Adjuncts lack training, support

Community colleges depend heavily on part-time faculty but rarely treat them as “full partners in promoting student success,” charges Contingent Commitments: Bringing Part-Time Faculty Into Focus, a new report by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE).

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Adjuncts teach 58 percent of community college classes, CCCSE reports. They work for much less money than full-time instructors and for minimal or no benefits.

Part-timers teach the neediest students: More than three-quarters of developmental education faculty are adjuncts.

Adjuncts are less likely to refer students to counselors, tutors or labs, perhaps because they’re less aware of support services.

Though many part-time faculty express their passion for teaching and commitment to student success, many also see themselves as outsiders in the colleges where they work. Many do not find out whether they will be teaching classes until just days before the term begins. Their access to orientation, professional development, college services, or office space to do their own work and meet with students is limited or simply unavailable. They rarely, if ever, are engaged in interaction with their peers or in campus discussions about the steps colleges need to take to improve student learning, persistence, and completion.

In focus groups, adjuncts complained they’d never been told how to make copies or find their mail boxes.

Embracing Non-Tenure Track Faculty,, edited by Adrianna Kezar, suggests ways colleges could improve working conditions for the “new majority” of contingent instructors.

High school dropouts try college

Dropouts are trying to finish high school at community college, reports Northeast Ohio Public Radio.

Owens Community College staffer Michelle Atkinson hands out “Eleven Commandments” to Gateway to College students. Included are: “Never miss class, pay attention in class, pretend you’re interested even when you’re not.”

Gateway to College, a national program, gives high-risk students a second chance, says Atkinson.

“They might have been having trouble socially, they might not have been challenged enough,” she said. “So putting them into a college environment might put them into a little bit more independence where they have to rise and meet the academic endeavors that they need to in order to succeed.”

Students begin by taking classes in reading, writing, math and college skills.  Once they’ve completed high school, they can begin earning college credits.

It’s a challenge, says Gateway director James Jackson. “Basically, we’re taking kids that were not successful in high school and putting them in college and expecting them to be successful.”

Students, all Toledo residents between 16 and 21, must read at the ninth grade level or better and have completed at least five high school credits. At the mandatory interview Jackson listens to how applicants talk about themselves. 

“Are they the victim in all of the stories, are they the heroes in all of their stories, or do they have that balance that most of us have,” he said. “And what I’ve found, some students have terrible home life situations, we’re talking abusive families, extreme poverty, but despite all of those odds against them, they still believe that they’re worth getting their high school education.”

Matthew Tammarine, 18, dropped out of a traditional high school and then a virtual charter, before enrolling as a Gateway student at Owens two years ago. He’s on track to earn an associate degree in two more years. Last semester, he had a B average. Tutoring and meetings with peer mentors have helped. Gateway students also get bus passes, a daily lunch and access to staff members.

America’s Forgotten Student Population looks at how community colleges can create paths to college success for GED completers.

Closing the social-class gap

A one-hour intervention focused on “difference education” can close the achievement gap by 63 percent for first-generation students, according to a study described in an upcoming article in Psychological Science. 

In the difference-education intervention, third- and fourth-year student panelists discussed problems and success strategies that they linked to their social class. In the “standard intervention,” they discussed the same issues without talking about their family backgrounds.

A panelist in the difference-education intervention said: “Because my parents didn’t go to college, they weren’t always able to provide me the advice I needed. So it was sometimes hard to figure out what classes to take and what I wanted to do in the future. But there are other people who can provide that advice, and I learned that I needed to rely on my adviser more than other students.”

A panelist in the standard intervention also talked about the difficulty of choosing classes and of the need to rely on professors, mentors and other campus resources but did not mention her social class background.

First-generation students who’d heard advice based on social class at the start of the year earned higher grades and “reported better outcomes on psychological well-being, social fit, perspective taking and appreciation of diversity” than similar students who’d received the standard intervention. They were more likely to meet with professors outside of class and get extra tutoring.

“Students whose parents have earned a degree come to college with lots of know-how and cultural capital that helps them navigate college’s often unspoken rules,” Northwestern psychologist Nicole Stephens says. “Talking about social class gives first-generation students a framework to understand how their own backgrounds matter in college, what unique obstacles they may face and see that people like them can be successful.”

