Posts published in January, 2010

California State University Announces Creative Plan to Increase College Completion

Cal State is the largest senior college system in the USA with 450,000 students on 23 campuses Their 6 year graduation rate is about 46%. California State University is embarking on an ambitious initiative to raise its graduation rates and help more low-income and minority students earn degrees, even as it faces a grim budget. The university is setting a goal of boosting its six-year graduation rate by 8% by 2016, bringing it to 54%, in line with the top national averages at similar institutions. University leaders say they hope to raise graduation rates for underrepresented minority students by 10%, cutting in half what has been a thorny achievement gap in degree completion compared with white students. Be sure to go to the link and look at the specific policies and practices they wil use to increase college completion.

Community Colleges Key To Success of Higher Education

The following was published in Education Week by a Jobs For The Future Writer

The future of higher education may depend on the success of community colleges.

By Vincent Badolato

When President Obama outlined his plans for the American Graduation Initiative, he emphasized the critical role of community colleges in educating and training students and adults for the jobs needed to keep the United States economically competitive.

“Now is the time to build a firmer, stronger foundation for growth that will not only withstand future economic storms, but one that will help us thrive and compete in the global economy,” he said in July at Macomb Community College in Michigan. “It’s time to reform our community colleges so that they provide Americans of all ages a chance to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to compete for the jobs of the future.”

A key goal of his plan is to see an additional 5 million people complete community college—earn a certificate or degree or transfer to a four-year school—during the next 10 years. That will help the country once again lead the world in the proportion of college graduates by 2020, a distinction now held by Canada. The administration is proposing $12 billion in competitive grants to reach that goal and, education officials hope, improve the skills of workers, pull us out of the recession and lay the foundation for economic growth.

The initiative brings a national focus on an educational area that has more often been fodder for disparaging jokes by late-night comics than viewed as a path toward a middle-class job or a four-year degree. But many see the schools as a key way to retrain laid off workers and help them gain skills that will put them back on the job.

“Our community colleges are an integral part of the solution to help get our nation out of the current economic mess,” says Washington Senator Derek Kilmer, who chairs the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. “They are critical for helping us retrain workers and meeting current and emerging employer demands.”

Idaho Senator John Goedde agrees. “The community college is one of our best economic development tools in that it can tailor training programs to suit the needs of industry,” he says. “It provides additional education to working adults in the community or those attempting to gain employment skills.”

The need to retrain and help people get back to work is critical. Unemployment reached 10.2 percent in October and some economists think it may exceed the 10.8 percent the nation hit in 1982—the highest rate since the Great Depression. The number of people unemployed was at 15.7 million in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The economy is changing, national demographics are changing, and in this new and evolving work environment, community colleges will be the driving force behind the future workforce,” says Carol Lincoln, senior program director at MDC, an education and workforce consultancy.

Change in Focus

The original community colleges at the turn of the 20th century focused on a traditional liberal arts education. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that community colleges also began to focus on job training. Then the post-World War II manufacturing boom and the original GI Bill led the Truman Commission to recommend creating a system of public colleges to serve local postsecondary and job training needs.

As baby boomers came of age in the 1960s, community colleges took off. More than 450 schools were founded during that decade. There are now about 1,200 community colleges in the United States, and the number is approximately 1,600 when school branches are included.

Community colleges enroll almost half of all American undergraduates in public institutions—6.5 million, or 46 percent—and about 5 million additional students who take classes for job skills or general educational enrichment but are not seeking a degree or certificate. These numbers are expected to be noticeably higher over the next few years as more people look to gain or improve their work skills. Taken together, community colleges award about 820,000 associate degrees or certificates annually.

Community colleges are traditionally the most affordable schools, with an average price tag of $2,361 a year compared to $6,185 for four-year public research institutions, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. And they almost always admit anyone with a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate.

These features make community colleges the workhorses of higher education. They serve myriad roles, including helping students catch up through developmental, or remedial, classes; preparing students to transfer to four-year institutions; providing specialized workforce and jobs skills training; and teaching English as a second language. They also reach a disproportionate share of nontraditional college students—single parent, low-income, minority, immigrant, part-time, first generation and adult.

