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Community Colleges

Snapshot Report: Postsecondary Student Mobility Rate: 2011-201

June 27, 2014
By: Nicholas Brock

A new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center examined student mobility rates from 2011-2013. The student-mobility rate is the percentage of students across all levels of study who enrolled in more than one postsecondary institution during an academic year. The report shows that students 20 years or younger accounted for the highest mobility rates, followed by students aged 21 to 24 years old. Furthermore, mobility rates reported were slightly higher among women than men.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Student mobility rates increased from 8.8% in 2010-11 to 9.4% in 2011-12, stabilizing at 9.2% in 2012-13.

  • Just over 9% of all students attended more than one institution during the 2012-13 academic year.

  • Among students whose first 2012-13 enrollment occurred at a community college, 11.5% had also enrolled somewhere else by the end of the academic year.

  • Of all students who attended multiple institutions in 2012-13, nearly 40% moved between 2-year public institutions and 4-year public institutions (in either direction).

Lingerers in the Community College

December 20, 2013
A recent report from the Community College Research Center examines data on first-time college students at nine community colleges including demographics, course enrollment and performance, credential completion, and transfer rates. The report’s analysis is focused on “lingerers,” defined as students who completed 30 or more college-level credits, were still enrolled in their fifth year, but had not yet earned a credential.

Among the report’s findings:
  • Lingerers tended to be roughly similar to credit students (students who were enrolled in developmental education or college-level coursework) and completers in terms of ethnicity, age, and median household.
  • The vast majority of lingerers intended to earn a credential or transfer to a four-year institution, similar to the intentions of completers.
  • Lingerers appeared to be less prepared for college than completers.
    • 83% of lingerers were referred to remedial education, compared to 76% of completers.
    • 10% of lingerers tested as “college-ready,” compared to 17% of completers.
    • Only half of lingerers enrolled as full-time students, compared to 60% of completers.
    • Lingerers failed about 25% of courses in which they enrolled, while completers failed 10% of courses.
  • While lingerers attempted similar numbers of credits compared to completers, they earned many fewer credits than completers.
    • Lingerers earned, on average, 57 credits, while completers earned about 82 credits.

What We Know About Nonacademic Student Supports

September 24, 2013

A recent report from the Community College Research Center summarizes research on nonacademic student supports such as enhanced advising where students meet frequently with their advisors or professors, learning communities where students are enrolled by groups in a set of two or more linked courses, and student success courses (e.g., semester-long specialty classes focused on time management, study skills, test taking). The report breaks down into three sections: Part One: What We Know: About Nonacademic Student Supports; Part Two: Designing a System for Strategic Advising; and Part Three: Success Courses for Sustained Impact.

The research reviewed in the report addresses how student supports can improve student outcomes, how certain nonacademic student support programs are working, how nonacademic student support programs could be improved, and how such programs are working at the community college level.

Baccalaureate Attainment: A National View of the Postsecondary Outcomes of Students Who Transfer from Two-Year to Four-Year Institutions

September 20, 2013

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center recently released a report examining the role of community colleges in helping students earn a bachelor’s degree. The report shows that students who complete a credential at the community college level and then transfer to a four-year institution are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than students who transfer before earning a credential.

Among the report’s findings of students who transferred from a two-year to a four-year institution during the 2005-2006 academic year:

  • More than 60% of students who transferred from community colleges to four-year institutions in 2005-06 obtained degrees at four-year institutions within six years of transfer. Another 8% were still enrolled after six years.
  • About 70% of students transfer to a public four-year university from two-year colleges and 20% transfer to a private nonprofit institution and about 10% transfer to a for-profit institution.
  • Students who enrolled full time after transferring to a four-year institution earned their bachelor’s degree at a much higher rate (83% completed a degree within six years) than those who enrolled part time (25% completed their degrees) or who had mixed enrollment (62% completed their degrees after transfer).
  • Students who started at two-year institutions and transferred graduated at a rate of nearly 74%, while students who started at a four-year institution and transferred to another four-year institution graduated at a rate of just over 63% within eight years of transferring.
  • Bachelor’s degree attainments rates were higher for students who transferred with a two-year degree or certificate (72%) than for those who transferred without a degree (56%).

