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.
It’s a “big fact” that the economic returns to college are high, write Clive Belfield and Davis Jenkins in a Community College Research center paper. It’s a “big myth” that the “college affordability crisis is actually an efficiency crisis caused by wasteful spending by colleges.” That’s especially true for community colleges.
Neglect of this fact and acceptance of this myth have impaired policymaking, resulting in reduced state funding and new practices (more adjuncts, larger classes, online courses) that cut spending and lower quality.
If colleges invest in improving quality, they’ll improve efficiency as well, write Belfield and Jenkins.
Community colleges serve many underprepared students who need substantial support, they point out. Educating college-ready students is cheaper and easier.
Reforms to remediation, which likely require more (not less) resources, are therefore essential, as are reforms that provide a better articulation between high school and college. Much of the potential efficiency gain would come from improvements at the high school level.
For students already in college, barriers to completion include no-credit remedial courses, college-level courses that don’t meet degree requirements at transfer destinations and “the earning of extraneous credits outside a program area.”
Reforms should include creating more educationally coherent program pathways that lead to student end goals, building on-ramps to help students get into a program of study quickly, and tracking student progress and providing feedback using information technology and reorganized advising.
Low-income and first-generation students, who disproportionately enroll in community colleges, need more information on the returns to college, write Belfield and Jenkins. They also need more “structure and guidance” to succeed in college.
The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence has announced 150 colleges contending for the $1 million prize. The eligible institutions hail from 37 states. Texas, Florida, Kansas and Mississippi are especially well represented.
Colleges are judged on students’ persistence, completion and transfer rates, consistent improvement in outcomes over time and equity in outcomes for students of all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Ten finalists will be announced in the fall and the winner will be named in early 2015.
Aspen’s Josh Wyner discusses community college excellence.
Leaders of California’s three state higher education systems met this week with Gov. Jerry Brown to pledge cooperation, especially in helping community college students transfer to state universities, reports the Los Angeles Times.
In a rare gathering, University of California President Janet Napolitano, California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White and California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris said they want to break through some of the walls set up by the state’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, which established different roles and student enrollment criteria for each sector. Yet they also said they want to maintain the plan’s basic tenets.
“Transfer should be as streamlined as possible and as transparent as possible,” said Napolitano, as the three leaders appeared together at the UC regents meeting in San Francisco.
The challenge for the three systems, White said, is to strengthen the master plan “for the new economy for the next 50 years.”
The master plan, among other things, gave UC control over doctoral degrees and professional schools, allowed open access to community colleges and set higher admissions standards at Cal State and UC. Although many educators speak of it reverently, Brown described it as the result of a political deal in need of updating.
Napolitano pledged at the White House summit to improve diversity at the University of California by admitting more transfers from community colleges that “enroll large numbers of underrepresented and low-income students but send relatively few on to UC.”
Currently, only 20 percent of transfers are Latino or black compared to 24 percent of first-year students, points out Robert Shireman, director of California Competes. Latinos and African Americans make up 42 of the state’s population. CSU campuses are developing transfer pathways with the community colleges. UC has not participated.
California needs a new higher education plan and a statewide coordinating agency, concludes California Competes in Charting a Course for California’s Colleges. The California Postsecondary Education Commission was defunded in 2011. Since then, the state has no system of coordinated higher education leadership.
“For California’s continued economic growth, we must graduate 5.5 million degree and technical certificate holders who can succeed in the high-skilled labor market by 2025,” said Shireman. The state will fall short by 2.3 million, including one million four-year college graduates, without “consistent and coordinated leadership for our colleges and universities.”
The report recommends creating an autonomous coordinating agency “independent from political influence, informed by data, focused on outcomes and effective in articulating its goals, and able to work with policymakers.”
“We can’t just transplant” a higher education governance model from another state, said Lande Ajose, author of the report and a deputy director of California Competes. But California could learn from Ohio, Washington, Illinois, Texas, Florida and other states, the report suggests.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown called for the University of California and California State University systems to begin reporting performance outcomes, but it wasn’t clear who would collect and analyze the data, notes California Competes. The governor signed a bill calling for the state to develop postsecondary education goals, “but there was no guidance on who would monitor progress toward those goals.”
