New Federal Report on Remedial Education

The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics released a new data analysis this week on U.S. college students who took remedial courses and on who completed them.

The report followed first-time students for the six years from 2003-9. Among community college students, 68 percent took remedial courses, and almost half took two or more. The data showed that 40 percent of incoming students at public, four-year institutions took remedial courses, with 21 percent taking at least two.

About half (49 percent) of community college students completed all their remedial course work, according to the report, compared to 59 percent of students at public, four-year institutions. And 16 percent of remedial course takers at community colleges failed to complete any of their remedial courses, as did 15 percent of students at public, four-year colleges.

State Senator Among Finalists for U of West Florida Presidency

A state senator with connections to several trustees is among four finalists to become president of the University of West Florida.

A presidential search committee on Tuesday narrowed its field of candidates to a list including current university provost Martha Saunders, Senior Vice President of the College Board of New York Frank Ashley and University of Akron Vice President for Innovation and Economic Development Mike Sherman, the Pensacola News Journal reported. It also included a fourth name among its list of finalists: Republican State Senator Don Gaetz.

Gaetz's candidacy had been debated before he even put his name in the running for the presidency at the last minute in August. The News Journal reported his political campaign -- or that of his son, who is a state representative in Florida running for a congressional seat -- received financial backing from at least seven of 20 presidential search committee members and six of 13 university trustees. Gaetz was also the only one of 19 candidates to be considered who has never worked for a higher educational institution.

Gaetz's background in education includes time as a school district superintendent and school board member. He also co-authored Florida legislation awarding funding to universities meeting certain metrics. He is reportedly barred by state law from lobbying in Florida for a university for two years after he leaves the Legislature.

When he applied for the president position, Gaetz, said he was only interested in the University of West Florida.

"Northwest Florida is my home, and northwest Florida is not just where my home is, but it’s where my heart is," he said, according to the News Journal. "I'm not looking to be at a college institution in Minnesota or Daytona or anywhere else."

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Oberlin President Leaving in June

Marvin Krislov (right) will end his time as president of Oberlin College and Conservatory next summer, he said Tuesday, setting the stage for his departure after a decade including major fund-raising success but recently marked by several controversies on campus.

Krislov's last day as president at the Ohio institution is set to be June 30, 2017, he said in a letter posted online. The date means the president, 56, will have held his position for 10 years when he steps down. It also comes shortly after the institution completed a new strategic plan.

During his tenure, Krislov is credited with raising $317 million for a comprehensive campaign, eclipsing a goal of $250 million. He is also noted for defending liberal arts education's value and pursuing several construction and renovation projects.

"But after 10 years, I know this is the right moment for me to seek new professional challenges," Krislov wrote.

Krislov and Oberlin have in the last year been under the microscope for their handling of situations involving race, ethnicity, academic freedom and freedom of speech. In August Oberlin announced it was putting Joy Karega, an assistant professor who had made anti-Semitic statements on her Facebook page, on paid leave while her conduct was being investigated -- a move made months after the issue sparked debate. Krislov, who is Jewish, had written in March that he was affected by the situation on a personal level but also defended the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech. Oberlin's Board of Trustees chairman then said the postings were "abhorrent," raising issues that needed to be "considered expeditiously." Some faculty members proceeded to sign a statement condemning Karega's social media postings, and Krislov condemned anti-Semitism, prejudice and bigotry while saying Oberlin took its discrimination policy seriously.

Krislov also drew headlines earlier in the year when he opted not to respond directly to the demands of black students on the grounds those demands rejected the ideas of collaborative engagement and shared governance. Oberlin also offered hundreds of employee buyouts in May in an attempt to save a reported $1.5 million to $3.5 million.

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Penn Students Post Fliers Condemning Sexist Emails

Every year, first-year women at the University of Pennsylvania receive a crude email inviting them to a party at an off-campus fraternity. "Ladies," this year's email stated, "the year is now upon us. May we have your attention please. We're looking for the fun ones, and say 'fuck off' to a tease." The invitation also told the women to "please wear something tight."

Frustrated by the sexist nature of the email, a group of female students printed out more than 600 copies of the message and posted them around campus Monday. On top of the printouts, they wrote, "This is what rape culture looks like" and "We are watching." The fliers also included information about the university's sexual assault resources.