What Might Ratings-Based Financial Aid Look Like?

September 18, 2013

Last month, President Obama stood before a crowd at the University at Buffalo to propose a new higher education affordability initiative. The plan calls for the U.S. Department of Education to rate colleges prior to the 2014-15 academic year. Then the Department would tie financial aid to those ratings by 2018 – a carrot-and-stick approach to college quality. But we wonder if the Department’s version will really have the teeth to penalize bad actors, and how feasible it really is.

So far, there’s not much information on the White House’s plan. For the most part, all we have to go off of is a White House fact sheet that summarizes the plan. According to the fact sheet,

“Over the next four years, the Department of Education will refine [the ratings], while colleges have an opportunity to improve their performance and ratings. The Administration will seek legislation using this new rating system to transform the way federal aid is awarded to colleges once the ratings are well developed. Students attending high-performing colleges could receive larger Pell Grants and more affordable student loans." [emphasis added]

There are a few items of note here. First, the White House acknowledges that any such effort will require congressional approval. That means that, at least without a sea change in the political environment, this may never come to fruition. But second, and more interestingly, the White House’s examples look at only the “carrot” side of the carrot-and-stick – more available aid for high-performing schools, without any clear punitive measures for poor-performing ones.

Of course, it’s far too early to say what implementation would look like. But it closely resembles an idea that the New America Foundation first published in Rebalancing Resources and Incentives in Federal Student Aid, and which Senior Policy Analyst Stephen Burd dug into deeper in Undermining Pell. Our proposal included both the “carrot” and the “stick” – a Pell bonus for high-performing schools that enroll a larger share of low-income students, and a Pell matching requirement for wealthy schools that divert aid away from low-income students.

The New America Pell Grant bonus differs somewhat from the administration’s. The administration plans to use a ratings system that will likely include a broad range of quality metrics; we would give the bonuses to public and private four-year schools that enrolled large shares of low-income students or to community colleges with strong student outcomes. Our Pell Grant bonus would be double the size of the maximum grant (currently $5,550).

We used data from the Federal Education Budget Project to calculate the costs and estimated the Pell bonuses alone (without the baseline costs of the Pell Grant program at these eligible schools) at $23.6 billion over 10 years for public and private four-year schools and $34.9 billion for community colleges. Those figures include schools that qualified for the proposed bonus based on 2010 data, as well as schools on the cusp of qualifying, which we assume would be willing to work a little harder for a substantial payoff.

At four-year schools, we found that the federal government already disburses $1.2 billion in Pell grant funding to already-qualifying schools,  and another $344 million to the 86 near-qualifiers. That made the math pretty easy – for the additional costs of the program over the baseline, we simply rounded up to provide a conservative estimate, and then counted up 10 years with built-in inflationary increases.

At community colleges, the math was a little trickier. We wanted to use quality metrics, a more simplistic version of those the Department of Education might use under a new rating system. It’s tough to see how community colleges are performing, though, because of limitations in the data. For example, the Department collects graduation rates only for first-time, full-time students, but public two-year colleges serve largely nontraditional students who don’t meet those qualifications. And students who transfer from a two-year to a four-year college without an associate’s degree are only marked as transfers, with no way to track them through the rest of their educational experiences.

Recognizing the data were so prohibitively absent as to keep us from finding a great measure, we calculated a combined graduation-and-transfer rate as a proxy. If the schools had a combined rate of at least 50 percent, they were eligible for a bonus. Many of the schools didn’t have good enough data for us to even arrive at a figure, but of the remaining schools, 262 were eligible, with Pell disbursements totaling $1.5 billion. We found another 120 who were close enough to qualify if they stretched a little further, and added their $1.2 billion in existing Pell money. We rounded up to $3.0 billion to account for missing and not-yet-successful institutions, baked in an inflationary increase, and added up the five- and 10-year costs. Again, those costs are in addition to, not including, the amount of Pell money that already goes to those schools.