Speaker John A. Pérez, who serves as a UC Regent and a CSU Trustee, has introduced a bill establishing a new state oversight and coordinating body for higher education. AB 1348 passed the Assembly last year and will be considered by the Senate this year.
California’s higher education system is just average, concludes the Campaign for College Opportunity in Average Won’t Do.
Tuition (known as fees) at community colleges and state universities is relatively low: Community college fees are only 42 percent of the national average and many students pay nothing. Student loan debt averages a relatively low $20,269 per borrower. But fees and student loan amounts are rising rapidly.
California is below average on college readiness, according to the report. Only 68 percent of high school students earn a diploma in four years. Thirty-eight percent have passed college-prep courses that qualify them for state universities.
The college-going rate is relatively high, but the completion rate is average at state universities and well below average for community colleges.
Boston’s deeply troubled Roxbury Community College is getting a fresh start with a new leader, writes Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson. Bunker Hill Community College, which is trying to raise student success rates, also has a new president.
Valerie Roberson has taken charge of Roxbury after years of “scandalous mismanagement.” Only 39.5 percent of students graduate or transfer within six years.
Pam Eddinger, who immigrated from Hong Kong when she was 11, hopes to raise the 47.1 percent graduation-or-transfer rate at Bunker Hill.
Both are women who hate to lose, writes Jackson.
A decade ago, Roberson was appointed interim president of Olive-Harvey College in Chicago. There was talk of closing the community college. The faculty went on a three-week strike. “After firing some full-time faculty, Roberson said she worked on stabilizing faculty relations and boosting scholarship and honors programs,” writes Jackson. She stayed as president for five years.
Roxbury’s “need for healing” is “like nothing she’s ever seen,” Roberson told Jackson. She’s started by “spiffing up the grounds and healing frayed relations with both community organizers and the business community.” And, she’s continuing an audit of the college’s tangled finances.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature are putting more funding into community colleges and offering incentives for colleges that improve graduation and transfer rates and help close the state’s skills gap, writes Jackson.
But community colleges have rapidly evolved into far more than skill schools. As the price of four-year private colleges spirals past $50,000 a year — and tuition, room, and board at UMass Amherst is $23,000 — less-expensive community colleges take on more ambitious students.
The state is also trying to align community colleges and university courses, so students can more easily transfer their credits. Lack of portability has depressed the state’s community college graduation and transfer rates, says Eddinger. Students are mobile. Their credits need to be mobile too.
“We want to restore the essential promise of opportunity and upward mobility that’s at the heart of America,” President Obama said at a White House summit on higher education. “If we as a nation can … reach out to [low-income] young people and help them not just go to college, but graduate from college or university, it could have a transformative effect.”
The “story of opportunity through education is the story of my life,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, who grew up in a working-class family and went to Princeton.
The administration asked colleges and universities to encourage low-income students to apply to challenging schools, start college preparation earlier, expand college advising and improve college remediation.
In California, the three branches of the higher education system – community colleges, state universities, and the University of California – will jointly reach out to seventh-graders in the state to encourage them to prepare for college and understand financial aid options.
Only 1 in 4 community college students in remedial classes go on to earn a degree, notes the White House report, Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students. Summit participants have committed to “strengthening instruction, using technology, better supporting students in remediation, and reducing the need for remediation.”
Achieving the Dream, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Jobs for the Future will work with community colleges and other higher education groups to develop and implement promising practices that accelerate progression through remediation and gateway courses.
Update: It was “a productive meeting,” Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, told Community College Daily. “It will be the broad access institutions that will play the big role — not the nation’s elite universities. There needs to be more focus on leveraging the nation’s community colleges to promote access and college/university completion at more affordable rates.”
“The summit helped to reframe the current rhetoric around higher education, away from the issues of rating and affordability, to issues of access for low-income students, our importance for economic competitiveness, and the need for increased public and private investment in our work,” said Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College (Pennsylvania). “The administration has clearly recognized our role in workforce development. I am pleased that our important role in transfer was recognized today in such a public way, by so many, including our university colleagues.”
