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The second best day…

The only day better than the day students graduate is the day our Take Stock in Children students sign their contracts.

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The Completion Conundrum

October 20, 2014

The Completion Conundrum

Lawmakers shouldn’t lump together two-year and four-year colleges in setting graduation goals

By Rob Jenkins

In August my colleagues and I were told in a faculty meeting that if we didn’t make sure our students graduated then we weren’t serving them well.

With all due respect, that’s nonsense.

To be fair, that comment came from someone who has an unenviable task: leading our two-year college’s response to the state’s “Complete College Georgia” plan, which is aligned with the national College Completion Agenda. Further complicating matters is the fact that our state funding—never exactly a windfall to begin with—will now depend, in part, on how well our students “complete,” which apparently means “graduate with a credential.”

I understand what’s driving this agenda. No one denies that today’s sophisticated economy requires a better-educated populace. At the same time, recent studies indicate that the United States lags behind other industrialized nations in graduation rates. Two-year colleges, in particular, seem to have a poor track record when it comes to graduating their students. It’s easy to see how policy makers, especially during an anemic recovery, might wonder if continuing to finance such “failure” is a wise use of resources.

Those of us who view teaching as a calling would obviously love to see more of our students succeed in reaching their educational goals. And when they don’t, we, to some degree, do feel responsible. But it’s not as though we haven’t been trying. What we used to call “retention” has been an issue for as long as I’ve been around academe. During my 29-year career, I’ve gone through more retention “initiatives” than college presidents, and that’s saying something.

In other words, this is not a new problem. What’s new is the proposed solution in my state and many others: to reduce a college’s funding if it doesn’t measure up to arbitrary standards of completion.

Will that motivate faculty members to try harder? Maybe. Or maybe they’ve already been trying as hard as they can, and they’ll just throw up their hands and wait for the inevitable (which, to some extent, is what I’m seeing). Or maybe they’ll simply “improve” completion by lowering standards, which will give us more graduates who know less. That’s a fairly common response when teachers are faced with unrealistic expectations coupled with punitive measures.

My plea, aimed primarily at legislators and policy makers at the state level, is to exercise good judgment when crafting and enforcing college-completion policies. Please take time to educate yourselves about the different types of academic institutions in your state and their respective missions, lest you do irreparable harm through well-meaning attempts to regulate something that may, in the long run, prove impossible to regulate.

To that end, I would like to offer five truths about two-year colleges that I hope policy makers will consider on this issue:

  1. Two-year colleges are vital to our nation, to the economy, and to the completion agenda itself.I wrote two columns, back in Apriland in June, talking about “The Good That Community Colleges Do.” If you haven’t yet, I would urge you to read both for a detailed understanding.

If more students are to complete college, we must first provide opportunities for them to enter college. Two-year institutions do just that, offering admission to students rejected by other, more-selective campuses. We serve any number of groups that are significantly underrepresented elsewhere: the academically underprepared, the economically underprivileged, minority students, and returning adults, just to name a few.

In most states, two-year colleges already get less money than other institutions. Further reducing that support will limit opportunities for thousands of students, which in turn will hurt our economy by reducing the number of educated workers. It will also negatively affect college completion—the very behavior that the threat of budget cuts was supposed to encourage.

  1. It ought to be self-evident but apparently it isn’t: Two-year colleges are different from four-year institutions.In fact, one of the most alarming things about the college-completion agenda, to me, is the way two- and four-year colleges are being lumped together, with similar outcomes expected of both. That makes no sense to anyone who understands higher education.

In most states, two-year colleges have very low admission requirements or virtually nonexistent ones known as “open-door policies.” Their mission, in short, is to accept just about anybody. The vast majority of four-year colleges are at least moderately selective, admitting students based on test scores and high-school grades.

In addition, most students who enter a four-year college do so with the intent to stay and graduate. Many students at two-year colleges—perhaps the majority—have no such intention. They want to transfer as soon as possible, or maybe just pick up a course or two for certification or other reasons.

  1. Two-year colleges are nevergoing to have the same output as four-year colleges.Nationwide, graduation rates at two-year campuses hover in the range of 30 percent to 40 percent, while four-year institutions typically graduate around 60 percent to 70 percent of their students.

Think about that for a moment. At a typical two-year college, about a third of the students have to take pre-college, “developmental” courses because they didn’t have the skills to succeed in college when they arrived on our campus. It’s not surprising that many of those students don’t make it through to graduation; what ought to be surprising is how many of them do. Do we really want to close off higher education for those students by defunding their programs?