Keys to success: Plan, orient, accelerate, nag

Community colleges are finding ways to promote student success, concludes A Matter of Degrees, just released by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE). The survey of students, faculty and administrators identifies key policies and practices that improve student engagement and completion.

Setting academic goals is the first step to success.  Orientation also can be very useful.

One student told the survey:

“I participated in what my college calls the Student Orientation … . Walking into the room [with] a bunch of other people … they had as little idea of what they were doing as I did. Seriously, you could cut the air in that room with a knife, everyone glancing from side to side, kind of nervously, almost no movement except thumbs over phones. [Then] the speaker started telling us everything we need to know to succeed at our college … financial aid, attendance policies … she just laid it out there for us, kind of a packaged gift to the new students.”

Programs to teach study skills and build a sense of community are beneficial for new students, the survey found. These include learning communities,  ”first-year experience” programs and student success courses.

Accelerated or fast-track developmental education helped poorly prepared students.

Also beneficial: Experiential learning, tutoring and a clearly explained class attendance policy and penalties for missing classes.

Glen Oaks Community College (MI) stresses attendance in its mandatory orientation program, the report notes.

The college requires all full-time and part-time faculty to track and report attendance during the first three weeks of the term. Absences are reported to student services, including financial aid advisors, who use this information to contact students so they can explain financial aid implications and attempt to get the students back to class. The financial aid office may freeze financial aid for students who are not attending class regularly. This approach also helps minimize the number of students who jeopardize their financial aid eligibility. Each student receives a letter outlining six alternatives, from seeking free tutoring to withdrawing from the course.

Students are reminded that if they miss more than 15% of class time in any semester, instructors have the authority to withdraw them from class.

Students also are more likely to succeed if their college uses an alert and intervention system to let them know they’re falling behind.

High-quality implementation is critical, according to CCCSE Director Kay McClenney.  “Improved student success and college completion isn’t about having a checklist, or one of everything—a collection of boutique programs.”

Critics hit remedial ed reforms

States are trying to prevent, accelerate or limit remedial education, reports Stateline. But some say remedial reforms will doom the college hopes of poorly prepared students.

Indiana high schools must provide extra help to students at risk of placing into remedial classes in college.

Florida will let many public college students skip developmental classes and enroll in college-level courses.

Colorado now lets state universities place borderline students in college-level classes, with extra support, instead of sending them  to community colleges for remedial classes.

Starting in fall 2014, Connecticut’s public colleges will be required to build remedial education into credit-bearing courses. Students will be allowed only one semester of remediation.

Many of the new remediation models work very well for students who need minimal extra help, said Patti Levine-Brown, president of the National Association for Developmental Education. But for students who need more time to get their skills up to college level, she said, “placing them in courses for which they are not prepared is akin to setting them up for failure.”

“We learned in the 1960s that allowing students to take and fail college level courses and retake those classes did not increase completion rates,” Levine-Brown said. “In fact, it resulted in high withdrawal rates and diminished finances for students.”

Unprepared students will pay a price for skipping remediation, predicts Kenneth Ross, vice president for academic and student services at Polk State College in Florida.  “I think they’re going to struggle, and unless we have some other kind of massive tutoring support which they’ve not funded us for,  they’re going  . . . to struggle and then flunk out.”

Second chance Rose

UCLA Education Professor Mike Rose, author of Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education, talked to Eliana Osborn on the downside to thinking of community colleges as second-chance institutions.

One very important function of the community college is to provide a local and affordable education for young people coming straight from high school—or almost straight from high school. They might be coming for an associate degree, or for an occupational certificate, or to transfer to another college.

Depending on the community college, there might be a larger or smaller percentage of these students, but your point still holds: The community college has multiple functions and serves multiple populations, not all of whom are seeking a second chance.

Another liability, sadly, has to do with status. Community colleges already have a status problem in the hierarchy of American higher education, which should trouble us on a lot of levels. And those people who are seeking a second (or third or fourth) chance at education are also, on average, a relatively powerless group. So this second-chance designation can have its downsides, to be sure.

Community college faculty and administrators need to talk to students to get a sense of how to make the campus more accessible, Rose believes.

What is it like to find your way around if you’re new to the campus, or haven’t been in school for decades, or don’t speak English all that well? What is the experience of applying for financial aid like? Of using the tutoring center? What’s it feel like to be in the first math class you’ve taken in 20 years?

We need to rethink “the sharp divide between the academic and the vocational course of study” and develop “curricula that truly blend occupational and academic goals,” says Rose.

