assessmentaccountability

State-Level Completion Data

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center this week released state-level student completion data. The nonprofit center tracked 2.7 million students who first enrolled in college in the fall of 2008, following them for 6 years. The report builds on the center's previous research, which found more encouraging graduation rates than other studies had identified, in part because the Clearinghouse has huge data sets that can follow students across institutions and state lines.

Nationwide, the report found that one in three community college students earned a credential at an institution other than the one at which they first enrolled. And 13 percent of students who began at a four-year public completed at a different institution. In five states (Iowa, North Dakota, Virginia, Kansas and Texas), more than 20 percent of students who began at a community college completed at a four-year institution. The report includes state-by-state tables and other breakouts of the data.

Sojourner-Douglass College Loses Accreditation

Sojourner-Douglass College, a private institution in Baltimore that focuses on black students and black communities, has lost an appeal to hold on to its accreditation, The Baltimore Sun reported. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education upheld an earlier decision that the college lacked adequate financial resources to operate. The revocation of accreditation will now take place at the end of the academic year, allowing current students to finish the semester. Students must attend colleges that are accredited to receive student aid. State officials said that they would help students transfer to other institutions.

Charles W. Simmons, president of the college, sent an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed in which he vowed to fight the Middle States decision. He blames changes in Pell Grant eligibility for creating financial challenges at the college. "Sojourner-Douglass continues to emerge from this devastating, unpredicted and external, disruptive challenge, and is positioning itself to adjust its finance and business plans, its operations, curricula and programs to enable it to immediately get back on course, again thrive, and realize its vision and mission, while challenging the Middle States decision and continuing to meet the needs of its targeted student population and its service communities," said Simmons.

Report seeks to add specificity to debate over states' performance-based funding models

Smart Title: 

Gates-funded report seeks to define and classify types of performance-based funding in 35 states, drawing tentative praise from researchers who have criticized the policies.

Gates Surveys Faculty Attitudes

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation this week released results from a survey it commissioned of faculty attitudes, with a particular focus on courseware that can "personalize" learning. FTI Consulting conducted the survey, receiving roughly 4,000 responses.

Daniel Greenstein, the foundation's director of postsecondary success, summarized the findings in a written statement. He said the survey found that a significant number of faculty members are "open to using courseware and other innovations to improve their students' success." The report also described specific obstacles faculty face in "evolving their practice," he said, and detailed what colleges can do to reduce or eliminate those obstacles.

“It’s vital to better understand the views of faculty and what supports they say they need to continue to advance student outcomes,” Greenstein said of the survey.

Defining 'Evidence of Learning'

An investment banking and consulting firm focused on education, Tyton Partners, is issuing a report today that attempts to create a framework for measuring "evidence of learning." The research, which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded, seeks to take a holistic approach to defining the "body of knowledge, skills and experience" people achieve in both formal and informal activities throughout their lifetime. Tyton, which until this month was Education Growth Advisors, also released a second report on the "supplier ecosystem" that surrounds related markets, such as accreditation services, portfolio platforms and assessment services.

Competency-Based Education Network Adds Members

The Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) announced Monday that it has added 15 new college members. The Lumina-funded group now features 30 institutions and 4 public college systems, all of which either offer competency-based degrees or are creating them. The C-BEN was created for participants to share information on the emerging form of higher education. New members include several community colleges, a midsized for-profit chain and large universities, including the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Texas System.

Inequity on Rise in Higher Education

Rising costs and lower government aid have made it more difficult for lower-income students to earn a college degree, according to a new report from the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (AHEAD) at the University of Pennsylvania. The study tracked data over 45 years. It found that students and families paid for one-third of the cost of the higher-education system in 1980. But that proportion grew to a little more than half in 2012.

Progress on Transfer in California

California's community colleges and the California State University System continue to make "notable progress" in creating smoother transfer pathways for students, according to a new report from the state's Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO). The two systems have been working to comply with 2010 legislation that requires the creation of associate degrees for transfer, which are designed to help clear away some of the "maze of academic requirements that vary across campuses," the report said. The LAO recommends setting specific reporting and data requirements to make sure the public institutions stay on track.