Another third (or more) of students at two-year colleges have no intention of sticking around to graduate. Just the other day, I had the following conversation with a new student:

Student: How many hours do I need to transfer to Nearby State University?
Me: You probably need 24, at least, but 30 would be better. And it would be even better if you stayed here and got your associate degree. Then you’d have a degree to show for your efforts and NSU would be pretty much obligated to accept all your hours.
Student: How long would that take?
Me: Two years, if you go full time each semester or pick up some courses in the summer. You’re looking at about 60 to 65 hours, depending on your program.
Student: (Long pause) Um, I think I just want to transfer as soon as I can.
I know, I know. I was supposed to say, “You vill graduate. Ve have vays to make you graduate.” But who am I to make that decision for her? All I can do is provide accurate information, along with some decent advice, and let her make up her own mind. And if she transfers to Nearby State University after picking up 30 credit hours with us and then graduates, who’s to say that we haven’t played a vital role in her success?

  1. Two-year colleges aren’t all the same.Up to this point I’ve used “two-year colleges” as a blanket term, but within that category is a varied bunch of institutions with different missions. Some, like mine, are primarily “access institutions,” portals into their state’s university system. Others are more technically oriented, offering programs designed to funnel students into the work force as quickly as possible.

And then there are what we call “comprehensive community colleges”—places where both functions (transfer and training) exist on the same campus, allowing students to move back and forth between both sides of the house. As I’ve argued before, this is America’s uniquely egalitarian contribution to higher education. Instead of becoming stuck on a particular “track,” students have the opportunity relatively late in the educational process to decide what they want to do with their lives.

In short, we can’t lump all two-year colleges together any more than we can conflate two-year and four-year ones. We have to respect their varied missions and judge them ultimately on how well they fulfill those missions.

  1. Two-year colleges have lots of special cases (and I don’t mean athletes).After the meeting at which we were lectured for not graduating more students, a colleague who’s working on her doctorate confided that she’s the poster child for what’s wrong with our college. “What do you mean?” I asked. She reminded me that, the previous year, she had taken a couple of courses on our campus to bone up for her Ph.D. language exam. But of course she had no intention of graduating from here. “So you see,” she said, “I’m a failure.”

Irony aside, situations like that are extremely common at two-year colleges. We have adults coming back to take courses for personal enrichment. We have transient students taking a math or English class over the summer. And we have loads and loads of dual-enrollment students, most of whom are just taking a course or two. This semester I’m teaching two early-morning sections of a course composed entirely of local high-school kids trying to pick up a few college credits before they go off to the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech next fall.

Is it to those students’ advantage to complete some of their college coursework while still in high school? Obviously. By offering those courses, are we performing a service for them and the taxpayers of this state? No question. Then why should we as an institution be penalized because those students don’t stay with us and graduate? Once again, that makes no sense.

So please, policy makers, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Recognize that a one-size-fits-all standard does not work in higher education. Otherwise, we risk destroying the very system we’re counting on to help us prepare students for life and work in the 21st-century.

Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College and author ofBuilding a Career in America’s Community Colleges.

2014 Contract Signing Calendar

Monday, October 27, 2014     

1:00 p.m.

Sugarloaf School

SLS Media Center

255 Crane Blvd. Sugarloaf Key, MM 19

 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014   

1:30 p.m.

Coral Shores / Plantation Key / Treasure Village Schools

CSH Media Center

89901 Overseas Hwy, Tavernier, MM 89

 

3:30 p.m.

Key Largo School

KLS Media Center

104801 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo, MM 104

 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

1:30 p.m.

Marathon Middle and High Schools

MHS Media Center

350 Sombrero Beach Road, Marathon, MM 54

 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

9:00 a.m.

Key West High School

KWH Media Center

2100 Flagler Avenue, Key West

 

3:30 p.m.

Horace O’Bryant Middle School

HOB Media Center

1105 Leon Street, Key West

Take Stock in Children Ready to Welcome 60 New Scholars, but Needs Mentors

Additional mentors are needed to match with incoming Take Stock in Children students prior to the contract signing ceremonies scheduled for the week of October 27th.

Key West, October 13, 2014

 

Take Stock in Children, the flagship college scholarship program of the Monroe County Education Foundation, is ready to accept nearly 60 new students into the program during the last week of October. “We have a fantastic group of qualified candidates who are ready to join Take Stock in Children and work towards achieving their goal of a college education. However, if we do not have a volunteer mentor to match with the student, we cannot accept the student into our program,” said Monroe County Education Foundation president Steve Pribramsky.