Community colleges also educate a large number of workers for vital professions. They are being called on in Michigan, for example, to help train displaced manufacturing workers for new “green jobs,” such as building solar panels and wind turbines. About 80 percent of law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians and almost 60 percent of new nurses and other health-care workers are credentialed at community colleges,

A Proven Success

Obama’s proposed American Graduation Initiative would offer an unprecedented increase in financial support for community colleges. The $12 billion in competitive grants would help them pay for new strategies to help students complete college, offer more programs that improve educational and employment results, improve facilities and create new online courses.

Improving community college completion rates is the most crucial part of this initiative. Close to half of all people who enter community colleges intending to graduate or transfer to a four-year school don’t reach their goal within six years.

“Those who begin at a community college thinking they will complete and then don’t leads to a huge loss of their dollars and state dollars as well,” says Theresa Lubbers, the Indiana commissioner of higher education and a recent senator. “Finding out what has contributed to their not completing—and what works to help them continue through a degree or certificate—is critical.”

The need to vastly improve completion rates at community colleges is echoed by Arkansas Representative Tiffany Rogers, who is also director of continuing education at Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas. “The access to a postsecondary education provided by community colleges is critically important, but providing access does the student or state little good if they aren’t successful,” she says.

Several initiatives in various community colleges throughout the country are trying to help students reach their goals. One that has shown great results is Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count.

The aim of this five-year initiative is to help more students reach their individual goals, which may include earning a community college certificate or degree, attaining a bachelor’s degree or getting a better job.

Achieving the Dream has shown some impressive results so far. States involved have made student success a central part of their strategic plan and developed clear placement and assessment policies for remedial education. The program also rewards behavior—of both institutions and students—for promoting completion rates, and has dramatically increased data systems, allowing states to provide standardized and customized reports to the institutions to better inform policy and practice.

Challenge for States

While there is incredible potential for community colleges to help the nation meet college completion and workforce development needs, many challenges remain.

One of the most significant is improving the way remedial education classes are structured to help students finish more quickly and to reduce the need for them altogether. These classes can not only be expensive on a large scale, they also tend to discourage students from finishing college. The more of these classes students have to take, the less likely they are to get a degree or certificate.

“Unfortunately, it is not completely clear what really works to improve developmental education,” says Richard Kazis, senior vice president at Jobs for the Future. “Legislatures need to take the lead to make this is a priority.”

One step legislatures can take is to set a public goal to increase the number of students who successfully complete remedial classes and go on to finish a degree. Lawmakers can provide incentives and hold institutions accountable for reaching that goal.

State budget difficulties make all this more challenging. Community colleges rely on state and local appropriations for about 60 percent of their funding to keep them intentionally less expensive for students. As such, community colleges are heavily affected by cuts in state and local support.

“Decisions made at the state level have ramifications for community colleges,” says Washington’s Kilmer. “There is a real need for legislatures to discover and support policies that can lead to better student success rates.”

Demand to attend community colleges is rising quickly during this recession while funding has dropped and looks likely to drop more in the coming years. This has caused many institutions and systems around the nation to cap enrollments to ensure they adequately support the tide of new applicants.

Miami Dade College in Florida, the largest community college in the nation, has capped enrollments for the first time in its history. And in California, the nation’s largest system, $840 million in budget cuts has led to longer lines, fewer classes and higher student fees.

Advocates of community colleges, however, say it is

Slight Increase In Male College Graduation Rates

More men are attending college and graduating with a bachelor’s degree, reversing the tendency of females to outnumber and outperform men, according to an American Council on Education report. One notable exception is young Hispanic men, who are falling further behind Hispanic women. Men account for 43% of overall college enrollment and earn 43% of bachelor’s degrees. However, men are much less likely than women to go to college – or return to college – later in life: Undergraduate men age 25 or older are outnumbered by women in the same age group 2-to-1.

College Costs Major Concern Of Students

Financial concerns, from paying for college to job prospects, dominated the new-student experience in 2009, according to an annual survey on freshman attitudes. Some of the students’ concerns were driven by family finances. Another possible effect of the economic downturn was the change in the number of students who reported that they would pursue either majors or careers in business. When it comes to their studies, about 39% of freshmen said they would need tutoring or remedial courses while in college.

