Tag Archives: credit

Coping with ‘Professional Students’ in Community Colleges

The party’s over for community college students in California, notorious for large numbers of young and not-so-young people using the low-cost system to drift in and out of classes, fill up their time while looking for something better, or simply find themselves. The Board of Governors of the state’s cash-strapped two-year system has decided to get rid of “professional students,” some of whom have amassed hundreds of  college credits without going anywhere academically.

Starting in 2014 the system will give enrollment priority to students who have set up formal plans to complete enough credits either to transfer to a four-year institution or to qualify for a vocational certificate—or to acquire certain basic skills such as learning English. Since California’s 112-college community system, which has lost $809 million in state funding over the past four years, has already had to pare down its total enrollment by nearly 500,000 students (from 2.9 million in 2008), “enrollment priority” means that the drifters and “lifelong learning” types probably won’t find places.

Many would say that it’s about time. A 1960 law requires California community colleges to accept all comers residing in the state, no matter how poorly they performed in high school or what their motives might be for taking up classroom space. California’s economy was flourishing fifty years ago, and brand-new community colleges were steadily opening their doors to accommodate a burgeoning state population. Tuition was free back then, and even now it’s a bargain-basement $46 per credit hour for state residents, or less than $150 per typical course. Graduation rates have been dismal, but that hasn’t mattered: Large numbers of students aren’t enrolled with any intention of graduating. Meanwhile, California’s community colleges this year had to turn away about 470,000 enrollees from taking classes for lack of funds.

The new rationing plan is still generous: Returning students will qualify for enrollment priority even if they have accumulated up to 100 credits—40 more than the 60 needed to qualify for a two-year community-college degree. Still, there have been complaints from the system’s most avid (if degree-less) users. One was William Walker, who has attended five different community colleges over the years and amassed 102 credits—but is still in the system, having re-enrolled this fall in the nearly bankrupt San Francisco City College with so much student cred that he is now the college’s student trustee. Fortunately, Walker told San Francisco Chronicle reporter Nanette Asimov, “there’s no centralized database for all colleges,” so no one might ever find out about some of the perpetual seat-warmers.

Meanwhile, a four-profit operation, UniversityNow, has, in the name of charity but also good public relations for itself, opened up some of its online classes to the 470,000 students enrolled in California’s community colleges who could not find seats—all at the same $46 per credit hour plus $40 for books. The classes, offered by the regionally accredited Patten University, which UniversityNow recently acquired, are in such solid academic subjects as biology, history, and college algebra. It appears that Californians who are seriously motivated to use community college to achieve a goal will still have the opportunity to do so.

Some Hope for Higher Ed Reform

The current conversation on higher ed reform coming is unusually platitudinous even for an election year. This was clearest earlier this year during the battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on the proposed federal student loan interest rate, a subject fairly inconsequential in larger problem of sky-high college costs. In his Democratic nomination acceptance speech, President Obama claimed he would work to “cut college tuition in half” in the next ten years. How he would do this, or if he truly grasped what he was saying, is anyone’s guess.

But Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) have shown a great deal of care in crafting the “Know Before You Go Act.” The bill, currently under consideration in the Senate, will “support statewide individual-level integrated postsecondary education data systems.” More specifically, under the proposed bill the federal government will help states coordinate student educational and postgraduate employment data. The bill’s aim is to help consumers make better choices about the products they are considering. Per a press release from Wyden’s office, the bill focuses on making the following metrics more accessible to consumers:

  1. Post-graduation average annual earning;
  2. Rates of remedial enrollment, credit accumulation, and graduation;
  3. Average cost (both before and after financial aid) of the program and average debt accumulated;
  4. The effects of remedial education and financial aid on credential attainment and a greater understanding of what student success can mean.

