Posts published in July, 2010

A Call For Reform Of Historically Black Colleges

 This article by Harvard’s John Fitzgerald Gates was published in the Atlanta Journal on July 15. It discusses concerns about a vital sector of the USA college system.

The current debate around the relevancy of historically black colleges (HBCUs) is at least as old as the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal” educational systems are inherently unequal.

The data and experiences of countless HBCU alumni like me tell a much different story: HBCUs play an invaluable role in educating often underprepared students successfully, and without HBCUs, the hopes and dreams of thousands of capable African-Americans would go unrealized.

While HBCUs enroll only 15 percent of African-American collegians, they award 30 percent of all degrees obtained by African-Americans. Hence the relevancy of HBCUs is unassailable. But we can ill afford to leave the debate there.

Today, like never before, colleges and universities must compete for students, faculty, money and public recognition. HBCUs are in a position to reaffirm their significance by graduating a preponderance of their students, distinguishing themselves academically and ensuring that they are expertly managed.

For many reasons, including historic underresourcing, HBCUs are challenged to deliver the sort of outcomes required in our changing and more demanding society. The debate does not move either them or our nation forward. Rather, it is time to ask whether HBCUs are sufficiently self-critical and adaptive to transform into the institutions they will have to become if they are to be sustainable.

Self-critical institutions intentionally adjust their thinking and behaviors based on examined awareness of their own missions and outcomes. They seek self-improvement.

Given their long-standing mission to educate underprepared students, HBCUs should be at the forefront of curricula, teaching and student-advising innovations.

Given their century and a half of underfunding and having to do more with less, HBCUs should be leaders in institutional efficiency, cost-sharing and partnerships.

And given their reliance on public funding, HBCUs should be experts at garnering federal support for their initiatives.

But none of these is so. HBCUs must challenge themselves to achieve higher levels of excellence and sustained outcomes by transforming their self-understandings.

To transform institutional self-understandings requires placing what we think we know under critical scrutiny. To improve their outcomes, HBCUs will have to undertake a process of critical self-reflection in which their institutional stories, myths and assumptions are laid aside in a search for truth.

Fundamental questions about institutional effectiveness will have to be addressed in order to develop accurate knowledge about their strengths and weakness.

And then HBCUs will have to take self-corrective action. These measures are all internal to institutions and require internal leadership, but President Barack Obama recently gave HBCUs a much-needed lift.

In an unprecedented acknowledgment of the importance of HBCUs, Obama has ordered that every agency within the federal government actively seek out opportunities for HBCUs to participate in federal programs.

Importantly, the president did not call for affirmative action for HBCUs. He called for the engagement of HBCUs, which will be based on their merits.

The problem is that many HBCUs are ill-equipped to be full participants in solving the nation’s problems or helping it reach the president’s educational goal for America to have the most educated citizenry in the world in next decade.

Many HBCUs have neither the internal managerial capacity nor institutional outcomes necessary to take full advantage of the president’s mandate, which should be a wake-up call to all of us who value HBCUs that their sustainability rests in great measure on how well they are managed to achieve their aims.

Some HBCUs stand out as models not just among other HBCUs but among institutions nationally for their insightfulness.

For instance, Spelman College has long been the envy of HBCUs for garnering private donations and public support, for enrolling well-prepared students, for being a leader in student success and for having the highest graduation rate among all HBCUs.

But Spelman did not get there without a persistent effort. Under the leadership of President Beverly Daniel Tatum, Spelman has done and continues the hard work of explicating its outcomes and ambitions in a quest for self-improvement.

By removing their presuppositions — good and bad — about the institution, Spelman’s faculty, alumni and staff were able to continue to value the institution’s heritage while pursuing a progressive agenda of self-learning that is resulting in improvement in all major areas of institutional effectiveness.

It is time for all HBCUs to adopt self-critical mindsets and make the changes necessary to achieve excellence.

John Fitzgerald Gates, a graduate of Morehouse College, is principal of Criticality Management Consulting and former associate dean of Harvard College and a member of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Science.

No One Knows How Much College Remedial Education Costs

  Below is a new Education Commision of the States compilation of  college remediation costs. But these numbers only reflect students who do take developmental classes, not all that need it. Many students do not take these classes, or drop out before completing the sequence. I estimate  that community college remediation is 65% of recent high school graduates, and 30% at 4 years colleges. This high incidence is not reflected in the state cost figures.

