Friday, December 12, 2008

Exciting Efforts to Improve California Community College

Tony Bryk, new president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, announced last night he is putting community college at the top of the foundation's priority list. At a gathering of community college educators and researchers, Bryk and colleague Rose Arca, presented findings of the foundation's Strengthening Pre-collegiate Education in Community Colleges (SPECC) program, which has involved 11 colleges in collaboratively sharing strategies to improve teaching and learning in basic skills. Future efforts will focus on developmental math and supporting institutional leaders to use data to improve programs. Speakers included Myra Snell, Los Medanos Community College mathematics instructor; Frank Chong, president of Oakland's Laney College; and David Wolf, a former president of different state community colleges and an accreditation leader.

A few tidbits jumped off the page for me. First, Tom Bailey, director of Columbia University's Community College Research Center, has published a new paper that reviews some of the challenges faced by most community college students in attaining a degree. At the meeting, one of the speakers estimated that 58 percent of incoming community college students need one basic skills class and that only 29 percent in those in English basic skills and 7 percent in mathematics basic skills ever graduate. Figures like these explain why foundations are converging on community colleges as the cause du jour: the William & Flora Hewlett, Irvine, Walter S. Johnson, Lumina and, recently as mentioned in this blog, Gates. Foothill College biology instructor Celeste Carter reminded everyone about the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education program and the STEM Talent Expansion program.

WestEd was handing out information about seminars into Reading Apprenticeship strategies that community college instructors in all subjects can use to help students struggling with English basic skills. Instructor professional development has become a major focus, and the trick, according to Snell, is to help instructors see it less as "tutoring for bad teachers" and more as understanding how to teach students better. At Los Medanos, they have used Japanese lesson study and, as she put it: "You pay them and hold meetings on Friday afternoons from 4-7 and give them dinner. " As noted in this blog earlier, Chabot College is now serving as the home base of "faculty inquiry" in the state's community colleges with Hewlett's support. Snell noted that it's not enough for faculty to do good instruction--they need to "document it, share it, and build on it."

Chong described ambitious efforts to invite high school dropouts to return to school through college programs and special culturally-sensitive programs focused on African Americans and Latinos. Wolf brought a dose of reality, explaining that few state legislators in California have any interest in community colleges, even though, since Prop. 13, their rules have increasingly controlled and constrained community colleges. I need to look up the "50 percent rule." A Google search yielded no answers, but apparently, this is highly problematic for community colleges.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

College on less than $600 a year

California's 109 community colleges offer the most affordable option in the U.S. for students and their families. A new report ranks the state at the top of the nation, noting that more than 2.5 million students turn to the system for education. This news contrasts with the sobering announcement from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that the state's current fiscal crisis will lead to budget cutbacks and tuition increases.

The same report flunked all other 49 states for charging families too much, including the state of Washington, where it is estimated a family spends more than a third of its income on a 2-year college degree. The same state, however, offers baccalaureate degrees through its 2-year college program, often by partnering with 4-year colleges. Similar efforts are under way at New Jersey and Arizona community colleges. One report estimates that 36% of low income families' students complete college compared to 81% of high income families, figures that have inspired The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support efforts to help more low-income American students finish college.

The report ranked states on preparing high school graduation rates, college participation rates, rates of completion, and baccalaureate attainment rates.