What to do about dropouts

Lauren Bizzaro owes $40,000 for three years of college. (Caleb Kenna for The Wall Street Journal)

College dropouts are the “untouchables” of higher education, writes Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, in Forbes.

Looking at those 25 to 34 years of age, the median earnings in 2013 were $27,339, about 10 percent higher than those who stopped their education with a high school diploma ($24,835), writes Vedder. And most dropouts who enrolled in four-year institutions took out student loans.

One approach is to spend more money — more financial aid for low-income students, better remedial education — to “alleviate some causes of dropping out.”

The alternative, writes Vedder, is for four-year colleges and universities to stop accepting students with weak academic records and little chance of success. That would include students in the bottom half of their high school class or with low SAT or ACT scores.

Those failing to meet the admissions thresholds should be allowed to attend community colleges or non-degree schools offering certificated vocational training and, if they succeed there, be allowed to proceed to four-year schools. This approach should not only reduce the dropout rate, it should save a good deal of money, both for students and taxpayers. It should reduce student loan repayment problems a bit, and lower loan delinquency rates.

Above all, a more restrictive admissions approach would in the long run reduce the mismatch between the availability of relatively high paying jobs and the numbers of college graduates seeking those jobs. We have too many college graduates, not too few.

Colleges would lose enrollments and revenue, Vedder writes. That would force “some needed creative destruction upon higher education.”

A Bit of College Can Be Worse than None at All, according to the Wall Street Journal.  For one thing, employers don’t like quitters.

Candidates with degrees or certificates have “shown perseverance and persistence to obtain that credential,” says Kevin Brinegar, president and chief executive of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Dropping out after a few courses makes managers wonder “‘Is that what they’re going to do when they come to work for me? They’ll work for three weeks or three days and say, ‘I’m out of here?’ ”

A majority of students at four-year institutions who didn’t complete college took out federal loans, with average borrowings of $9,300 to $10,400 depending on the type of school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“More than three quarters of college freshmen who finished in the bottom 40 percent of their high school class will not graduate in eight years,” writes Bill McMorris in American Spectator.


‘Reverse transfer’ could add 2 million degrees

As many as two million students could earn associate degrees through “reverse transfer,” with help from the National Student Clearinghouse. Using a Lumina grant, the Clearinghouse will design an automated system to identify students who’ve earned enough credits for a two-year degree. 

Seventy-eight percent of students who transfer from community college to a four-year institution leave before completing an associate degree, according to a Lumina study. Some drop out before completing a bachelor’s degree but earn enough credits for an associate degree.

Reverse transfer of credits back to the two-year school allow students to earn a credential. It also boosts the community college’s completion rate.

Texas, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee have developed programs to encourage reverse transfer of credits. Others are expected to follow suit.

 For its Reverse Transfer project, the Clearinghouse is creating a standardized, streamlined, and technologically enhanced process to assist four- and two-year institutions in transferring student credits more efficiently, securely, and successfully. There will be no fees for the service.

. . . four-year institutions will send academic data files to the Clearinghouse whenever a student who has provided consent reaches a specified number of credit hours, thus indicating his or her possible eligibility for an associate degree.

. . . Two-year institutions can download all records from all four-year institutions to which their students have transferred, for consideration of a reverse transfer degree.

The Clearinghouse is working with institutions in Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin on the first stages of the project.


College rejects Nigerians due to Ebola

A Texas community college rejected two Nigerian applicants because of Ebola fears, reports CNBC.

Navarro College is 60 miles from Dallas, where a Liberian man died of Ebola and two nurses treating him were infected.

Kamorudeen Abidogun, a Texas man originally from Nigeria, said several of his relatives had applied to Navarro. “I received, last weekend, two rejection letters … saying the reason why they were not giving admission was … Ebola,” said Abidogun, a mechanical engineer.


Broward limits loans to cut defaults

Students at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attend a debt management workshop. Broward is one of 29 colleges that no longer accepts unsubsidized student loans. The effort is part of an experiment to cut down on student loan debt and defaults.
Broward students attend a debt management workshop. John O’Connor/WLRN

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” Polonius advised Hamlet. At Florida’s Broward College, financial aid officer Kent Dunston tells would-be borrowers not to borrow more than they need.  The two-hour money-management workshop is required. “You’ll be offered more,” says Dunston. “You don’t need it.”

Starting this year, Broward will not accept unsubsidized federal loans that require students to begin making interest payments immediately, reports NPR. Twenty-eight other community, four-year and online colleges around the country take subsidized loans only to prevent defaults. Broward has gone farther: The college no longer accepts private loans.

