The Association of Community College Trustees released two white papers today. One examines how leaders from the two-year sector can partner with local school districts to close the gap in college readiness. The other paper tracks how Latino students are faring at community colleges.
The association, along with the American Association of Community Colleges and Higher Education for Higher Standards, is urging community college leaders to partner with K-12 for more high school interventions, to identify college-readiness measures, to revise institutional placement practices, to provide reformed remediation opportunities for first-year students and to work with policy makers to push these practices statewide.
"One of the great strengths of the American education system -- as with the United States as a whole -- is its great diversity," said Noah Brown, president and chief executive officer of ACCT, in a news release. "At the same time, we have a responsibility to unify our public high school and community college systems to give students their best chances of success."
By eliminating the disconnect between K-12 and higher education, the organization believes the number of recent high school graduates who need at least one developmental course will decrease, while completion rates will improve. Currently, about 58 percent of recent high school graduates in community colleges took at least one developmental course.
The paper highlights colleges across the country that are already doing this, including Chattanooga State Community College in Tennessee, Washington [State] Community and Technical College System and Lehigh Carbon Community College in Pennsylvania.
The second white paper outlined challenges many Latino students face while attending community colleges. More than half are the first in their families to attend college, 41 percent receive Pell Grants and 62 percent work while enrolled full time. Latino students often enter college less prepared than their non-Hispanic white peers, and this gap has not changed in recent years.
As a result, more than half of Latino students who first begin at a community college drop out without earning a credential.
The paper describes five promising student success programs at colleges that enroll large numbers of Latino students, including ones at the City University of New York and at Lee College, which is located in Texas.
The new Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education -- the first produced since the project shifted to Indiana University from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching -- is now officially available. Colleges and universities have been reviewing their data for the last month or so in advance of the official release.
Indiana's Center for Postsecondary Research is now responsible for the classification system, which categorizes institutions in multiple ways and allows for comparisons among them but not rankings.
Perhaps the most significant change in the new version involves how associate-granting institutions are classified.
Increasing numbers of state policy makers are awakening to the difficulty community college students have transferring their credits toward a degree at four-year colleges and universities. They are right to be worried. Research has found that fewer than 60 percent of community college transfer students could transfer most of their credits and 15 percent were able transfer very few and essentially had to start over. The resulting waste of time and money -- not to mention lost human potential -- represents one of the biggest challenges to student success U.S. higher education faces today.
Acknowledging the problem and fixing it, however, are two different things. And attempts to address the issue at the state level, while doing some good, may have unintended negative consequences. The good news is, as some states are starting to show, this can be fixed.
When state policy makers consider how to address the large numbers of credits lost during transfer, they face a conundrum. Premajor requirements for different programs of study vary, and the same major at two different four-year colleges can have different program designs, course requirements and levels of academic rigor. For instance, a bachelor’s degree in psychology at one state university may align with medical school requirements, and thus require more science courses than a psychology program focused on the field more generally.
In the face of this often overwhelming variation in four-year degree requirements, policy makers in some states have put their trust in a common denominator: ensuring transferability of nonmajor lower-division courses, often referred to as the general education core, and leaving the major-specific requirements to each individual four-year institution. In Mississippi, for example, this guarantees transfer to a four-year institution for the community college student who completes 41 credits from a broad array of approved courses. Similar rules exist in Ohio, Texas and several other states.
Sound good? Not so fast.
In states where such rules exist, the gen-ed core at many community colleges has become the default curriculum for the first two or three semesters. On one level, this makes sense. Community college advisers and faculty members reason that counseling students to complete the gen-ed core first will reduce credit loss and preserve students’ options when selecting a four-year transfer destination and a major.
But preserving options may be the enemy of student success. In fact, if pursuing the gen-ed core becomes a reason to delay program choice, it can actually limit students’ options and reduce the chances for degree completion in three important ways.
First, choosing a major or at least a broad field of interest before transferring can help ensure that students take the right gen-ed courses -- courses that will both transfer and count toward their major. For example, many science courses taught at community colleges count toward gen-ed requirements, but only some of those courses are rigorous enough to align to the STEM major tracks at most four-year universities. Similarly, undergraduate psychology programs at four-year colleges increasingly require courses in which students learn research methods, instruction that is often lacking in community college introductory psychology courses. Consequently, community college students seeking to transfer in psychology may not have the foundational research skills of a student who entered a university as a freshman.
Moreover, in many majors, it is essential for students to begin their major-related courses as soon as possible if they are to have any hope of graduating in four years. Science majors need to take a series of rigorous courses with laboratory components that are nearly impossible for a student to handle in their final two years. The same goes for engineering and nursing. Studio art and architecture majors have studio courses that realistically cannot be completed in the junior and senior year. For many majors, programs are thus designed to ensure that students spread demanding major-related courses over more than two years. Delaying program choice prohibits students from doing so. If students don’t take some of these courses early on, they may essentially have to start over when they transfer.