College Research Writing Is Not Part Of Most Secondary School Preparation

In this post, Will Fitzhugh, editor of The Concord Review, explains why it is important for high school students to write research papers. The review is believed to be the world’s only English-language quarterly review for history academic papers by high school students.

By Will Fitzhugh

Professors E.D. Hirsch, Jr., and Daniel Willingham of the University of Virginia have continually, and most usefully, pointed out that tests of reading are really tests of knowledge.

They have also campaigned, somewhat quixotically, to encourage educators and “literacy pundits” to recognize that knowledge has a lot more to do with whether students can understand what they read than does their heavy-laden toolbelt of gimmicks and techniques to teach “literacy skills.”

Indeed, one major literacy study and report recently pointed out, in an aside, that the idea that reading books will do a lot for the literacy of students is sadly misguided. What students need, it was felt, is lots more technique and process classes, K-12, on “finding the main idea,” “identifying the author’s audience,” and all like that there.

I would argue to the contrary.

Not only does reading books contribute powerfully to the knowledge that students need in order to read more and more difficult material (such as they should face in high school and will certainly face in college), but, also, the work of writing a serious research paper will lead students to do a lot more reading and to gather a lot of knowledge in the process.

A study done for The Concord Review Institute some years ago found that the majority of U.S. public high school teachers no longer assign serious research papers, because teachers do not have the time (or perhaps the knowledge) to guide students through them and to assess them when they are handed in.

It is clear that working with students on term papers would be less time-consuming than layup drills for basketball, tackling drills for football and batting practice for baseball, to which countless hours of students and coaches are devoted every year on a regular basis.

But as long as educators do not see that writing serious term papers will lead to more knowledge, which leads students to read better and understand more, such papers will continue to receive the small notice they now do.

The California State College System people, at a conference last November, reported that 47% of their freshmen are in remedial English classes, just one bit of evidence that those students have not done the serious reading and writing or acquired the knowledge they should have to get ready for college work.

There are those who say that high school students are really not capable of writing serious research papers—and one student even told me that at her school the assumption was that students would learn to write in college—but they are quite mistaken, as it turns out.

This view, when made known to college professors, does not make them happy. A Chronicle of Higher Education poll a few years ago found that 89% of college professors reported that the students they were getting were not very well prepared in reading, doing research, and writing.

Since 1987, I have published 879 history research papers (averaging 5,500 words, with endnotes and bibliography) in 80 quarterly issues, by high school students from 44 states and 36 other countries. Samples of this exemplary work may be found here.

As has so often been reported, and as famed teacher Jaime Escalante used to say, students will rise to the level of the academic expectations we give them. And this is true for serious term papers as well as for history books, calculus, science, foreign languages and the rest.

I hope that those who have written so convincingly of the need for students to have more knowledge in order to be able to understand what they are reading, will come to agree with me that in the process of writing serious term papers students are very likely to gain some of that knowledge, as they read and work on their own to produce informative and readable essays of the sort I have published over the last 20 years or so.



“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]

Varsity Academics®

Teachers Do Not See College Preparation As A Top Priority

While students and parents view college preparation as the main purpose of high school, most teachers disagree and rank mastery of subject areas and life skills as more important. This is one of the key findings from Deloitte 2009 Education Survey Overview: Refining High School as a Launch Pad, which was published late last year.
“What parents and students surveyed want from high school is at odds with what we’ve been asking our high schools to do for close to 100 years,” said Barry Salzberg, chief executive officer at Deloitte LLP and newly appointed chairman of the College Summit. “Redefining the mission of high school is an important next step for building a 21st Century workforce.”


Of the 401 U.S. high school teachers, counselors, and administrators surveyed, only 9 percent think their primary mission is to prepare students for success in college. These results are in stark contrast with parents’ and students’ expectations.  Deloitte found that 48 percent of the 601 U.S. low-income students and 42 percent of the 400 U.S. low-income parents surveyed say college preparation is the single most important purpose behind a secondary education.