Essay on making the most of Florida's remedial reform

Florida is one of several states where legislatures are exploring dramatic approaches to reforming developmental (remedial) education.

A high percentage of students who enroll at the 28 state colleges (formerly the community colleges) in the Florida College System have remedial needs, and only a small fraction of those students actually earn college credentials.

To try to combat this problem, the state’s Legislature in 2013 passed a new law mandating that the 28 state colleges provide developmental education that is more tailored to the needs of students. As reported earlier by Inside Higher Ed, the policy gives students much more flexibility in terms of whether they participate in developmental education and what options they choose if they do decide to participate.

Some concerns have emerged since the Florida reform was implemented in the fall of 2014. For example, The Chronicle of Higher Education described “headaches” such as a drastic decline in students enrolling in developmental education courses, challenges faculty members face and other issues regarding student decisions and choices.

It’s clear that the state’s developmental policy reform could have a long-lasting influence on student success in Florida and beyond. The Florida reform would be particularly relevant if the proposal of two years of free community college by President Obama ever becomes a reality. To learn more about it, the Center for Postsecondary Success (CPS) at Florida State University has been conducting a comprehensive evaluation of the implementation and effects of the policy.

The Florida Experiment

The law drastically changes the placement and instructional practices in developmental education. It prohibits requiring placement testing or developmental education for students who entered ninth grade in a Florida public school in the 2003-2004 school year and after, provided the student earned a standard high school diploma. The law also exempts active-duty members of the military from required placement testing and developmental coursework. It does, however, allow exempted students to choose to be tested and/or to take developmental education once advised of their options.

Students now have several new options in terms of developmental education delivery methods that are designed to move them quickly into college credit, using corequisite instruction, modules and tutoring. The new strategies include: (1) modularized instruction that is customized and targeted to address specific skills gaps; (2) compressed course structures that accelerate student progression from developmental instruction to college-level coursework; (3) contextualized developmental instruction that is related to metamajors (a collection of programs of study or academic discipline groupings that share common foundational skills); and (4) corequisite developmental instruction or tutoring that supplements credit instruction while a student is concurrently enrolled in a credit-bearing course.

The legislation does not mandate the specifics around each option and therefore allows the individual campuses in the system some flexibility in regard to the form and delivery of each option.

Challenges and Opportunities

The reform strategies underway are sweeping.

Because a key intent of the reform is to provide greater flexibility in determining who needs to take developmental education courses, it is not surprising to observe a sizable drop-off in students enrolling in them. The drop-off itself may not necessarily become a concern for some students, but we will need to closely monitor those who choose not to opt in to developmental education programs to determine their outcomes compared to those who did.

Research has indicated that developmental education may not be that helpful for borderline students, thus suggesting flexible placement may increase student success by not holding back students just shy of the cut score. However, a large number of students who would have scored far below traditional cutoff scores and instead opt in to college-level courses may present new and difficult challenges to institutions and instructors, and may also jeopardize students’ chances of succeeding in college. Such a scenario could be compounded depending on how students of different backgrounds make decisions.

While some perceive the increased student choice to be positive, others question whether developmental education students have the preparation and wisdom to make informed choices about course options. Students, though, generally appreciate the increased choice provided by the legislation but questioned whether other students would always make the appropriate decisions. Colleges and universities have ramped up advising and student support services, which could be key to student success and the reform as a whole. Advising students to make the “good” choice, and students following the advice properly, will be critical to student success in this new policy environment. Meanwhile, providing the necessary support to students along the way is important to sustain student success.

With greater flexibility in placement, the developmental education reform could alter the composition of classrooms across college campuses, possibly also shaping the structure and culture of teaching and learning on campus due to the wider range of student academic preparation in both developmental and college-level classes. The voices of faculty have indicated this is the case. A promising sign is that faculty members are designing customized instruction tailored to students based on their assessment of student preparation. This is consistent with the substantial literature on effective teaching and learning by meeting the needs of learners. Of course, this customization increases the work of faculty members, but if there is a way to support faculty adaptation to the new classroom reality, student success may be well in reach.