Finally, without a sense of direction, students may struggle to feel connected to their academic course work as they complete their gen-ed courses. When a student interested in accounting can take accounting classes while simultaneously working on English and Math 101, she can better see how these courses add up to an associate degree and then a bachelor’s -- while remaining engaged in her area of interest. Clear direction is an essential counterweight to the many challenges and demands that can pull students away from studying, attending class and, ultimately, completing their degrees.
However, these problems can be resolved. Under pressure from policy makers to better meet the growing need for STEM workers in the state, higher education institutions in Washington State have worked together to develop field-specific pathways, including an associate of science in transfer that four-year colleges report provides strong preparation for majors in biological sciences and engineering and computer sciences.
Research by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges indicates that students with these “AS-T degrees” who transfer to a university are more likely to earn a bachelor’s in STEM fields and to complete fewer credits overall than students who followed the more general education-oriented statewide transfer agreement. In other fields, state “major-related transfer degrees” are being created that will transfer for both general education credits and most major-specific credits required by universities in the state. Major-specific transfer pathways are at various stages of development in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Tennessee and a few other states.
Still, these systems are far from perfect. Because program-specific premajor requirements can vary across four-year colleges and universities, the chances that students will take courses that fail to transfer toward major requirements will always be present. Even in states with field- or major-specific pathways, four-year institutions need to develop program-specific transfer guides to help students and their advisers understand requirements unique to their programs. But systems like those in Washington State offer a way to pursue two important objectives simultaneously: increasing efficient credit transfer and helping students find direction.
It will be years before such polices are developed and refined in every state. In the meantime, community colleges and their four-year partners must understand the limitations of guaranteed gen-ed credit transfer and help prospective transfer students develop a sense of direction as early as possible. Only by doing so can they deliver what students and taxpayers expect in an era of increasingly scarce resources: college degrees that students can earn affordably and relatively quickly.
Joshua Wyner is executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. Davis Jenkins is a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College.
Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society announced earlier this week that Lynn Tincher-Ladner will serve as president and chief executive officer of the organization. PTK primarily serves community college students.
Tincher-Ladner will become the honor society's third CEO. She's been with the honor society since 2012, when she worked as the chief information and research officer. She'll officially begin her new role Feb. 1, at an annual salary of $195,000.
Tincher-Ladner is replacing the former president, Rod Risley, who retired last year after serving more than 30 years in the role. Risley had faced allegations of inappropriate behavior from two former students.
"Phi Theta Kappa is a very special organization with a rich history and long-standing tradition of enhancing the lives of community college students," Tincher-Ladner said in a news release. "I am deeply honored to be the president and CEO of this student-centered organization and will work hard on behalf of the members to provide them with the tools they need to be successful."
Submitted by Paul Fain on January 22, 2016 - 3:00am
Five additional states will create statewide student success centers in an effort to help more community college students earn a credential. The announcement this week means the total number of states with such centers in place will grow to 12. This approach, begun five years ago in Michigan and Arkansas, seeks more coordination and cooperation across institutions and systems and among state policy makers on strategies that work to boost college completion.
“These centers build a cohesive approach to engagement, learning and policy advocacy across each state’s two-year institutions,” said Caroline Altman Smith, deputy director of the Kresge Foundation's education program. “The colleges can then spend their resources more effectively and create reforms that help the most students possible graduate.”
Kresge and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are funding the work. Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit group, is helping to create the centers. The new states are Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington. Student success centers currently are up and running in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas.
Submitted by Paul Fain on January 19, 2016 - 3:00am
Nationwide, just 14 percent of students who first enroll at a community college transfer and eventually earn a four-year degree within a six-year period, according to a new report from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Fund and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
The three groups recently announced a partnership to push for smoother transfer pathways. They used data from the clearinghouse to break down transfer and graduation numbers in more detail than had previously been available. The groups found that even states with the best record on transfer see one in five community college students earning a four-year degree within six years. States at the back of the pack have transfer and graduation rates that are in the single digits.
"This report enables us, for the first time, to see in which states colleges are supporting students in this journey so we can figure out what works and enable students everywhere to be successful," Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate at CCRC and co-author of the report, said in a written statement. "Greater success for more students will cut down on the waste in taxpayer money when students drop out or lose credits as they transfer."
The transfer and graduation data show that lower-income students tend to fare worse than their wealthier peers. The gap is particularly wide in California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas, among others, the report found.
The researchers also found a wide range of rates among colleges with similar characteristics and that enroll similar student populations.
"Importantly, this implies that how institutions serve transfer students matters: institutional practices that serve transfer students well can lead to better-than-expected outcomes for institutions with relatively few resources or more educationally disadvantaged students," the report said. "It also indicates that institutions could improve their transfer performance if they changed the way they serve transfer students and worked more closely with their transfer partners."