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.
Disabled students need more help transitioning to college and jobs, concludes a Government Accountability Office report. Students can apply for tutoring, job training and assistive technology help, but there’s little coordination between federal departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Social Security Administration, said the GAO. Once they leave high school, “it’s easy for these same young people to flounder in a maze of bureaucracy,” reports Ed Week.
McALLEN, Texas (AP) — When Gabriel Rios began classes at South Texas College last month, he was dealing with worries beyond those that confront most incoming college freshmen.
Rios, an 18-year-old student who is deaf, was nervous about the college-level curriculum and advanced reading and writing levels he’ll need when he pursues a certificate in auto mechanics. But Rios knows older friends who are deaf have struggled adjusting to college, a challenge that puts college graduation rates for deaf individuals far below the national average.
But Rios is among a dozen students with disabilities who will receive the support services they need at STC through a five-year program designed to help them graduate and later secure employment.
Project HIRE — or Helping Individuals Reach Employment — will provide 50 Texas high school students with college and career coaches who will provide an array of services, including on-campus counseling, life skills training and job placement.
Project HIRE is helping South Texas College evaluate and improve services for students with disabilities, said Paul Hernandez, the college’s dean of student support services. Currently, the college offers lecture notes, sign language interpretation and extended time for tests to 300 students who’ve self-identified as disabled.
If at first you don’t succeed, you can try again —for free — at Missouri State University-West Plains, a public two-year institution, reports Community College Times.
“We’re telling students that if they go to all of their classes, do all of their assigned homework, communicate with their instructors and advisors and use our free tutoring services, they will earn acceptable passing grades,” said Chancellor Drew Bennett. “If, however, they faithfully do all of these things and still earn below a 2.0 grade point average, we will let them, for one time only, retake courses where they earned a D or F grade tuition free the next regular semester.”
The school has given students “10 Steps to Success” to help them do well. “If students use the outlined techniques, they should become successful, and if they don’t the first time and are willing to try again, so are we,” said Gary Phillips, chair of the faculty senate.
If community college students enrolled full-time, learned basic skills in for-credit classes, took a well-planned schedule of courses together, received mandatory tutoring and counseling . . . The New Community College, CUNY’s Multimillion-Dollar Experiment in Education, will test whether its intensive program boosta success rates, reports the New York Times.
Of 4,000 students listed the new college on their CUNY application, 504 showed up for the mandatory information session and 339 decided to enroll.
“New” students will take the same classes, although there are two levels of math.
. . . too often students receive little guidance about how to navigate the system and how to choose a combination of classes that will move them closer to graduation.
“You look at the transcripts of a lot of community college students, and it looks like they stood with their backs to the course catalog and threw darts at it,” said Kay McClenney, director of the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas, Austin. “They wander into college, wander around the curriculum, and then they wander out the door.”
Basic skills instruction will be built into every course, along with college-level work, so students can begin earning credits immediately.
The classes will emphasize collaborative and interdisciplinary work. There are none called “History” or “English.” One course, “City Seminar,” will use urban studies to explore government, culture, history and health. Another, “Ethnographies of Work,” will study sociology and business through the lens of various careers, and put students in touch with potential future employers.
All students will attend a three-week bridge program in August. Once they get started, they’ll be required to use skills labs, peer study groups, tutors and advisers.
“This is absolutely crucial because so many students appear at the door of community colleges completely clueless about what is required of them, or available to them,” said Ms. McClenney of the University of Texas. “They don’t know they need to do work outside of class. They don’t take advantage of tutoring and mentoring services. They don’t know about peer study groups or interacting with faculty.”
Students also will be required to spend 90 minutes a week in “group work space,” working with classmates on writing and language skills. They’ll also have mandatory weekly 90-minute group sessions with “student success advocates,” who’ll help develop study skills, deal with stress and cope with problems — before they drop out.
When these strategies are tried in isolation, they have a “modest positive effect” that doesn’t last, said Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College at Columbia. “This will be a chance to see what happens if you do them together, consistently, over a longer period of time.”
New Community College will spend more than $30,0000 per student in its first year, compared to $10,000 a year for the average full-time CUNY community college student. The price is expected to decline, reaching only about 30 percent more per student. Advocates predict the cost per degree will be much lower. Taxpayers will save money when students spend fewer years in school and leave college as graduates rather than dropouts, they argue.
Of course, if the college works for students who commit to an intensive, highly structured program, that doesn’t mean it will work for the average student.
Learning communities helped students complete a degree at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, according to MDRC’s Opening Doors demonstration. In their first semester, groups of 25 students took an orientation course, English and a course required for their major; they also received enhanced counseling, tutoring and textbook vouchers.
Compared to a control group, students in Opening Doors Learning Communities were 4.6 percentage points more likely to earn a degree within six years. Furthermore, the cost per degree earned was lower for students who’d been in a learning community.
An earlier MDRC report found only modest short-term results for learning community programs aimed at developmental education students. However, Kingsborough’s program was more comprehensive and included both college-ready and remedial students. In addition to linking three courses and providing counseling and tutoring, the college extended some services into the trailing summer or winter intersession. In addition, the program recruited students intending to enroll in college full time. College leaders provided unusually strong support.
At Los Angeles Southwest College, Foster Washington, 20, is taking an all-male class to prepare for college-level English. The class, “part of a program geared to young men of color,” provides two tutors in addition to the professor, reports the Los Angeles Times. Students read and discuss Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass.
Washington wants to be the first to earn a college degree in his family of 12 siblings. “I have no time to hang out on the street with my homies; I want to be at school every day,” Washington told the Times. “Coming here gives me a sense of worth.”
. . . nearly all of the 8,000 students at Southwest have unmet social and academic needs, said Patrick Jefferson, dean of student services. About 96% need remedial math and English, and many are the first in their family to attend college. They grew up amid crime and poverty and graduated from local high schools that are among the lowest-performing in the state, he added.
Black and Latino community college students in Southern California often go from low-performing high schools to community colleges with poor transfer records, concludes UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. While nearly 80 percent of California’s black and Latino college students enroll in a community college, only about three in 10 move on to a four-year institution within six years, the project’s research concludes.