We should praise the Know Before You Go Act for several reasons. First, instead of trying to instituting IPAB style price-control to help reform educational choices and costs, it respects the consumer’s volition to make his or her own determinations as to what is best for their particular circumstance. As Rubio said, “We want people to know what the new jobs, skills, careers in the 21st century are. The reason you need to know what your professional prospects are is that you have to weigh that against how much you will borrow.” He continued, “I graduated with $125,000 in student loans. That’s nobody’s fault – it was an investment for me. We want kids to have access to information before they make this investment.”

Secondly, the bill does not create a new federal database to obtain data by tracking students. Instead, its coordinates already extant data gathering mechanisms in the states. In describing this aspect of the bill, Wyden sounded like a Republican. “The new database is state-based and individually considered. The states can do this on their own but there’s a problem. There’s no uniform standards. If there’s no standards…then the system is failing families.”

Lastly, of concern to many conservatives, Wyden emphasized that the bill would produce a glut of computer science or accounting majors, to the neglect of the liberal arts. “This legislation is about empowering students to make their own choices. Are we going to miss out on opportunities for rich liberal arts education? I reject the either/or choice. A lot of universities are starting to pick up on labor trends – after 9/11 and Arabic for instance. Is it liberal arts or an education for a high paying job? That’s a false choice.”

Granted, it still seems Congress is far from addressing the main driver of college cost inflation – federal subsidies in the form of loans for anyone who wants them. Said Wyden, “Federal education policy is at a fork in the road. Historically it is about access. I want to keep that focus – support Pell grants, Stafford Loans, and all of the assistance that ensures access.” Nonetheless, a respected Democratic policy thinker is supporting a bill that is conservative in its temperament. By supplying greater amounts of data to consumers, the Wyden-Rubio bill is the right move in reforming an industry badly in need of more transparency and accountability.

Should College Credit Be Awarded for Experience?

Credentialing informal learning and experience is the next big push in higher education, with initiatives like Open Badges, Skills.to, Degreed, or LearningJar granting students credentials for skills and knowledge gained outside of school. Even traditional colleges are being pressured to
accept credit by exam, portfolio, work experience, and other informal
education, rather than reserving credit for classroom time and course
completion. Just last month in a high-profile move, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker called for
a flexible degree program that, among other changes, allows Wisconsin
students to prove their competency in an area and then gain credit for

Continue reading Should College Credit Be Awarded for Experience?

The Drive to ‘Privatize’ Community Colleges

santa-monica.jpgSanta Monica Community College, a public two-year institution on the Pacific coast not far from Los Angeles, has a reputation as the jewel in the crown of California’s 2.9 million-student community-college system. Known for academic excellence, Santa Monica has one of the highest transfer rates in the state to California’s elite four-year colleges public and private, and nearly ten percent of its 34,000 students hail from abroad. Young people from such countries as Korea, China, and Sweden are willing to pay Santa Monica’s $275-per-credit non-resident tuition rate–more than five times as much as California residents pay–to study there.

But when Santa Monica’s trustees last month decided to deal with
drastically reduced state funding by extending the concept of
“differential tuition” (different rates for different groups of
students) so as to charge higher tuition for the college’s most
sought-after classes, the result was a strategic and public-relations
debacle: pepper-sprayed protesters, cries of favoritism for better-off
students, an opinion from the California Attorney General’s Office that
two-tier tuition violated the state’s education code, and, finally, the
trustees’ abandonment of the idea about three weeks ago.

Continue reading The Drive to ‘Privatize’ Community Colleges

Shorten the “Experience”? No Way

Recently, colleges have been floating three-year bachelor’s degrees to undergraduates.  Many students enter with AP credits and a need to reduce tuition costs, so why not concentrate their studies and head into the real world a year sooner?   The university, too, would benefit.  As a story in the Los Angeles Times last year put it: 

