Mastery + modules = job training revolution

Online competency-based education is the most “disruptive” innovation in higher education, write Michelle R. Weise and Clayton M. Christensen in Hire Education.

Online competency-based providers create cost-effective, adaptable pathways to the workforce by breaking learning into competencies rather than courses, they write.

The fusion of modularization with mastery-based learning is the key to understanding how these providers can build a multitude of stackable credentials or programs for a wide variety of industries, scale them, and simultaneously drive down the cost of educating students for the opportunities at hand. These programs target a growing set of students who are looking for a different value proposition from higher education—one that centers on targeted and specific learning outcomes, tailored support, as well as identifiable skillsets that are portable and meaningful to employers. Moreover, they underscore the valuable role that employers can play in postsecondary education by creating a whole new value network that connects students directly with employers.

Strong partnerships between online competency-based providers and employers will become more important than college rankings and accreditation, Weise and Christensen predict.

California: CCs plan huge growth

California community colleges will try to increase degree completion and transfers by nearly a quarter of a million students over the next decade, reports the Sacramento Bee.

“This is probably the most ambitious goal-setting effort ever undertaken by our system,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said.

Currently, 48.1 percent of students complete a degree or transfer; the completion rate for vocational certificates is 53.9 percent. The new targets call for raising the completion rate for degree programs and transfers to 62.8 percent and for career technical education certificates to 70.3 percent.

California’s entrepreneurial economy requires a skilled workforce, writes Chancellor Brice Harris in the Los Angeles Daily News.

The new goals aim to increase the number of students who successfully complete remedial instruction, which unfortunately 75 percent of our students need when they arrive at our campuses. And we’ve set targets to increase the number of students who prepare educational plans at the beginning of their academic careers as well as the number of students who earn degrees under the Associate Degree for Transfer program, which has improved transfer with California State University.

The system’s “Student Success Initiative” calls for “giving priority registration status to students who participate in orientation, assessment and education planning; redesigning our student support services to help them stay on track academically; making it easier for students to transfer to CSUs; and collaborating with K-12 institutions to ensure that students come here ready to take college-level math and English courses,” writes Harris.

California OKs 4-year degrees at 2-year colleges

Nursing students, from left, Caroline Pantaleon, Yang Liu, Melody Saechao and Christine Crivello practice inserting an IV in Saul Jones’ nursing

Nursing students, from left, Caroline Pantaleon, Yang Liu, Melody Saechao and Christine Crivello practice inserting an IV in Saul Jones’ nursing skills lab class at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Calif. The college could begin offering bachelor’s degrees in nursing.  (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) ( Kristopher Skinner )

As early as next year, some California community colleges  will start offering four-year degrees if the governor signs a bill that cleared the state Legislature Thursday.

Colleges will be allowed to offer one bachelor’s degree program per campus, if the degree isn’t available at a nearby state university, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Proponents of SB 850 — introduced by state Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego — argued that bachelor’s degrees in technical fields are in great demand and noted that 21 other states allow their community colleges to offer such programs.

“In today’s economy, many businesses require their employees to possess a four-year degree or higher skill sets than are offered through associate degree programs, even in fields such as dental hygiene or automotive technology where a two-year degree would have been sufficient in the past,” Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said in a news release. “I applaud the Legislature for addressing California’s urgent workforce needs.”

CC, for-profit grads look the same to employers

Job seekers are as attractive to employers with a for-profit certificate or degree as with a community college credential, concludes a Calder working paper by five economists.  The study tracked callbacks by employers in response to fictitious resumes.

Applicants with “some college” did little better than those with just a high school diploma. Again, employer responses were similar whether  resumes cited a for-profit or community college.

Resumes were submitted for jobs in administrative assisting, customer service, information technology, sales, medical assisting (excluding nursing) and medical billing, and office work.

Community colleges provide a much better labor market payoff, the study concluded. “It is more expensive to attend for-profit colleges,” Cory Koedel, a University of Missouri economist and one of the co-authors, told Inside Higher Ed. Earning a community college credential provides a better return on investment.

Given the image of for-profit colleges as “greedy diploma mills,” it’s surprising their graduates did so well, responded Stephen R. Porter, a professor of higher education at North Carolina State University. “I was astounded that there was no difference between the groups.”

Job seekers must be prepared for a lot of rejection.

Employers’ overall response rate — meaning a positive, non-perfunctory reply via phone or e-mail — was 11.6 percent for applications that listed community colleges compared to 11.3 percent for those that listed for-profits. Likewise, the split for interview requests was tilted slightly in community colleges’ favor, at 5.3 percent versus 4.7 percent. Those splits fell well within the study’s margin of error.

Employers were even less interested in applicants with “some college.” Given low completion rates, that’s a very large group of people.

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.”

Student aid funds most job training

Most federal support for job training flows through student aid, not workforce development programs, writes Mary Alice McCarthy on EdCentral. Federal student aid provides $150 billion a year to college students in vocational certificate and associate degree programs, while only $20 billion goes to all federal workforce programs.

Nursing students at Cuyahoga Community College train on a mannequin named "Steve."

Nursing students at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland train on a mannequin named “Steve.”

Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity and What Works in Job Training: A Synthesis of the Evidence, both released by the vice president’s office on July 22, lay out the federal workforce development system.

