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.”
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
After one year, the veterans center at Lee College in Texas is making a difference, reports Community College Times. The center provides financial and and career counseling, tutoring, registration assistance and referrals for healthcare, housing and other benefits.
“Lee College has definitely become much more veteran-friendly since the center opened,” said Michael Ellis, a student veteran who tutors at the center.
“When we first opened, students would stop by, get the information they needed and leave. But now, it’s a campus hot spot.
“Students come here to hang out, do homework, or get tutoring. Occasionally, a student who needs help or directions to a building will stop by, and another student who just happens to be there will volunteer to help out. It’s creating a culture of veterans helping veterans.”
Veteran enrollment has risen by 23 percent in the last year. Retention and completion rates have increased 10 percent and drops have decreased 55 percent. Grades are up slightly. More vets are finding jobs, said Ehab Mustafa, a veterans specialist at the college.
The “new traditional” student — especially at community colleges — has been out of high school for years and has rusty academic and study skills, writes Rob Jenkins, a Georgia Perimeter College English professor and administrator, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Many have jobs and family responsibilities. It’s time for instructors to design classes for adult students, he writes. Young students will benefit too.
To start with, instructors should relax “rules aimed at keeping 18-year-olds from ditching class or dragging in late,” Jenkins writes. Adult students need more flexibility.
Older students (and quite a few younger ones) will benefit from “frequent refresher sessions to reinforce basic skills” and tutoring referrals.
“Placing course materials online, creating inexpensive course packs, or taking other steps to lower the cost of books and supplies” benefits all students, but especially those who are supporting themselves, he writes.
Try to regularly establish a clear link between course concepts and “real-world” outcomes. Show them how what they’re learning might apply beyond the classroom, in their professional lives. Take every opportunity to incorporate materials from nonacademic sources, such as newspapers, magazines, and Web sites. Structure your assignments to mimic real-life work situations.
Finally, make sure older students feel valued for their experience and perspective on life. “Choose readings that might be relevant to their situations, and then structure writing and presentation assignments that encourage them to draw upon their experiences,” Jenkins concludes.
Colleges aren’t good at remedial education, writes Ohio University economist Richard Vedder in a commentary in the Columbus Dispatch. Instead of expanding ”developmental” education, colleges should outsource it and concentrate on college-level instruction, argues Vedder, who directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
Complete College America, a group promoting better college academic success rates, concluded in a recent study that “remediation is a broken system.”
Most students entering community colleges are enrolled in at least one remedial course, while at four-year schools about a fifth of all students are. The study estimates that fewer than 10 percent of those entering remedial courses at community (two-year) colleges graduate within three years, and almost 65 percent of those at four-year institutions have no degree within six years (compared with about 44 percent for students not taking remedial courses).
While most high school graduates go on to college, few are fully prepared, especially in science and math, Vedder writes. “Coordination between those who determine high-school curriculums and college faculty who know what students need to be well-prepared is often nonexistent.”
Complete College America’s strategy — placing low-skilled students in regular classes with extra tutoring — is worth trying, Vedder writes. But admitting subpar students pushes instructors to “dumb down” the curriculum for everyone.
U.S. colleges should be encouraged — through the tightening of federal loan policies and other accountability incentives — to become more selective in their admission practices and reject students who show on tests, such as the ACT readiness exams, that they are not ready for college work.
Many of these academically marginal students might excel in non-college-degree vocational programs that teach skills in relatively high-demand jobs, which pay reasonably well. In today’s economy, why is a bachelor’s degree in marketing more valuable than training in high-tech manufacturing?
If the desire to give everyone a shot at the American dream trumps all of these arguments, however, at least consider outsourcing remedial teaching. There are for-profit companies that have provided supplemental learning to high-school students for years. Tie part of their compensation to college-performance improvements shown by the students in their programs.
Teaching middle and high school skills to marginal students is a job for “specialists with some track record” of success, Vedder concludes. Colleges have a track record of failure.