Reports Link Strong Advising and Student Success
Community colleges have been rightly praised for opening the doors to higher education for millions of people for whom they would otherwise be closed.
Anecdotes abound about students from difficult, impoverished backgrounds who overcome long odds to attend college and earn a degree. Due to their convenient locations, low tuition and open admissions policies, community colleges now enroll about 45 percent of all American college undergraduates.
They disproportionately come from poor families. While 44 percent of lowincome students enroll in community college after high school, only 15 percent of high-income students do so, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.
But while community colleges educate large proportions of low-income and first-generation college students, they are also churning our growing numbers of students who drop out without earning a credential of any kind. These students often walk away from college with nothing to show except a mountain of student loan debt.
According to a new report issued by the William T. Grant Foundation — titled “The New Forgotten Half and Research Directions to Support Them” — just 20 percent of community college students earn a bachelor’s degree within eight years of graduating from high school.
Students who don’t earn a credential are likely to remain on the bottom rungs of the nation’s economic ladders, the report says.
“Research mostly indicates that credentials yield employment and earnings payoffs, but students who don’t attain college credentials get little or no payoff compared to those with only a high school diploma, whose earnings have been eroding for decades,” the report states. “The most alarming finding is that many youth who took society’s advice to attend college, sacrificing time and often incurring debts, have nothing to show for their efforts in terms of credentials, employment, or earnings.”
By calling for two years of free community college for nearly every American President Obama has put community colleges back in the national spotlight. But the foundation’s report suggests that the president’s initiative focuses on the wrong issue.
Access is no longer the issue. Lack of student success is, said James Rosenbaum, a Northwestern University professor of education and lead author of the “New Forgotten Half” report.
“We found that 86 percent of on-time high school graduates attend college within eight years of graduating from high school,” he said. “So access is not the problem. We have made enormous strides in increasing
access. Completion is the problem. These students need more that more money. They need support.”
The “New Forgotten Half” report is a follow up of an influential report the foundation issued in 1988.
That report focused on inequality in American society, specifically
among non-collegebound 16–24 year olds, and explored the challenges facing
young people and the institutions that serve them. Several recommendations from “The Forgotten Half” were included in the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act, including the integration of academic and vocational education.
The new report, which uses data on young adults in 2012, “seeks to understand the forgotten half today and how, how educational institutions may inadvertently contribute to their disadvantage, and how these same institutions can improve their chances of success.”
It suggests that higher education place less emphasis on earning a bachelor’s degree and more on the associate degree and one- and two-year certificates.
“We tend to think that the B.A. is what college is all about,” Rosenbaum said. “But our society is much more varied and our economy requires a wide variety of job skills.”
The report makes several recommendations for future research that could increase the chance for student success. The report says new research should focus on:
• The new college reality. Today’s colleges are not designed for many of today’s students, who don’t live on campus and often are the first in their families to attend college. There is a need to need to further examine and understand youth’s experiences during and after community college. Research can improve students’ understanding of the options, odds, obstacles and outcomes of the new college reality.
• Examining how colleges can create systematic reforms to improve student achievement and positive labor market outcomes. In particular, studies may examine how to improve high school-college alignment, structured college procedures, and school–work linkages.
• Improving counseling prior to entering college. Better information can equip high school and college counselors to advise students and help them make more informed decisions. Many of the most important college decisions — what colleges to apply to, what specific programs to enter, and how to procure funding — are made before students ever set foot on a college campus, usually when they are still in high school.
Strong advising is critically important, Rosenbaum said. It must come early and often. Community college counselors can have upwards of 1,500 student caseloads; during a two-week registration period, that amounts to three minutes per student if they serve every student. This is not enough time for advising students’ choices, yet the plans students declare in the first week of college often have lasting impact. That places a premium on advising while in high school.
Many of the reforms proposed by the report already are yielding results, albeit on a small scale, through the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship program. The foundation provides about 85 scholarships to high-achieving community college students who want to transfer to a university.
Nearly 97 percent of the students taking part in the program earn a bachelor’s degree within three years of transferring, according to a report recently released by the foundation. One in 10 graduates from an Ivy League school. Nearly half of the JKCF scholars have gone on to graduate school. Over 76 percent graduated from their fouryear school with a GPA higher than 3.5.
Those kind of statistics, the report said, shows that community college students can succeed at four-year colleges and universities — if provided with the right tools and opportunities.
The report, titled “Breaking Down Walls: Increasing Access to Four-Year Colleges for High-Achieving Community College Students,” said that transfer students face tremendous barriers, including a lack of adequate advising, limited financial aid, and confusing credit transfer policies. But they can succeed when given proper support.
“We do ourselves a disservice as a society by denying gifted students the opportunity to fulfill their potential simply because their academic careers started at a two-year institution,” said Harold O. Levy, the foundation’s executive director.
“Lower-income students who perform at a high level in community college can perform at a high level at elite colleges if given the right support and the right advising.”
“When we reach the point where a parent’s economic status determine a child’s future, we have arrived at a very dangerous place.”
The scholarship programs provides with intensive counseling through the transfer process, which can be an arcane and frustrating process. Such counseling is critical to improving the country’s higher education system, Levy said.
“If we can’t keep our higher education system competitive with the rest of the world, we will lose the economic battles of the 21st Century.”
HOW FOUR-YEAR INSTITUTIONS CAN BETTER SUPPORT TRANSFER STUDENTS
LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE JACK KENT COOKE COOKE FOUNDATION COMMUNITY COLLEGE TRANSFER INITIATIVE
PAVE THE WAY FOR CHANGE
Address transfer issues in the institution’s mission or strategic plan
• Build a critical mass of supporters across campus, including administrators and faculty members
PARTNER WITH TWO-YEAR COLLEGES
• Identify prospective students early
• Nurture students’ self-belief
• Ensure students take the right classes
REACH OUT EARLY AND OFTEN TO STUDENTS
Appoint a campus point person for transfer students
• Offer joint
classes and summer academic programs
• Provide workshops so students can
learn what it takes to succeed at a four-year institution
• Facilitate campus visits
SUPPORT STUDENTS POST-TRANSFER
Improve credit transfer policies
• Develop social integration
strategies (cohort activities, peer mentoring)
• Designate trusted “transfer agents” to help students
SOURCE: JACK KENT COOKE FOUNDATION
DEGREE ASPIRATIONS AND TRANSFER BY INCOME LEVEL
For First-time Beginning Community College Students
Aspire To Complete Bachelor’s Degree
BOTTOM INCOME QUARTILE: 84.2%
TOP INCOME QUARTILE: 76.8%
Transfer to Four-Year Institution Within Five Years
BOTTOM INCOME QUARTILE: 21.5.2%
TOP INCOME QUARTILE: 18.78%
Attain Bachelor’s Degree Within Six Years
BOTTOM INCOME QUARTILE: 10.6.2%
TOP INCOME QUARTILE: 10.8%
SOURCE: JACK KENT COOKE FOUNDATION