California and Texas: Big States, Big Plans
Task forces at the California Community College System and the University of Texas at Austin issued reports that could overhaul their policies, practices and priorities in an effort to increase graduation rates. The recommendations in both reports could have far-reaching implications for campuses across the country.
California Community Colleges’ Student Success Task Force grew out of Senate Bill 1143 (2010), which recognized the important role of the state’s two-year institutions but also noted that only 24% of degree-seeking students complete a certificate, associate degree or transfer to a four-year institution within six years. The bill’s sponsor placed some of the blame on a funding system that awards enrollment but not completion at the community colleges, which serve 2.6 million students annually.
The task force’s final report, which was endorsed by the Board of Governors in January and serves more as a student success plan, contains eight areas of focus with 22 recommendations:
- Increase college and career readiness
- Strengthen support for entering students
- Incentivize successful student behaviors
- Align course offerings to meet student needs
- Improve education of basic skills students
- Revitalize and re-envision professional development
- Enable efficient statewide leadership and increase coordination among colleges
- Align resources with student success recommendations.
The crux of the recommendations – which also is generating the most controversy – is to place a higher priority on students who are pursuing a credential or intending to transfer to four-year institutions, as well as on the courses that advance their progress. Many of the proposals are in line with developments in research and practice that support ways to move students toward completion, including:
- Requiring students to participate in a diagnostic assessment and orientation, and to develop an educational plan
- Requiring students to declare a program of study early in their academic careers
- Encouraging innovation and flexibility in the delivery of remedial education instruction
- Identifying and tracking progress on specific goals for student success that are aligned with statewide goals.
The California community college system finds itself in a bind. Deep budget cuts and ongoing fiscal constraints have limited course offerings and enrollment slots for thousands of students at a time when pressures are mounting to increase completion rates. Yet the emphasis on students with a stated goal could limit access for those who seek enrichment classes or might stretch out their courses while juggling the multiple demands of their lives.
In the Lone Star state, the Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates at the University of Texas at Austin responded to calls from lawmakers and public policy groups to boost graduation rates, increase efficiency and contain costs. While the UT at Austin’s four-year completion rate is higher than other University of Texas campuses, it falls below other peer and research universities across the country. So, university officials and task force members set an overall goal to raise the four-year graduation rate at the 50,000-student flagship campus from 50% to 70% by 2016.
The task force’s report offers more than 60 recommendations aimed at improving results at UT at Austin. Among them:
- Create an online tool to better allow students and advisers to monitor progress to a degree
- Develop more intervention programs to identify and assist students in academic jeopardy
- Identify “bottleneck” courses where lack of available seats can impede students’ ability to pursue their required paths to graduation
- Discourage students from changing majors after four semesters or adding a second major if they cannot finish in four years
- Create flat-rate summer tuition to encourage students to take more courses
- Enforce the state’s “slacker” rule that would increase tuition for students who have not graduated despite earning more than the required number of credits.
While not directly involved in the task force’s work, the Texas legislature weighed in on the graduation rate issue by enacting House Bill 3025 in 2011, which required students to create degree plans intended to help them complete their programs in a timelier manner.
Don’t miss out on the upcoming show – and maybe showdown – as California and Texas move forward on their sweeping plans to get students through the postsecondary pipeline faster and to boost completion rates.