California: Low fees, waivers starve colleges

California’s very low community college fees could be going up, reports the San Jose Mercury NewsFees are only $1,380 a year — less than half the national average — and at least 40 percent of California students don’t pay anything. 

The 112-college system’s governing board is limiting generous fee waivers. Currently, a student from a family of four earning up to $90,000 would qualify.

The board is considering requiring students with fee waivers to maintain at least a C-average over two consecutive terms and to show adequate progress by taking at least half of their courses for credit.

Under the change, which exempts the disadvantaged and would take effect in Fall 2016, as many as 48,479 recipients could lose their fee waivers, said Linda Michalowski, vice chancellor for student services and special programs.

“For a student to enroll and do poorly academically, drop out, come back and do poorly, that does not correlate with student success, yet our policy on the fee waiver has said it doesn’t matter; you can fail and fail and fail and come back and we will support you again,” Michalowski said. “That doesn’t benefit anybody.”

Many say the shift doesn’t go far enough. Community college students still can’t get the courses they need, says Steve Boilard, who directs the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State.

As state funding declined by $1.5 billion over four years, lawmakers raised fees three times, to the current price of $46 per unit. But nearly all the anticipated revenue was eaten up by the waivers and colleges ended up cutting courses and enrollment anyway, said Boilard, who thinks the state needs to look hard at further restricting waivers and substantially raising the admission price.

“The community college system is supposed to be affordable for all, but we have shot ourselves in the foot by trying to achieve that through low tuition,” he said.

“There is a lot of room to raise more revenue and still be below the national average in terms of fees,” said Long Beach City College President-Chancellor Elroy Oakley. If the fees were higher, students could still access federal aid and “would be paying nothing more, and then that money would be going back into the institutions, which is, frankly, what 49 other states in the nation do,” he said.

“We are turning people away from college who want to come,” said Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education President David Longanecker. “What we have now is a low-cost pricing scheme that is starving the system and doesn’t make sense in the 21st Century.”

Two-tier tuition advances in California

California will experiment with much higher fees for high-demand community college classes, if Gov. Jerry Brown signs a bill on his desk. Long Beach City College officials have been pushing two-tier tuition to cut wait lists, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Legislation that has passed both the state Senate and Assembly would create a pilot project allowing colleges to charge all students non-resident tuition — as much as $200 per unit — for high-demand classes during summer and winter terms. Those classes include transfer-level English, algebra and history, which typically have long waiting lists.

“This gives our college one more tool to use to open up access to courses in high demand and will materially impact the ability of students to transfer and get a higher degree,” said Long Beach City College President Eloy Oakley.

However, there’s plenty of opposition. “This bill will create two classes of students, those who can pay and finish and those who can’t,” said Andrea Donado, the student trustee in the Long Beach Community College District. “It’s not the mission of a community college to be like a private college.”

The controversy is a replay in many respects of an attempt by Santa Monica City College last year to offer high-priced core classes in a summer extension program alongside regular state-funded courses. The effort was abandoned after the statewide community college chancellor said it violated education codes. The proposal roiled the campus; student protesters were pepper-sprayed at a college board meeting.

Gov. Brown has pledged not to raise community college fees, but hasn’t said whether he’ll sign or veto the bill.

With new funding this year, California’s community colleges are offering more courses and enrolling more students, but most still have wait lists for popular courses.

Enrollment rebounds at California colleges

California community colleges are starting the fall term with more students and more courses, reports the Los Angeles Times. Statewide, enrollment is expected to increase by 2.5% and course sections by 5%.

About 60,000 more students are expected to enroll systemwide this fall, officials said. It was a welcome turnaround from last year, when many colleges were planning for further budget cuts. Officials at the time were uncertain of the fate of Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s measure to increase state sales tax and some income taxes mostly for education. Voters approved it in November.

Last year, more than 470,000 students began the fall term on waiting lists for an average of 7,157 wait-listed students per school. This fall, an average of 5,026 students per campus are on waiting lists.

Summer classes are back in California

Summer is study time once again at California community colleges, reports the Los Angeles Times. After years of cut backs, two-thirds of the state’s 112 community colleges have added summer classes.

For the first time in three summers, Los Angeles Harbor College bustled last week with the activity of students on the go.

Community college students hoping to speed transfer to four-year schools; UC and Cal State students looking to fulfill lower-division science and math requirements on the cheap; recent high school graduates seeking to jump-start their college education.

An algebra class was packed, and Harbor student Angie Velasquez said she was lucky to get in. Taking the summer class may shave an entire semester from the time it takes for the biology major to transfer to UC or Cal State.

Under pressure to trim long wait lists, many colleges are adding high-demand “bottleneck” courses in the summer term.