 

Who can be a mentor?  “Mentors are not tutors or counselors; they are compassionate, caring adults who agree to meet with a student on campus during the school day once a week for 30 to 45 minutes,” program coordinator Chuck Licis explained. “We screen, background check, and train all mentors before paring them up our Take Stock scholars, and there is a college success coach in each area to assist the mentors and students.” Take Stock needs mentors throughout the Keys, but especially in the Lower Keys at Sugarloaf Middle, Horace O’Bryant Middle, and Key West High schools.

 

“Our mission is to accept all students from low-income families with the desire, motivation, and potential to go to college,” said Licis. “These students are given the ‘chance of a lifetime’ with mentoring in middle and high school followed by the scholarship that pays for four years college tuition and fees.”

 

Take Stock in Children is entering its 15th year in Monroe County of providing college scholarships to low-income students who meet the eligibility requirements. Take Stock scholars make a commitment to maintain a 2.5 or higher grade point average, maintain good attendance and behavior, and meet weekly with a mentor.

 

A child is waiting for his or her chance of a lifetime, a college scholarship, but we need your help to make the dream a reality! If you are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact Chuck Licis at 305-293-1546 or at chuck.licis@keysschools.com.

Take Stock in Children Monroe County needs Mentors

Take Stock in Children, the flagship college scholarship program of the Monroe County Education Foundation, is ready to accept nearly 60 new students into the program at the end of October. “We have a fantastic group of qualified candidates who are ready to join Take Stock in Children and work towards achieving their goal of a college education. However, if we do not have a volunteer mentor to match with the student, we cannot accept the student into our program,” said Monroe County Education Foundation president Steve Pribramsky.

 

Who can be a mentor? “Mentors are not tutors or counselors; they are compassionate, caring adults who agree to meet with a student on campus during the school day once a week for 30 to 45 minutes,” program coordinator Chuck Licis explained. “We screen, background check, and train all mentors before paring them up our Take Stock scholars, and there is a college success coach in each area to assist the mentors and students.” Take Stock needs mentors throughout the Keys, but especially in the Lower Keys at Sugarloaf Middle, Horace O’Bryant Middle, and Key West High schools.

 

“Our mission is to accept all students from low-income families with the desire, motivation, and potential to go to college,” said Licis. “These students are given the ‘chance of a lifetime’ with mentoring in middle and high school followed by the scholarship that pays for four years college tuition and fees.”

 

A child is waiting for his or her chance of a lifetime, a college scholarship, but we need your help to make the dream a reality! If you are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact Chuck Licis at 305-293-1546 or at chuck.licis@keysschools.com.

Please welcome Mindy Conn to our team!

I’m very excited to announce one of our newest Take Stock in Children college success coaches, Mindy Conn, who will serve our Take Stock scholars and mentors at Horace O’Bryant (HOB) Middle School, Sugarloaf Middle School, and Sigsbee Charter School as well as at Key West Collegiate Academy. Being a current mentor of a Take Stock junior at Key West High, a former substitute teacher, and involved parent in our school system, Mindy brings a much-valued mentor, educator, and parent perspective to her role as success coach.
Monday, September 15th, we welcomed Mindy to our outstanding TSIC team of college success coaches. She is quickly familiarizing herself with her students and mentors and, after waiting several days for a computer, school district email address and network login, she is now able to communicate electronically with you and her students! While she will work out of an office at HOB middle school, she has arranged her part-time schedule to include weekly visits to each school.
You will have an opportunity to meet Mindy this Thursday, September 25 at 3:00pm in the media center at HOB. If you are unable to make it to the meet and greet, I encourage you to contact Mindy at Mindy.Conn@keyesschools.com or at 305-293-1400, ext. 53303 to set up an appointment.
Sincerely,
Chuck Licis
TSIC Program Coordinator

Please welcome Denise Gil-Perez to our team!

Please join me in welcoming Denise Gil-Perez to our outstanding Take Stock in Children team of college success coaches. She will serve our Take Stock scholars, mentors, and parents at Key West High School.
A Miami native of Cuban descent and former Key West resident, Denise most recently earned her master’s degree in social work from San Francisco State University while working in the field in the bay area. Denise will contribute a student-centered, bi-cultural perspective to our success coach team. She is very excited to be a part of our program and is eager to help our scholars become college and career ready.
Monday, September 15th, was Denise’s official first day on the job. During the week, she quickly familiarized herself with her students and mentors and, after waiting several days for a computer, email address, and network login, she is now able to communicate electronically with you and her students!
Denise’s office is located at Key West High, room 2-207 located upstairs above the media center. We will plan a meet and greet at the high school in the coming weeks. Until then, you are welcome to drop by her office or contact her either by email atDenise.Perez@keysschools.com or phone at 305-293-1400, ext. 54402 to introduce yourself.
Sincerely,
Chuck Licis
TSIC Program Coordinator