“A proposal unveiled last month involved greater use of summer school and possibly streamlining requirements for some majors.  Proponents estimate that if 5% to 10% of UC undergraduates finished their degrees one term earlier than they do now, the university could educate 2,000 to 4,000.”
Buildings wouldn’t sit empty all summer long, students wouldn’t waste time and blow off in courses outside their career interests, and more individuals could be served (and charged tuition).  Everybody wins.
According to this story in the Washington Post from last week, however, the three-year option hasn’t worked.  Or rather, hardly any students are interested.  Only a “tiny percentage” of the undergraduates at various campuses have signed up for the programs.  The student profiled in the Post piece cite the desire to study abroad and to have a little more college fun before joining the working world. 
The Post doesn’t expand on her motives, but they sound typical to me.  It isn’t just because of the tough job market, either.  When we see that average homework time for students adds up to only 12 or 13 hours per week, college amounts to a part-time job for most students.  Most campuses have decent facilities, too, and 20-year-olds get to spend their time in the midst of hundreds and thousands of other 20-year-olds at sporting events and parties.  Why leave?
This is, in fact, the outcome of the front-end strategy of colleges.  They do all they can to lure high school seniors to their campuses, highlighting the wonderful and unique “college experience” they offer.  Not many adolescents say to themselves after receiving their admittance letter, “Okay, now let’s see about some programs to reduce the time I’m going to spend there.” 

Community Colleges Are Bulging, But…

Cuyahoga Community College expects to see nearly 30,000 students enrolled for credit on its three campuses in Cleveland when it opens for the fall semester late in August, with an additional 30,000 taking non-credit courses for job-training “personal enrichment” (instruction in art, photography, and other hobbies). According to campus officials, the 30,000-strong for-credit student population represents an all-time high: about 20 percent more than the 24,311 for-credit students whom the college reported as enrolled last spring. The projected 6,000-student increase is unprecedented, too; in the spring of 2009, college records show, there were only about 800 more students attending Tri-C, as Clevelanders call their community college, than were on the rolls for the spring of 2008. Chalk up the current surge to the recession, which has suddenly made the $25,000-a-year-tuition typical of U.S. private four-year-colleges look unaffordable to many families (private colleges nationwide have reported lower-than-usual freshman acceptance rates for this fall). Annual tuition at Tri-C is a tenth of that: $2,418. That’s a bargain even compared with tuition costs at Ohio’s public four-year colleges, which charge $8,583 annually on average to state residents.
So it’s perhaps only logical that President Obama, in a July 14 speech at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., announced a proposal to invest $12 billion in federal spending in the nation’s community college system, all with the aim of helping an additional 5 million Americans earn degrees and certificates from community colleges over the next 10 years. The president called community colleges the under-appreciated “stepchild of the higher education system” and declared that the money would help workers learn “the skills they need to fill the jobs of the future.” His message seemed designed as a boost to Warren, a recession-battered suburb of Detroit with a 20 percent unemployment rate, but also to millions of other American young people desperate to cut the cost of attending college.

Continue reading Community Colleges Are Bulging, But…

Talk For Credit

If your plans for next semester were ucertain, here’s a surefire plan: NYU’s new one-credit “Intergroup Dialogues” which are “designed to foster communication among racial groups at NYU.”
The sessions are to be gerrymandered, of course, according to the Washington Square News:

To ensure balance, a 14-student section addressing racial issues would have seven white students, seven students of color and two facilitators — one white student and one student of color. Hall said the setup encourages frank discussion in a safe environment.

Or four Asians, four blacks, four whites, and four Hispanics? Or one Afro-Caribbean black, one East African, one African-American, one Inuit, one Uighur…

Accepted To Harvard Law? You Don’t Need Grades.

