Completion Arch tracks progress data

The Completion Arch, a web-based tool provides access to national and state data on the progress and success of community college students. That includes transfer rates, remedial placement and the average time to earn a credential.

Six-year completion rates provide a realistic time frame since many community college students are enrolled part-time, are not enrolled every term and require developmental education, an RTI research brief argues.

“The tool aims to track students’ success at five stages: when they enroll, when they receive developmental-education placement, when their ‘intermediate progress’ can be evaluated, when they transfer or complete a degree, and when they enter the work force,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Much of the data is missing or incomplete, said Laura J. Horn, who directs RTI’s Center for Postsecondary Education Research and the Completion Arch project, at an event last week.

“The power of the Completion Arch is not what’s there but what’s missing as well—how can I begin to add my own data?” said Christine Johnson, chancellor of the Community College of Spokane.

Ms. Johnson said having the data compiled into a single resource would encourage collaboration between educators and local businesses. She pointed to a job-training program offered by Boeing to community colleges in Washington State that was financed by a four-year, $20-million grant from the Department of Labor in 2011.

“In education, we sanction people for not performing,” said Steven G. Klein, director of the Center for Career and Adult Education and Workforce Development at RTI. “We need to reward people for success.”

High hopes, long odds


Vladimir de Jesus hopes to teach art, but has flunked remedial math three times.

Community College Students Face a Very Long Road to Graduation writes Gina Bellafante in a New York Times profile of a student at New York City’s La Guardia Community College. Vladimir de Jesus enrolled in September 2008, left after the first semester to work full time, then returned in 2012. In six semesters, he’s earned only 27 credits of the 60 he needs to transfer — and he’s flunked remedial math three times.

A fine arts major, he hopes to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees and teach studio art and art history.

De Jesus went to a low-performing high school, cut classes and dropped out, but earned a GED. He fathered a child when he was 17. He helps care for his six-year-old and uses some of his earnings as a freelance tattoo artist to help pay her Catholic school tuition. He suffers from ulcers.

More than 70 percent of LaGuardia students come from families with incomes of less than $25,000 a year, writes Bellafante. Many are working, raising children and facing personal and  health issues. Community colleges offer far less counseling than better-funded colleges and universities. The neediest students are on their own.

Toward the end of last semester, Mr. de Jesus had fallen behind on his math homework. There were domestic complications: the death of his grandfather, and the stresses of a college student’s typically strained romantic life. At one point he lost the lab work that he had done in class, which would make up 5 percent of his total grade. Not having a computer of his own, he had been checking laptops in and out of the library. In the process of returning one, he had left the lab work behind. When he went back to retrieve the papers, they were gone.

The final exam for Math 96 would make up 35 percent of the total grade, and as the day of the test approached, Mr. de Jesus knew that with the demerits he would face for his poor attendance and his unfinished homework, there was little chance he would pass. On the morning of the exam, he didn’t show up, and he failed the class for the third time. As it happened, more than 40 percent of the students in the class also failed.

“This whole thing with math just hits your spirit in the wrong way,” he said. “It demolishes your spirit. You become lazy.”

Gail Mellow, LaGuardia’s president, believes students shouldn’t have to master algebra if they’re not planning to pursue a math- or science-intensive field. La Guardia is experimenting with Carnegie’s statistics and “quantitative reasoning” alternatives to traditional developmental math.

De Jesus is postponing a fourth try at remedial math and considering applying for a job with the Sanitation Department, reports Bellafante. Given his long odds of completing a bachelor’s degree and low earnings for fine arts graduates, that’s not a bad plan. He could take art classes, do art and forget about trying to pass math.

Community college isn’t second class

Community college is not a second-class education, writes Isa Adney. It’s a “first-class opportunity.”

Just because community colleges don’t require a particular SAT or ACT score for admission does not mean that it’s easy to earn a degree, she writes. “Community college is hard.”

It’s a great way to save. It’s a great way to start. It’s a great way to learn.

But it’s also a lot of work. Sometimes even more so because the temptation to just go to class and go home is so huge. Students who are successful in community college do more than just go to class and go home. They branch out. They join (and lead) clubs. They visit professors during their office hours. They hound the career center. They spend time in the tutoring center. They do their homework and research in the college library. They stay on campus.

. . . College requires all of you. Your time management skills, your growth, your open-mindedness, your strength, your resilience, your learning, your time, and your greatest effort.

Community college students “must figure out why they’re there, writes Adney. Why is it worth the time, effort and sacrifice required?