While there are 47 employment and training programs implemented across ten federal agencies, most federal funds  come from four agencies and a few programs, McCarthy writes. Including the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, $18 billion is spent by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (CTE), and military tuition assistance programs financed through the Departments of Defense and Veteran’s Affairs.

These days, community college is “where people go to get skills for work,” she writes. Yet there’s “minimal accountability” for the large and growing share of federal student aid for college students in job-training programs. Many programs don’t fit the administration’s call for “job-driven” training designed with employers to fill high-demand jobs.

Federal student aid “is oddly exempt from national discussions about how to improve America’s job training programs. Until those dollars are truly on the table, we’re not talking about the federal policies that can really make a difference in connecting postsecondary education and work.”

Job training is very hard to do well outside the workplace. . . . Engaging employers, identifying in-demand skills, accelerating learning, designing programs to meet diverse and non-traditional learners, providing effective student supports – it all works and it’s all hard.

Job training can’t do it all, writes McCarthy. “Globalization and technological change are transforming production processes and disrupting labor markets around the world, generating profound changes in how firms hire, compensate, and train employees.”

On the education front, we need policies that will make schools – particularly institutions of higher education – more responsive to the needs of students for concrete skills and transparent credentials. On the employer front, we need policies that promote firms to either invest directly in the skill development of employees (apprenticeship programs, on-the-job training) or that enable their workers to more easily combine work and learning (better leave policies, tuition assistance, etc). Policies also need to recognize that people will be moving in and out of jobs more often, and will need support for up-skilling and periodic bouts of unemployment.

And, “it doesn’t matter how good your job training programs are if there aren’t enough jobs to go around.”

Dodge CC will merge with state university

Dodge City Community College will merge with Fort Hayes State University to create a joint campus in Dodge City.

DCCC employees will become FHSU employees.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has endorsed the merger, reports the Dodge City Daily Globe. “I think this is a fabulous marriage, putting together Fort Hays State and Dodge City,” said Brownback at a meeting introducing FHSU President Mirta Martin to Dodge City.

A proposed technical institute will spur growth in southwest Kansas, he said. “We’ll have the trained workforce it takes to do high-tech manufacturing.”

Martin said she started her career in the community college system. “I get it,” she said. “Community colleges are the onramp to education.”

Indiana debates free tuition

Indiana is debating free tuition for community college students, reports the Indianapolis Star.

Nearby Tennessee has promised a free community college education in hopes of improving job skills.

“Think how we’d change the state,” said Jeff Terp, Ivy Tech Community College chief operating officer. “We’d have one of the most educated workforces in the country.”

However, Teresa Lubbers, state commissioner for higher education, fears eliminating tuition would do little for low-income students, who already are eligible for state and federal aid. Many attend IvyTech for free and have grant money left over to pay for books and expenses, she said.

Most of the benefits of free tuition would flow to students whose families can afford to pay community college tuition, Lubbers said.

California: Building transfer bridges


San Franciscans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.

One way to restrain college costs and expand diversity is to build a sturdier bridge between community colleges and elite universities, writes Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic.

The University of California is trying to do that, he writes. Last month, a task force urged the nine-campus system to “streamline and strengthen” the transfer process.

Overall, the report noted, 29 percent of the system’s entering students in 2012-13 arrived as community-college transfers.

. . . Just over half of the admitted transfer students, the study found, were first-generation students, slightly above the proportion in the freshman class. Perhaps most impressively, the study found that 86 percent of transfers graduated within four years after arriving, almost exactly equal to the 84 percent of freshman students who finish after six years.

However, transfers come disproportionately from seven community colleges in affluent areas such as Santa Monica, Cupertino, Pasadena, Santa Barbara, and San Diego.

 Although African-Americans and Hispanic students make up nearly 46 percent of the state’s huge community-college student body, they represented only about 25 percent of those who transferred into UC. That was actually less than their share of the entering freshmen class for the UC system.

To encourage more demographic and geographic diversity, the report recommended that UC build partnerships with the community colleges that send few students into the transfer pipeline; increase its visibility on every two-year campus; broaden its own direct outreach to community-college students; expand the transition services it provides to transfer students; and, perhaps most important, establish more consistency in the course requirements that each UC campus sets for admission.

UC still lets each campus set its own transfer requirements, making it hard for students to navigate the system, said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.  The less selective California State system unified requirements under a 2010 state law. “The UC system should be able to align their requirements for the different majors within the system, and that would allow students to prepare.”

Fifteen California community colleges would be allowed to one bachelor’s degree each in an area of “critical workforce demand” under a bill that has passed the state Senate.

Talking about credentials for competence

Credentialing is complex and costly, concludes a new report,  Call for a National Conversation on Creating a Competency-based Credentialing Ecosystem.

Leaders of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), National Skills Coalition, New America Foundation, Workforce Data Quality Campaign and other groups endorsed the report, which calls for improving “transparency, trust and portability.”

Competency-Based Education (CBE) is increasing due to growing concerns about college costs and quality, according to a paper from the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. While some colleges are embedding CBE in the traditional curriculum, others are redesigning the curriculum around competencies; or redesigning the credentialing process around CBE, using direct assessment.