Flagship Public Universities Stay Mostly White and Wealthy

Many public research universities programs designed to increase representation of students from low-income backgrounds and underrepresented minority groups have made little progress, according to an Education Trust report. The report acknowledged the efforts have resulted in notable changes in the proportion of financial aid that the institutions direct to needier students. But countervailing pressures have led them to continue to spend millions of dollars on students with no financial need. The report singles out several institutions for their positive results and progress.

Should All Students Take A College Prep Curriculum? Evidence From Chicago Indicates Little Positive Impact

College Prep for All?  What We’ve Learned in Chicago

Guest Blog:

Christopher Mazzeo
Associate Director of Policy and Outreach, Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR)

As state policymakers seek to improve the rigor of the high school curriculum and enhance student preparation for college, many have turned to increasing course requirements in core academic high school subjects.  About 20 states now require all students to take some version of what is called a “default curriculum” to graduate.  This approach to increasing curriculum rigor and college readiness in high schools seems,
at first glance, to make a lot of sense.   Existing research has shown
that students who take high-level course sequences learn more in high school and are more likely to attend and perform better in college than students who do not take these classes.  However, the existing research cannot actually tell us whether changing course requirements per se is what lead to these improved outcomes for students.  This is because previous studies do not fully correct for selection bias: that is the students who choose to take high-level classes are often the most motivated and high-achieving students in their schools, and the schools that offer advanced these courses to many students are those with the capacity to teach those courses and are often college-oriented in other ways.

To inform state and district curriculum policies, and to address some of these limitations of the previous research, colleagues of mine at the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) and the University of Michigan have recently published a study in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (EEPA) that examines a 1997 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) policy that ended remedial classes and mandated college-preparatory coursework for all students in four subject areas: English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. The study examines the consequences of the curriculum policy change by comparing outcomes for cohorts of students who attended the same Chicago high schools before and after policy implementation in two ninth grade courses: Algebra I and English I.
What the authors found is sobering to say the least.  The new policy did reduce inequities in ninth grade coursework by entering skill-level, race and ethnicity, and special education status. It also led to slight increases in high school graduation for the lowest skilled students.
However, the policy had NO effects on the major outcomes curriculum reforms generally seek to impact.  Test scores in these classes did not rise, students were no more likely to take advanced mathematics classes beyond Algebra II, nor any more likely to attend college.  Moreover, the policy change produced a number of adverse unintended consequences: math grades declined, math failures increased and absenteeism rose among average and higher skilled students.

The findings of this study have important implications for policymakers looking to implement default curriculum or other course taking requirements in their states.  While reforms like these can have valuable equity benefits, they are not likely to work without significant and complementary efforts to build the capacity of schools and educators to make improvements in the quality high school instruction.  In particular, the study suggests that curriculum reforms
must start by solving the problem of engaging students in coursework.
Student academic behaviors (e.g. attendance, studying) in their classes are more predictive of student success in high school than any other factors, including incoming skill levels.  Without improved engagement, the promise of these well-meaning state reforms are likely to go unrealized.

State High School Accountability Systems Ignore College Readiness and Success

Last blog featured an Education Sector report on the mismatch between high school accountability criteria and college readiness. Here is an excerpt from the report that provides more details.

Using Outcomes Data to Hold High Schools Accountable for Student Success
Chad Aldeman
Publication Date:
January 12, 2010
Read more about
High School Reform

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Click image to download a PDF of the report

According to the Florida Department of Education, Manatee High School was not a place parents should have wanted to send their children in 2006. The Bradenton-based school received a “D” rating on the state’s A–F scale of academic performance that year while failing to meet federal No Child Left Behind proficiency standards for the fourth year in a row. At the same time, Boca Raton Community High School was flying high, having just earned its second straight “A” rating and being named among the best high schools in the country by Newsweek magazine.

But while Manatee got dismal marks from state and federal accountability schemes, it was actually quite successful in a number of important ways. It graduated a higher percentage of its students than Boca Raton and sent almost the same percentage of its graduates off to college. Once they arrived on college campuses, Manatee graduates earned higher grades and fewer of them failed remedial, not-for-credit math and English courses than their Boca Raton peers.