Fullerton College is offering 560 classes this summer, compared to 214 classes last year.  Three back-to-back sessions will let students complete a sequence of classes, such as  Economics 101  and 102.

High school graduates have struggled to get the classes they need in recent years. Continuing students have priority for registration.

“The thing we had to think about is how do we open the door for the right-out-of-high-school student, and the best way to do that is to help those continuing students finish so they can move on and have someone take their place,” said Terry Giugni, vice president of instruction at Fullerton.

California community colleges received about $210 million in additional funding in 2012-13 from a temporary increase in the state sales tax and and an income tax hike aimed at the wealthy.

LA Times: Add higher-cost courses

Charging more for community college extension courses during summer and winter breaks is a necessary stopgap, editorializes the Los Angeles Times. California is starting to restore funding to higher education, but it will be years before the state’s community colleges can offer enough courses to meet demand.

Though normally we would deplore creating a two-tiered educational system within the community colleges, now isn’t the time to stick to lofty principles about equal pricing for all. The loftiest thing that state legislators could do now is to help students of all financial backgrounds get through college. AB 955, by Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), would do that by allowing community college districts to offer extension courses over the summer and during winter vacation for which students would pay a higher price, much as they do for extension classes at California State University and the University of California.

Students would pay up to $200 per unit, or $600 for a three-unit class, close to five times as much as a regular state-subsidized class. Presumably, summer students would free up seats in low-cost courses.

Extension courses could be offered only if regular-price classes already were full, and would have to be offered in addition to the full menu of regular courses, not in place of them.

Opponents complain that this will create an elite system in which students with money will graduate earlier than others. To some extent that’s true, and it’s not something to cheer about. But what makes the proposal hard to resist is that it would help other students as well. Students who take extension classes free up seats in regular classes. Furthermore, one-third of the extension revenue would have to be spent on scholarships so that low-income students could attend the classes as well. The law would sunset in 2020, by which time, it’s hoped, the colleges will have adequate state funding.

Waiting months or years to get into low-cost classes is expensive for students, Williams points out. It can be cheaper to pay for an extension course and finish a credential. Rather than wait for a subsidized community college course, many students are paying high tuition at for-profit colleges that expand quickly to meet demand.

Should community colleges recruit the rich?

Community colleges aren’t segregated by race or income, argues Jamal Abdul-Alim in Diverse.

“Community colleges are inadequately funded and they’re increasingly segregated by race and class,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation in announcing a new report, Bridging the Higher Education Divide. To increase diversity, community colleges should recruit middle-class and affluent students, recommends  the report by the Task Force on Preventing Community Colleges from Becoming Separate and Unequal.

However, two of the report’s charts show community colleges enroll a range of students, Abdul-Alim writes.

One chart shows that the lowest two income quartiles—those who earn less than $36,149 and those who earn between that amount and $66,620, respectively—each comprise 31 percent of public two-year college students, while those in the upper quartiles comprise 23 and 15 percent, respectively.

Whites are slightly underrepresented at community colleges, where they make up 57 percent of the students but 61 percent of the overall population. Hispanics, on the other hand, are overrepresented, making up 18 percent of two-year college students but 13 percent of the overall population. All other groups, including Blacks, have community college populations that are roughly proportional to their percentage of the overall population.

Honors programs would attract more affluent and high-achieving students, the report suggests. However, “the challenge is to offer programs that simultaneously will be highly attractive to students who might not otherwise consider community college and yet at the same time avoid becoming tracking devices that segregate students within community colleges.”

Many community colleges are putting students on wait lists already, responds Daniel Luzer in Washington Monthly’s College Guide. If community colleges recruit more rich kids, where do the poor students go?  “Oh right, they go to for-profit colleges.”

California may add classes, raise fees

California community colleges could add courses in short summer and winter sessions — if students pay more, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. A bill that passed the Assembly this week would let colleges charge non-resident rates — $200 per unit — for new classes instead of the usual fee of $46 per unit.

Students who pay more for a high-demand class would free up spaces for other students during the regular semester, Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, said. “We must recognize the reality that the existing system is not meeting students’ needs,” he said.

The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges and several community college districts opposed the bill, saying it’s unfair to low-income students.

“If you fear a two-tiered system, I’ve got to wake you up: It’s already here,” Williams said. “There’s one tier that can get in and one tier that is locked out.”

After years of cutbacks, two-thirds of community colleges are offering more courses this summer, according to the chancellor’s office. Last summer, enrollment and course offerings hit the lowest level in 15 years, but the passage of a state sales tax increase provided an extra $210 million to community colleges.

In recent years, the state’s community colleges have been hit by $1.5 billion in funding cuts and turned away 600,000 students, according to a report published in March.