This new paper from ECS’ Getting Past Go project summarizes state reports on the cost of college remedial education. Some of the reports offer general expenditures, while others provide more a detailed examination of the costs of delivering remedial education. (Mary Fulton, July, 2010)

Progress,Momentum,And Completion Aspects Of Online Degrees

Guest Blogger: Anna Miller

Online degrees have always been a working professional’s best friend, more so when they’re the only way to achieve a raise or facilitate a climb up the career ladder. Today however, even high school graduates are taking to this route for various reasons – some prefer to jump straight into the work arena after school since they don’t want to incur huge debts in trying to gain admission into a prestigious college; some want to gain some experience before they earn a degree; and others just want to take the most cost effective option and so choose to earn their degree online as it allows them to learn and earn at the same time.

Online degrees may not command the same level of respect as degrees from traditional colleges; even so, they’re similar in more than a few ways. If we were to compare students from both categories regarding their progress, momentum and completion aspects, we would see that:

Progress: depends more on the individual rather than the school they’ve enrolled in. So whether online or traditional, it’s the student who determines the amount of progress he or she is making when it comes to their degree. If they’re the studious kind, they tend to progress faster than their peers, and if they’re laidback, they take things as they come. Most schools allow students to pursue an accelerated degree and complete their course within four years, in three or less. This usually means taking more classes and cramming more papers than required into a term. The student may also have to forgo vacations and other social activities and spend more time with their nose to the grindstone. So any extra progress made is all on the part of the student and how motivated they are to complete the course at the earliest.

Momentum: is mainly set by the courses that the student has enrolled for and the staff members who conduct the courses – if the lessons are completed faster, the student has to keep pace or be left behind. In this regard, traditional schools have an edge over online schools because they set a faster pace than the latter. However, students of online schools do have the option to boost their momentum if they’re interested in finishing their degree, or just a particular subject, sooner.

Completion: While it’s true that a higher number of online degrees are left incomplete, traditional schools too have their share of dropouts for various reasons. However, online students generally have too many balls in the air, and in the juggling process, the degree ball gets dropped more often than not. Some students put their degree on hold when they’re pressed for time while others just forget about it as they get caught up in other aspects of life.

So while there’s not much of a difference between traditional students and online students in the progress, momentum and completion aspects of the degree they’ve chosen, online students do have to struggle harder than their regular counterparts, simply because they’re hindered by the lack of visible communication and real-time teacher-student and student-student interaction.


This guest post is contributed by Anna Miller, who writes on the topic of online degree . She welcomes your comments at her email id:

Beyond Adoption Of Common Core Standards For College Readiness

  Twenty seven states have approved the k-12 common core standards, and this is an ecouraging development for k-16 curriculum alignment. But adopting content standards is just the first step. Here are some more:

Moving State Agendas Forward: A Comprehensive and Systemic College Readiness Agenda

College readiness standards must be formally adopted by P-12 and postsecondary education

Performance standards must reflect college readiness. The postsecondary sector should take part in setting these standards, and these standards should be linked to state performance standards.


High school assessments must measure progress on the specific state adopted standards

Assessments should measure student performance on readiness standards.  These standards can be used to guide instruction, particularly in students’ final year of high school.


Public school curriculum should reflect specific statewide readiness standards

Once readiness standards are in place, the curriculum should be modified as necessary, especially in the 12th grade. Courses in the final year of high school should reflect reading, writing, and math skills necessary in college.

Teacher development should address the effective teaching of college readiness standards

Teacher training (including state in-service and pre-service teacher development) should help educators relate curriculum and teaching strategies to readiness standards.

Placement decisions by colleges and universities must use the adopted readiness standards

Instead of using ambiguous placement assessments, institutions of higher education should use common readiness standards to guide placements of students.


State accountability systems must create incentives across P-16 for college readiness and completion

Neither P-12 nor postsecondary systems are held accountable for college readiness. Authors suggest that P-12 should be held accountable for producing high school graduates that are college ready, and post secondary institutions should be held accountable for their support of college readiness, increasing the number of students who are successfully able to transition from remedial courses to college level courses, and increasing matriculation rates.

 Source :SREB

How To Make Colleges More Productive AND Efficient

  Here is a report written for k-12 education, but every principle applies equally to postsecondary education.

