Category Archives: Community College

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Is College-As-We-Know-It a Bargain? Even “for Free”?

As Andrew Cuomo takes a deserved victory lap for making New York the first tuition-free state for students of certain income, I’m taking pause.

This is a major accomplishment. Affordability has long been a major barrier to a college degree, and New York’s adoption of a tuition free model will alleviate the tuition burden for many students.

That being said, there are gaps in the model, specifically:

  • The additional costs associated with attending school on a full-time basis
  • The full-time requirement itself (Students must take a minimum of 30 credits per year to qualify for the “scholarship” reward.)
  • The residency stipulation requiring reward recipients to live and work in New York State for the same number of years they received the scholarship (If graduates move, the scholarship will convert to a loan.)

Aside from these challenges to the model itself, there is an even larger question around the value of a college degree.

Just Like High School?

In touting the new legislation, Cuomo has said “Today, college is what high school was — it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it.” Unfortunately, high school as-we-know-it is not an option, but an obligation that has been posing as a benefit for way too long.

It is still true that job opportunities and salaries are greater for high school and college graduates than for those who do not complete either. But in our rush to race to the top, we have left behind many students whose innate love for learning has been squashed by excessive testing, overly prescriptive curricula, and a lack of experiential learning opportunities.

As we have struggled to address the stranglehold of Common Core standardization in K-12, we are also continuing (and in some cases just starting) to struggle to address models of delivery and design within college curricula to not only ensure a higher level of engagement and retention, but to also ensure that we are graduating students with marketable credentials for today’s workplace.

Redefining the Market

While New York’s tuition-free free model does address one major barrier to a college degree, it does not necessarily ensure the value of that degree in today’s or tomorrow’s workplace.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5.7 million job openings as of the last day of February of this year, compared with 5.4 million reported at the same time last year. This year, we will see approximately 1,882,000 students graduating with a bachelor’s degree. If previous years are any indication, many of those graduates will either not find a job, will find a job unrelated to the degree or major they studied in school, possibly resulting in “underemployment,” being hired for a job that a less skilled candidate could have filled.

What we need are more educational models that can respond to the changing employment market and reduce the gap.

Few models stand out more than the collaboration between Georgia Tech, Udacity, and AT&T to offer a $7,000 Master’s Degree in Computer Science. In addition to $2M in funding and providing technology support, AT&T also included internships and corporate projects for credit as part of their support for this project.

Accessibility, Affordability, and Relevancy

John Palmer, Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer at AT&T, noted at yesterday’s Education Summit that accessibility, affordability, and relevancy are three vital components for education. Palmer advocates for more partnership between business and education in order to keep learning relevant. He also encourages workers to engage in continuous learning to keep up with the constant state of change in order to remain relevant.

While I respect the intent to address affordability, I take pause as I reflect on Governor Cuomo’s tuition-free college plan. Until we address the issue of relevance at every stage of learning, a free education may not be such a bargain after all.

How We Can Help Community College Students Graduate

What do Tom Hanks, Chris Rock, Walt Disney, James Dean, George Lucas, Teri Hatcher, Eddie Murphy, and Halle Berry have in common?

They all attended community college but never finished.

The same thing is true for 66 to 80 percent of students who enroll. But clearly, they don’t all end up with careers in the movies. This week’s NY EdTech’s “Community College Spotlight: Edtech at 2-Year Schools” illuminated the challenges for those who attend and operate these schools and presented some potential ways technology can be part of the solution to these huge dropout rates.

Panelists Making a Difference in Community College Today

The panelists represented a broad range of expertise:

Alexandra Meis, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, Kinvolved

Kinvolved has developed an app to improve PK-12 attendance that records, shares, and analyzes data among families, schools and after-school programs. The company is extending its reach into the college market, and is a Finalist for the Robin Hood Foundation $5M College Success Prize, which recognizes the most promising technology interventions to help community college students continue their studies and attain their associate degree. Alex was recently named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Education and is a 2012 Education Pioneers Fellow.

Gina Sipley, Instructor, Nassau Community College, SUNY

Gina is a tenure track Instructor of Reading and Basic Education at Nassau CC and a PhD student studying Digital Literacies and Gaming at Hofstra University. She writes about EdTech for Al Jazeera America, EdSurge, Mic and is a nationally recognized Teacher of the Future.

Professor David Finegold, Chief Academic Officer, American Honors

David is the founding Chief Academic Officer for American Honors, an organization that expands opportunities and lowers the costs for talented students to obtain a high quality undergraduate education by building honors colleges at leading community colleges, combined with 2 + 2 pathways to the leading public and private US universities.