The shortage of community college seats “could keep 2.5 million Californians out of the system over the next 10 years,” reports KPBS. Latinos, who are the most likely to attend community colleges, will be hit hard, said Deborah Santiago, who heads research for Excelencia in Education. “Community colleges are, from a sticker price perspective, more affordable and, because they are in the communities where these students live, therefore accessible,” she said.

Online courses for ‘novice learners’

Can “novice learners” succeed in all-online courses? Many believe remedial and entry-level students need lots of personal attention to succeed. But San Jose State is working with Udacity on three online basic math courses that include round-the-clock online mentors, hired and trained by the company, reports the New York Times.

The tiny for-credit pilot courses, open to both San Jose State students and local high school and community college students, began in January, so it is too early to draw any conclusions. But early signs are promising, so this summer, Udacity and San Jose State are expanding those classes to 1,000 students, and adding new courses in psychology and computer programming, with tuition of only $150 a course.

San Jose State professors provided lecture notes and a textbook for the three basic math courses. Udacity employees wrote the script. The nonprofit also supplies online mentors who answer students questions immediately.

The Gates Foundation is giving grants to develop massive open online courses to teach basic and remedial skills, said Josh Jarrett, a  foundation officer.

“For us, 2012 was all about trying to tilt some of the MOOC attention toward the more novice learner, the low-income and first-generation students,” he said. “And 2013 is about blending MOOCs into college courses where there is additional support, and students can get credit. While some low-income young adults can benefit from what I call the free-range MOOCs, the research suggests that most are going to need more scaffolding, more support.”

A bill in the state Senate would let wait-listed students earn credit for faculty-approved online courses, including those from private vendors such as Udacity and edX. The bill is controversial, especially with faculty members.

San Jose State President Mohammad Qayoumi favors blended learning for upper-level courses, “but fully online courses like Udacity’s for lower-level classes,” reports the Times. Online courses can be expanded easily, eliminating wait lists.

“If the results are good, then we’ll scale it up, which would be very good, given how much unmet demand we have at California public colleges,” said Ronald Rogers, a statistics professor. “I’m involved in this not to destroy brick-and-mortar universities, but to increase access for more students,” Rogers said.

‘Flipped’ engineering boosts pass rates

Flipping” and “blending” a San Jose State engineering class has worked so well that most California State University campuses are expected to partner with edX on similar courses in the fall, reports the San Jose Mercury News. San Jose State will expand the model to humanities, business and science courses.

Eighty randomly selected students in an entry-level engineering course watched online lectures from MIT (the flip), while solving problems in class, with the professor’s help (the blend).  Ninety-one percent of the flipped students passed the class. Only 55 and 59 percent of non-flipped students passed. .

“Five hundred years ago we gave them a textbook, and in 1862 we gave them chalk,” said Anant Agarwal, president of edX. “What tools have we given them since then? Please don’t say PowerPoint.”

In-class problem solving is more effective, said SJSU President Mo Qayoumi. However, the new format requires a lot more time from students and instructors.

The online videos and quizzes can take 10 to 12 hours a week to watch and complete, far more than expected in the traditional format. In addition, (Professor Khosrow) Ghadiri said he and his teaching assistants spend a combined 80 hours a week on the class, preparing materials, checking students’ progress and sending them emails when they fall behind.

Students who put in the work have a very good shot of taking the class only once. And if the 91 percent pass rate holds, the engineering department won’t have to provide all those seats for two-timing students.

California’s community colleges and state universities are looking to online learning to shorten wait lists. The state Legislature is considering a bill to require public colleges and universities to accept online credits if students can’t get into conventional classes.

California chancellor opposes differential fees

Some California community colleges want to charge higher fees for high-demand courses. Newly appointed Community College Chancellor Brice Harris opposes differential fees, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.

In an open letter to leaders of the system’s 112 colleges, Harris last month made clear that he is opposed to attempts at charging “differential tuition.” That includes the controversial two-tiered pricing structure that Santa Monica College proposed last year or the online bachelor’s track Coastline Community College has been developing with three public universities in other states.

Harris supports tuition increases, but opposes charging some students more than others for the same courses.

“I strongly believe that charging different students different fees depending on demand, ability to pay or program of interest would ultimately be devastating to open access and has the potential to undermine a system that has been the gateway to a better life for all Californians regardless of their background.”

Many California community colleges are putting students on wait lists for high-demand entry-level courses.  “A recent report found that budget cuts, and resulting faculty layoffs and hiring freezes, have forced the system to turn away 600,000 students in recent years,” notes Inside Higher Ed. 

Santa Monica’s proposal for two-tiered fees was abandoned in the face of  protests. 

Coastline Community College’s proposed online partnership with four-year institutions was rejected by the chancellor’s office earlier this year.