If you think that student life at an ultra-elite law school is a page ripped out of The Paper Chase—one long, frighteningly competitive grade grub under the icy eye of a clone of the movie’s fictional Prof. Charles W. Kingsford Jr.—think again. At Yale Law School, grades have been strictly optional since the 1960s (students can opt to take classes for credit/no credit), and if you do choose to have your professor award you a symbol of your academic achievement or lack thereof, it’s neither a letter grade (A, A-, B+, etc.) nor a number based on a scale of 1-1-100 that can be easily translated into a letter. Instead, thanks to a student rebellion during the Age of Aquarius, there are only four grades at Yale: H for honors (for the top 30 percent or so of the class), P for pass (for almost everyone else), LP for low pass (for those who spent more time sampling the beer selection at Rudy’s than the readings in their casebook), and F for failure (for those who never made it out of Rudy’s to class).
And now, both Stanford Law School, in an announcement in May, and Harvard Law School, in an announcement on Sept. 28, have decided to follow Yale’s lead—with a few minor modifications–in vague and minimalist grading. Never again at Harvard will a Kingsford fix his withering gaze upon a hapless student who gave a less-than-brilliant performance and intone, “Here is a dime. Take it, call your mother, and tell her there is serious doubt about you ever becoming a lawyer.”
The idea at Yale Law School seems to be of the same general justification that has underlain rampant grade inflation over the past few decades for undergraduates at the Ivies and other elite colleges. If you’re smart enough—or maybe even just interesting enough—to get into our top school, why should you have to worry about grades? You’re already brilliant! Fine-tuned, competition-focused law school grades, the thinking goes, are for second-echelon institutions whose students have to demonstrate on paper that they’re as qualified as Yalies to compete for high-paying jobs at prestigious law firms or coveted clerkships on the U.S. Supreme Court and elsewhere. As the Yale Law School admissions office states on its website: “People do not get into Yale solely because of their GPA and LSAT combination. People get into Yale because of who they are and what they have done. The students bring such diverse backgrounds to the law school that one learns from them and benefits from their existence just as much as one does from the faculty.” Yale proudly declares that not only are grades optional, but it has eliminated class rankings.

Continue reading Accepted To Harvard Law? You Don’t Need Grades.

California Cannabis Credit?

Only in California… can you take college courses aimed at training you for the medical marijuana business. Oaksterdam University, with campuses in Oakland, Calif., and Los Angeles, offers a full range of basic and advanced-level classes in such subjects as horticulture, distribution, and operating a dispensary to serve the 18,000-odd Californians licensed to smoke homegrown pot as part of a physician’s treatment regimen – usually for pain – under a 1996 California law. Eleven other states have similar laws that either carve out exceptions where there is a doctor’s prescription or drastically reduce penalties if the drug is being used medically, not recreationally.

One class is a required prerequisite for all Oaksterdam students: “Politics/Legal Issues 101,” taught by a team of experienced cannabis lawyers. That’s undoubtedly because, although medical marijuana might be legal in California, the federal government continues to regard the cultivation, possession, and distribution of the substance for any purpose as a crime. In 2005 in a case from California, the Supreme Court ruled that federal drug bans supersede state medical-marijuana laws governing drug use, citing the danger that “unscrupulous physicians” or their patients might divert medically authorized marijuana into the illicit recreational market, especially in neighboring states such as Nevada, where all marijuana use remains illegal. The justices’ concern might have been well-placed, for one of the challenges to the federal law was brought by a woman who said she had to smoke a joint every two hours or risk death from a “wasting syndrome” of unknown medical origin that kept her from eating without a pot booster.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, California continues to operate as a kind of medical-marijuana “sanctuary” state, continuing to allow counties to issue licenses for physician-prescribed cannabis despite the violations of federal law entailed. That means that operating a medical-marijuana dispensary can be a lucrative business indeed. Last October, federal Drug Enforcement Agency officers arrested two Oakland-area brothers for allegedly selling some $49 million in state-authorized pot over three years from their dispensary, which had a permit to operate under California law. Around the same time, DEA agents arrested 26-year-old dispensary-entrepreneur Luke Scarmazzo of Modesto, Calif., for doing some $13,000 worth of alleged marijuana business a month. According to a 60 Minutes report, Sarmazzo was running something called the Healthcare Collective, which was supposed to be distributing homegrown marijuana to cancer patients and others in distress, but which, according to federal agents, was fronting a black-market operation with ties to organized crime.

