Elitism limits higher ed access

Higher education must discard elitism and broaden access said panelists at Charting the Future of Higher Education, reports Diverse. Education Sector hosted the conference, which was funded by the Lumina Foundation. Discussants contrasted Washington Monthly‘s college guide, which looks at how colleges encourage social mobility, with the U.S. News guide, which ranks colleges on selectivity.

“We think (students) need lots more options that better match students to institutions that will both challenge and prepare them for a more global future that we see reflected in these international rankings,” said Lumina CEO Jamie Merisotis in opening remarks.

Basing degrees on “seat time” is old hat, said Robert Mendenhall, president of the online Western Governors University. WGU awards degrees when students demonstrate competencies, “irrespective of how many courses they took.”

“We have an environment that doesn’t foster innovation or change,” Mendenhall said. The accreditation process takes too long, for example.  “If you can figure out how to stay in business five years without being accredited, you’ll get it.”

Zakiya Smith, senior education adviser at the White House Domestic Policy Council, defended regulation, citing new rules limiting for-profit colleges. “We’re always open to ideas, so we’re balancing (innovation and regulation) and not harming people,” said Smith.

Accreditors “judge newcomers largely on how much they look like those who already exist,” countered Carey. That’s one reason for-profits exist, he said. “There should be a fast track to accreditation for those who make the best case, and a fast track out for those who are not serving students well.”

Rising tuition is putting higher education out of reach, warned Paul Glastris, editor of the  Washington Monthly.  Federal higher education investment should focus on community colleges to have the most impact, Glastris told Community College Times after the forum.

Kevin Carey, policy director of the Education Sector, called for reforming college admissions with innovations such as ConnectEDU, which matches students with colleges that meet their needs and budgets.

ConnectEDU helps elite colleges recruit high-achieving students from rural, lower-income or other often-overlooked high schools, explained founder and CEO Craig Powell. Many students from those schools don’t understand how education affects their career goals, don’t believe they have a chance to get into a good college, don’t realize they might be eligible for financial aid, and don’t understand the impact of a huge amount of student loan debt.

ConnectEDU allows students to post their transcripts, grades and other data online; keep track of applications and financial aid forms;  and select a career.

The “vast majority of kids” using ConnectEDU enroll in a community college, said Powell. Some are pursuing an associate degree or certificate, while others want to cut the cost of a four-year degree. ConnectEDU helps them plan careers and monitor their progress, he said.

Smith agreed that not all students need a four-year degree to be successful.

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