How colleges can prevent default

Protecting Colleges and Students looks at how nine community colleges are helping student borrowers avoid default. The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) and The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) collaborated on the report.

CDR Report Cover Small for WebNot surprisingly, borrowers who left college without earning at least 15 credits were much more likely to default than more successful classmates at the nine colleges.

The default rate for low-income students varied. For example, Pell Grant recipients — typically with family incomes below $40,000 — were four percentage points more likely to default than non-recipients at one college, while the gap was 20 percentage points at another college.

Only 17 percent of community college students use federal loans, but more than a third of graduates “needed loans to get to graduation,” said J. Noah Brown, president of ACCT.

The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Education provide guidance on colleges’ options for managing student debt, make the National Student Loan Data System more user-friendly, improve counseling tools and streamline loan servicing.

Community colleges should  analyze who borrows and who defaults to inform their default-reduction strategies, the report recommends. In addition, colleges should provide counseling and information to borrowers when they need it and participate in the federal loan program.


Feds will test aid for competency programs

North Carolina community colleges and state universities will award college credit for military training and experience.

Hoping to speed older students to a degree, the U.S. Education Department will allow some colleges to award credit — and student aid — for competency and prior learning, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. The “experimental sites” will be announced this week.

Traditionally, federal student aid has been limited to programs that award credits for hours of instruction, known as “seat time.”

Starting last year, the department has allowed a handful of colleges to provide federal financial aid to students enrolled in direct-assessment programs, notes the Chronicle.  “If the experiments prove successful, they could make it easier for competency-based programs to qualify for student aid, opening the federal coffers to a much wider swath of nontraditional programs”

The Education Department’s announcement was followed by unanimous House approval of HR 3136, which would create a competency-based demonstration project. The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Rep. Matt Salmon, an Arizona Republican, and Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat.

“It is common sense to evaluate students on what they know rather than how long they spend in a classroom, but years of government regulation have created a system that places more value on credit hours than years of actual experience,” said Salmon. Veterans and other adult students should benefit, he predicted.

Giving colleges and universities more flexibility will “shorten the time it takes to earn a degree and reduce college costs,” said Polis.

The White House issued a statement supporting the bill.

“Competency” programs really are testing for “mastery,” writes John F. Ebersole, president of Excelsior College, in an Inside Higher Ed commentary. Graduate schools and employers want to know what candidates can do, not just what they know.


Bridging the gap between high school and college

Early college programs are bridging the gap between high school and college, reports Community College Daily.

it’s important for community college leaders to work with high school faculty on their turf, said Mary Aycock, former director of Early College Health Science Academy at Butler Community College  (BCC) in Kansas. She spoke at an American Association of Community Colleges convention.

Students enter BCC’s Early College program in their sophomore year of high school. They attend classes once a month that introduce them to higher education and career possibilities in their chosen field of study. They are also introduced to current BCC students who speak with them about their experiences. High school juniors and seniors join a cohort that spends a half day taking 13 to 15 semester hours of classes at the college and a half day taking regular courses at their high schools. The host school district provides Early College students with textbooks for BCC courses free of charge.

“We’ve tried to keep the costs down as much as possible because high school students don’t qualify for regular college financial aid,” Aycock says.

Offering a glimpse of college life motivates students, said Annette Cederholm, associate dean of planning and research at Snead State Community College in Alabama. Twice a year, Snead hosts College Days: High school students are invited to tour the campus and meet with faculty, administrators and students. Snead staffers also participate in a youth leadership program sponsored by local businesses.


This way up


STEPHANIE RABELLO, REGISTERED NURSE | Working her way from practical nurse to registered nurse to bachelor-degree nurse. Preston Mack for The Wall Street Journal

There’s more than one route to the middle class, writes Tamar Jacoby in This Way Up in the Wall Street Journal. “Americans have a host of postsecondary options other than a four-year degree—associate degrees, occupational certificates, industry certifications, apprenticeships.”

What they need are “easy on-ramps, goal-oriented job training and a series of ascending steps, with industry-certified credentials to guide the way.”

In Orlando, Fla., there are many paths to the nursing profession, she writes.

The University of Central Florida trains only bachelor-degree nurses. You need an outstanding high-school record, there’s a long waiting list, and tuition is $14,000 for in-state students—and more than three times that if you’re not from Florida. Two well-equipped, award-winning community colleges—Seminole State and Valencia —offer associate-degree RN programs, where tuition is $7,500. Then there is Orlando Tech, a county-run career center, located in an old building in an industrial area near downtown, which trains licensed practical nurses for about $5,000.

RNs average $65,000 year, while LPNs start below $40,000. But there are ways to move up.

The streamlined route starts in high school: a “dual enrollment” magnet program that allows focused, able students to earn college credit and professional certifications, including as a nursing assistant. Participants who enroll within two years at Seminole or Valencia get advanced placement credit, saving as much as $1,250. And those who are really in a hurry can matriculate simultaneously at UCF, earning “concurrent” credit for advanced courses taken at community-college prices, then graduate in just three years with a UCF bachelor’s degree.