In anticipation of both student and faculty concerns, most campuses planned to increase the student support services they provide. A content analysis of the 28 implementation plans indicated that the colleges planned to ramp up advising as well as extensive training and professional development for front-line personnel. In addition, support services such as tutoring and success courses are widely considered in colleges’ implementation plans.

An earlier survey of college administrators also indicated a whole-campus approach in implementing the new policy. There is a fairly wide agreement that the reform reflects a spirit of innovation and offers an opportunity to solve an old problem in new ways, and colleges mobilized to respond to the new law and increased intra-institutional collaboration in developing strategies. Each campus has an implementation team that includes the key constituents on campus so that perspectives from all can be shared and considered.

Learning From the Experiences

The Florida experiment is a state response to a persistent problem. It marks a drastic departure from the traditional developmental education model that has not been working well. The “headaches” reported in The Chronicle from the early stage of implementation are not unexpected. However, the issues raised should not be ignored. In fact, we should keep close eyes on those issues and student outcomes.

The law allows institutions to be responsive to their individual student populations. But because there are variations in institutional reality based on student characteristics, infrastructure and previous experiences with developmental education, some colleges may be ahead of the game while others may be struggling to catch up, resulting in different reactions to the reform. While some colleges embrace it, others may have some reservations. The state and other interested parties should provide assistance to help struggling colleges to get up to speed.

The success of the reform depends on a multitude of players and factors. It depends on students to make the right decisions for themselves; it depends on practitioners and administrators to successfully rally the troops on the ground to implement the critical components called for by the new law; it depends on faculty members to deliver courses that meet student needs; it depends on advisers to effectively advise students and support services staff members to provide timely and needed support to the students along the way; it also depends on policy makers to create favorable policy environments for those on the ground to do the work at the best of their expertise and capacity.

Moving Forward

The bold reform strategies in developmental education in Florida could blaze a new trail, or offer states valuable lessons. It is easy to point fingers to K-12 education for the lack of preparation of college students. While it is important to continue to improve the quality of K-12 education for all students, it is also important to consider the ways the higher education system can improve student success. Given the nature of the reform and the multiplicity of issues, strong and sustainable leadership at both the state and campus level is required in order for the reform to stand a chance of delivering results. At least six steps appear to be warranted to determine whether such a broad reform is capable of achieving its intended outcome.

First, as for any policy change, it will take time to see results. Is there willingness to wait for a period of time to see the impacts of the current policy changes on student success, given the likely pressures from various sources? If not, we may never know whether such a reform is able to deliver.

Second, to assess the impact of the reform on students and continuously improve the policy, there is a need for credible evidence. The research community needs to contribute to the conversation by conducting valid research to understand the perspectives from all concerned and affected, and assess the impact of the new policy on outcomes related to student success.

Third, practitioners and administrators need to be open-minded and provide feedback on what works and what may be needed on the ground. On the one hand, they need to challenge conventional practices that have been in place for a long time. Fortunately, the early signs indicate they indeed embrace the idea of innovation. On the other hand, they should demand the support they need to ensure the new initiatives will be successfully put in place.

Fourth, policy makers should use the evidence and results to guide the policy-making and -remaking process. Just as practitioners within community colleges need to be open-minded in implementing reform, policy makers need to be open-minded and honestly consider feedback to adjust the policy accordingly.

Fifth, funding agencies should be keenly attentive to what is really going on in educational reform and put their resources behind research on real-world problems. Instead of waiting for perfect research, they should strike a good balance in pursuing the rigor and relevance of the research to promptly respond to the needs on the ground. Otherwise, they may end up being empty-handed in the pursuit of connecting research, policy and practice.  

Finally, credible and timely research has the potential to generate valuable evidence to inform policy and practice, and it can be accomplished by collaboration among researchers, practitioners, state agencies and funding organizations. After all, it is our shared responsibility to optimize the educational environment so that our students can succeed, reach their full potential and realize their dreams.

Shouping Hu is the Louis W. and Elizabeth N. Bender Endowed Professor and the founding director of the Center for Postsecondary Success (CPS) at Florida State University.

ACT Launches College and Career Readiness Campaign

ACT, the nonprofit testing giant, this week began its third annual national career and college readiness campaign. The 34 participating states will recognize a community college and an employer for their efforts to help more students make the transition to college and the workforce.

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