Obviously, the New America proposal is not identical – or even similarly oriented – to the White House’s proposal. Ours focused on the needs of low-income students, not the quality of institutions (though with better data on colleges, a stronger focus on quality could be a rising tide that lifts all students).

But our proposal is instructive in a few ways. For one thing, the plan is going to be expensive. New America’s proposal, taken in total, is deficit-neutral, and we made up for the costs of the plan with savings from other proposals. Congress won’t be so lucky, and given the ongoing fiscal debates lawmakers are having, a plan that has one-year costs of upwards of $5 billion won’t be the most popular one. For another, the careful wording in the White House fact sheet means there’s no clear protection against bad behavior, at least in this part of the plan – just an incentive for good behavior. That may arguably be less effective than having both.

Any plan to tie financial aid to ratings is a long way off, and even the ratings system is a few years down the line. By 2018, we’ll have a different president, many different members of Congress, and undoubtedly new approaches to reforming higher education. It remains to be seen whether the plan will be strong enough to survive all that, or whether the 2018 political climate will actually be more amenable to these types of proposals. In the meantime, the New America Foundation will be watching for signs of life with this proposal, as well as the president’s other ideas.

Clearinghouse Data Leave More Questions than Answers, and We Need Answers

August 14, 2013
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Twenty-nine percent of first-time community college students transferred to a four-year college within six years, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse. About 8 in 10 of those transfer students completed a bachelor’s degree or were still enrolled in the four-year school after six years. These are just a few of the interesting and important findings of the report, many of which were previously unknown.

The report, which looked at students who enrolled at a four-year institution for the first time in the 2005-06 academic year and had previously been enrolled in a two-year college, found that 72.5 percent of those students transferred to public colleges, while 19.7 percent enrolled at private nonprofit institutions, and 7.8 percent enrolled at private for-profit schools. The choice of the type of institution to which a student transferred seemed to make a difference in his success. Nearly 65 percent of students who transferred to public four-year schools graduated within six years of transferring, and about 60 percent of students who transferred to private nonprofit schools did. Meanwhile, only about 35 percent of transfer students at private for-profit schools graduated within six years.


At all three types of institutions, students who enrolled full-time graduated at higher rates than students who were enrolled either part-time or who mixed part-time and full-time enrollment while in school.

● At public institutions, 84 percent of full-time students graduated within six years of transferring, while only one in four part-time students did;
● At private nonprofit schools, 79 percent of full-time students graduated within six years, while 31 percent of part-time students did;
● At private for-profit schools, the results weren’t quite as good for the full-time students. Only 57.7 percent of full-time students graduated within six years, while 18.1 percent of part-time students did.

Perhaps most surprising are the aggregate results the Clearinghouse reports. Students who began at two-year colleges and transferred to four-year schools graduated at a higher rate (71.1 percent) than students who attended four-year institutions throughout their academic careers (65.0 percent). But don’t be misled. That number excludes the many community college students who never transfer. Research suggests only about 29 percent of two-year college students transferred to a four-year school, when about half had once stated an intention to transfer – and the Clearinghouse report doesn’t specify its own figures for this category.

The Clearinghouse report offers unique and important insights in answering questions about higher education, like the one addressed in this report: What happens to students who transfer from community colleges? That’s because no one – not even the U.S. Department of Education – has data on higher education as granular as the Clearinghouse data.

The National Student Clearinghouse, originally the National Student Loan Clearinghouse, was developed twenty years ago to help schools track borrowers and that is now used to help schools comply with federal reporting requirements. Schools voluntarily provide the Clearinghouse with extensive student-level data.

But because of a ban passed by Congress in 2008, the Department may not gather student-level data or offer a sort of public Clearinghouse – instead, it only maintains the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which offers a profoundly limited look at aggregate, institution-level data. Because of this limitation, IPEDS is unable to answer some of the most simple and fundamental questions, like what happens to community college students who transfer.

