Beyond the skills gap

Job training has moved from employers to colleges — especially community colleges — writes New America Foundation’s Mary Alice McCarthy. The “skills gap” is a policy gap, she concludes.

The Higher Education Act (HEA) needs to be reframed to “support all forms of postsecondary learning, including students on non-degree paths and those seeking specific skills and credentials,” McCarthy writes in Beyond the Skills Gap: Making Education Work for Students, Employers, and Communities.

We are already paying a high price for our failure to support students in these programs – high debt levels, poor employment outcomes, wasted taxpayer dollars, and employers who still struggle to find workers with the right skills. . . . we know a lot about what makes postsecondary career education work – industry partnerships, structured learning pathways, contextualized instruction, and stackable credentials. Now we need to build the federal, state, and institutional policies to support those practices.

As an example, she looks at a Michigan woman who wants to qualify as a medical assistant, a growing field that can be a first step to nursing and other health careers. She faces a baffling array of choices.

In eastern Michigan, the for-profit Everest Institute’s 10-month medical assistant certificate program costs about $20,000. Career Quest Learning Center in Lansing charges $15,000 for an eight-month program. Federal student grants and loans will help cover the cost of her tuition and related expenses.

In the western part of the state, Grand Rapids Community College offers a six-month certificate program that costs only $7,585, but it is “noncredit.” That means she’s not eligible for federal Pell grants or student loans and can’t use her training as the first step toward an associate degree.

Kalamazoo Valley Community College‘s certificate program only costs about $4,000. Students can get state and federal grants and loans. “But there is most likely a waiting list, so she will probably need to wait a semester or two,” writes McCarthy. “In addition, she will have to pass the course placement exams to be admitted or complete remedial courses until she can bring her scores up enough to be allowed to enroll.”

Or perhaps she could consider the 20 schools in Michigan that offer associate degrees in medical assisting at varying costs.

All this for a job with an average annual salary in Michigan of $27,000 – or about $13 an hour.

More than half of undergraduate credentials are in career education, writes McCarthy. Thirty-three percent are vocational certificates and 20 percent are occupationally focused associate degrees. These days, “more than 500 institutions of higher education offer undergraduate certificates in welding technology for which you can get a Pell grant or federal student loan.”

But it’s hard for vocational students to move to academic tracks. Their credits aren’t “stackable.” And it’s easy for colleges to “deliver expensive, low-quality career education programs,” she writes.

Most short-term training programs aren’t eligible for federal aid.

For example, a short-term certificate in phlebotomy may help a student get a job and earn credits toward a certificate in medical assisting, which in turn, can be applied toward an associate degree in nursing, and up to a bachelor’s degree in nursing. But if the first and lowest step on the ladder is not eligible for financial aid, some students will not be able to reach it.

Adults must have a high school credential to be eligible for federal aid, regardless of their skills. That’s a huge barrier for many low-income adults, she writes.


Connected to the future

Senior Gerardo Lopez talks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at San Francisco's Burton High School.

Senior Gerardo Lopez talks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at San Francisco’s Burton High School.

Most students like Gerardo Lopez — Latinos and blacks from low-income and working-class families — enroll in community college, take a few remedial courses and drop out. They’ve been told they should go to college, but nobody’s told them what level of academic skills are necessary to pass college-level courses.

Many think any major will qualify them for a good job. They don’t know how the system works.

“Gerardo Lopez is preparing to turn his dreams into reality,” I write on Open Standard.

“Hands-on” learning opportunities drew Lopez, a Honduran immigrant, to the engineering academy at Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School in San Francisco. “As a kid, I loved to make little cars, bringing parts together to make something come alive,” he says.

But he didn’t know engineering was a possible career. His father is a hotel janitor; his mother is a housewife.

Now a senior, he spends two days a week as an “extern” at an architectural firm. Lopez hopes to major in mechanical engineering – or perhaps architecture – at a University of California campus or Stanford. If he hadn’t signed up for the engineering academy, “I wouldn’t have known what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

Burton offers “career academies” in engineering, health sciences and information technology, all high-demand fields. Students take college-prep and career-prep courses together, visit workplaces, do job shadows and compete for summer internships.

“Employers say they can’t find the skilled workers they need,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told business and education leaders at Burton High last week. But CEOs aren’t talking to superintendents. “There’s a total disconnect.

Thirty-five percent of Burton High graduates enroll in four-year universities, said Principal Bill Kappenhagen. Another 43 percent go to community college and 22 percent go straight to the workforce.  The six-year graduation rate is high – 90 percent – for the four-year students, he said. But only 10 percent of those who go to City College of San Francisco graduate in six years.

What’s going wrong for the community college contingent? Some get bogged down in remedial courses or overwhelmed by work and job responsibilities. I’d guess many more would succeed if they aimed for a technical certificate or two-year vocational degree rather than taking general education courses.

“We’ve done a poor job of informing young people and their parents about the great jobs out there,” said Duncan. “It doesn’t have to be a college degree. There are six- or eight-week training programs that lead to great opportunities.”


Completion Arch tracks progress data

The Completion Arch, a web-based tool provides access to national and state data on the progress and success of community college students. That includes transfer rates, remedial placement and the average time to earn a credential.

Six-year completion rates provide a realistic time frame since many community college students are enrolled part-time, are not enrolled every term and require developmental education, an RTI research brief argues.

“The tool aims to track students’ success at five stages: when they enroll, when they receive developmental-education placement, when their ‘intermediate progress’ can be evaluated, when they transfer or complete a degree, and when they enter the work force,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Much of the data is missing or incomplete, said Laura J. Horn, who directs RTI’s Center for Postsecondary Education Research and the Completion Arch project, at an event last week.

“The power of the Completion Arch is not what’s there but what’s missing as well—how can I begin to add my own data?” said Christine Johnson, chancellor of the Community College of Spokane.

Ms. Johnson said having the data compiled into a single resource would encourage collaboration between educators and local businesses. She pointed to a job-training program offered by Boeing to community colleges in Washington State that was financed by a four-year, $20-million grant from the Department of Labor in 2011.

“In education, we sanction people for not performing,” said Steven G. Klein, director of the Center for Career and Adult Education and Workforce Development at RTI. “We need to reward people for success.”


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.


« Newer PostsOlder Posts »