While education differs in important ways from other service sectors, improvement in productivity in other sectors may hold important lessons for understanding how the education system can become more efficient and effective, according to a white paper from the Center on Reinventing Public Education. While policymakers talk about innovating to “do more with less,” in the last two decades, dramatically more productive schooling models have not emerged. The combination of rising costs and stagnant productivity are major problems in an environment where many children are not learning the skills they need and education is unlikely to receive sustained increases in public funding. The authors recommend five steps to counteract this stagnation: 1) systematically consider strategies employed by other labor-intensive industries for their relevance to education; 2) hone in on learning systems outside schools to surface alternative production processes that may yield greater productivity; 3) understand the key cost drivers in the current schooling model, and examine the impact of each on proposed alternatives; 4) prototype new test models; and 5) create a policy agenda for identifying and reproducing the most promising ways to increase productivity.
Read more:

Guidelines For Effective Dual Enrollment In High School And College

Dual Enrollment in Texas: State Policies that Strengthen New Pathways to and through College for Low-Income Youth

Joel Vargas, Jobs For The Future, May 2010 

This testimony, given before the Texas State Senate, highlights the state’s successes with dual enrollment opportunities in terms of helping more high school students prepare for and succeed in college, and offers advice on how to sustain and expand these opportunities through policy.

An excerpt from Dr. Vargas’s testimony:

“Although more research is needed about the benefits of dual enrollment, research has emerged in recent years showing that the completion of college courses by high school students is positively correlated with college readiness. A 2007 study by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, found that dual enrollees, compared to non-dual enrollees, had higher college enrollment, higher college persistence through the second year, and higher college grade point averages through the second year. The research is also noteworthy because it found that these benefits appeared to be greatest for students typically underrepresented in college.”

Click HERE to watch the video of Dr. Vargas’s testimony, and locate the May 24 video under “81st Session Interim.”

Why So Much 4 Year College Remediation And Some Ideas On How To Prevent It?


Despite a sparkling 3.29 grade point average in high school, nearly half of last year’s freshman class at California State University campuses was unqualified to take entry-level college English.

Nearly 40 percent were deemed unqualified to take freshman math.

Instead, this group of students with the overall B-plus average were diverted to remedial instruction to improve their skills.

“Why are they getting A’s and B’s in high school and they are not even ready to start college? That is what we are wondering as well. It’s a huge, huge subject of research right now,” said Matt Benney, executive director of budget and planning assessment at Sonoma State University’s student affairs and enrollment management department.

In Sonoma County, the percentage of students deemed unprepared for entry-level college English and math at the end of their junior years were 75 and 39 percent, respectively. Only a portion of those will be accepted into the CSU system.

The information comes from an optional set of questions that appear in the annual Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program. If students show adequate proficiency, they can bypass remedial English and math classes at CSU campuses as well as at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Local educators say the problem with what students learn in high school and what they need to know for college is complex and mired in bureaucracy.

In Sonoma County, the coursework a student needs for a high school diploma is not adequate to make them eligible to even apply to a CSU campus, let alone get in.

“When high school standards were being made, higher education was not invited to the table. There was no conversation of what was expected at the CSUs or UCs or community colleges for that matter,” said Katheryn Horton, Sonoma-Marin Regional Director of Cal-PASS, a statewide organization that analyzes student academic data.

That academic gap is exacerbated by the federal No Child Left Behind law that requires schools and districts to have every single student become 100 percent academically proficient by 2014.

“It’s much more about the STAR test and No Child Left Behind than it is about college preparation,” Horton said.

Benney agreed.

“There is a lot of emphasis in No Child Left Behind in bringing up the lowest students to a minimum level and not a lot of effort to get a solid performing student ready for college,” he said.

To combat that divide, CSU in 2004 launched an $8 million-a-year program to educate teachers about what college professors expect. The push is part of a wider CSU campaign to improve graduation rates.

“Their ability to read critically – expository reading – most English teachers weren’t teaching it. They preferred literature. It’s an area we referred to as undertaught,” said Allison Jones, assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs at CSU.

There also is concern that many students do not take a math class their senior year because upper-level math courses are not required for a high school diploma or admission to CSUs.

That lost year erodes much of a student’s math skills, officials said.

“A lot of seniors don’t necessarily go to school all day,” said Nancy Brownell, assistant superintendent of instruction at the Sonoma County Office of Education.

“They might be learning a lot of things in high school but are they learning exactly what they need to be successful in college? Some high schools do a better job in finding out what that is,” Benney said.

At Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, every member of the English department staff has been trained in the CSU-sponsored professional development in how to better teach expository reading and writing, said Pam Devlin, a veteran English teacher and the school’s data coach.

Maria Carrillo tops all Sonoma County high schools in the percentage of students deemed ready for CSU-level coursework in English at 47 percent, besting the countywide rate of 23 percent. The next closest campus was Technology High in Rohnert Park at 34 percent.

In math, 28 percent of the juniors at Maria Carrillo who took the voluntary assessment were deemed ready for college math. Forty-three percent were deemed “conditionally ready,” a term given to students who are urged to take a math class in their senior year to maintain their skills.

