Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Second-Year Scholarships and Subsidized Slacking

Okay, I'll admit to being a sucker for certain kinds of ideas: they're usually 'what ifs' that involve upending a single thing, and watching the dominos fall. For example, the Car Talk guys recently proposed a sort of price support law for gasoline. It's essentially a variable tax that would go up when the price of oil went down, to ensure that gas doesn't go below, say, three bucks a gallon. (The revenues collected could go for progressive tax rebates, so the working poor don't get nailed.) The idea is to ensure that people factor the cost of gas into car buying decisions, to encourage carmakers to invest in efficiency.

I heard a good one recently. What if we created -- at a significant enough scale to matter -- a new kind of merit scholarship? This one would only kick in after a student had earned, say, thirty college credits at a set GPA, and with no major disciplinary infractions? In effect, what if the student (and/or her family) had to pony up for the first year, but could earn a free ride for the second?

At cc's, I've seen scholarships fall pretty much into two categories. The first is the classic "we'll help pay for you to come here" kind, which is what most people think of. At cc's those are typically based on documented economic need, though not always. (They aren't based on athletics, unlike at some other places.) They're awarded to first-year students, often with some kind of GPA requirement for renewal. The idea is to get the student in the door.

(The second kind, which I honestly don't understand, is the "we'll help pay for your next college" scholarship, awarded by the cc upon graduation. It's a humanitarian gesture, I suppose, but from the cc's perspective the money walks away with the student.)

The "get you in the door" scholarship has obvious merit, and I don't suggest otherwise. But in the case of cc's, getting in is less of an issue than staying in. Our retention and graduation rates simply aren't what they ought to be. We get plenty of people in the door who drop out prior to completing the degree or certificate for which they came. Some of that is harmless enough -- early transfer, for example. But a great deal of it has to do with students feeling overmatched in one way or another, whether academically, economically, personally, or some combination.

As the economy worsens, we get more students in the door, but retention becomes more problematic as already-precarious home lives become even more so. And while I fully believe that a two-year college degree can make a meaningful difference for many students -- whether as an employment credential or as a stepping-stone to a four year degree -- I'm not convinced that picking up a few credits here and there before dropping out does anybody very much good. (For present purposes, I'm not talking about adults who take the occasional class simply for personal fulfillment -- the retiree who takes a couple semesters of Italian before taking a trip to Italy. That's fine and lovely.) Far too many students show up with the best of intentions, but their cobbled-together support arrangements fall apart after a while and they walk away.

The second-year scholarship has the considerable virtue of rewarding tenacity. Those students who manage to keep their stuff together long enough to get through the equivalent of a first full year with a passing GPA have been, for lack of a better word, initiated; now they get a significant economic break. Now they can reduce their hours at outside jobs, or simply have a little more 'sanity' time to establish a sustainable pace. The second-year scholarship is much less prone to the objection of subsidizing slacking, since only those students who could pull it together in the first place could get it. And it looks at college achievement, rather than high school achievement, so it doesn't punish the late bloomer, the older student, or the product of a lousy school district. (That's not entirely true when one factors in the extra time for remediation, but the basic idea still holds.)

So that's my pitch. Wise and worldly readers -- what do you think?

One thing to keep in mind -- it is sometimes the case that a given student decides that college is not for him or her. Of course, that student will have to take a semester or two of classes to figure that out.

That said, what you're saying makes sense to me. You're taking students who have proven track records of managing time well and giving them the tools to complete school faster and/or manage risks better.

OTOH, if your students' main shocks come in the form of automobile failures and housing issues, perhaps you could look into having the college work with a developer to build small, cheap studios nearby. And there has to be something your auto shop can do to make regular maintenance more possible for your students.

Then, of course, there are bicycles and mopeds, especially electric mopeds, which have very low costs of ownership...
PunditusMaximus: Over 50% of my students have kids. Small, cheap, slightly larger than studio apartments? :)

DD: I think it sounds like a lovely idea, but you'd still need some "get them in the door" money, too.
How about a 'kicks in the second year' scholarship... So, you make the deal when they enter -- do well, take X number of credits etc... pay for the first year yourself and if you meet the standards, we'll pay for the second year.

Making the deal when they come in gives them the knowledge that they have a scholarship waiting for them in year two, thus improving retention. It also acts as a delayed 'get them in the door' scholarship.

I also think a significant protion of the scholarships should be for second year students -- for the reasons you articulate.

Finally, my CC has established a 'random acts of kindness' scholarship fund. That's for the student who needs $200.00 to pay for some random thing that might keep them from attending class, be it a car repair or whatever might stand in their way. These are given during the semester and in many cases have made the difference between a student staying or dropping out.
My wife's CC has something like this. She's in a culinary program, with an attached "restaurant" that serves lunch twice a week. If students work at the restaurant 100 hours during the first year, they get their second year tuition fully paid. It seems to motivate students.

The work/scholarship fits better in this case than most because it applies the lecture/lab so closely. But couldn't Auto Shop departments have something like this? Serving paying customers (maybe just for student cars?) with student labor--with the students paid with a scholarship.

