Open enrollment and the college completion agenda

Which approaches work best to help community college students succeed? The battle lines have been clearly drawn between two factions: those who want to close the door on open enrollment and those who want to severely limit student choice once they are enrolled. The phrase “allowing them [remedial students] to use up financial aid dollars” speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

From a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

The most effective step colleges can take, the new report argues, is to create streamlined, highly structured academic pathways that keep students on track to graduation. And it requires the kind of commitment that Miami Dade College made in hiring 25 more senior advisers to guide students and keep them from falling off course, the report says. Advisers in community colleges typically are responsible for hundreds of students. Meanwhile, budgets have been squeezed by years of state budget cuts and, more recently, declining enrollment.

But unless structured pathways and other completion efforts are scaled up nationally and succeed, the public will lose faith in the open-door mission of community colleges, which educate about half of all undergraduates and 44 percent of low-income students, the report says.

That open-door policy is already being questioned by some educators who say the nation’s completion push assumes that everyone is cut out for college, and that some simply aren’t.

Accepting students who read and write at a middle-school level into a college program and allowing them to use up financial-aid dollars in a remedial sequence they’ll probably never complete is a “cruel hoax,” argues Juliet L. Scherer, a professor of English at St. Louis Community College, and Mirra L. Anson, director of retention and early intervention at the University of Iowa. They make that argument in a recently released book, Community Colleges and the Access Effect: Why Open Admissions Suppresses Achievement (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

“Enrolling seriously unprepared students in college-level courses when an institution’s funding is highly dependent on student performance and when academic standards are often enforced by unprotected adjunct faculty is perhaps the fastest way to improve completion rates,” Ms. Scherer said in an interview on Wednesday. At the same time, it “guarantees obsolescence.”

But Ms. Couturier, of Jobs for the Future, said that while completion rates for such students are distressingly low, “I’m willing to keep trying. I don’t see it as a cruel hoax at all to give people hope and opportunity.”

Programs like Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, or I-BEST, which is cited in the report, teach students basic skills in the context of trades they’re preparing for. Such programs demonstrate that, with the right interventions and support, students at all levels can benefit from a college education, Ms. Couturier said.

- See more at: http://m.chronicle.com/article/A-Call-for-Big-Changes-to-Meet/150927/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en#sthash.cY66ZOnx.dpuf

Students Win Battle over Majors

Tonight’s Board meeting marked another significant win for students.

After almost two full hours of presentations and testimonies during Citizens to be Heard which reaffirmed the importance of majors, the Board had only this to say when it was their turn to hold discussion and possible action on the issue:

STUDENT SUCCESS

Discussion and Possible Action on AA & AS degrees – Trustee Joe Alderete: “Everything that needed to be said was said.” No action taken.

All eyes and ears will continue to watch and listen for this and other “dead issues” to resurface. But for now? Chalk this one up in the win column for the students of the Alamo Colleges.

Reaffirming the importance of majors: Board meeting tonight @ 6pm

Please come down to Sheridan tonight to help Alamo Colleges students, staff, faculty and community members REAFFIRM the importance of majors. Here’s the agenda packet. The Board may act on on this issue tonight in spite of Bruce Leslie’s latest mea culpa. It’s number 17 on the agenda:

17. STUDENT SUCCESS
A. Discussion and Possible Action on AA & AS degrees

Chancellor Bruce Leslie backs down on removal of majors

Chancellor Bruce Leslie has backed down once again on one of his initiatives for the Alamo Colleges: removal of majors. The count this year for Leslie is 0 for 5:

  1. Covey 7 Habits course into the core curriculum
  2. mandatory e-textbooks
  3. Board election
  4. 12-month contract memo
  5. removal of majors

Tough year.

Here’s his latest surprisingly short mea culpa on the removal of majors, sent via email:

M E M O R A N D U M

TO:              The Alamo Colleges Family

FROM:         Dr. Bruce Leslie, Chancellor

RE:               Preliminary Agreement to Enhance Transfer Student Success

DATE:          December 15, 2014

On Friday afternoon at our regularly scheduled Faculty Super Senate meeting, we arrived at a preliminary agreement to “develop an inclusive process to promote student success specifically relating to degree completion, transfer, and majors.”  The intent of this decision is to implement the Participatory Leadership principles published recently and ensure we engage a wide variety of voices as we work together to develop student-centric solutions to the complex issues we surfaced over the fall semester and implement crucial improvements.  The Presidents and Vice Chancellors (PVC) fully endorse this collaborative plan and anticipating that the outcomes will increase student transfer and completion.

