Using MOOCs to get refugees into college

collage of refugee images with superinposed text

MOOCs, Massive Open Online Classes in which students could study college-level material for free, were initial seen as major disruptive force in education.

It didn’t happen.

Even when they were free, many students didn’t find them worth completing.

Higher ed has learned from the experience, and begun seeking better ways to use their assets—all those highly skilled professors—to greater advantage.

One of the most intriguing MOOC applications I’ve seen was reported in the March 1 Springwise.com weekly newsletter. Here’s what it says:

Berlin-based Kiron works with refugee students to put together an online course of study, rigorous enough to provide entry into a partner university’s second year of study. Using Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Kiron helps students master their new country’s language while studying basic prerequisites for a chosen university degree. Already working with more than 1,500 students in Germany, Kiron recently expanded into France.

With less than one percent of all refugees able to access higher education, MOOCs help get new students to the necessary level of knowledge for in-person university study. Kiron also provides off-line support including study buddy programs and career guidance. Once a participant completes the two-year online program, he or she has the opportunity to enroll for free (as a second year student) in one of Kiron’s partner university’s programs.

If the model works for refugees who have to master another language in order to get maximum benefit from college-level work, it seems to me that pairing free online educational content suited to students’ career objectives along with off-line support might be a solution to some of America’s skill-gap problems.

What do you think?


Kiron offers internships and volunteer opportunities in Germany and the possibility for people with special skills such as tutoring or programming to volunteer remotely.

More on concurrent enrollment’s value for students

Some months ago, I wrote about concurrent enrollment programs, high school courses that allow students to earn college credits for the work they do at their home high school¹.

In my local school district, students can take courses through Tompkins Cortland Community College. TC3’s Concurrent Enrollment Coordinator, Rhonda Kowalski-Oltz,  told met that on average, students from participating schools earn 10.3 credit hours. (The minimum full-time load student load at TC3 is 12 credit hours per semester, the average course load for a full-time matriculated student is 14-16 credit hours per semester.)

This spring, Kowalski-Oltz, said,  20 concurrently enrolled students will complete associate degrees  (either AA or AS²)  at TC3. All are transferring into four-year colleges as either juniors or second semester sophomores—a huge cost savings for them.

The associate degree advantage

The students who get AA or AS degrees, either when they complete high school or later, may get another benefit as well.

A 2014 Community College Research Center study found students who get a transfer-oriented associate degree before transferring to a four-year institution were 20-percentage points more likely to get their bachelor’s degree within four to six years than those who didn’t complete their AA or AS first.

The CCRC study’s authors say reasons for achievement advantage AA and AS degree holders have may result from the efficiency of transfer-oriented programs in avoiding credit loss upon transfer. It might also result from more subtle factors such as the perception that students who earned an associate degree have the skills and attitudes needed to complete a bachelor’s degree.

As long as students choose courses or sequences with an eye to what will be accepted at the school to which they plan to transfer, dual enrollment courses appear ideal for students planning to continue their education to the bachelor’s level or beyond.

The non-campus advantage for colleges

Dual enrollment also appears to be good for community colleges that accept the penny-pinching, bachelor’s degree seeking students.

I think it’s safe to say TC3 wouldn’t have operated the concurrent enrollment program for so long if it weren’t profitable.

If the students taking college courses at their high schools were enrolled on campus, they would have paid tuition, of course, but the college would also have had to provide instructors, classrooms and laboratories, heat and lights, auxiliary services, and parking places.

If the students had taken distance learning classes, they would have paid tuition. But then college would also have the attrition problems attendant upon distance classes in addition to the cost of instructors, technology, and support services for both instructors and students.

Between 2003 and 2013 the number of high school students participating in dual credit programs at TC3 increased from 2,879 to 8,448, according to Inside Counts, a publication of TC3’s Institutional Research Department, fall 2013 issue. The publication goes on to say this:

The impact [of concurrent enrollments] on TC3, while mostly invisible on the main campus, has been huge in terms of enrollment numbers (Figure 2). As regular credit enrollment declined from a peak in 2010, concurrent enrollment increased to fill much of the gap. In 2003-2004 concurrent students made up approximately 12 percent of the total FTEs (Full Time Equivalent unit equal to 30 credits) in TC#’s budget. By 2012-13 it was up to close to 21 percent of the College’s FTEs.

Winner for baccalaureate-bound

On the whole, dual enrollments look like a good deal for both the high school student seeking an affordable four-year degree and a community college looking for a way to attract students who can bolster its degree-granting success.

Unresolved question

The question that still bugs me is the question of fairness.

Are career-oriented students getting an equivalent degree of help preparing for the workplace as their baccalaureate-seeking peers are getting in preparing for college?