Colleges in Hawaii, North Dakota, Oregon and Utah have reached agreement on a way to define learning outcomes, reports Inside Higher Ed. The Interstate Passport, a joint project of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, will help students transfer a block of general education credits within the western region.
Signers include: Leeward Community College and University of Hawai‘i West Oahu, in Hawaii; Lake Region State College, North Dakota State College of Science, North Dakota State University and Valley City State University, in North Dakota; Blue Mountain Community College and Eastern Oregon University, in Oregon; and Dixie State University, Salt Lake Community College, Snow College, Southern Utah University, the University of Utah, Utah State University, Utah Valley College.
Maryland’s college readiness and completion law is shaking up the state’s education system, reports Paul Fain in Inside Higher Ed. The comprehensive law, passed six months ago, affects the K-12 system, community college and state universities.
The measure requires high schools to test students on their college readiness — in both math and English — before they finish their junior years. By 2015 high schools will need to create “transition” courses for students that are deemed unprepared for college-level courses in those subjects.
On the higher education side, public institutions in the state must require students to complete at least one credit-bearing, non-remedial math and English course as part of the first 24 credits they earn.
Community college leaders are optimistic the measures will help improve student success rates. Nearly all their “suggested amendments were adopted in the final version,” writes Fain.
Some 44.4 percent of Maryland adults held an associate degree or higher in 2009. Legislators hope to raise that to at least 55 percent by 2025.
The legislation requires public, four-year institutions to accept more credits that students earn at Maryland community colleges. And it will make both community colleges and four-year institutions be more thrifty with their programmatic degree requirements. Under the law, four-year institutions must set a limit of 120 credits for bachelor’s degrees, with some exceptions. Likewise, most associate degree programs will be 60 credits.
In Maryland community college graduates were accumulating an average of 75 credits to earn a degree in 3.8 years.
The law requires high schools to pay most of the cost for up to four dual enrollment courses. That’s expected to boost the number of high school students taking college courses.
“New online tools” will help Washington state community college students choose courses, register on time, check their financial aid status and pay tuition and fees, reports the Seattle Times.
Navigating the state’s community-college landscape can be a bureaucratic nightmare for students — one made all the more maddening by an antiquated computer system.
Though the state’s 34 community and technical colleges make up a unified system, the computer network is a patchwork, lacking anything remotely resembling one-stop shopping for students wanting to manage their education online.
Many parts are 30 years old and students often must log into different applications or sections of a website to accomplish different tasks. Those challenges are intensified for students who attend more than one community college over the course of their education or start and stop it due to the demands of work or family.
Starting in August, a new web-based system, ctcLink, will create an advising center to help students “check registration dates, enroll for classes, review their academic plan, check on financial aid, pay tuition, request a transcript and contact an advisor,” reports the Times. Community College of Spokane and Tacoma Community College will pilot the new system.
In addition, the University of Washington is developing a new academic planner that will help community college students see how their credits will transfer, apply for a major and plan their four-year degrees.
Florida parents are prepaying community college tuition to lock in lower prices, reports the Orlando Sentinel. As tuition and fees soar at state universities, the Florida Prepaid College Program is encouraging moderate-income parents to look at low-cost community college plans.
Most of Florida’s 28 community colleges grant bachelor’s degrees, notes Kristin Lock, a spokesman for the prepayment plan. Many not call themselves “state colleges.”
For parents of newborns, the price of a four-year university plan can be a shock. The cost of enrolling a newborn rose again several weeks ago to $350.35 a month for more than 18 years.
Victoria Beretervide of Orlando, who has a 3-month-old son, said the university plan is out of the question.
“That’s not affordable — definitely not affordable,” said the 23-year-old cosmetologist, who was glad to learn Friday that other prepaid options are available.
Prepaying for four years at a community college for a newborn costs $118.32 a month for 223 months.
Sales for the two-year community-college plan nearly doubled in 2010-11. That year, the Prepaid Program added a plan that covers four years of tuition and fees at a community college instead of two. “Last school year, almost as many people purchased four years at a community college as they did four years at a university,” reports the Sentinel. Also popular is the “2+2″ plan, which offers two years at a community college and then two years at a public university.