Our collective intent with the Super Senate is to reconvene in January to develop the inclusive process that will begin by mid-February in order to offer recommendations by September that will achieve our common goal of student success, with the intention of implementing any resulting strategies for Fall, 2016. The agreement includes the reinstatement of “concentrations” i.e. “majors” in the catalog and on the transcripts until our new strategies define whether and what revisions will increase student success.

I have been pleased with the collaborative nature of our discussions and am confident that this go-forward plan will yield solutions that will proactively enhance our students’ success in transfer and degree completion. I want to also commend respective Student Governments and Faculty who have supported the recent changes as enhancing students’ course transferability. We want to ensure they will continue to have an active voice in this project.

Our recent conversations certainly uncovered many levels of opportunities to improve student degree completion and successful transfer.  Thus, this agreement provides a “reset” to provide additional time to engage student, faculty, staff and other stakeholder leadership across the Alamo Colleges, and engage colleagues from our partner universities/colleges and even our employer community, all having a role and vested interest in our students’ success.

As always, I sincerely appreciate your continued dedication to, and support of, the students and communities we serve.  The excellence that is the Alamo Colleges is a reflection of the outstanding personnel we have across our District. Thank you for all you do, have a wonderful holiday and return with renewed vigor to contribute to this important initiative.

C:        Board of Trustees

Student District Council

Dr. Bruce Leslie, Chancellor
Alamo Colleges
201 W. Sheridan, Bldg. A
San Antonio, TX 78204-1429
(210) 485-0020 (Phone)
(210) 486-9165 (Fax)

Removal of Majors: One Student’s Story

We received permission from SAC student Rhonda Jones to repost her story which originally appeared on Trustee Clint Kingsbery’s Facebook page. Thank you for sharing, Rhonda. And readers, please show up at Tuesday night’s Board meeting like your hair is on fire. Students like Rhonda need your support!

My opinion on what is happening, as well as quotes from Sprague in support of these decisions recently published in The Ranger:

San Antonio College has been taking strides to streamline the transfer process, with the goal of making it easier (and with less credit loss) to transfer to a university. However, that goal is accomplished with the 2+2 programs that require public universities to accept associate degrees from certain community colleges (like SAC) to satisfy their core. The students left out of this arrangement are students that transfer to private schools or schools out of state, which are the same students that would be left out of this ‘genius’ idea, which the article is in support of. SAC has decided to remove Majors from diplomas. So, for example, instead of graduating with an Associates of Arts in English, a student would merely graduate with an Associates of Arts for transfer.


For those students who do not want to be restricted by a set degree plan, this option is already available. However, to force it upon all students will have severe consequences. In practice, it will affect acceptance into certain programs and jeopardize scholarship opportunities. For example, I receives scholarships from the English department at St. Mary’s University, based on my success as an English major at SAC. Furthermore, it devalues an associate’s degree (as evidenced below). Personally, my pay increased over 3.00 p/h upon graduating with my A.A. in ENGLISH— that is pretty valuable to me. However, effects like this don’t worry stuffy suits sitting comfortably at the top of the food chain.


And, all of this completely ignores the negative psychological effects. Many students within the SAC community are first generation high school graduates and an even larger population are first time college students. Our inner-city high schools have some of the highest drop-out rates in the nation. We need to promote education and college, rather than deter students from even trying. Deeming them “in the same category as the drop out,” after earning their associate degree, lowers confidence, learning efficacy, and motivation—- tragically stealing away from their amazing accomplishments, and greatly risking the success of their further endeavors.


I take great pride in my A.A. in English. And, I am disgusted by the lack of consideration for student concerns from an institution in place to boost the over-all community it serves.

Rhonda Jones's photo.

Call to Action from Trustee Kingsbery: Fight These Outlandish Changes

We received permission to repost Trustee Clint Kingsbery’s most recent Facebook post. Please do come to the Board meeting at Sheridan on Tuesday night, 6pm.

Call to Action:

Friends, I’m reaching out to get as many in the community to our scheduled board meeting.

Tuesday Dec. 16th at 6:00
201 W. Sheridan

We are addressing the removal of Majors from diplomas and transcripts and potentially replacing them with “Transfer Major”.

I’ve spoken with many who are concerned that this change will negatively impact our students. In fact, I’ve not heard any arguments for this change and how it’s being implemented. I’ve been posting updates on this issue for some time now, and I’m sure my position on this matter is quite clear. I was voted onto the board to represent my constituents. I serve the community, and in this matter, I feel we’ve rushed headlong into something that will hurt the community.

Below is a notice I’ve been posting to let the community know the situation. I want some feedback, but more than anything I want people to come to the board meeting and stand with others in voicing their concerns about this change.