It’s an important question, given that IPEDS shows a graduation rate of only 17.9 percent at two-year schools. That’s because the IPEDS definition doesn’t consider transfers in the graduation rates, despite the fact that community colleges consider transferring students to four-year degree programs one of their primary missions. Without student-level data, there’s no way to give community colleges much-deserved credit for transferring those students -- many of whom, the Clearinghouse report shows, ultimately do complete their degrees.

The data from the Clearinghouse report are interesting, but they’re not enough. We need a public version of the Clearinghouse to answer the other questions important to students and families, researchers, and policymakers. We still don’t know how many community college students wanted to earn a four-year degree and never transferred. We don’t know which specific institutions are helping transfer students graduate and which aren’t serving those populations well. Those, and a whole host of other questions, could—and should—be answered with a national student-level database.

Syllabus: Week of August 5, 2013

August 9, 2013
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Welcome to the Syllabus, a guide that provides insight into what’s happening in higher education.
Katherine Mangan, The Chronicle of Higher Education
On Tuesday the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released the report, Baccalaureate Attainment: A National View of the Postsecondary Outcomes of Students Who Transfer From Two-Year to Four-Year Institutions. Their research shows that students who transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions after having already obtained a credential are obtaining a certificate or associate’s degree and transferring to a four-year institution. In addition, the report indicated that completion rates vary per college type. Those attending public institutions, for example, had a 65 percent completion rate, whereas non-profit institutions had 60 percent, and for-profit institutions had 30 percent of their students completing college. According to a study conducted in North Carolina the economic benefits of obtaining an associate’s degree before transferring to a four-year institution could be $50,000.
Doug Lederman, Inside Higher Ed
The House Education and Workforce Committee recently asked for ideas and advice as it moves to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). Many higher-education membership organizations reported with a wish list of proposals including more spending for key programs (Pell Grants, work study, funds for minority institutions, etc.). Although the number of groups who submitted reauthorization proposals is unclear; however, they did include the American Council on Education on behalf of 40 colleges and accrediting groups, and the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU). According to APSCU’s comments “we all agree that higher education faces critical challenges. These range from cost, access, technology and the skills gap to quality, productivity, accountability, and globalization.” Even though the Education and Workforce committee appears to be gearing up for reauthorization, most experts agree that given Congressional gridlock, HEA probably won’t be reauthorized until the next president is in office.
Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed
College graduates can now add various assessment results that indicate what they learned in college to their job applications. Three non-profit testing agents –Collegiate Learning Assessments, Educational Testing Service (ETS), and ACT Inc. –are using new assessments that were created to help students and institutions track learning outcomes. Not only can the assessments test basic competencies such as soft-skills mathematics, but the testing agencies claim they can also measure mastery of critical thinking, reading, and writing. Additionally, some testing firms provide students the ability to earn an, “Electronic certificate which can be shared with an unlimited number of recipients in academia and beyond,” to prove their various competencies. These certificates are affordable, costing only around $20 per certificate.


