Students Stuck for Four Years to Earn an Associate?s Degree

A new report released by the Campaign for College Opportunity shows that of the more than 60,000 students who obtained an associate’s degree in California during the 2012-2013 school year, half took over four years to get their degree. This is an alarmingly long time, especially when compared to the 4.7 years it takes the average student to complete a bachelor’s degree at California State University.

A significant number of community college students choose to take that route because of the affordability. According to data from College Board, in 2011, community college students paid on average $2,713 in tuition and fees, as compared to $7,605 for students who attended an in-state four-year institution. At less than half the cost, community colleges pose significant financial benefits for students who are on a tight budget.

Reference: Center on International Education Benchmarking

However, time seems to be the biggest enemy of students who begin their post-secondary education at the community college level. The College Board’s report shows that of the cohort of students who began their community college studies in 2005, only 21 percent graduated within three years – a full year longer than is traditionally required. Many of the financial benefits gained by attending a two-year institution are lost if students aren’t able to complete their degree on time. Yet, students who enroll in a two-year program are the ones who are most likely to be impacted by factors that extend their graduation timeline. These factors...
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In the summer of 2013, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), the accrediting agency responsible for oversight of California’s massive community college system, came under fire for withdrawing its accreditation of the City College of San Francisco. Among the ACCJC’s findings was that the college failed to balance its budget and was deficient in staffing and facility repairs. Upon making their recommendation for revocation available to the public, ACCJC faced a firestorm of criticism, with supporters of the college claiming that the commission’s decision was fueled by political bias.
 
Additional criticism has since been leveled against the organization for not following its own policies during the accreditation process. In fact, ACCJC has been reprimanded by the U.S. Department of Education for failing to meet federal guidelines in its review of the City College of San Francisco. Furthermore, ACCJC is accused of violating conflict of interest laws by appointing the husband of the commission’s president to an accreditation review team.

 
What has resulted is a nationwide spotlight on the methods by which community colleges and other institutions of higher learning gain accreditation. Critics of the current system contend that without federal oversight – accrediting organizations are self-regulated – commissions are apt to abuse of power and work under a cloak of secrecy. While these allegations are specific to ACCJC, the criticisms of its policies and procedures have been echoed nationwide. Together with a general confusion regarding the process...
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The essential difference between competency-based education (CBE) and traditional programs is that CBE measures learning without regard to time. They utilize direct measures of assessment to determine understanding of content, as opposed to requiring a certain number of credits or contact hours of class time in order to earn a letter grade. Students instead demonstrate what they know when they know it well enough to be deemed competent. In essence, it is much like an AP exam, only on a far larger scale: AP students must pass a test with a certain level of competency in order to earn credit for the course. Students in a competency-based program must do the same for each course they undertake.
 
The first program completely based on competencies rather than credits was green-lighted by the Department of Education in August of 2013 at College of America, a community college associated with Southern New Hampshire University. Since then, there has been a push for this type of system to be implemented at community colleges across the country. This movement is the result of several shifts in the landscape of higher education in recent years. As the cost of a college education continues to rise, community colleges, universities, federal agencies, and private entities have been exploring a less expensive way for students to obtain a degree or certification. The individualized pacing of CBE is seen by many as a solution to this problem, as it is a system of learning completely free of time-based instruction.

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Community college campuses have historically had a reputation for having many older students who have returned to college after raising a family, serving in the military, or working for many years. While the average age of a community college student is still 29, there are many younger faces beginning to walk the halls of community colleges. In fact, from 2002 to 2011, the number of high school students enrolled in college courses increased by 67 percent, to 1.3 million students.
 
High School Partnerships Fuel Enrollment
 
This shift towards a younger student population is largely the result of partnerships with local high schools. Kids as young as 13 and 14 years of age are enrolling in college courses and earning what’s known as dual credit – courses that count toward both high school and college graduation requirements. General education courses such as English, math and science are far and away the most popular courses taken by high school-aged students. But others take advantage of non-core course offerings such as humanities, fine arts, and physical education, as well. The result is that students are graduating with an associate’s degree before they even graduate from high school.
 
Baltimore County’s Diploma to Degree Program

 

In Baltimore County, Maryland, students who demonstrate exceptional academic skills can enroll in the Diploma to Degree Program. The program represents a partnership between several local public high schools and the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). The program provides free tuition for participants, so...
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A new program sponsored by the State Bar of California’s Council on Access and Fairness is creating new partnerships between 24 California community colleges and six law schools that will create a new pathway to law school for thousands of community college students. The Community College Pathway to Law School Initiative is a “pipeline program” that will offer community college students a host of resources to help them achieve their dream of practicing law. From tutoring and mentoring services to financial aid counseling and early exposure to law-related courses, the program will increase access to law school by making the transitions from a two-year institution to a four-year institution to law school occur in a much more smooth manner.
 
Seeking to Improve Diversity
 
At the heart of the program is a desire to increase diversity in California’s law schools, which traditionally have been overwhelmingly white. For example, about 70 percent of the University of California at Davis’ Law School identifies as white. Furthermore, throughout the first decade of the 2000s, although the number of available seats in law schools throughout the country increased, the percentage of black and Mexican-American students filling those seats declined. However, not all law schools in California lack diversity. The law school at the University of California at Irvine, which opened in 2009, boasts a 45 percent minority enrollment.

 

While UC Irvine has had success in attracting minority students, the percentage of minority applicants denied admission...
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Recent Articles
Students Stuck for Four Years to Earn an Associate?s Degree
Students Stuck for Four Years to Earn an Associate?s Degree
A recent report revealed that many California community college students take twice as long to get an associate’s degree as is normally required. While community college is less expensive than attending a four-year institution, students who drag out their degree programs lose much of that savings in additional tuition, fees, textbooks, and lost wages. In this article, we examine the reasons why some students take so long to graduate.
Undeserved Community College Accreditation: Abuse of Power?
Complaints about the current system of accrediting community colleges, combined with the quickly changing scope of community college education and how it’s delivered, may soon necessitate changes in the way that community college programs are accredited.
Competency-Based Education: Better for Your Academic Success?
In recent years, interest in competency-based education has risen drastically. It is a form of learning in which students engage in self-paced instruction and assessment of aptitudes rather than attending traditional courses and receiving traditional grades. Seen as the future of community college education by some, and as a cheapened version of a real education by others, competency-based education appears to be here to stay.