In a statement Tuesday, the university praised the students who posted the fliers and called the original email offensive. "Challenging offensive speech, as these students did, is important and wholly consistent with the university's ongoing efforts and the national conversation about preventing and responding to sexual misconduct," the university stated.

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Advising graduate students who are interested in an M.A., not a Ph.D. (essay)

Faculty members and administrators tend to forget that, for most undergraduates, grad school doesn’t mean a doctorate, writes J. H. Pearl.

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Distance coaching expands in Indiana and Montana, where colleges have seen retention gains

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A company's success coaches, who work remotely, help Indiana's community colleges improve student retention.

Lafayette Professor Denied Tenure Ends Hunger Strike

Juan Rojo, the assistant professor of Spanish at Lafayette College who went on a hunger strike last week over the handling of his tenure case, on Monday suspended his protest. “I do so in good faith and in recognition of and in gratitude for the faculty’s significant, multifaceted efforts to redress the procedural error in my tenure case, and the even more pressing concerns related to faculty governance that tolerating this error would convey,” he said in a statement. “I remain committed to working with my colleagues, the administration and the board so that together we can address these and other areas of concern in an effort to strengthen our institution and our educational mission.”

Rojo announced his strike at a faculty meeting on Aug. 30, citing the fact that Lafayette’s president, Alison Byerly, rejected his tenure bid, against the positive recommendation of two faculty bodies (one was unanimous). Moreover, he said, Byerly’s decision was based largely on comments from student evaluations of Rojo's teaching, which some experts argue should not be used in personnel decisions because they can be unreliable.

Byerly said in a statement Monday that she had received faculty feedback about Rojo’s case, including the proper role of the president in tenure decisions. She said she looked forward to continuing the dialogue, starting at a faculty meeting Tuesday.

Regarding her rejection of Rojo’s bid, Byerly said that in “evaluating all cases, including this one, I rely most heavily on the evidence provided by faculty colleagues, through their own classroom observations and their informed analysis of candidates’ teaching evaluations.” In reviewing the recommendation provided by the collegewide tenure committee, she said, “I found myself largely in agreement with [the] committee’s characterization of the candidate’s teaching. Where we differed is that I could not concur with their conclusion that the record described met the standard of distinction and the elements of quality teaching outlined in the Faculty Handbook.”

Rojo planned to break his strike at a local Pennsylvania restaurant at 10 a.m. Monday, after informing the board of that intention over the weekend. “Those that know me know that I do not crave the spotlight,” he said. “But I felt it important to stand up for myself, my colleagues and my institution to redress a serious procedural error as well as to protect faculty governance. I remain committed to working with the Lafayette community to move forward in a productive and timely manner.”

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Accreditation Trouble for ITT's Daniel Webster College

Daniel Webster College's regional accreditor last week told the small college, which the troubled ITT Educational Services owns, that it has reason to believe Daniel Webster may not meet accreditation standards and must "show cause" about why its approval should not be removed at a meeting later this month.

ITT, which is facing a raft of state and federal investigations as well as financial problems, recently froze all new enrollment after losing access to federal aid for new students. Roughly 45,000 students attend the for-profit chain's 130 campuses. Daniel Webster, which ITT bought in 2009 for about $40 million, enrolls 740 students at its campus in New Hampshire.

Indiana U Hire Criticized for Not Being Native American

Native American alumni of Indiana University at Bloomington are criticizing the hiring of someone who is not Native American for the position of director of the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center (logo at right), the Associated Press reported. Nicholas Belle, the new director, did volunteer at the center when he was a student and has also spent time on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. But some students and alumni said they need someone who understands firsthand the kind of discrimination faced by Native American students. Belle did not respond to a request for comment, and the university released a statement noting that it does not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity, among other factors, in hiring.

Three barriers to student transfer and how to overcome them

Earlier this year, we published a study that found that although the majority of students who enter higher education through a community college intend to earn a bachelor’s degree, nationally only 14 percent do so within six years of starting college. In comparison, about 60 percent of students who start college at a four-year institution earn a bachelor’s degree in six years.

