Associate degree is key step to bachelor’s

Community college students who earn a transfer-oriented associate degree are much more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree than similar students who transferred with 50 to 90 credits but no degree, concludes a Community College Research Center study.

However, transfer students who’d earned an applied science associate degree, which is designed for direct entry into the workforce, were less likely to complete a four-year degree than no-degree transfers.

Nationally, nearly two thirds of community college students who transfer to four-year colleges do so without first earning an associate degree. And while over 80 percent of all entering community colleges indicate their intention to earn a bachelor’s degree, only 15 percent end up doing so within six years.

Associate-degree transfers are guaranteed full “credit capture” in the state that was studied. Transfers with no degree may have been denied credit for some of their community college courses. That costs students time and money and lowers the odds of completion.

Forty-two percent of transfer students lost at least 10 percent—and sometimes much more—of their community college credits, a recent CUNY study found. Students who were able to transfer 90 percent or more of their credits were two and half times as likely to complete a bachelor’s degree as students who transferred less than half their credits.

“Encouraging students to earn an associate degree before they transfer, coupled with state policies that guarantee credit transfer for associate degree holders, could significantly increase national rates of bachelor degree completion,” CCRC researchers concluded.

AACC guide outlines how to meet lofty goals

Empowering Community Colleges To Build the Nation’s Future is an implementation guide to achieving the ambitious goals set in 2012 by the American Association of Community Colleges. By 2020, AACC wants “to reduce by half the number of students who come to college unprepared, to double the number who finish remedial courses and make it through introductory college-level courses, and to close achievement gaps across diverse populations of students,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“It is time for community colleges to reimagine and redesign their students’ experiences,” Walter G. Bumphus, the association’s president, said in a written statement. Students need “a clear pathway to college completion and success in the work force.”

Increase completion rates by 50 percent by 2020. Publicly commit to aggressive, explicit goals, the guide advises, with time frames for completion numbers and smaller gaps in the achievement of low-income and minority students relative to the overall enrollment.

Significantly improve college readiness. Establish strong connections with local public-school systems, using clear metrics and assessments to define what it means to be prepared for college. Collect baseline data, and track students’ progress.

Close the American skills gap. Understand labor-market trends and local employers’ needs, and communicate them to students. Establish clear pathways for students to build up industry-recognized credentials in high-demand fields.

Refocus the community-college mission and redefine institutional roles. Become “brokers of educational opportunities,” the guide advises, not just “direct providers of instruction.” By creating a consortium, for instance, colleges could share a curriculum, letting students draw from several campuses and delivery models.

Invest in collaborative support structures. Build alliances with other colleges and community-based or national nonprofit groups to pool resources and streamline operations. Small rural colleges, for instance, could create a purchasing cooperative. A national consortium could provide more-affordable access to tools for tracking students across sectors and states, from kindergarten to their first job.

Pursue public and private investment strategically. Keep seeking creative ways to diversify revenue streams. Meanwhile, join national groups advocating for expanded support for Pell Grants and clearer systems for transfer between two- and four-year colleges.

Introduce policies and practices that promote rigor and accountability. Adopt the Voluntary Framework for Accountability, a national tool developed by and for community colleges to broaden criteria for measuring success.

“We’re not going to achieve our mission unless we all decide we’re ready to lose our jobs over this,” said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, superintendent and president of Long Beach City College, at the AACC convention. 

Miller hits remediation, low completion rates

“Remediation just isn’t hard to do. It’s almost a killer for college completion,” said Rep. George Miller in a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing.

Complete College America President Stan Jones discussed reforms such as “co-requisite” remediation, which lets students take college-level courses while working to improve their basic skills.

Miller has introduced a bill to help community college students transfer credits to a four-year institution, the Transferring Credits for College Completion Act of 2014 (H.R. 4348).  Students “start at community colleges to avoid burdensome debt, only to find that their credits will not transfer to their chosen four-year college and they need to repeat courses,” he said. “They are forced to take classes in subject areas they have already mastered and in which they have real-world experience. We need to eliminate these barriers to completion and empower students to complete their degrees and enter the workforce.”

Lost credits hurt transfer students

Lost credits make it difficult for community college transfers to earn a bachelor’s degree, concludes a new City University of New York study. The more credits earned but rejected by the four-year institution, the less likely a transfer will graduate.

Students who start at a community college with hopes of earning a bachelor’s are less likely to reach their goal than similar students who start at a four-year college or university. The study estimates a 17 percent graduation gap for full-time, traditional-age students. The usual suspects — inadequate academic preparation and community colleges’ vocational emphasis — aren’t the primary factors, the authors write. Community college students don’t “cool out” on their desire for a bachelor’s degree. Nor is it true that community college students receive lower aid levels after transfer. For the most part, it’s the lost credits, the CUNY study concludes.

Six-year outcomes by starting institution type (Source: National Student Clearinghouse)

Fifty-four percent of community college transfers would earn a bachelor’s degree, if not for lost academic credits, researchers estimate. Currently, only 45 percent complete a four-year degree in four years.

“Loss of credits is a tax on transfer students,” CUNY researcher David Monaghan said.

Eighty-one percent of community college students say they plan to transfer and earn a four-year degree. But only 42 percent of BA-intending students actually transfer.

The average full-time student takes 3.8 years to earn a two-year degree and 4.7 years to get a four-year degree, estimates Complete College America. The average student earns 80 credits for an associate degree that requires 60 and 136.5 for a 120-degree bachelor’s degree.

Retaking courses costs time and money, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed

“About 14 percent of transfer students in the study essentially began anew after transferring,” according to the paper. Fewer than 10 percent of their community college credits were accepted. A majority — 58 percent — transferred 90 percent or more of their credits. The remaining 28 percent lost between 10 and 89 percent of their credits.

To avoid transfer hassles, community colleges in more than 20 states now offer four-year degrees, typically in vocational fields. California legislators are considering the option for the state’s 112 community colleges.

A new report on college completion from the National Student Clearinghouse estimates that 36.5 percent of students who start at community college will complete an associate degree in six years, while 15 percent will complete a four-year degree. Completion rates are much higher for exclusively full-time students and traditional-age students.

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.

Myth: Community colleges are inefficient

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.

Aspen lists 150 top colleges

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.

California: Time for a new higher ed plan?

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.”
Charting a Course
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.
IHELP_AverWontDo_Report_Final.jpg
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.

Roxbury gets new start

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

Valerie Roberson

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.

Obama: Expand college opportunity

“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.”