November 24, 2010

Community College Buzz

Five of us from PCCC presented at the Two Year College Association conference in Washington DC this month.

What were the topics that were trending there in the presentations and conversations?

  Enrollment continues to surge at the state's public colleges and universities, thanks to a population bulge and a poor economy that has served as a catalyst for some to return to school. At Passaic County Community College enrollment has topped 10,000 as a 20-year growth trend continues. The number is 9 percent higher than last September.

BUZZ #2  WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT and TRAINING   The community college growth is fueled, in part, by people looking to retrain for new careers in a tough economy. But it also reflects cost-conscious students who opt for bargain rates during their first two years of college.

BUZZ #3  DEVELOPMENTAL EDUCATION   Record numbers of students are arriving on community college campuses this fall, but Education Week says that a majority of them—nearly 60 percent—aren’t academically prepared to handle the classwork.Call it developmental, basic skills or remedial, 3 out of every 5 community college students need at least one remedial course, and fewer than 25 percent of those students successfully earn a degree within eight years, according to the National Education Longitudinal Study. Colleges are having to look at ways to address the problems and lower the $2 billion-and-rising annual cost for remedial education.

   The Obama administration has put a lot of money and attention towards community colleges. But two things that the administration wants to see improved are the the amount of time it takes to get a "two year" college degree, and the number of students who actually make it to a degree.

Some colleges are looking at where those concerns cross. For example, developmental education and graduation rates are connected. You can improve graduation rates if you use admissions standards. Don't let in the weakest students, and you will certainly increase your graduation rates in a few years. (Of course, you could also lower your standards and let more students get by, but that has pretty limited appeal to everyone from the federal government to employers.)

One counter-intuitive trend in dealing with these students is to push them through remedial work faster. (It reminds me of how ADHD patients are given drugs that speed up their system, when you might expect they needed something to slow them down.) Computer software that personalizes remediation and monitors it, more frequent class sessions and longer classes are all part of these programs. Early-intervention systems that identifies students who are failing and falling behind and can then provide support before they drop out are a hot trend. Grouping students into learning communities is another approach. These cohort communities move through developmental education together and then co-enroll in their first college-credit courses the next semester.

Cross-posted from Serendipity35

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