Please let me know your opinion as well, I tried to be thorough and address the arguments that have been presented. Please share this with anyone who lives in Bexar county, as they are all affected by this change, and should be aware of what is happening.

The Alamo colleges are removing Majors from degrees, and the community barely knows this.

Some history:

In April of 2014 (during my campaign) the PVC (Presidents and Vice-Chancellors) passed an initiative to essentially remove academic majors from the diploma and transcripts. The board never voted on the issue as it was presented as a technical issue that did not warrant the board’s involvement. The issue was mostly forgotten and didn’t show up again until Fox News covered it on Sept. 18th in an evening segment.

This was the very first time I’d heard of the issue, but it was an early story with little details. This led to a deeper look into the change that had happened and how it would ultimately affect our students and the community as a whole.

Through efforts of those directly connected to the issues, as well as those of a few other board members, we’ve made some very worrisome discoveries in regard to this change. Students who registered for the first time with us in Fall of 2014 were under the new catalog, which had changed in April with little notice. All students who graduate under that catalog will not receive a degree with a major in their respective field (with regard to an A.A. or A.S. degree). What students will now receive is simply an A.A. or A.S. with no major attached. A student who would normally be able to get an A.S. degree in mathematics will now get only an A.S. degree, for example.

The transcript calls these degrees “Transfer Majors,” which were designed to ease in the transfer process from a 2-year institution to a 4-year institution. However, this is done with a sacrifice to the content of the programs the students are trying to get a degree in. It was asked whether this new degree would have the same level of rigor as the traditional degree. The response was that the new degree would transfer more easily, but there was no direct response to the question. I believe this is due to how the transfer degrees work.

Students at Alamo Colleges take 42 core hours and 18 concentration hours in their specific field of study. This constitutes the 60 hours required for an associate’s degree. The idea behind the transfer major is that students will take the 42 hour core and then take what would essentially be a few courses in the field of study and filled in with transferable electives. This means that, yes, the hours will probably transfer to the school of choice (assuming the student worked with a competent adviser who ensured the classes would be accepted), but they won’t necessarily enhance the student’s understanding of the subject matter or work toward the baccalaureate degree.

So what does this mean to the average taxpayer? The Alamo Colleges is a taxing entity, and therefore, you support our school with your property taxes as well as whatever contribution we receive from the state. This change is taking a reasonably valuable associate’s degree and devaluing it to the point of a transfer degree. When I imagine sending my son off to school at some point in the future, I expect him to get a degree for the money and time spent, not a degree that works only as a transfer document. I would simply have him take only 42 hours and get out of there without the degree if that were the case. Unfortunately, that thought process will hurt the colleges significantly as a portion of our funds are tied to graduation rates. Ironically, I’m told this entire change is geared to increase graduation rather than the more obvious effect of people not wanting to waste their time on classes that may transfer, but don’t build into their major.

A scenario that was presented to me and made a good point about the whole thing was this:

As an employer looking to hire someone, given the choice between 2 potential candidates, one who has an AA in business, and another who has an AA with transfer major in business, who would you choose? I suspect you would pick the candidate who has an actual degree in business. That is unacceptable. We should be offering out students the best possible value for the money that is spent to get a degree. To have it watered down is ridiculous.

Concerning transfer, we have maintained a good relationship with the local colleges through 2+2 programs and other initiatives that ensure that many of our students classes transfer to the 4-year universities. The idea that the transfer major will actually improve transferability is borne of a misconception that we are having difficulties in getting our courses transferred to the universities.

The irony is that the Alamo colleges already has a program available for students that suits this very need and does so without sacrificing Majors for all of our AA and AS students. Even worse, these changes could possible hurt the accreditation of 3 colleges that are currently working on their review process. Though nothing concrete, I’ve heard from reliable sources that this could very easily cause some serious problems with SACSCOC (our accreditation firm). I’m still waiting to get confirmation, but the fact that it has been brought up is concerning enough, considering we’re still working to get Northeast Lakeview College accredited.

Once again, we’re seeing those who are in positions of leadership, wielding their power irresponsibly, and not working with the community they serve to ensure the best for our students. Even if the program were the best path, the lack of transparency, lack of public engagement, and the lack of board involvement is very concerning.

Thank you very much for looking this over and sharing the information. I’m hoping to get people involved in this decision from the community, as it’s happening with minimal community input.

Please pass along this information to everyone, and try to bring a presence to fight these outlandish changes:

When: December 16th at 6:00 pm.
Where: At our downtown office at 201 W. Sheridan St.

I’m hoping you can gather a number of people to come and sign up for Citizens to be Heard to offer your own opinions on the matter and express concern over the change. Sign ups start at 5:00 pm and ends at 5:55 pm.