income students who achieve each of these outcomes should be monitored.
Higher education subsidies should be transparent, ”including public tax expenditures in the form of tax breaks for private donations, tax exemptions for endowment-derived income, and the like,” to show how little funding is going to colleges that serve less-advantaged Americans.
Creating clear transfer pathways would help community college students reach their goals, the report suggests. Two- and four-year institutions need to work together, perhaps creating joint bachelor’s degree programs. States should adopt “guaranteed transfer” policies.
Four-year colleges and universities should receive financial incentives for accepting low-income community college transfer students, the report recommends. Highly selective institutions should commit to accepting community college transfers for 5 percent of their junior class.
To attract middle-class achievers to community colleges, the report suggests creating “honors colleges” and using “early college” options on campus. At the same time, selective four-year colleges and universities should focus affirmative action programs on disadvantaged students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Community colleges “can become America’s quintessential ‘middle-class’ institutions — serving both those already in the middle-class and those aspiring to become part of it,” Bridging the Higher Education Divide concludes. But, right now, higher education is increasingly stratified. The most selective institutions primarily serve students from educated, well-to-do families, while open access institutions enroll, but usually don’t graduate, lower-income and working-class students.
Here’s the New York Times‘ take on the report.
Community college leaders are trying to double the number of graduates by 2020 to meet President Obama’s targets. It’s not easy, writes Stacy Collett in Community College Journal.
For administrators at Harper College in Illinois, 10,604 is the magic number—it’s the college’s share of the 5 million additional community college graduates President Obama challenged the nation’s two-year career and technical institutions to contribute to the economy by 2020. (That’s in addition to the college’s current trajectory of 21,000 credentialed students by 2020.)
Harper started by reaching out to students who were a few credits short of an associate degree. Some already had earned those credits at other institutions; others just needed a few classes. Now that the low-hanging fruit has been picked, raising the number of graduates will get harder.
“Many people working in community colleges still do not understand how abysmal our graduation rates or our student retention rates or course completion rates are,” says Angela Oriano, associate director at the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) at the University of Texas at Austin.
Completion rates are up 125 percent at Snead State Community College (SSCC) in Alabama since it started a campaign encouraging students to “finish what you start.” The college redesigned orientation, eliminated unneeded requirements, such as speech and computer training, and even dropped a $15″cap and gown” fee.
When Cindy Miles became chancellor at California’s Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District (GCCCD) in 2009, a dismal 3 percent of the 4,000 freshmen who entered the college in 2006 had earned a degree, yet 1,900 had successfully transferred to a four-year university by 2009.
“High numbers of transfer students who come to us don’t care if they get that degree,” Miles explains. “We’re trying to ascertain what the student’s version of success is, and we’re now trying to show value in the associate degree before they transfer.”
Four-year graduation rates are much higher for students who transfer with an associate degree.
The Roadmap Project at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in Pennsylvania helps students plan their college career and understand all the support services available. The first-year experience initiative includes mandatory orientation and success seminars, help from a success coach and access to walk-in “math cafés” staffed by faculty volunteers.
MOOC enthusiasts should consider a Community College Research Center survey that found many college students want “in-person discussion and on-the-spot feedback,” writes Mandy Zatynski on The Quick and the Ed. There’s a generational divide in online learning separating young students from those 30 and older, she writes.
. . . my brother and I are galaxies apart in terms of technology, even though he’s only six years younger. He has never known a world without computers, while I still remember the awe of searching on the Internet for the first time. He reads news from a screen; I flip through the Sunday paper. In college, he learned on computers in campus labs; I bought textbooks and highlighted relevant passages. I can’t reach my brother by calling him, but if I send a text message, my phone will buzz with an immediate reply.
She sides with the community college students who want to go to brick-and-mortar classrooms, listen to a live human being and ask questions in real-time. But the rising generation of students may prefer the convenience of an online course.
In the survey, students said they were more likely to take “easy” courses online – meaning ones they could teach themselves – but preferred a face-to-face environment for more complicated courses, such as science and foreign language. This speaks to a growing need to move general education curricula online, much like the University System of Georgia does with eCore. Students there can take the first two years of their four-year degree online, before moving into classes on campus required for their major. If more universities moved in this direction, it could streamline articulation agreements and transfer processes for students, ensuring that they wouldn’t lose credit if they decided to switch institutions—as many college students do.
The future of higher education is more likely to blend online and face-to-face coursework than to go all MOOC, Zatynski predicts.
California could tie a percentage of university funding to performance, if Gov. Jerry Brown gets his way, reports the Los Angeles Times. Brown’s plan calls for raising the number of community college transfers who earn a bachelor’s degree in two years and boosting the four-year graduation rate at University of California and California State University campuses. The governor also wants to freeze tuition and fees for four years.