For many, it’s a long journey.  Stephanie Rabello, 41, went from high school to a 10-month LPN program at a local career center. After nearly 20 years as a practical nurse, she enrolled in a yearlong LPN-to-RN “bridge” program at Seminole State. “Online classes and convenient clinical rotations” let her continue working while she studied, writes Jacoby. Now an RN, Rabello hopes to earn a bachelor’s in nursing at UCF.

Sherry Harris, 33, who followed a similar path from LPN to RN, calls it “step-by-step” professional training—the “working-class way in.” Ms. Harris is now taking the next step: an RN-to-BSN program for a bachelor of science degree in nursing.

Jacoby, president of Opportunity America, also looks at welding — which can pay as much as $100,000 a year — and franchise management.


High hopes, long odds

Ninety-five percent of low-income students who take the ACT want to go to college, reports The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2013: Students from Low-Income Families. That’s higher than the rate for all students who take the ACT. 

However, low-income students (defined as a family income under $36,000) are less likely to take a strong college-prep curriculum in high school. Only 20 percent meet at least three of the four college readiness benchmarks set by ACT.  Only 59 percent of low-income students who take the ACT go directly from high school to college. That compares to 71 percent of all ACT test-takers.

Colleges are using “predictive analytics” to advise high-risk students, writes Libby Nelson on Vox. The goal is to raise “dismal graduation rates.”

Is flunking a course the sign of a bad semester, or the harbinger of much worse to come? Is a student with a 2.3 GPA going to be fine — “C’s get degrees,” after all — or a future dropout in the making?

But what if the numbers show some students have little chance of success?

Studies show teachers expend more time and attention with students they know will succeed; will professors neglect students data shows are likely to fail? States are under pressure to improve their graduation rates; if they can identify the students least likely to graduate, will it be too tempting to shut them out rather than admit them and help them through?

. . .  The American ethos of college-going rests on “if you can dream it, you can become it.” But when we can pinpoint the students least likely to succeed, what will happen to them?

Many students rely on “magical thinking,” writes Nelson. “From kindergarten through high school graduation, students are steeped in a can-do spirit. Believe in yourself. Reach for the stars. Never give up.”

Students will say an F on a midterm “isn’t a real F,” says Linda McMillin, a provost at Susquehanna University. Professors can use data to persuade them to get real.

“Ninety-eight percent of people who got this grade in this class were not able to change it. Tell me how you’re the exception. Let’s get real here, and let’s think about how we move you into another major that really aligns with your strengths and with your passions and gets you through in four years.”

“This is not a tool to highlight to students that they’re in trouble or can’t make it, says John Nicklow, provost at Southern Illinois University. “It’s an awareness tool to make them aware that now’s the time to buckle down.”

Perhaps middle-school and high school counselors should be armed with predictive analytics. The time to get real and buckle down occurs much earlier.


Completion, default rates can be misleading

Commonly used college quality measures, such as graduation rates and loan defaults, are inadequate and sometimes misleading, writes Ben Miller, a senior policy analyst for the New America Foundation, on EdCentral.

Completion statistics for community colleges and other two-year-or-less institutions are especially inaccurate, he writes. It’s not just that the federal data misses part-timers and transfers. Completion data also confuses success rates in short-term certificate programs with longer-term associate degrees.

. . . many certificate programs run for no more than a year. These programs thus present fewer opportunities for students to drop out. That’s why colleges that predominantly grant certificates tend to have quite high completion rates and also the reason that for-profit institutions often appear to have better graduation rates than the largely associate-degree-granting community colleges.

A low completion rate is a sign of low quality, but a high completion rate may signify a quick, easy program with very little return on students’ time and money.

Cohort default rates also can be misleading, especially for community colleges with very few borrowers, writes Miller.

For example, Gadsden State Community College in Alabama has a 20 percent default rate but that’s based on five borrowers out of an enrollment of over 8,967. This makes it impossible to draw any conclusions about a college based upon less than 0.05 percent of the college.

On the other side, a low cohort default rate might be just as much an indication of successful loan management than success. The cohort default rate only measures whether students default within a certain time window. Students who default after that period or who are extremely delinquent but never default are not counted in the rate. The usage of income-based payment plans can also distort cohort default rates, since a borrower could be earning such a low income from their program that they have to make little to no payments, making it more difficult to default.

Passage rates on licensure or certification exams, such as in nursing, do measure learning outcomes. However some programs — especially in teaching — ensure a 100 percent pass rate by denying diplomas to students who haven’t passed the exam.


Asian immigrants need college help

“While more than four out of five East Asians (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) and South Asians (Asian Indian and Pakistani) who enrolled in college earned at least a bachelor’s degree,” college success rates are lower for Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders, reports Community College Daily. Most are first-generation students from immigrant families.

Some community colleges are creating special programs for Asian-American and Pacific Islander students. The federal government provides grants to Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI).