If car troubles are a big deal for commuter students, that might kill two birds with one stone (and allow students to have cars worked on while at school instead of having to drop them somewhere and get a ride to school).

Just a thought.
"perhaps you could look into having the college work with a developer to build small, cheap studios nearby. "

We have these, and I have mixed feelings. The state leg decided that CCs that served 8 counties or more could have some form of student housing and it wouldn't be competing with the four-years. We serve 8+ officially, easily 20 unofficially (certain programs only available here -- GM dealer service training, Caterpillar service training, etc.).

I definitely have students who are coming from 90 minutes away who get one of these apartments and have a much easier time finishing their program -- and can do it faster.

But it turns out they're mostly used by 18-year-olds doing a 2+2 program who want a more "real" college experience ... and the crime rate in them is ABSURD. I really don't know why it's so high (and rising!), but I actively worry about my students who live there.

The local nursing college has some limited housing for single parents. THAT is seriously taken advantage of.
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I don't think I have a point, but I couldn't help noticing a parallel to tenure in this statement:

"The second-year scholarship is much less prone to the objection of subsidizing slacking, since only those students who could pull it together in the first place could get it."
This is a brilliant idea.
I generally agree...but...this is not terribly realistic for a lot of cc students:

Now they can reduce their hours at outside jobs, or simply have a little more 'sanity' time to establish a sustainable pace.

If you're talking about an 18 year old, full-time student who just works after school for the sake of tuition and spending money then yes, right on.

But for someone who works full-time and is tackling the degree at night and on weekends, she's probably not going to be able to cut back her hours. Most employers aren't very flexible, especially if you're the kind of entry-level employee who is usually seeking a cc degree. The receptionist needs to be there to answer the phone from 9-5, no exceptions. The paralegal needs to be there when her lawyer boss is dictating for an urgent case. The factory worker is on a set shift. The McDonald's employee might have some flexibility with hours, but if you're making minimum wage and supporting yourself, you can hardly afford to put in less than 40 hours a week. CC isn't so expensive that a free ride, no matter how wonderful and how appreciated, is enough to cancel overwhelming living expenses for a working, self-supporting adult.

But I sure wish I could tell you how to get around this problem. As long as people have to balance school with full-time work, you're going to get a lot of dropouts. It's a hard, hard slog. But to reduce or eliminate full-time work, you'd have to be giving some DAMN good scholarships. Plus, a lot of these students want to work full-time; they're on a career track and they want to speed it up with a degree, but they don't want to slow it down by cutting back to part-time status in the meantime, even if they could afford it.

A friend of mine worked for a company that gave her some time off every week to do homework, along with whatever time she needed to take her classes. I don't recall the formula, but the more credits she took, the more time she got off (to a point, of course) without limiting her salary or endangering her benefits by changing her full-time status. That really, really helped. She got her degree quickly and stayed with that company for years. But how to convince most companies to adopt such progressive policies?
Interesting points on the need for family-sized housing instead of dorm-ish housing.

One doesn't need high-rises, or even 3-story walkups to get reasonably high density. Townhouses do a fine job of doubling or tripling density nearby, which also has the pleasant side effect of allowing some families to do with one fewer car, a major financial improvement.
What about the option of a progressive scholarship? Something to get them in the door, but more if they are able to stick it out, get good grades, etc. And I agree with the other commenters that sometimes a non-directly monetary help is or free auto repair, low-cost housing...maybe even affordable daycare. All those things can be just as or more enticing to students than free tuition.
I love the 2nd-year scholarship idea. We have too many 'marginal' students who are repeatedly failing classes but continuing because they are getting funding. I would much rather see at least a portion of the money set aside for financial aid to go to the more successful students.
The helping hands for real-life hassles (auto maintenance, child care, etc.) are a great idea. Somehow such services seem more tangible when the need arises. This system also allows donors to see where their money is going. Yes, a scholarship is great but I sometimes wonder if the shiny new cell phone was bought with funds meant for texts.
Great idea. I particularly wonder if a "progressive" scholarship would be a way to reward progress through the "prep" classes, which is the biggest leakage point in our FTIC retention analysis. Suppose you gave a full tuition scholarship for the spring semester to kids who got through all of their "prep" classes in their fall semester (maybe in order of highest gpa)? Tuition is not their largest cost of attendance, but it would be perceived to be a huge reward.
If qualification rather than disqualifcation were rewarded one would obtain hate language not diversity. Inert intelligence is the paradigm of institutional racism.

Tolerate the Officially Sad!
So now in addition to:

But I NEED that grade for med school.

But I NEED that grade for law school.

But I NEED that grade or I'll fail out of school.

We'll also have:

But I NEED that grade to get money...
From my experience you need to couple this with a mandatory first semester course (one credit) on how to succeed. The amount of self inflicted damage is astounding and can be prevented.
Hi Nice Blog .This employee time attendance is used to track the time and attendance of employees, and at the same time track labor activity against specific parts, jobs, and operations.
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