About 75 students were in (Dunston’s) class on a recent day, listening as he tells them the story of a young woman concerned about how her $137,000 student debt might affect her chances of getting married.

“That can throw a lot of cold water on a relationship, unless the guy can say, ‘Well, that’s OK baby, I owe $87,000 myself,’ ” Dunston says.

Broward student George Aleman thinks he owes about $60,000 in student loans. The middle-school dropout, who went on to complete his GED, came to Broward already owing that much in debt from a previous attempt at trade school.

The Broward College admissions and financial aid staff “couldn’t believe that I owed so much, and I only have an associate’s degree,” he says.

Aleman is eligible for one more year of loans. After that, he’ll have to pay Broward’s tuition of $2,400 a year and cover his living expenses.

Debbie Cochrane with The Institute for College Access and Success “fears that rejecting unsubsidized loans may force some students to turn to credit cards or other high-interest loans to pay for school and living expenses,” reports NPR.

Broward’s default rate has fallen to 12 percent, lower than the national rate of 13.7 percent.


K-12 teachers learn about manufacturing jobs

North Carolina teachers tried welding at Manfacturing Day

North Carolina teachers tried welding at Manfacturing Day

North Carolina teachers toured manufacturing plants and learned that advanced manufacturing jobs require high-tech skills and pay as well or better than many jobs that require a bachelor’s degree. Jobs also require the ability to work in teams, follow directions and read well, teachers were told.

Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) and the Triangle South Workforce Development Board organized Manufacturing Day for local K-12 teachers, reports Community College Daily.

“About 70 percent of the manufacturing jobs in North Carolina require a two-year associate degree, not a four-year degree,” said Cathy Swindell, CCCC’s director of industry services.

Technicians can make more than teachers: An industrial systems maintenance technician with a two-year degree may start at $45,000 to $50,000 and $70,000 to $80,000 after 10 years on the job.

At the CCCC Innovation Center, two of the K-12 teachers learned how to use a welding simulator. They used a simulated welding “torch” that created a computer-generated image of their work.


Tech credentials pay for low-income students

Vocational certificates and associate degrees in health, transportation, construction, manufacturing and security lead to relatively high pay for disadvantaged students and low-scoring high-schoolers in Florida, concludes a new Calder working paper.

Low achievement in high school accounts for much of disadvantaged students’ problems in postsecondary programs and in the workforce, the study found.

Earnings for disadvantaged kids are hampered by low completion rates in postsecondary programs, poor college performance, and their selection of low-earning fields. . . . Many disadvantaged (and other) students choose general humanities programs at the AA (and even the Bachelor’s or BA) level with low completion rates and low compensation afterwards.

Even those with weak academic records can do well if they pursue a technical certificate or degree program, researchers found. Those with vocational certificates earn 30 percent more than high school-only workers and those with associate degrees in technical fields earn 35 to 40 percent more.

Promoting high-potential career pathways and offering high-quality apprenticeships could help disadvantaged students move up.


California: Student aid lags costs

Grants and scholarships haven’t kept pace with rising living costs  for low-income students at California community colleges and the second-tier California State University system, according to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Students who receive grants and scholarships are more likely to complete a degree, the report finds.

At the community colleges and CSU — the public colleges attended by the bulk of the state’s low-income students — increases in total student costs exceeded increases in grant aid between the 2008-09 school year and 2011-12. As a result, the actual cost to students rose by 6 percent, when adjusted for inflation. In dollars, these increases were significant, totaling more than $600 at the community colleges and almost $1,000 at CSU. The news is better at UC, with virtually no change in actual cost. In comparison, prices declined by almost $1,000 at private nonprofit colleges

. . . Prices dropped more sharply at private for-profit institutions, which may reflect declining enrollment as many have faced scrutiny for low completion rates and high loan default rates.

Making College Possible for Low-Income Students recommends helping students complete financial aid forms, increasing grants to keep pace with inflation and adopting policies to ensure aid doesn’t encourage colleges to raise tuition.


‘Free’ college won’t help low-income students

“Free community college” programs are a hot idea, writes Robert Kelchen, a Seton Hall professor, in Inside Higher Ed. But low-income students, who already are eligible for Pell Grants, will get little or no benefit. Most pay little or no tuition, but struggle to pay for books, commuting, child care and rent.

Tennessee is offering two years of tuition and fee waivers to recent high school graduates. Mississippi, Oregon and Texas legislators have proposed similar plans. Chicago will cover three years of community college tuition for college-ready public school graduates with at least a B average, perhaps 15 percent of the graduating class.

All of these programs are “last-dollar” aid. The state or city will provide tuition aid to supplement federal aid, typically the Pell Grant. But in most places, the maximum Pell Grant of $5,645 covers 100 percent of community college tuition.