Cal State officials expressed concern about Brown’s focus on four-year graduation rates rather than the six-year standard they use. (Mike) Uhlenkamp said it may be unrealistic for remedial students, working students who attend part time and students in demanding fields like engineering to achieve a degree in four years.
Brown’ s plan faced criticism at a legislative hearing last week.
Several legislators and university officials said they feared that the plan unfairly forced campuses to chase unrealistic and arbitrary goals when the real problem remained the deep budget cuts schools suffered during the recession.
Some said they feared Brown’s ideas could backfire by encouraging campuses to water down graduation requirements and directing students to easier majors as a way to meet Brown’s targets, which also include boosting the number of transfer students from community colleges.
The Brown administration said it was open to changes, such has evaluating Cal State by both four- and six-year graduation rates.
Tracking students’ progress through the core curriculum can help community colleges improve success rates for students who hope to earn a bachelor’s degree, suggests a new Community College Research Center report.
About 70 percent of community colleges say they want to transfer to earn a four-year degree. Most never make it.
Researchers analyzed data from community colleges in two states with different transfer policies.
State A requires a 42-credit general education core curriculum. All core courses are transferable, but transfers aren’t guaranteed junior status, even if they’ve earned an associate degree. In State B, a 36-credit core is required and statewide articulation agreements guarantee junior standing for transfer students who’ve earned an associate degree.
Over five years, 29 percent of students at College B completed the 36-unit core; only 12 percent completed the 42-unit core at College A.
After five years, students who completed the core were much more likely to complete a degree compared to those who completed most of the requirements (30-41 credits at College A and 30-35 credits at College B).
For example, while only 8 percent of students who accumulated 30-41 credits at College A earned an award at their community college and/or at the four-year college to which they transferred, 54 percent of students who completed the core did so. The corresponding results for College B are 17 percent (for those who accumulated 30-35 credits) and 70 percent (for those who completed the core).
Encouraging near-completers to earn an associate degree before transferring would boost success rates, the study advises.
Students were most likely to meet social sciences requirements and struggled the most to earn math and science credits.
Community college officials were urged to commit to “beta-testing” the Voluntary Framework of Accountability at the American Association of Community Colleges meeting in San Francisco. The new measure will be introduced in November. The federal data system tracks only full-time students, who make up a fraction of community college students. The AACC, the Association of Community College Trustees and the College Board are designing the VFA to satisfy demands for accountability and give colleges the information they need to improve, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The VFA aims to measure students’ progress not only in terms of who gets a degree, but, for example, if they pass out of developmental courses, how quickly they earn academic credit, and if they transfer to another institution. Beyond credit-bearing academic programs, the tool will track such data as students’ pass rates for licensure examinations and the employment rates among those who enrolled in adult basic education.
“If you’re going to measure us, measure us by what we do,” said Sandra L. Kurtinitis, president of the Community College of Baltimore County, which plans to start using the tool in the fall. Sinclair Community College also intends to sign on, said Laura Mercer, director of research, analytics, and reporting at the Ohio institution.
About 80 colleges are testing the VFA. Pennsylvania adopted it last year to assess its 14 community colleges, and other states may follow suit. But some college officials worry about the cost of collecting data — or what the numbers may show.
For now, the development of the VFA has focused on student progress and outcomes. Its two other components, tracking community colleges’ performance on “work-force, economic, and community development” and on “student-learning outcomes,” are in their early stages. Collecting state wage data and defining learning outcomes have proved difficult, presenters at the meeting said.
The VFA will track the progress of all students in credit-bearing courses, not just those who are seeking a degree, said Karen A. Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College, in Pennsylvania, and co-chair of an AACC accountability team. That may depress completion rates, she conceded.
Improving community college completion rates is difficult and expensive, concludes a new study by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia.
Community colleges are under pressure to increase completion rates and efficiency, write Clive Belfield, Peter M. Crosta and Davis Jenkins. But “many students who fail to complete are far short of the program requirements.” Some strategies will provide more degrees for the dollar.
In the community college they studied, “there would be substantial gains in completion rates and efficiency from helping students transfer with an award and from helping students with 30+ credits to graduate.” However, persuading more students to persist is
“both an expensive and inefficient reform.”
It’s important to understand the whole college process, not just inputs and outputs, write Belfield and Jenkins in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.
