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.

Support raises remedial students’ grad rates

ASAPASAP students at Bronx Community College

With intensive advising, tutoring and financial assistance, poorly prepared low-income community college students nearly doubled their graduation rate, concludes a study on Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP).

The City University of New York program cost $16,300 more per student. However, the cost per graduate was lower after three years, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. ASAP participants also were more likely to transfer and earned more credits than the control group.

Forty percent of the students in the study graduated within three years, compared with 22 percent in the control group. Nationwide, only about 15 percent of community-college students who start out in remedial education earn a degree or certificate within three years, the report notes.

While 60 percent of community college students are part-timers, ASAP requires full-time enrollment. Most participants are young, living at home with parents, single and childless.

ASAP provides three years of financial aid, including a tuition waiver, free textbooks and a free bus pass.

They are required to meet frequently with advisers whose initial caseloads (60 to 80 students per adviser) are much smaller than the typical caseload of 600 to 1,500 students at CUNY’s two-year institutions. The program also includes mandatory tutoring, career advising, and seminars on topics like study skills and goal setting. Students can register for courses early, which helps them get into classes they need to graduate on time, and they can enroll in blocked or linked classes with other ASAP students in their first year.

Priority registration is a huge benefit, writes Michael Feldstein. But CUNY plans to expand ASAP from 1 percent of incoming students to 19 percent. It will be harder for ASAP students to get into classes at convenient times. And what about the students who also need those classes but can’t afford to enroll full-time?

Several Ohio community colleges also are trying ASAP.

Should high schools pay for remediation?

Tennessee high schools would have to pay for recent graduates who require remedial courses in community colleges under a proposed bill, reports the Times Free Press.

Seventy percent of new community college students are placed into at least one remedial class, according to state estimates. Last year, the remediation bill totaled $18.45 million.