Oaksterdam University derived its name from a section of Oakland nicknamed “Oaksterdam” because its numerous smoke-filled medical-marijuana dispensaries, many doubling as coffeehouses, bear a striking resemblance to similar facilities in the Dutch city Amsterdam, where pot-smoking is notoriously legal. That’s a lot of pain-wracked Oakland residents. The university lacks any sort of accreditation, and its classes typically run no longer than a day or weekend, but who needs academic formalities when the demand for learning the medical-marijuana trade is so high? Some classes at Oaksterdam not set to be taught until July are already filled up.

Canoes For Credit?

In a recent Washington Post Magazine, Emmett Rosenfeld, an English teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County wrote a 4,000-word first-person article complaining that he he had failed to win advanced professional certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The reason Rosenfeld didn’t earn the minimum score that would have won him certification and boosted his salary – and this shows that sanity reigns somewhere in a U.S. education estalishment otherwise in the thrall of trendy theories – was that for his tenth-graders’ class project, he had them build a canoe. A canoe? Wasn’t this supposed to be an English class?

That’s exactly what the National Board’s graders must have wondered, too. While Rosenfeld got a high mark on a required essay on literary analysis and a somewhat less good mark for a class assignment of his in which students built a three-tiered fountain to demonstrate the narrative flow in a novel by N. Scott Momaday, he received a mere one on a four-point scale for the canoe project. According to the scoring guide, Rosenfeld noted in his article, that meant there was “little or no evidence” of the “student achievement” to which the project was supposed to contribute.

The idea behind the canoe, part of a team-taught class in history and literature from 1500 to the present, was to show Rosenfeld’s students that Virginia’s native Indian tribes weren’t the primitives that “European colonists” deemed them to be, because they had been able to turn logs into canoes by burning out their insides and scraping them with oysters shells. So Rosenfeld’s students spent the year copying the Native Americans’ technology (although a photo of the project shows them cheating a bit with such white man’s tools as the adze.) They ended up with a 17-foot boat that proved to be seaworthy for at least a few minutes (it weighed 400 pounds unloaded).

Continue reading Canoes For Credit?

What’s Wrong With Your Horror Cinema Credits?

You’ll no doubt be encouraged to find out, on this fine date, that the academic study of horror cinema is alive and well. The University of Pennsylvania offers “Horror Cinema”, Bowdoin “The Horror Film In Context”, Xavier “The Horror Film”, and the University of South Carolina “Horror Films.” Australia’s not far behind, with horror offerings at the University of Melbourne.

Now it’s time to argue how these courses are wrong? Well, no, actually not. The problem’s not that such classes exist, but what they suggest about colleges’ attitudes to students and the importance of the learning that they convey. Classes such as horror cinema dangle pulpy bait in front of prospective students. Consider the University of Pennsylvania’s “Horror Cinema” class description: “an effort to better understand how the horror film makes us confront out worst fears and our most secret desires.” Yes, that’s what horror films do, and “worst fears” and “secret desires” are terms with more appeal for the average undergraduate than, say, “the sublime and the beautiful.” So the average student will eagerly troop to such a class, and then, to their great chagrin, find out that they were duped – the material considered is often quite substantive; there is, after all, a respectable body of criticism on horror, dating back to the Gothic novel and beyond. The problem is that, students reeled in, such classes are then typically suitable only for a schizophrenic inter-disciplinarity; the Penn course modestly promises to address “issues of ethics, gender, sexuality, violence, spectatorship through a variety of critical lenses (psychoanalysis, socio-historial and cultural context, aesthetics,…” Whew. That might be rewarding to a student who had studied ethics, or psychoanalysis, or say, the historical background of German expressionism, or had read Poe or Lovecraft in detail, but who’d bother with such musty old topics when they could pick up a splattering of knowledge (and course credits) by simply watching slasher movies in the first place.

Continue reading What’s Wrong With Your Horror Cinema Credits?