University wants to give 2-year degrees

Kent State University wants to award two-year degrees to students on their way to four-year degrees. Dropouts would have something to show for their time in college — and the university would get more state funding for awarding more degrees.

Two-year degrees in nursing, allied health fields, mechanics, construction and welding increase earnings significantly. Child care degrees do not.

‘Skill builders’ don’t want degrees

Not all college students want a degree. “Skill builders” use low-cost community colleges to pick up expertise. Once they have what they need — often a raise — they depart, driving up the college’s dropout rate.

About half of recent veterans using the GI Bill will complete a college degree or job training within 10 years, reports a new study. Vets do better in school than adult students who haven’t served in the military.

Easy come, easy go

In the name of access, many community colleges set students up to fail by allowing late enrollment and letting unprepared students take college-level courses, an administrator writes.

A black graduate asks: Why do so few make it?

Jamaal Abdul-alim earned a journalism degree at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Jamaal Abdul-AlimHe returned, writing for the Washington Monthly, to ask why only 19 percent of black students complete a degree in six years, half the rate for the university as a whole. Why did he make it when so many fail?

UWM admits more than 90 percent of applicants, but its graduation rates are low compared to other nonselective universities, he writes. Bowling Green State University in Ohio, which admits 80 percent of students, graduates 50 percent of black students within six years.  Nationally, the black graduation rate is 31.2 percent.

Abdul-alim had one huge advantage over most of his black classmates: “strong familial and financial support.”

 My father . . . worked for Wisconsin Bell . . . From the earliest days of my childhood, I remember my father talking about the need for me to “go further” than he did educationally, how he enrolled in a technical college once but was distracted by wanting to hang out with his buddies in a pool hall in his hometown.

My mother, a woman of Polish descent from Milwaukee’s South Side, investigated insurance claims for Blue Cross Blue Shield. She was always taking me on trips to museums and the like and exposed me to a wide variety of books, such as Manchild in the Promised Land, which she required her only son to read once he started to veer toward trouble in school and in the streets. I had my own desk and shelves full of books for as far back as I can remember. My parents earned enough to invest in a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica for me back when encyclopedia salesmen still went door to door.

Still, his predominantly black high school didn’t demand much of students. He transferred to a predominantly white high school to get a better education, but “couldn’t hack” the rigor and transferred back.

At UWM, he barely passed remedial algebra, then failed college-level algebra three times, before passing an intensive summer course at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).

Math is a significant barrier to black students at UWM, Abdul-alim found. He met a young newspaper reporter who completed a journalism degree — except for the math requirement. While she tries to pass math, she’s starting to make payments on $34,000 in student loan debt.

Weak academic preparation isn’t the only problem, black students told Abdul-alim. Some said they lacked focus, discipline and career goals.

Lester Kern Jr., a dreadlocked 23-year-old psychology major, started in spring of 2008 but was still a junior five years later. “I was partying too much for my first two semesters,” Kern said. “The biggest factor for why I didn’t do well is I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I figured there was no big goal I was working toward so I felt if I messed up, no big deal.”

Abdul-alim decided in high school that he wanted to be a journalist. He worked part-time for the Milwaukee Sentinel, whose editor said he wouldn’t hire him full-time without a bachelor’s degree.

He meets Nick Robinson, a black graduate who’s an architect. The son of an engineer and a court reporter he had “a very strong intellectual base” that others lack, he said. “They don’t understand that concept of, if you want something go get it. They think it’s some mystery. Like it has to work out in the universe. No, you put it in the universe.”

It’s not clear why UWM’s black graduation rate is so much lower than at other nonselective universities. The university is working on improving remedial math, writes Abdul-alim. Academic advising for black students (aka “segregated” advising) has moved to the center of campus. But nobody’s gone to Bowling Green to see how they do it.

Roll-your-own higher ed

Young “heretics” with high-tech skills are Saying No to College, according to the New York Times.

Inspired by billionaire role models, and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick.

