communitycolleges

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.

U.S. Spends $1.1 Trillion on College and Job Training

Colleges spent $407 billion in 2013 on formal education programs, while employers spent $177 billion, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The report found that employers also spent $413 billion on informal, on-the-job training. That means the workforce side of the total $1.1 trillion in expenditures on training outpaced that of higher education.

However, the rate of increase for spending on formal training has been faster in higher education -- an 82 percent increase since 1994 compared to a 26 percent increase by employers. Federally funded job training was the smallest piece of the pie, with $18 billion. College graduates receive the most formal training from employers, with 58 percent of the total expenditure by that sector compared to the 17 percent received by workers with a high school education or less.

 

Could U. of D.C. Become Free Community College, Named for Marion Barry?

A member of the City Council for Washington on Tuesday proposed that the University of the District of Columbia offer a free community college and be renamed to honor Marion Barry, The Washington Post reported. The university currently has both community college and four-year students. Vincent B. Orange, the councilman, said he wanted Washington to move to embrace President Obama's ideas about students having access to free community college options.

The late Barry served as mayor and city council member in Washington and is beloved in some circles and derided in others. Orange said that Barry's drug conviction should not disqualify him from having a university named in his honor. “It can serve as an inspiration for some, it can also serve as a way for others to get up and overcome their adversities -- and for some, it can serve as a don’t do these types of things, stay on this track," Orange said.

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Prior-Learning Credit at Pennsylvania's Community Colleges

Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges on Monday announced a project to help adult students earn more credit for their prior learning, such as for work training and experience. The College Credit FastTrack is a new Web site for adult students to start that process. The move by the state's community colleges follows a similar initiative the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which is the regional public university system, began in 2012.

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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.

Ohio's two-year colleges may soon offer bachelor's degrees and access state aid

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Governor wants to allow community colleges to offer bachelor's degrees. He also seeks some state aid for two-year students, who have been frozen out of program since 2009.

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.

Essay on the role of community colleges in changing student lives

My college career began with remedial courses at a community college and ended four years later with a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University.

This makes people flinch. But we all have an unexpected flame inside of ourselves waiting to be lit. I always believed this to be true. Others did not, and justifiably so, as my grades in high school were inconsistent. The marks on my report card followed the waves of my depression.

President Obama’s proposal to expand access to community colleges has many asking why the country should focus on students with the odds against them. I offer my story as one to think about amid this debate.

When I was a high school senior, expensive private colleges seemed unrealistic and only small, flimsy envelopes arrived from four-year state colleges. I scanned the website of Raritan Valley Community College, remembering that a high-achieving friend had just enrolled. That was enough to convince me to apply.

I received a startling text from my aunt after announcing my decision to attend Raritan Valley. “You're going to fail out and ruin your life," read the message. My aunt knew the stereotypes of community college too well. Those who attend two-year schools are thought to be defeatist, uninspired, and lacking in follow-through, according to the stereotype. My parents started community college with the intention of earning a degree, but walked away empty-handed.

Feeling perplexed, I quickly wrote back, “Students transfer from community colleges into top schools like Pepperdine and Syracuse all of the time! There's also an honors society. Some people even get full scholarships. I just need to get above a 3.5.”

"That's never going to happen,” read the message that flashed across the screen of my phone. I was disappointed. She feared that if I went to community college I would derail, forfeiting all hopes for a successful life.

For me, forfeiting wasn’t an option. The eccentric and quick-witted professors, personable and encouraging nature of the college president, and wealth of opportunities to explore made Raritan Valley Community College a well-kept secret that I was fortunate enough to discover.

My mathematics professor enlightened our class with her first lesson. “To be fully proficient in any subject,” she said, “studying an additional six to nine hours each week is essential.” I went home and immediately reorganized my schedule to accommodate this formula for mastery.  

The tutoring center was my sanctuary. Although passes to the center were limited, I still managed to convince my professor to give me a few extra. I treated them like golden tickets, rejoicing as I danced down the hallway to book my appointment. In the end, my professor’s ultimate study formula proved to be correct. The high-achieving student within me finally took form. 

I was no longer ashamed of not having it all together in high school. I belonged in this land of lost toys. The students I interacted with varied in age. They shared identical challenges but told unfamiliar stories. Community colleges accept more than just everyone’s application. Community colleges welcome all students and support them in their pursuit to improve their lives with education. There’s a reason no other academic institution is more accepting.

I applied to Cornell University with my fingers crossed. When I was accepted and decided to major in communication, I knew the odds were still against me. I didn’t anticipate that community college would lead me to graduating from one of the most competitive universities in the world. However, the tenacity I gained over those two years enabled me to face the odds and flourish.

Now, I share the stories of academically struggling children from low-income neighborhoods for the education nonprofit Practice Makes Perfect. We accept all types of scholars because we know they can achieve academic success through our five-week summer education programs. Learning in an environment that promotes acceptance, whether a summer program or a local community college, can strengthen a weak flame into becoming an invincible fire.

Please think about my story when you think about why community colleges matter – in the decisions of high school guidance counselors, state legislators who allocate funds, and members of Congress who now have a unique opportunity to make a difference.

 

Casey Randazzo is communication coordinator for Practice Makes Perfect, an intergenerational program that matches struggling elementary and middle school students with high-achieving middle and high school students with the supervision of college interns and expert teachers for an intensive academic summer program. She studied communication at Raritan Valley Community College and received her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in 2013.

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Raritan Valley Community College

A Call for Restoring Year-Round Pell

The 2011 decision to end a short-lived program that let students earn two Pell Grants in a single academic year was blamed on a range of factors, including that the program's costs raged out of control and that it failed to encourage students to finish their degrees more quickly. A paper published this morning by the New America Foundation (and discussed in this Inside Higher Ed essay) argues that many of the reasons put forward to explain the program's demise don't stand up to scrutiny -- and that the program, if restored in modified form, could greatly benefit community college students in particular.

Study finds mix of part-time and full-time enrollment can boost graduation rates

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Going to college exclusively full time isn't the best way for adult students who are returning to college to earn an associate degree, new data show.

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