I couldn’t resist this:


Florida will let students opt out of remediation

Starting in 2014, most Florida community college students will be able to skip remediation — and placement tests – to start in college-level, for-credit courses, reports the Orlando Sentinel.  In addition to the state’s 28 community colleges, the new policy applies to Florida A&M University, the only state university that offers remedial coursework.

“It is no longer a one-size-fits-all system,” said Randy Hanna, chancellor of the Division of Florida Colleges. “Our goal is to get people successfully out of developmental-ed courses and receiving a degree and moving on to a university or moving on to a job as soon as possible. This legislation will give us the flexibility that we need.”

Those who choose developmental education will have more options, including accelerated courses designed to get them quickly to the college level. Colleges also are supposed to add tutoring and lab support to help poorly prepared students pass for-credit classes.

To determine college readiness, counselors will consider work experience and high school grades, in addition to test scores. But recent Florida high school graduates and active-duty service members can enroll in college-level classes, ready or not.

Students may overestimate their abilities, fail and lose financial aid eligibility, said Karen Borglum, Valencia College’s assistant vice president for curriculum and articulation. Failing a class twice is expensive: Floridians have to pay the out-of-state rate — three times more — on their third try. ”Students are going to be expected to really understand the consequences of their choices,” Borglum said.

Even college-ready students don’t always succeed

Ten percent of college-ready high school graduates don’t enroll in college and another 9 percent don’t make it to the second year, according to ACT’s 2013 Reality of College Readiness Report.  As many as 43 percent of all ACT-tested 2011 graduates were not enrolled in college by fall 2012.

“Academic readiness is vital to college success, but other factors such as self-discipline, financial stress and effective educational planning can also have an impact,” said Steve Kappler, head of postsecondary strategy for ACT. “It’s important for students to find the right college, be aware of financial aid opportunities and ensure their major matches their personal interests, among other things.”

First-to-second-year retention rates for four-year colleges averaged 72.3 percent in 2008, down slightly from 1991. At the community college level, 55.7 percent of students returned for a second year in 2012, up slightly from the 2004 rate. The three-year  persistence-to-degree rates was 25.5 percent in 2012, down from 38.8 percent in  1989.

Colleges and universities with higher-than-average retention rates were more likely to offer a comprehensive learning assistance center or reading, writing and math centers, earlier research found. In addition, these colleges had a program for first-generation students, more academic advisors and tutors, pre-enrollment financial aid advising, an academic skills diagnostic and advising integrated with career/life planning. In contradiction to recent trends, colleges with higher retention rates mandated remedial placement based on test scores, ACT found.

What low-income women need to succeed

Low-income community college students may not get the support they need to persist and earn a credential, concludes a UCLA study, What Matters for Community College Success? Interviews with low-income female students — about half were single mothers and 80 percent were minorities — at an unnamed California college revealed taken-for-granted assumptions aren’t correct:

Assumption #1: The availability of programs equals students’ ability to access them.

Assumption #2: Students will seek support if they need it.

Assumption #3: Providing general information and advice is sufficient to aid students.

Low-income women often give up if they have trouble scheduling appointments, receive incorrect information, have unpleasant encounters with faculty or staff or fear negative judgments about their abilities, the study found.

Supplemental instructors — usually peer tutors — offer help to all students in courses with high failure rates. The SI coordinator said:

We don’t go to at-risk students. We go to at-risk classes, and that’s a big difference. … We found out that it takes that stigma away from saying, “Oh you think I’m stupid.”

Tutoring sessions are conducted in groups, giving students opportunities to network with their classmates. However, many low-income students have little time to spend on campus because they’re juggling jobs and family responsibilities.

Chart pathways to help students succeed

Instead of focusing on outcomes — degrees attained — researchers need to understand students’ pathways through community college, argues Peter Riley Bahr of the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education in What We Don’t Know About Community College Students.

“Pathway” includes: “student course-taking behavior; enrollment patterns; course outcomes; choice of program of study; use of advising, tutoring, and other support services; and a variety of other features that ultimately determine long-term student outcomes.”

. . . student pathways are treated as a mysterious blackbox: students enter college with a given set of characteristics and exit college with or without a credential, but the term-by-term decisions and experiences of students between entry and exit remain largely a mystery.

The policy brief is part of The Changing Ecology of Higher Education series for the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford.