Apprentices train for white-collar jobs

Apprenticeships aren’t just for future plumbers, writes Hechinger’s Matt Krupnick. Community colleges are partnering with employers to create apprenticeships to fill white-collar jobs.

At Illinois’ Harper College, a community college just northwest of Chicago, Switzerland-based Zurich Insurance asked educators to try a Swiss-style apprenticeship program to train more claims adjusters and other workers for its Chicago-area offices. Zurich pays tuition and other expenses for each student, and each spends three days a week getting paid to work at the insurance company and two days in the classroom.

. . . The program lasts two years, after which the graduates have an associate degree in business administration with insurance industry certificates.

More than 150 people applied for the first 24 spots.

After two years, they’ll earn an associate degree in business administration with insurance industry certification. They’ll also have two years of job experience.

Harper College's insurance apprenticeship students.

Some of Harper College’s insurance apprenticeship students.

Even academic courses, such as English and math, are focused on skills relevant to the insurance industry. Students don’t read Shakespeare, writes Krupnick. They learn technical writing.

The Department of Labor, which certifies apprenticeship programs, is slow keeping up with the times, writes Krupnick. Its list “includes accordion-making and pneumatic tube repair apprenticeships among more than 1,200 apprenticeship-friendly professions, for example, but not yet cybersecurity.”

New America will analyze how to expand high-quality high school apprenticeships, writes Mary Alice McCarthy. “Our young people need options other than just enrolling in college and hoping they beat the odds.”

Undocumented use Chicago’s free college plan

Cleon Gargantiel and Dannel Owen Gargantiel register for the Star Scholarship at Wells Community Academy High School with the help of Michael Jones of City Colleges of Chicago at a December 2014 information session as their father, Serafin Gargantiel Jr. (right), looks on.Cleon and Dannel Gargantiel register for the Star Scholarship at their Chicago high school as their father looks on. Photo: Michelle Kanaar

Undocumented students are the biggest beneficiaries of Chicago’s “free college” program, the Chicago Reporter has found. The Star Scholarship, which pays for two years of tuition, fees and books at City Colleges of Chicago, is open to academically qualified (B average) students with financial need.

In the first year, a majority of Star Scholars didn’t receive a free ride because their costs were covered by federal and state financial aid. Of those who did get a free ride, 56 percent were undocumented immigrants, who often skip college because they’re not eligible for aid. The rest came from families who earned too much for federal aid, but not enough to afford college costs.

This has given so many of our students the opportunity to go to college when they wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” said Alan Mather, chief of college and career success for Chicago Public Schools.

The Star Scholarship “has definitely become a big conversation and option for our kids,” said Karen Devine, lead counselor at Taft High School, which had 61 Star Scholars. More than a third did not qualify for financial aid because of family income.

Also from my hometown: Enrollment has fallen sharply at Chicago State University; there are only 86 students in the freshman class. No doubt that’s because the “college dropout factory” has a graduation rate of only 11 percent.

Surely, it’s time to close Chicago State. The City College system, now focused on “structured pathways” to a career or a four-year degree, serves similarly underprepared students more effectively.

Two girls, different futures

As a 12th grader, Guadalupe Acevedo started thinking about college, but learned she qualifies only for community college. Photo: Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times

Lizbeth Ledesma and Guadalupe Acevedo grew up in low-income, immigrant families in Los Angeles, but their college futures are very different, write Joy Resmovits and Sonali Kohli in the Los Angeles Times.

A straight-A student in public school, Lizbeth earned a scholarship to Chadwick, a private school, in ninth grade. She pushed herself to meet higher academic standards. By 10th grade, expert counselors were helping her plan for college. A counselor helped her get a full scholarship to Babson College, near Boston, her first-choice school.

Lizbeth Ledesma meets with her colleague counselor, Beth Akers, at her private school.

Lizbeth Ledesma discusses college plans with counselor Alicia Valencia at Chadwick, a private school.

At Roosevelt High, a Los Angeles Unified campus in a low-income neighborhood, Guadalupe didn’t think seriously about college till her senior year. Even then, “I was so lost. I didn’t know how college worked.”

California students must complete a college-prep sequence of courses with C’s or better — and an overall B average — to qualify for a state university. Guadalupe realized too late she qualified only for community college.

She’ll start at East Los Angeles College and “hopes to transfer to USC, where she wants to take dance and Chicano studies and be a cheerleader,” reports the Times. (And ride a purple unicorn.)

Someone who earned mediocre (or worse) grades in low-level classes at a not-very-demanding high school is almost certain to be placed in remedial classes in community college. Most remedial students drop out in their first year, sometimes in their first few weeks.

Guadalupe could work hard and beat the odds. But her USC dreams show she’s still not getting useful advice.

It’s easy to graduate college students — by cheating

Community college leaders want more students, more graduates and more money, a professor tells  Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews. More doesn’t always mean more learning, says “Nancy.”

While 85 percent of new students say they want a four-year college degree, only 15 percent will earn one in six years, writes Mathews. Colleges are trying to lower the dropout rate by creating special courses for first-year students.

At Nancy’s college, faculty chose “a textbook that would help students look at reasons why so many classmates skipped class and didn’t complete assignments. They also asked the students to write about their college experiences.”

A new supervisor told instructors to “eliminate the writing assignments and choose a different textbook,” Nancy said.

The seminar instructors were told: “Our current ninth-grade reading level textbook is too difficult for our incoming students. Make the course have a 100 percent pass rate, no matter what,” Nancy said. She said this last bit of advice eliminates the usefulness of the course as a tool for helping students adjust to college expectations and reduces it to social promotion.

The instructors were told to “make the course more tangible,” she said. “Students like practical advice, like how to register for classes. They don’t like introspection and they should not have to write.”

Some community colleges are placing fewer new students in remedial classes. Instead, unprepared students are allowed to take college-level courses with access to remedial help.

Colleges have a financial incentive to lower standards, Nancy said. They fear that colleges with very low graduation rates may lose eligibility for federal student aid.  “It is difficult to achieve a higher graduation rate honestly, and it is relatively easy to cheat, or at least to bend the rules.”

Here’s who can’t repay student loans

To the extent there is a college debt crisis, “it is concentrated among borrowers from for-profit schools and, to a lesser extent, two-year institutions,” concludes a Brookings paper.

Why?  Students who choose for-profit colleges and community colleges disproportionately are less-prepared students from lower-income families. The weakest students gain the smallest benefit from enrolling in college. Even a small loan is hard to repay.

“Colleges with lower standards offer a way to get a degree without being very bright, writes FuturePundit. It’s not surprising that “students who to go the low IQ colleges default at much higher rates.

He adds: “Kids who aren’t too bright are being economically harmed by delaying work to go to colleges where they won’t learn anything useful.”

‘Free’ college may not lead to more degrees

President Obama has called for guaranteeing two years of tuition-free higher education to all Americans. That will raise enrollment, writes Adela Soliz, a Brookings researcher. But free college won’t lead to more degrees unless it’s linked to performance, she predicts.

Soliz suggests using “financial aid dollars to reward students for earning a particular GPA, completing a certain number of credits, or demonstrating other behaviors that may increase student persistence and completion, such as meeting regularly with an advisor.”

Community college already is affordable, writes Jack Soloway on Reason‘s Hit & Run. Subsidizing tuition will incentivize colleges to raise tuition; quality-control measures will require more compliance staffers.

Colleges asks: How much math?

Math is the largest barrier to high school and college graduation for Washington students, reports Katherine Long for the Seattle Times. Now community colleges are lowering math requirements and redesigning remedial math to help more student earn a degree.

Students who are studying to become nurses, social workers, early-childhood educators or carpenters may never use intermediate algebra, much less calculus. Yet for years, community colleges have used a one-size-fits-all math approach that’s heavy on algebra and preps students for calculus.

. . . Some colleges . . .  have started to offer a math sequence that focuses on statistics, and persuaded the state’s four-year colleges to accept it as a college math credit. Others are offering a learn-at-your-own-pace approach.

Seattle Central is using Statway, a remedial math alternative developed by the Carnegie Foundation. By the third year, 84 percent of students passed the three-course series, which includes college credit in statistics. That year, only 15 percent of remedial students completed one quarter of college math by the end of one year.

Statway credits transfer to all of the state’s public four-year universities, though only on a trial basis at University of Washington. Janice DeCosmo, a UW associate dean,  warns Statway “can limit students’ career choices because it doesn’t prepare them to take calculus,” writes Long.

Learning statistics enables students to “interpret the world around them,” argues Paul Verschueren, a Statway instructor.

Other community colleges are using the “emporium” approach to remedial math. At Big Bend Community College, instructors record short video mini-lessons on math topics. “Students watch the videos, then test their understanding, entering answers in a computer program that gives them immediate feedback,” writes Long.

Students progress at their own pace.

Democrats unveil ‘free college’ bill

Community college would be tuition-free for two years under a bill introduced by congressional Democrats, reports Colleen Murphy in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The America’s College Promise Act of 2015 also promises to help cover the costs of a four-year degree at minority-serving institutions.

With a $90-billion price tag over 10 years for the federal government, the measure is about $30 billion more expensive than President Obama’s free community college proposal, writes Murphy. States would pay a quarter of the program’s costs.

Sixty representatives and 10 senators — all Democrats — sponsored the measure. With no Republican support, it has little chance of passing.

Nationwide, community college tuition averages $3,800 for a full-time student. In some states, low-income students pay nothing.

Under the bill, students at community colleges and minority-serving institutions could use federal Pell Grants to cover books, child care, rent, food and other living expenses. They’d have to make “satisfactory academic progress.”

Lowering already-low tuitions at community colleges “would encourage the neediest students to enroll at the lowest-funded colleges with the lowest graduation rates,” I wrote in U.S. News. Most “minority-serving” colleges also are poorly resourced and have very low graduation rates.

Few graduate at ‘cafeteria colleges’

Easy come, easy go is the reality at community colleges, writes Meredith Kolodner in the Hechinger Report. Only 39 percent of degree-seeking students earn a credential within six years. A quarter of fall enrollees are gone by spring.

The “cafeteria college” — take whatever courses you fancy — isn’t serving students’ needs, argues Tom Bailey, who runs the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia.

Without college-educated parents to guide them — and good luck getting time with a college counselor — many community college students pick courses that won’t help them reach their goals. They get frustrated and drop out. Or they transfer and learn that their credits won’t be counted.

In Redesigning America’s Community Colleges, Bailey and colleagues Shanna Smith Jaggers and Davis Jenkins argue for creating pathways to a degree.

The “defined pathway” that we’re talking about would create a default program, which would lay out semester by semester the courses a student needs to complete a degree.

It provides an easier way to understand sequence of courses. If you want to take other courses you can, but then you have to talk to somebody about that. It has to be part of a plan.

Some colleges offer “nine or 10 meta majors,” says Bailey. “You might not know you want to be a nurse, but you’re interested in the medical field. Or business. There are some basic courses in those fields that everybody takes. They don’t need to specialize that much.”

President Obama’s plan to make community college free won’t raise the graduation rate unless it’s combined with other reforms, says Bailey. “Financial burdens do prevent students from continuing, but I think the evidence about whether that alone will do it is much weaker.”

Remediation + job training = success

Jason Broad and Yalchen Abdulkhaliq work on making a scissors clamp in the machine shop during a class at Shoreline Community College. Machining requires students to have a solid understanding of algebra, calculus and trigonometry. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)
Jason Broad and Yalchen Abdulkhaliq make a scissors clamp in the machine shop at Shoreline Community College, where they’re also learning algebra. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

When community college students have to pass remedial math before taking college-level courses, most give up, writes Katherine Long in the Seattle TimesTeaching basic skills with job training has raised success rates at Washington state community colleges.

The grinding sound of metal on metal filtered through the walls of Chris Lindberg’s math class at Shoreline Community College, but his students had no trouble tuning out the noise.

“We’ve got a 10-inch-diameter grinding wheel, and it’s turning at 1,910 revolutions per minute,” Lindberg said, jotting the numbers on a whiteboard. “What is the surface speed?”

Students will use their new algebra skills in the shop next door, “setting up complex lathes and milling machines, each the size of a small SUV,” writes Long.

Shelley Campbell measures a part she made for a final exam in her I-BEST machine shop class at Shoreline Community College. (Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS)

Shelley Campbell measures a part she made in her I-BEST machine shop class at Shoreline Community College. (Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS)

I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) students “are nine times as likely to earn a workforce credential as students who follow the traditional path of taking remedial classes first,” she reports.

Troy Briones, who struggled with math in high school, served in the Army artillery. Now 25, he’s training to be a machinist. “Math is everything in machining,” he said. “The best part of the program is it’s very hands-on. As soon as the lecture ends, you go straight into the lab and try it … the instructors are with you every step of the way.”

Shelley Campbell, 53, is retraining after being laid off by Boeing.

Students can earn a basic manufacturing certificate in one quarter, preparing them for an entry-level job, or go longer to master higher-level skills. Machinists start at $15 to $35 per hour.

In Building paths to the middle class, the American Enterprise Institute looks at four high-quality career tech programs in high school and community college.