Community colleges let you make mistakes without having to spend thousands of dollars per semester,” writes Nicholas Bostick, editor of the Brookhaven Courier. “You can take the time to explore different classes and majors before you take the plunge and head to a four-year university.”

Cal State fears tidal wave of transfers

California State University could stop admitting first-year students and become a transfer-only institution, said Board of Trustees Chairman Lou Monville, reports the Los Angeles Times. High demand from community college transfers and limited funding could change the mission of the 23-campus system, he said in a discussion of the preliminary budget for 2015-16.

. . .  increased state funding is expected to boost two-year college enrollment by 60,000 students this year, and increased numbers of community college students will earn associate degrees for transfer, which guarantee admission to a Cal State campus.

The fear is that increased demand from transfer students and stagnant funding to increase overall enrollment will squeeze out new freshmen, creating a potential “train wreck” ahead, Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White said.

In 2013, about 56,565 community college students transferred to Cal State campuses, including 1,400 with the associate degrees for transfer, reports the Times. The transfer degrees are new and expected to become more popular.

Universities welcome transfer surge

Jasmine White

Jasmine White transferred to Morgan State University, where she’s majoring in actuarial science.  (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Maryland universities are welcoming — and even recruiting — more transfers, reports the Baltimore Sun. Half of state university undergrads started somewhere else.

Jasmine White was accepted to Morgan State University, her dream college, almost 10 years ago. But the New Yorker discovered she could not afford the out-of-state tuition.

“I just started crying because I had no idea where I was going to get [the money] before class started,” White recalled.

Instead of coming to Baltimore, she earned an associate’s degree at a community college in New York, and served five years in the Army Reserve.

Now 26, she is finally enrolling at Morgan State this fall. With the experiences she has had, she believes she will be able to better focus on her studies than she could have when she was fresh out of high school.

Students are choosing community colleges to save money, said Janet L. Marling, the director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Georgia. “In the past I think there was the assumption that students were starting at community college because they weren’t ready to go to a four-year school,” she said.

Four-year schools have fewer doubts about the caliber of community college students, said Andrew Flagel, the senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis University. “The shift that you see is the recognition by even the most elite institutions that most of the talent in higher education is sitting in community colleges,” he said. “There’s a tremendous opportunity to bring in diverse students by establishing community partnerships.”

Maryland’s universities are establishing pipelines to allow students to transfer more easily, said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. More universities are guaranteeing admission to community college graduates who meet academic requirements.

In 2011, Frostburg State University began offering scholarships for graduates of any community college in the state who earn a GPA of 3.0. Frostburg officials say they enrolled their largest transfer class ever last fall.

New University of Baltimore President Kurt L. Schmoke said last week that he plans to visit every community college president in the state as he steps up recruitment from the two-year colleges.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County has focused on retaining and graduating the transfer students it already has. About half of the students at UMBC transferred there from another college.

Diane M. Lee, UMBC’s vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, says the university is working more closely with community colleges to ensure class credits will fulfill core requirements, so students don’t end up taking classes at community college that will be counted as electives, or not at all, by UMBC.

Transfer students are “more mature, they have different experiences, but they still have needs that we need to address,” Lee said. “When we talk about the importance of welcoming transfer students, it’s real on this campus.”

Today, one-third of all students change schools at least once in five years, and a quarter at least twice, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks this. Of those who ultimately earn degrees, nearly a quarter finish somewhere other than where they started.

40% of transfers lose all credits

Nearly 40 percent of transfer students get no credit for the courses they’ve already completed, according to a new federal study by the National Center for Education Statistics. On average, they lost 27 credits, nearly a full year of college. The average transfer student lost 13 credits.

Transfer is common. Of more than 18,000 students who began in the 2003-2004 academic year, 35 percent changed schools at least once.

Only a third of students were able to transfer all their credits, notes Jon Marcus on the Hechinger Report. Students with high grades were the most likely to have their coursework counted.

As many as 31 percent of transfer students who lost credits didn’t report their previous courses to their new college or university.

The federal government now requires institutions to post the criteria they use for determining whether to accept transfer credits, and several states—fed up with the additional cost of students churning through the public higher-education system without getting degrees—have enacted policies to make credit transfer easier, including common course numbering systems and standardized general-education requirements.

Students who transfer from community colleges to state universities keep 90 percent of their credits, notes Community College Daily.  Articulation agreements are working, said Kent Phillippe, associate vice president for research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges.

In Kansas and Missouri, community colleges have worked with universities on detailed transfer agreements and transferable course lists, writes Mara Rose Williams in the Kansas City Star.