At South Seattle Community College (SSCC), 26 percent of the students at the college are AAPI students.

 When SSCC got its first AANAPISI grant, it experimented with clustered learning communities. The students in the learning communities took a college success course that was linked with a developmental English course. They also had access to mentoring from peer mentors.

“It gets students engaging with one another,” said May Toy Lukens, project director for SSCC’s AANAPISI program.

The students who participated in the learning communities had a higher rate of transitioning to college-level courses and a higher rate of persistence.

SSCC also created the AAPI Center, which provides tutoring, advising and a place to connect with other students.

An anthropologist was hired to develop courses to engage Pacific Islanders, who have low success rates. The college also hired cultural specialists to advise on the Pacific Islander and Southeast Asian communities.

More than 40 percent of students at De Anza College in California come from AAPI families. The college has created learning communities aimed at Filipino, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander students. A developmental English course is paired with a credit-bearing Asian-American literature course. “More than 85 percent of the students in the learning communities transitioned to college-level English courses,” college officials told Community College Daily.


Community colleges forced to downsize

Declining enrollment has forced many community colleges to downsize, reports Inside Higher Ed. Often that means canceling courses and laying off instructors.

After the 2008 financial crisis and he ensuing recession, enrollment surged as laid-off workers turned to community colleges to learn new skills. State funding and tuition dollars rose.

Enrollment numbers were almost 25 percent higher in 2010-11 than three years earlier, said David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and research for the American Association of Community Colleges.

But enrollment at two-year public institutions fell 3.6 percent between spring 2012 and spring 2013 and dropped another 2.7 percent between spring 2013 and spring 2014.

Enrollment has fallen by 5.9 percent among students 24 and older in the last year, though adults still make up 40 percent of community college attendees. Younger students’ enrollment fell by just 0.5 percent.

Staffing costs account for 80 percent or more of overall expenditures at many community colleges, said Baime.  “Very quickly you get into people when you’re involved in budget-cutting.”

Tuition revenues spiked at Patrick Henry Community College in Virginia between 2008 and 2011.  Then enrollment tapered off and revenues fell. “Slapdash budgeting left a $1.8 million deficit” for fiscal 2013, reports Inside Higher Ed.

After a year spent sorting out tangled accounting, Patrick Henry balanced its budget by making dramatic cuts . . .  The community college cut 16 full-time positions – including five teaching positions – and six part-time positions, saving slightly more than $1 million. The institution also chopped $754,000 from its non-personnel spending by canceling subscriptions to certain databases and reducing money spent on instructional supplies, among other areas.

At Pasadena City College, one of the most successful in California, cuts forced by declining enrollment have increased tension between the faculty and the college president, reports the Los Angeles Times. Since the peak in fall of 2010, enrollment is down by 13 percent. President Mark W. Rocha canceled a six-week winter semester to save money. Faculty members say they weren’t consulted as the college’s shared-governance model requires.


Obama backs ‘job-driven training’

President Obama endorsed bipartisan job training legislation in his weekly address. He plans to visit a Los Angeles community college that’s retraining workers for health-care jobs this week. Vice President Biden will release a report on creating a “job-driven training system.”


‘College for all’ includes community college


Stop Feeding High-School Students the Myth That College is Right For Everyone, writes Karen Cates in Businessweek.

While unemployment among recent college grads is 8.5 percent, 46 percent of recent grads consider themselves “mal-employed” in low-level jobs that don’t require a degree, she writes.

Meanwhile, construction and other trades are seeking skilled workers. However, employers won’t hire just anyone.

With recent advances in materials and computer science, the work in construction and many other trades is getting more complex, requiring new cognitive skills in many cases. “We don’t consider our apprentice and training programs as just a good alternative for individuals who cannot or do not want to go to college,” says John Grau, CEO of the National Electrical Contractors Association. “Based on the sophistication of our trade and the high level of training it requires, a good number of our applicants enter our [training] program after earning a college degree.”

Yes, everyone should go to college, responds Libby Nelson on Vox. That includes going to community college to qualify for good blue-collar jobs.

Many people imagine a bright line between college and vocational education — Ph.Ds on one side, plumbers on the other. That line doesn’t exist, and it hasn’t for at least a generation. Particularly at two-year colleges, programs for future English majors and future auto mechanics often exist side-by-side. One path might lead to an associate degree, the other to a certificate, but they’re both at a place called “college.”

As higher education economist Sandy Baum wrote in a report for the Urban Institute: “It is common to hear the suggestion that many students should forgo college and instead seek vocational training. But most of that training takes place in community colleges or for-profit postsecondary institutions.”

About 30 percent of construction workers and 20 percent of industrial workers have earned a vocational license or credential, according to the Census. They earn more than workers without a credential but less than those with a degree. Eighty-two percent of workers with vocational credentials earned them at a college, Nelson writes.

In other words, the vocational path to the middle class usually runs through a community college job training program. And those with weak reading, writing and math skills will have trouble succeeding in job training or persuading an employer they’re good candidates for on-the-job training.


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