Reform work-study to serve low-income students

The federal work-study program favors private colleges that enroll few low-income students, charges a new report by Young Invincibles. Work-study should be redesigned to help more needy students, the group urges.

To improve access to work-study funds, the authors recommend:

Base the formula for allocating work-study funds on how many Pell Grant recipients are enrolled at an institution and how many of those students graduate; eliminate institutions where Pell recipients make up less than 18 percent of students.

Increase the types of jobs available to students by providing more money to create off-campus job opportunities.

Create a career internship program to encourage for-profit employers to post internship opportunities.

Use federal funds to reimburse employers that work with students to create internships related to their majors and career goals.

Graduate students should not be eligible for work-study funding, the report recommends.


Ratings may reward colleges for selectivity

Colleges should be rewarding for educating students, not for selecting only the best, said Andrew P. Kelly, who directs the American Enterprise Institute’s Center on Higher Education Reform, at hearings on the president’s proposed college ratings system.

Unfortunately, our ability to measure the “value-added” by a college program is almost nonexistent, and the measures that the Department of Education has proposed are woefully insufficient as an approximation of that quantity.

It is much easier for colleges to change the students that they enroll than it is to change the quality of education that they provide.

If the ratings system does not account for this, it will likely set up a scenario in which selective colleges are provided with even more resources, while open-access institutions work to become more selective in an effort to improve their outcomes

Federal ratings should not be linked to federal student aid, argued Kelly. Instead, the ratings should be designed to help prospective students evaluate different programs at different colleges.

The Education Department plans to use the percentage of students receiving a Pell Grant as a measure of access. The measure should be linked to Pell graduates, said Kelly.  

Outcomes measures will be based on flawed graduation data, said Kelly. “We need some validation that the diplomas colleges award are worth something,” such as whether graduates earn enough to pay off their loans.  In addition, those developing PIRS should include “rigorous pre- and post- measures of success, or at least identify relevant control groups to compare results.”

Smaller, more selective schools could raise their access ratings  and lower their net price easily by admitting more low-income students, Kelly said. That would help a small number of students.

Large, less selective schools with low rates of student success have a tougher choice. “They can embark on the hard, uncertain work of improving teaching and learning to boost student success. Or they can take the easier route and admit fewer low-income students.”

All of this is to say that if improvement is quicker and easier for low access/high success schools than it is for high access/low success schools, then rewards will accrue to the former. That will simply reinforce their place atop the higher education system and, frankly, waste taxpayer dollars on schools that don’t need them.

Selectivity is the key to U.S. News’ prestigious “best colleges” rankings, Kelly wrote in an earlier Forbes column. “Those measures often have everything to do with who colleges admit and less to do with what colleges actually teach them while they’re there.”


Short-term certificates raise earnings

Earning a vocational certificate in one year or less can raise earnings significantly, concludes a forthcoming study announced at a Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment conference. Past research has found labor market payoffs only for longer-term certificates.

Di Xu and Madeline Trimble, researchers at the Community College Research Center, found “positive, significant returns” for short-term certificates earned at community colleges in Virginia and North Carolina, reports Inside Higher Ed.

North Carolina students earned $1,172 more per year, on average, and were 7 percent more likely to be employed. Virginians who earned a certificate earned $888 more and were 3 percent more likely to be working.

 

The value of certificates varies, depending on the field, said Trimble. Earning a basic law enforcement certificate at a North Carolina community college leads to a $10,000-plus raise because the certificate is “tightly tied to licensing requirements” in the state, she said.

Short-term certificates in nursing or medical assisting failed to yield almost any labor-market returns, the research found, while longer-term certificates in those fields did well. And short-term certificates in some health-care disciplines, such as in phlebotomy in North Carolina or dental assisting in Virginia, did result in substantial wage gains.

At Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), certificates are stackable, said Bob Templin, NOVA’s president.  Credits will count toward higher-level certificates and degrees.

Students who earn a 12-week certificate in an automotive technology field, such as one for an emissions specialist, are employed and earning $39,000 a year 18 months later, said Templin. But there’s little pay bump for people who earn emergency medical certificates because most students use them to become volunteer first responders for fire departments.