The Kansas Board of Regents lists 46 general education courses accepted by every four-year school in the state system. The University of Missouri has a list of agreements with each of 16 schools.

Counselors make sure students take the right courses. “A student knows if they take a course at KCKCC it will transfer to any Kansas four-year” school, said Michael Vitale, a vice president at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

Transfer ed is workforce prep too

Community colleges’ workforce training mission is getting lots of attention since the Great Recession, writes Matt Reed, the Community College Dean. But educating students for transfer and an eventual bachelor’s degree is workforce development too, he argues.

. . . I’m happy to support the development of well-designed, stackable programs that meet job-seekers’ needs quickly.  We’ve even developed programs with multiple on- and off-ramps, so people who need to can stop out to make money for a while, and return when they’re able, without losing credits.  It doesn’t fit cleanly into most “performance metrics,” but it’s what many students need.

But community colleges also are “the most accessible on-ramp” for the journey to a bachelor’s degree, which is required by many higher-level jobs, writes Reed.

It takes time to see the payoff and feeder colleges rarely get any credit, he writes. “The student who graduates with a bachelor’s in engineering and makes a good salary is attributed to the university; for the community college at which she started, she doesn’t count.”

New outcomes measure draws 2-year colleges

“Dozens of community college leaders, dissatisfied with how the federal government measures graduation rates at their schools, have signed up for an alternative reporting system that provides more information about student outcomes,” reports the Washington Post.

The Student Achievement Measure site tracks the share of community college students who earn an associate’s degree or certificate within six years, transfer, remain enrolled or are “status unknown.” There are separate readouts for those who started full time and part-timers.

Federal graduation rate data for community colleges typically focus on the share of first-time, full-time students who complete an associate’s degree within three years. Often, the federal data also show the share of those who transfer out. The trouble with those metrics, according to community college advocates, is that many students take longer than three years, and many start as part-timers.

The federal government plans in the 2015-16 school year to start collecting data on what happens with students who transfer into a college or who start as part-timers.

Most SAM’s 508 participants are four-year colleges and universities, but 65 are community colleges. The SAM data tell “a more complete story,” said Kent Phillippe, an associate vice president at the American Association of Community Colleges.

For example, the federal government says Northwest Vista College in San Antonio has an 11 percent graduation rate and a 20 percent transfer-out rate for first-time, full-time students who started in 2010.

The SAM readout gives a rundown of what happened to 871 students who started as full-timers at Northwest Vista in 2007 and 1,454 who started that year as part-timers.

Among those who started full-time, 22 percent graduated within six years, 3 percent were still enrolled and 43 percent transferred out (before earning a certificate or degree). Among those who started part-time, 13 percent graduated, 5 percent were still enrolled and 41 percent transferred out.

SAM doesn’t report whether transfers went on to earn a credential elsewhere.  With so many students “swirling” from one college to another, that would be very useful information.

Ivy Tech partners with ‘Hamburger U’

McDonald’s “Hamburger University” trainees — often assistant and shift managers — will be able to use their credits to earn a certificate or associate degree through Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College, reports the Indianapolis Star.  McDonald’s employees across the country will have a chance to turn their management training credits into a credential through Ivy Tech’s online program.

The program is called a “degree crosswalk”, reports Community College Daily.

Tulsa offers debt-free college

Tulsa Community College is free for local high school graduates with a C average or better. Tulsa Achieves pays for up to 63 credits or three years of college. Public, private and home-schooled students in Tulsa County are eligible.

Seven years ago Tom McKeon, president of the community college, persuaded local business and political leaders to invest in educating local graduates, reports NPR. “I think we’re seeing kids that never, ever dreamed that college was a possibility for them because parents didn’t think it was within their realm,” McKeon says.

Some 10,000 students have received gap-closing aid, mostly funded by local property taxes. The average cost is $3,400 per student per year.

When asked if taxpayers are getting their money’s worth, McKeon throws out these numbers: eight out of ten students who enter the program… finish it.

One key to that retention rate is the program’s structure. Students get lots of encouragement and help — tutorials on note-taking, test preparation, research and time management skills. They’re even required to take a course called “Strategies for Academic Success.”

. . . In the beginning, about 40 percent of students who went through the program transferred to four-year institutions. Today, it’s less than 10 percent. There are a few reasons for the drop. One positive: with the economy picking up, more students are finding good jobs after they get their associate’s degree. The bad news: for many, transferring to a four-year school is still too expensive.

Next year, Tennessee will offer tuition-free community college to high school graduates, funded with lottery revenues. Oregon is considering a similar plan.