Improving the quality of instruction in introductory courses won’t help if students can’t access high-demand majors, such as nursing. Pouring resources into one early intervention won’t help if other programs lose resources and decline in quality as a result. And increasing retention rates won’t improve efficiency if it leads students to drop out in their second year instead of their first. In fact, improved retention requires more upper-level courses (which tend to cost more) and makes colleges look less efficient if graduation rates remain unchanged.
If community colleges can find ways to improve students’ college readiness — perhaps by collaborating with feeder high schools — they’ll improve their efficiency significantly.
California Community Colleges’ new Student Success Scorecard shows declining completion and transfer rates, reports the Oakland Tribune. Only 49.2 percent of the students who enrolled in 2006 to earn a credential or transfer reached their goal within six years, compared with 52.3 percent of those who started college in 2002. Completion rates for black and Latino students were below 40 percent.
That’s no surprise.
The past five years have been rocky for the state’s 112 colleges and the students who turned to them during the recession. As unemployment swelled, the system simultaneously saw soaring demand and $1.5 billion in state funding cuts, forcing its colleges to cut back on student services and classes. State universities also accepted fewer transfers during that time, another factor working against students.
The scorecard breaks down success rates by year of entry, college, gender, age, ethnicity and academic preparation. It also tracks vocational students: 55 percent completed a certificate or degree or transferred within six years.
Retention was a bright spot:
Statewide, unprepared students are making it through their first year and enrolling in a third straight semester at even greater rates than those who don’t need to take remedial courses.
The same is true for Latino students, who make up about 36 percent of all community college students and whose persistence rate — 66 percent — is roughly the same as for their white peers.
However, about two-thirds of community colleges statewide reported lower succes rates.
At Oakland’s Merritt College, only 40 percent of students who started in 2006 reached their goals six years later. “A lot of my friends have dropped,” said Onome Ntekume, an 18-year-old nursing student who works at the school’s tutoring center. “For some, it was money. For some, it was way too hard and they just said they needed a break. Some even ran away just because of mathematics,” she said.
A tool tracking former students’ earnings should be available next month, the chancellor’s office said.
To understand military veterans turned students, run a mile in their boots. New Jersey community college officials and high school teachers, counselors and principals volunteered for a week of Marine training, reports Community College Times.
Last year, Warren County Community College (WCCC) in New Jersey launched a program that allows military veterans to earn college credits for their service-related experiences. As with other programs at community colleges serving military veterans and other servicemembers, WCCC’s Veterans In Pursuit of Educational Readiness (VIPER) requires, in part, helping them understand the college environment.
So when an opportunity came for educators to sample what it’s like to be a Marine, Robert Sintich, who created the VIPER program, took the opportunity. He also recruited another college official to join him for the week of training at Parris Island, S.C.—WCCC President Will Austin.
“I have a great deal more respect as to what these recruits go through,” Austin said. “They are being trained to be intelligent warriors. They are being very well educated.”
At Marine Corps Educators Boot Camp, designed is to educate the educators, Austin, Sintich and 75 others woke up at 5 am and trained until early evening.
Marines are always learning, said Sgt. Samuel Nasso, a spokesperson for the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in New Jersey. “Since day one a Marine is in training to the day the Marine retires, the goal is to strive to be a better Marine and a better individual in all facets of life,” Nasso said.
Austin and Sintich talked to the Marines about VIPER, which lets veterans receive up to 34 credits for their military training, plus up to 11 credits for courses in automotive technology, business, computer science, criminal justice, fire science and food and beverage management. A vet who takes full advantage of the program could earn an associate degree in as little as one semester, then seamlessly transfer to Thomas Edison State College to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Santa Barbara City College, which launches many students on the path to a bachelor’s degree, and Walla Walla Community College, which excels in job training, are winners of this year’s Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Each college will receive $400,000.
Students at each college spoke at the presentation. Edith Rodriguez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, “learned about Santa Barbara City College in a high-school assembly shortly after her release from a juvenile detention center,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. A six-week summer bridge program and a support group for students interested in mathematics and science persuaded her to major in electrical engineering.
Getting in front of prospective students is vital, said Lori Gaskin, president of Santa Barbara. “We reach out to students like Edith even before they set foot on campus, before they realize that college is a potential opportunity for them,” she said in an interview. “Our students don’t necessarily have role models or cheerleaders at home.”
Sixty-four percent of the college’s first-time, full-time students transfer or graduate within three years, compared with the national average of 40 percent.
Walla Walla Community College also posts higher-than-average transfer rates, but won for its workforce training programs in high-demand fields including wine making, wind energy, and watershed ecology. ”In 2011 its new graduates earned $41,548, or 79 percent more than what other new hires in the region were making,” reports the Chronicle. “Since Walla Walla began its viticulture-degree program, the number of local wineries has grown from 16 to more than 170.”