In other words, D-rated Manatee was arguably doing a better job at achieving the ultimate goal of high school: preparing students to succeed in college and careers. But because Florida’s accountability systems didn’t measure college and career success in 2006, nobody knew.

The goal of helping all students become college- and career-ready has become a focal point of American education. In announcing the guidelines for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund in late 2009, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for states to ensure that “students exiting one level are prepared for success, without remediation, in the next.” This reflects a larger recent movement to improve high schools, one that has led states to adopt more rigorous academic standards, increase graduation requirements, and improve access to advanced courses.

But most high school accountability systems are lagging behind, failing to recognize college- and career-ready goals. Most high schools are rated on only two measures: graduation rates and student scores on basic skills tests given in a single year (usually ninth or 10th grade). While some states have added end-of-course or graduation exams as accountability measures, those exams have been plagued by lawsuits in some states and devalued by near-universal pass rates, after counting re-takes and alternate routes, in others.

Fortunately, a growing number of states have the tools to do better. Florida, Oregon, and Ohio are among states that have built powerful new data systems that track student progress after high school into the work force and college, allowing vital information to flow between K–12, higher education, and work-force information systems. While few states have all the components in place, many have some. Sixteen states are already publicly reporting the college remediation needs of public high school graduates. They have the ability to calculate the percentage of students in a specific high schools’ graduating class who are in need of remedial coursework in college, who drop out of college, who earn successful grade point averages in their freshman year, and much more. States can also calculate the earnings of graduates who enter the work force, broken down by occupation and industry sector.

States can use these new data systems to create richer, more accurate, more multi-dimensional measures of high school success. Congress has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in state data systems in recent years—$245 million in federal 2009 stimulus funds were set aside for this purpose alone. Now, as federal lawmakers consider reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, they have the opportunity to use the dividends of that investment to solve one of the most vexing problems in K–12 policy: how to hold high schools accountable for preparing students to succeed in college and careers. …

Download the report College- and Career-Ready: Using Outcomes Data to Hold High Schools Accountable for Student Success.

Watch the video presentation of College- and Career-Ready.

Related Work

  • Related Materials
    • A Video Presentation of “College- and Career-Ready”
  • Research and Reports
    • Measured Progress: A Report on the High School Reform Movement
  • Related Issues
    • K-12 Accountability Systems/NCLB
    • High School Reform

Education Sector Report Links High School Accountability To College Readiness And Success

Washington, D.C.—The goal of helping all students become college- and career-ready has become a focal point for U.S. schools and has led to a recent movement to improve high schools. But determining how to measure that goal is a challenge, with most accountability systems failing to recognize how well high schools are preparing students for future success.

In a new Education Sector report, College- and Career-Ready: Using Outcomes Data to Hold High Schools Accountable for Student Success, author Chad Aldeman calls for a new approach to high school accountability. He argues that the best way to measure whether students are prepared for college or a career is by looking at what actually happens when students arrive at their intended destination. Do they go to college, and, once there, do they need to take remedial courses? Do their grades reflect an ability to do college-level work? If they don’t go to college, are they able to find gainful employment?

In recent years, states have adopted more rigorous academic standards, increased graduation requirements, and improved access to advanced courses. Yet accountability systems are lagging far behind. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB), for example, most high schools are rated on only two measures: graduation rates and student scores on basic skills tests given in a single year (usually ninth or 10th grade).

“Tests and other proxy measures can offer only a limited snapshot of what students know and can do,” Aldeman notes. As a result, high schools that meet NCLB accountability measures do not always graduate students who are ready to succeed.

The report cites examples of schools that did make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) under NCLB, yet whose students were not successful in college. At the same time, other schools that did not make AYP nonetheless graduated students who were prepared for college—earning good grades and successfully completing their first year.

Many states already have the tools to do a better job of measuring college- and career-readiness. “Florida, Oregon, and Ohio are among states that have built powerful new data systems that track student progress after high school into the work force and college, allowing vital information to flow between K–12, higher education, and work-force information systems,” Aldeman says.

The report offers suggestions on ways states could use existing data systems to create richer, more multi-dimensional measures of high school success.