Tumblr CEO David Karp dropped out of high school and hopes to “grab 16-year-olds that are going to be brilliant and help them get there,” he tells Tech Crunch. “College isn’t making very good engineers.” Karp’s heroes are Steve Jobs and Willy Wonka.

“Here in Silicon Valley, it’s almost a badge of honor,” said Mick Hagen, 28, who dropped out of Princeton in 2006 and moved to San Francisco, where he started Undrip, a mobile app. He is now recruiting from the undergraduate ranks, he said, which is becoming a trend among other tech companies, too. In his view, dropouts are freethinkers, risk-takers. They have not been tainted by groupthink.

Dropouts can educate themselves without going into debt, says entrepreneur James Altucher, author of 40 Alternatives to College. “I think kids with a five-year head start on equally ambitious peers will be ahead in both education and income,” Altucher told the Times. “They could go to a library, read a book a day, take courses online. There are thousands of ways.”

Most young people are not future high-tech zillionaires, whether they earn a college degree or not. We can’t all be Willy Wonka. But it’s healthy for young people to consider alternatives to a high-debt degree. Or somewhat less debt and no degree.

Young four-year graduates are earning less, while college tuition grows and grows, reports the Fiscal Times.

College dropouts cite costs, poor preparation

Only 46 percent of U.S. students who start college complete a degree, according to the OECD. That’s the lowest rate in the industrialized world. College dropouts blame high costs, poor preparation and the need to balance work and family responsibilities with classes.


Costly dropouts

Federal, state and local taxpayers spend billions of dollars on community college dropouts, I write in U.S. News.

Fewer than 45 percent of college-ready students and just 20 percent of remedial students earn a certificate or degree in four years at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla. That’s “nearly three times the rate” of similar urban community colleges and impressive enough to earn Valencia the first Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, awarded Dec. 12 in Washington, D.C.

In short, even at one of the most successful community colleges, most students don’t complete a certificate or degree.

Back to college? It’s not easy

Twenty percent of working-age adults have some college credits but no degree. persuading college dropouts to try again is a key part of the “completion agenda.” But college can be just as hard the second time around, especially if adults try to take classes designed and scheduled for 18- to 22-year-olds.

President Obama’s 2020 goal — the U.S. will be first in the world in college graduates — requires community colleges to graduate many more students. But state budget cuts will make it very difficult to increase the number of graduates, say most state community college directors. Sixteen states have de facto enrollment caps at community colleges.

B students struggle in college

Illinois’ B students average a C+ at state universities and community colleges. Some graduates with similar GPAs do much better than others in their first year.

Massachusetts colleges and universities are trying to stem the high college dropout rate for graduates of Boston Public Schools.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Fired for criticizing his college’s sexual harassment policy, an adjunct instructor has won a $50,000 settlement.

What to do about unskilled college students

Many college students can’t do math or read well, write Sandra Stotsky and Ze’ev Wurman on Minding the Campus.

Estimates of those needing remedial classes before taking credit courses range from 30% of entering students to 40% of traditional undergraduates. . . .

A 2004 U.S. Department of Education study reports that 42% of freshmen in public two-year institutions need remediation.

. . . More than half of all college students will not earn a degree or credential, according to a 2009 Gates Foundation report drawing on national education statistics. For community college and low-income students, it notes, the numbers are much worse.

What to do? Teaching college skills to college-bound high school students would seem like an obvious answer.  But Stotsky and Wurman fear a push to change college coursework to be doable by the minimally skilled.

The Gates Foundation . . .  faults our post-secondary institutions for not having “responded to their students’ increasingly complex and diverse needs.” One goal of Gates’ Postsecondary Success Initiative is to make both curriculum and instruction at the post-secondary level “more effective and engaging” by integrating technology into instruction, redesigning entire courses, and “contextualizing” these courses “to match students’ field of interest.”  Details are lacking, but this seems to mean that academic degree programs would be versions of programs now offered in vocational technical high schools, the kind of schools these students should have had the opportunity—and encouragement—to enroll in.

Raising high school expectations would not increase the dropout rate, they argue.  Massachusetts, which has the toughest standards in the nation, reduced its dropout rate by 12 percent in 2008, they write.