Melinda Mechur Karp – Assistant Director, Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University

Melinda is a leading expert on smoothing students’ transition into college and supporting them once there. Over the past 15 years at the Community College Research Center, she has led studies examining advising, counseling, and support services; college 101 courses; and dual enrollment programs.

Starting with Basic Truths about Community Colleges

The panelists agreed that, compared with private four-year schools, community colleges are asked to do more for their students with fewer resources. There appeared to be consensus that the $60 billion President Obama wants to spend on tuition relief for community colleges could be better spent on helping students to graduate instead. The main areas highlighted for improvement include:

  • Improving systems and processes to run the schools more efficiently and effectively (registration processes, administrative loads, etc.).
  • Investing in means of helping people graduate, providing them with the tools and resources to navigate (Better designed online resources, improved mobile access, more effective counseling services, etc.)

Who is Today’s Community College Student?

While community college students have typically been older than the students attending four-year schools, we are seeing younger students enrolling these days, with the average age of 27 years old.

Community college students typically:

  • Need to get caught up academically before immersing in a complete academic program.
  • Lack the “social capital” to navigate the college experience. Most are first generation college students and so have little or no resources at home to help enculturate them to the college experience. They have no guidance as to how to navigate course selection, scheduling challenges, etc. like students whose parents have already lived the experience.
  • Work part- or full-time and thus have less time to focus on their studies.
  • Have families and thus require more flexible scheduling or childcare or both.
  • Don’t form cohorts like most students in four-year colleges do.
  • Confront a major information barrier when it comes to policies, processes and procedures.

How Can We Help?

Suggestions for improvement were filtered throughout the evening’s conversation. As a means of shedding further light on what is needed, NY EdTech co-organizer Michelle Devan asked the panelists what they would say if they could speak to President Obama or Governor Cuomo about community colleges. Their responses included:

  • More consistent and reliable broadband.
  • Donors Choose for higher ed. (Like the popular online platform that enables K-12 teachers to ask for donations for specific projects or resources from anywhere in the country, not just from within the school). I need to credit Gina Sipley with bringing this up. It’s an interesting concept, folks!
  • More dual enrollment opportunities.
  • Doing more to prepare students for the college experience before they get there.
  • Putting systems in place for relationship building amongst students.

In terms of EdTech, the panelists had some suggestions for people who want to get involved:

  • Need to focus on process: Design, Develop, and Re-design.
  • Know your audience; for example, provide ways of communicating that get students where they are at. Depending on the age of the student, they may not use traditional email or Facebook. Texting is often a more efficient means of communication. Some systems allow for this already, for example, letting students select which mode of communication they prefer. It’s just one example of making sure you are designing for the target audience.
  • Design with empathy: How can you make these students’ lives just a little easier? The stories shared about people who strive to complete community college reveal tremendous financial and emotional challenges. One story shared told of a student who was raising his siblings after their parents left them. A fellow audience member told me his mother never completed community college because of the language barrier.
  • Consider using students as resources in developing tools and thereby provide them with meaningful work. For example, hire entry level programmers, host local hackathons, use students as beta testers, etc.
  • Get people to the table to discuss necessary change. Include students and administration to ensure all voices are heard.

Building Community for Community College Students

One of the main issues that came up throughout the evening was the isolation that many community college students feel either due to scheduling realities, the information barrier they confront, or the lack of meaningful advisement. The picture that was painted for us in the audience was of a student wandering campus trying to find his advisor and unable to do so.

It would be great to find a way to bring people whose lives are so challenging and so diverse together so that they could better succeed despite those challenges.

Got an app for that?

Thanks again to NY EdTech Meetup co-organizers, Kathy Benemann and Michelle Dervan for arranging such an informative evening. And thanks to the panel, for the work they do and for sharing it with NY EdTech. Explore the links in the article to learn more about what these people and their organizations are doing to help improve community college today. The ongoing research at the Community College Research Center, the programs offered by American Honors, the dedicated teaching by people like Gina Shipley and others, and the meaningful application of technology in this market by Kinvolved are impressive and are efforts many of us can contribute to in order to help drive progress in this sector.

Have some thoughts of your own on the issue? Share them here!

Sheri Handel’s passion for teaching, learning, and technology continues to evolve from a career as a college instructor to a designer and manager of online and classroom learning experiences for corporate, higher education clients, and K-12 learners. To talk about learning strategy and to partner on learning design for social impact in education, visit us at Designs2Learn.