Syllabus: Week of July 22, 2013

July 26, 2013
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Welcome to the Syllabus, a guide that provides insight into what’s happening in higher education.
Goldie Blumenstyk, Chronicle of Higher Education
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education released data indicating that more than 150 degree-granting colleges failed the department’s “financial responsibility” test for the 2011 fiscal year. Of those failing colleges, 54 nonprofits and 25 for-profits had scored so low that they are required to post letters of credit in order to continue their participation in federal student aid. The “financial responsibility” test is one of the few available indicators demonstrating the financial health of a college. The scores are calculated by analyzing such factors as a college’s debt, assets, operating surpluses, or deficits.
In recent years, the “financial responsibility” test has come under fire by groups like the National Association of Independent College and Universities (NAICU), claiming that the measure is calculated in an inconsistent and erroneous manner. Frustrated by the Education Department’s refusal to reform the test, NAICU is asking congress to reform the calculation as part of the next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  
Ry Rivard, Inside Higher Ed
After a six-month pilot, San Jose State University has decided to “pause” its work with the online provider Udacity. The university’s provost, Ellen Junn said she will do extensive research on the trial and hopes to begin working with Udacity again in the spring of 2014. Preliminary findings suggested students that participated in Udacity online courses did not fare as well as those students who attended traditional classes. This could be because many of the students enrolled in these courses were at-risk, high school students and students who have failed remedial math courses. Also, the online courses were complied at the last minute, as students were taking them.
San Jose State is also working with edX, which is a nonprofit MOCC provider founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The edX partnership does not replace any programs, but supplements the classroom experience by requiring students to review the material prior to arriving to class. This allows faculty to spend more time in class working with students and less time reviewing materials. Preliminary findings indicate that students participating in the program are exceeding the performance of those students not participating.
Lauren Ingeno, Inside Higher Ed
Many in the nursing community are growing concerned with the approaching retirement of nursing educations from the baby boom era. From top-ranking nursing schools like Johns Hopkins, to community colleges like Cuyahoga, qualified faculty – especially nurse preceptors and those with mater’s and doctoral degrees - are hard to find. This concern will only increase once the Affordable Health Care Act is fully in place, which will increase the amount of insured Americans by 30 million. According to a statement by Cuyahoga Community College, “The demand for nurse educators in the Northeast Ohio region will increase by 11 percent by 2010 and 2015.”
To help deal with the faculty shortage, programs at four-year institutions and community colleges have developed creative solutions to hire and retain new faculty. In some states, public institutions and state governments have gathered to address how the money should be allocated to improve the development of educators in the nursing profession. Other states have provided incentives to their nursing faculty to earn their doctoral degrees while learning how to teach nursing effectively. At the University of West Georgia School of Nursing, Dean Kathryn Grams stated, “We’re willing to target out young students to get them into faculty positions before they’re 35 or 40.”

Syllabus: Week of July 8, 2013

July 12, 2013
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Welcome to the Syllabus, a guide that provides insight into what’s happening in higher education.
By Steve Kolowich, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Colorado State University (CSU)-Global Campus made news last year when it became the first college in the U.S.

Bridging the Higher Education Divide: Strengthening Community Colleges and Restoring the American Dream

June 28, 2013

A recent report from the Century Foundation suggests that two-year colleges are asked to educate high-need students with limited funds to a greater extent than four-year institutions, and  that two-year institutions have become increasingly unequal to their four-year counterparts and more racially and economically stratified.  Approximately 44 percent of the college population attends a community college, but only 11.6 percent of community college students  transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree.  The report recommends strategies for creating an outcomes-based funding structure for higher education that allows for additional financial support based on student need in order to reduce the racial and economic stratification between two and four-year institutions.

 Among the findings:

  • In 2006, high-income students outnumbered low-income students by 14 to 1 in the most competitive four-year institutions, yet low-income students outnumbered high-income students in community colleges by 2 to 1.
    • This marks a substantial change from 1982, when students from the top income quartile made up 24 percent of community college students .
  • In 2006, whites constituted 75% of students and blacks and Latinos together totaled 12% at the most selective four-year institutions, percentages that remained relatively stable over the past ten years. At community colleges, whites accounted for 58% of students (a drop from 73% in 1994) and blacks and Latinos together accounted for 33% (an increase from 21% in 1994). 
  • The report’s primary recommendations to redesign the funding structure for higher education are:
    • Higher education institutions that serve students with the greatest needs and achieve good outcomes in job placement, completion rates, and transfer rates should receive more funding
    • In order to make clear the difference in financial support between four year-institutions and community colleges, the report recommends publicizing the amount of subsidies going to each sector in terms of tax breaks for private donations and tax exemptions for endowment driven income.
    • Strengthen ties between community colleges and four-year institutions to ease student transfer between community colleges and four-year institutions and incentivize four-year institutions to recruit talented low- income students.
    • Bolster funding for early college programs that are able to serve a high number of economically disadvantaged students and that help diversify community colleges that are currently racially or economically homogenous.
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