In Sonoma County, 14 percent of juniors were deemed ready for CSU math and 47 percent were conditionally ready. Statewide, those numbers were 13 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

Countywide, 79 percent of eligible students took the optional test in English and 80 percent took it in math.

Maria Carrillo’s results are part of a concerted effort by the staff to align what is taught in high school with what professors expect, Devlin said.

“What it has forced many high school teachers to do is to now be better at addressing non-fiction work in the classroom and having students do that analytical, expository writing,” she said.

Devlin, who said she has had advanced placement students deemed “unprepared,” called the numbers of students headed into their senior years unprepared for college work “shocking.”

“If they get a ‘not college ready,’ it’s a warning flag for them,” she said. “Because otherwise they are just spending their money remediating what should have been learned in high school.”

The CSU remediation program is largely successful. Of the freshman class that entered CSU in fall 2007, 80 percent who were tagged for remediation gained full proficiency before their second year, according to the CSU.

In the same class, 13 percent of those who were in need of remediation but who did not enroll in the course were eventually disenrolled. Another 2 percent dropped out.

Those resources would be better served advancing students toward their college diploma, not catching them up to speed, Benney said.

“It’s still a big problem,” he said. “Basically, it comes down to being able to pay for their remedial education. We don’t get extra money for students who come in needing remedial work.”

Those funds could be used to cut class sizes in more advanced courses or pay for additional programs, he said.

To address that, CSU six years ago launched a professional development program to train high school teachers across the state on what professors demand.

Since 2004, 68 Sonoma County teachers – 45 from Santa Rosa City Schools – have taken the CSU-sponsored professional development course, said Erik Fallis, spokesman for the Office of the Chancellor.

A study on the effectiveness of CSU’s $8 million-a-year program is expected this fall, Jones said.

The stakes are high.

The CSU this year launched an initiative to improve its six-year graduation rate by 8 percent by 2016, bringing it to 54 percent. Eliminating obstacles on students’ road to getting their diploma will help that systemwide effort, Benney said.

“What is at stake is when students enter the CSU or any college for that matter, if they enter unprepared to start college, their retention rate is going to be that much lower and therefore their graduation rate is is going to be that much lower,” he said.

Benney said even when students don’t drop out, those who struggle early are more likely to avoid strenuous majors like engineering and other sciences.

College Financial Incentives Need To Emphasize Student Progress And Completion

Currently, most public colleges are paid  by the state for full time enrollment or student credit hour  The credit hour and enrollment-based incentive structures that currently shape access institutions’ financial decision making was probably not as unreasonable at a time when resources were plentiful.  There was literally more room for failure and second (and third) chances at college success when there was plenty of organizational capacity.  Failure was less costly to students themselves when out-of-pocket tuition costs were low.  Today, however, when courses and classrooms are scarce and the rise of tuition continues unabated, the cost of failure to students, schools, and government is much higher.

At present most access colleges receive government support based on their full-time enrollment (FTE) base, or enrollment in courses (such as after third week of class in many community colleges). The result is often enrollment management that churns students: As long as the number of new students equals the number of dropouts, revenue remains stable.  An axiom among enrollment managers is telling: It is usually easier and less expensive to recruit a new student than to provide the necessary services for an existing student in academic trouble.

State subsidy to schools based, for example, on the common standard of third-week enrollment leads to such practices as not dropping “no-shows” during the first portion of the term; delaying exams or quizzes until the fourth week; even providing free parking for the first three weeks of each term.  Even colleges with ample enrollments face perverse incentives regarding student persistence and completion.  For example, some community colleges that turn away students because of state cuts simultaneously implement heavy reductions in their student services and developmental courses in order to fund advanced classes.  In another common phenomenon, states that compensate schools by student contact or credit hour encourage practices like adding hours but not requiring students to do more work.

These perverse financial incentives must change!

Texas Requires Colleges To Describe Clearly What Is In A Course

Texas public colleges and universities are scrambling to comply with a new law intended to help students and parents spend their tuition money more wisely. The law requires detailed class descriptions and other information to be posted online, no more than three mouse-clicks from an institution’s home page. Some faculty and university administrators, however, say the law provides little new information for students but will drive up costs just as state budget cuts are forcing layoffs, furloughs and the elimination of some programs. (Houston Chronicle, 07/11/10)

Governors Launch New Initiative On College Completion

  The National Governors Association is an influential group and has stimulated many education policy changes including k-12 common core curriculum. Now they have turned their attention to college completion.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III, the new chair of the National Governors Association, has unveiled Complete to Compete, an effort that will focus on increasing the number of students in the United States who complete college degrees and certificates, and on improving the productivity of the country’s higher education institutions.

This effort will include interstate common metrics to measure college student progress and completion for each college.