In Chicago, 85 percent of students’ tuition and fees will be covered by Pell Grants, officials estimate. That’s why the scholarship offer will cost City Colleges of Chicago so little.

In every state except New Hampshire and South Dakota, the average tuition and fees at community colleges was lower than the maximum Pell Grant of $5,645 in the 2013-14 academic year. Data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), a nationally representative sample of students enrolled in the 2011-12 academic year, show that 38 percent of community college students had their tuition and fees entirely covered by grant aid. An additional 33 percent of students paid less than $1,000 out of pocket for tuition and fees. Eighty-five percent of Pell recipients at community colleges had sufficient grant aid to cover tuition and fees, meaning they would get no additional money from a “free college” program.

The Tennessee Promise will benefit students from middle-income and higher-income families, writes Bryce McKibben of the Association of Community College Trustees. “The program does nothing for the poorest and most at-risk students at community colleges whatsoever.” In addition, the program excludes part-time students, who make up 52 percent the state’s community college students, and returning adults.

Tuition and Fees Not Covered by Grant Aid at Community Colleges, by Income

Income quartile

$0

$1-$999

$1,000-$2,999

$3,000+

Lowest

68.2

18.6

10.1

3.2

Second

36.6

28.7

26.8

7.9

Third

11.2

36.0

38.9

13.8

Top

8.0

34.3

42.7

15.1

Source: 2011-12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study

Note: Sample includes dependent students attending community colleges.

 

These programs could be modified to help low-income students pay for living costs, writes Kelchen. “Even a $500 award at the beginning of the semester would help low-income students manage upfront costs like books and rent payments, and could be paid for by slightly reducing awards for students who are not Pell-eligible.”

Limiting aid to recent graduates excludes many community college students, adds Kelchen. He advocates “extending the programs to returning adult students,” many of whom are needy. “Finally, it is important to publicize these programs (and their conditions) widely so students and their families know that community college can be an affordable, high-quality educational option.”

Defenders of “free tuition” say many low-income students will be encouraged to go to college. Often disadvantaged students don’t realize they’re eligible for college aid.


CCCSE: ‘Think big’ on helping minority males

Community colleges should “think big” when it comes to improving minority male students’ success, says Evelyn Waiwaiole, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. “If you know it works for one group of students, then it’s mostly going to work for all groups of students. So think about making policies and practices work to scale.”

The center’s report, Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges, cites examples of effective programs that could be scaled up. “We definitely know men of color need support groups, need to be coached and need a place to feel safe, a place to be mentored,” says  Waiwaiole.

Some policies are easy to implement, she says. When colleges end late registration and instructors set an attendance policy, more students — of all backgrounds — succeed.

Other approaches, such as mandating orientation and creating “learning communities,” cost more.


Tennessee: Certificate holders out-earn 4-year grads

Tennessee workers with associate degrees and long- term certificates often start at higher wages than four-year graduates, according to a new College Measures study. It takes five years for graduates with bachelor’s degrees to catch up.

“You don’t need to go to a flagship university to get a good job. There are many successful paths into the labor market,” said Mark Schneider, author of the report. “Students have the right to know before they go and know before they owe.”

The EduTrendsTN website, a joint venture of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Matrix Knowledge Group, has detailed data on labor market returns in Tennessee.

At the end of the first year in the workforce, long-term certificate holders earned more than $40,000, those with associate degrees, $37,000 and those with a bachelor’s, $34,262. After five years, the median wages of bachelor’s graduates were similar to two-year graduates’ earnings  ($41,888 versus $41,699), and slightly trailed certificate holders ($42,250).

“Many sub-baccalaureate credentials can be entryways to the middle class,” Schneider said.

Learning how to fix things or fix people pays off, writes Schneider on The Quick and the Ed. For associate degree graduates, electric engineering technicians earned the most ($61,000) after five years. Graduates in nursing and allied health fields also did well.

Graduates in business, liberal arts and management and information systems earned less than the state median. Human Development and Family Studies graduates earned much less.

After five years, associate degree graduates average $41,699, a few dollars more than Tennessee’s median household income.

“Five years after graduation, the 15 Tennesseans who got bachelor’s degrees in ethnic, cultural minority, or gender studies were making an average annual wage of $26,000, actually about $2,000 per year less than they were making one year after graduation,” notes Fawn Johnson on National Journal. 

In a recent survey, 99 percent of parents with children in college said that college is “an important investment in one’s future.” Yet, “only about half of students, graduates, and parents of college students had engaged in an ‘in-depth’ conversation about how student loans would be managed or paid for after graduation.”


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