Do the Career-Technical Education (CTE) students get comparable support for a vocationally-oriented associate degree program as students going into more academically-oriented programs?

Do the articulation agreements between CTE programs and community colleges actually reduce the cost of an associate degree for students?

Are taxpayers, especially those in rural and less-desirable urban areas, well-served by programs that help their best students become the next generation of taxpayers someplace else?

I don’t have any answers, but I have some suspicions.


¹In some cases high school students take college courses on a college campus for dual credit, but typically they take courses at their high school.

² AA and AS degrees are designed for students planning to transfer credits to a four-year institution.  A third type of two-year degree (an AAS, for example) marks the conclusion of students’ vocational education prior to their entering the workforce.

Dual enrollment courses: How students may benefit

I’ve been thinking about dual enrollment courses lately.

My musing was prompted partially by the Obama proposal to give high school graduates two free years of community college, partially by a new report from the Education Commission of the States, and partially by an item in my local school district newsletter about its program’s success.

Dual enrollment or concurrent courses are classes taken by high school students for which they receive both high school and college credit.

Usually the higher education institution is a community college. Less often it is either a public or private college or a proprietary school.

In most cases, the college courses are taught at the students’ home schools instead of on the colleges’ campuses.

Financial benefits for students

hs-tcs graphicIn view of the high costs of college, dual enrollment courses are an attractive option for students and their families. The post-secondary institution doesn’t charge students tuition.

Ambitious students whose home high schools offer the courses they need through concurrent enrollment can graduate high school with two years’ worth of college  credits for which they did not have to pay.

There are other savings as well. Students don’t have to pay some of the fees students enrolled for only college credit must shoulder.

They don’t live on campus, so they save on dormitory costs.

And, since in most cases the instruction is delivered on the high school campus, students save on transportation costs.

Students who graduate high school at age 18 with two years of college credits could have their bachelor’s degree at age 20 with only a fraction of the outstanding debt of those who take four years to go through college.

Academic benefits for students

The academic area is where things get murky.

Publicity materials for concurrent enrollment programs emphasize that that being able to take remedial work in the familiar environment of their home school is helpful for students with skill deficits. They make a similar argument in favor of home-school advantage for students who don’t have people in their home circle who have attended college.

It is certainly a fact that the more remediation students need at the post-secondary level the less likely they are to succeed in college. I’m not sure, however, that a remedial course at the home school will be any more beneficial than remedial course in a college classroom. (I’ve had students in my first year college composition classes who had taken remedial English on campus; they were still not ready for college composition.)

The value to be derived from of acclimating disadvantaged students to the college environment by seating them in high school classrooms also strikes me as suspect.  Even if the course in the high school setting is every bit as good as the one on the college campus, students still are not having a college experience.

Classes that meet on a less-than-daily schedule and classes that meet for longer time sessions are college features that students typically don’t experience on a high school campus.

More important is that the high school environment rarely provides the diversity of a college campus, even if the two are in the same city. The experience of working with people different from yourself is one of the key experiences of college.

The final academic question is whether the courses taught at the high schools are every bit as good as the ones on campus.

That is a tough question to answer.

Nationally, only 11 percent of academically-oriented courses and 14 percent of career-technology education courses are taught by college faculty, according to the National Center on Education Statistics. The vast majority of the concurrent enrollment courses (61 percent of academic and 67 percent of CTE courses) are taught by high school faculty.

That does not mean the high school teachers don’t know their material or are not good teachers.

It does, however, raise some questions about whether they can teach high school students at the college level.

TC3

My local school district gets its college credits through  Tompkins Cortland Community College, TC3.  Here’s how the process works, according to the TC3 website.

A local school teacher applies to the college for authorization to teach specific courses at his/her home school. The college’s website says:

Many instructors find that courses they teach, or hope to teach, can be adapted to align with TC3 courses. For example, many 12th grade Honors English teachers offer ENGL101 and even ENGL102, Regents chemistry may be aligned with CHEM101 and 102, and a government class may be adapted to meet POSC103 expectations.

If accepted—the college has a list of minimum teacher requirements for each course—teachers must follow a master template for the course. Here’s a link to the mater template for the first half of TC3 first year English, ENGL100.

TC3 requires faculty to file copies of their course outlines with the college. It also assigns faculty liaisons observations to assist concurrent faculty. (I’m assuming someone other than John Updike does the English course observations; he’s not on the TC3 staff roster.)

I’ve just touched the surface of aspects of the concurrent courses that need some more investigation.

I’ll hold that for another day.

If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend Jennifer Dounay Zinth’s 2015 report written for the Education Commission of the States: http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/01/17/16/11716.pdf


[corrected broken link 12-Nov-2015; corrected broken link 2016-01-22]