Research we and others have done on transfer, together with years of visiting colleges and talking to students, has given us some insight into why transfer outcomes are so poor. But our colleagues Di Xu, Shanna Jaggars and Jeffrey Fletcher at Columbia University’s Community College Research Center recently released a working paper that illuminates some of the less understood barriers community college students face as they seek a bachelor’s degree. In the study, Xu and her colleagues examined outcomes over 10 years for students who started at a community college in Virginia and who intended to earn a bachelor’s degree. The researchers matched those students with those who started at a four-year institution based on their personal characteristics and their first-term grade point averages and course-taking patterns.

The study identifies five barriers that community college students face in trying to transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree. Two of these have been fairly well researched in the literature: the difficulty students have transferring credits, and posttransfer “academic shock.” The other three have received less attention from either researchers or practitioners. Yet they may pose even bigger barriers to transfer student success than the first two. Understanding them is critical for colleges that want to tackle this problem. Here is what Xu and her colleagues found.

Understudied Transfer Barrier 1: Lack of Early Momentum

One obstacle to transfer student success that has not been adequately studied is that, compared to students who enter college through a four-year institution, community college entrants earn college-level credits at a slower pace. Part of this is due to the fact that community college students are more likely to enroll part time or to take remedial credits, which do not count toward a degree. Xu and her colleagues try to account for these differences by comparing groups of two- and four-year entrants who were matched on numerous student characteristics, including whether or not they started college as a full-time student and if they had ever taken a remedial course. Even when using this matched sample, as is shown in Figure 1, four-year entrants on average take a higher course load each semester than do similar community college students. This, combined with the fact that community colleges students take more remedial courses, means that community college students fall farther and farther behind their four-year peers in earning credits over time (see Figure 2).

Understudied Transfer Barrier 2: Unclear Transfer Pathways

Many community colleges and universities have put a great deal of energy into developing articulation agreements intended to clarify the path for community college students seeking to transfer. Many states also have developed such agreements for their public higher education systems. Most of them are based on a 2+2 model, in which students take two years of lower-division, general education coursework followed by two years of courses in their major at the university. The study shows that few students follow this path. Over 40 percent of bachelor’s-seeking community college students in their sample transferred to a university with fewer than 60 college credits (the number typically required for an associate degree). While little more than a quarter (27 percent) of such students transferred to a four-year institution in the third year after entering a community college, some students transferred sooner (16 percent) and most (57 percent) transferred three years or more after starting at the community college.

As Xu and her colleagues say, there is no “well-trodden pathway” to a bachelor’s degree for community college students. This suggests that most students do not follow the articulation agreements developed by colleges, universities and state systems. Why this is so is unclear. However, hints about the answer come from research showing that students have a hard time understanding transfer agreements and our observation that most community colleges do not keep close track of students’ progress toward transfer goals.

Understudied Transfer Barrier 3: Students Make Progress, but Don’t Transfer

Perhaps the most surprising finding from the study is that many community college students who indicate a desire to earn a bachelor’s degree make substantial progress in their community college course work but do not end up transferring. About half of bachelor’s degree-seeking students in the sample earned at least 60 college-level credits at a community college but did not transfer. And almost a third of such students who earned an associate degree from a community college did not transfer. Thus, many students are leaving cards on the table. More research is needed into why this is the case.

Overcoming Barriers

The study of transfer student outcomes in Virginia by our CCRC colleagues suggests that, if transfer outcomes are to improve, community colleges and universities should work together to address these three less understood obstacles. How?

First, community colleges need to pay much more attention to early student momentum and work to encourage and support students to take higher credit loads (while also adopting acceleration strategies that minimize the time students spend in remediation). Second, two- and four-year institutions should more clearly map out the pathways to successful transfer and also help students choose a transfer path, monitor their progress and provide advising and support when their progress stalls or students go off track. Finally, practitioners and researchers need to examine why so many community college students who seek a bachelor’s degree make good progress at their two-year institution but fail to transfer to a four-year institution.

In partnership with the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence program, we recently published The Transfer Playbook, which describes how two- and four-year college partnerships can pursue these and other strategies to help students overcome the barriers they face to transfer. Continued work on all three of these fronts holds great potential to fix one of the leakiest parts of our higher education pipeline: students who start at a community college and never fulfill their dream of earning a bachelor’s degree.

Davis Jenkins is a senior research associate with the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College. John Fink is a research associate with CCRC.

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