Associate degrees in liberal arts, humanities or general education don’t raise earnings, concludes a study by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment. These degrees pay off only if they’re the first step to a bachelor’s degree.


‘Some college’ pays — for some

California faces a shortage of middle-skill workers with technical certificates and associate degrees, reports the Public Policy Institute of California.

In some fields, workers with “some college” earn no more than high school graduates: Child-care workers, solar installers, bakers, massage therapists, personal care aides, housekeepers and hairstylists don’t improve their earnings by attending college, PPIC reports. However, the wage premium is high for health care providers and technicians with a certificate or two-year degree.

FIGURE 4. SOME OCCUPATIONS OFFER HIGHER WAGES AND RETURNS TO “SOME COLLEGE” WORKERS THAN OTHERS

figure 4

SOURCE: Calculations from American Community Survey 2010–2012.

California community colleges should expand training opportunities for allied health care workers in the next decade to meet growing demand, reports PPIC.

Allied health care jobs are technical—licensed vocational nurses, dental hygienists, and imaging technologists, for example—and support positions, such as certified nursing assistants, medical assistants, and dental assistants. They typically require an associate degree or post-secondary certificate that can often be completed in fewer than two years.

However, the number of associate degrees and postsecondary certificates in health programs awarded by the community colleges has increased only slightly in the past decade. Most of these additional degrees have been in nursing.

For-profit colleges have expanded allied health training, enrolling many Latino and black students. However, for-profit students would pay $20,000 to $35,000 for a licensed vocational nurse certificate program,  estimates the report. A similar program would cost  $4,500 at community colleges.


‘Dirty jobs’ pay middle-class wages

Shortage of middle skills workers a growing concern
A one-year certificate in diesel technology helped Julio Lopez secure a job as a lead fleet technician. Credit: Rob Vanya, San Jacinto College .

Half of teens have “little or no interest” in blue-collar jobs, according to a survey by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA). These are low-paying “dirty jobs,” high school students and their parents believe.

Because of the stigma, Houston is facing a shortage of welders, electricians, pipefitters, machinists, auto mechanics and manufacturing workers, say business leaders. UpSkill Houston is working with San Jacinto College to attract more young people to what are now called “middle-skill” jobs.

Julio Lopez earned a one-year certificate of technology from San Jacinto College’s diesel technology program.  He started as a diesel tech at $18 an hour. After three years and a promotion, he now earns in the “mid- to upper-20s an hour” with the potential to move higher. He loves the work.

“I started as a kid, changing oil and worked my way up to eventually building engines,” he said. “To take something that will not run and disassemble it, repair it, and rebuild it brings a feeling of real accomplishment and pride.”

With a two-year degree in welding technology from San Jacinto College, Emily Choate earned $25 to $35 an hour as a welder and welding inspector. She now teaches welding at San Jacinto.

Welding is an art, said Choate. “It’s like painting, but my canvas is metal, my paint is a weld puddle, and my brush is an electrode. When I drop that hood and strike an arc, the whole world disappears, and it’s just me and that weld.”


Skilled trades don’t appeal to students


Manufacturing student at Macomb Community College

“Nearly everywhere he goes, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder talks about well-paying, but unfilled, welding, carpentry, machining and other skilled-trades jobs, as well as technical occupations in health care,” writes Rick Hagland in Bridge Magazine. Yet, community college training programs in skilled trades are having difficulty recruiting students.

Skilled trades workers can earn $50,000 to $100,000 a year, say community college officials. But many students are dubious, especially if they have family members who lost manufacturing jobs in the recession.

“We’ve done a great job of convincing kids to go to college, but we’ve left the skilled trades out,” said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association.

Just 4.5 percent of Michigan community college students were enrolled in technical or industrial programs in the 2012-13 academic year, according to the state Workforce Development Agency. Another 7.7 percent were enrolled in health occupation programs.

. . . “For the most part, it’s hard to interest people in the 18-to-24 age group in occupations like welding and CNC (computer numerical control) machine operators,” Hansen said.

Employers want skilled workers, said Joe Petrosky, dean of engineering and advanced technology at Macomb Community College. “We’ve seen the demand for worker training come roaring back,” he said.

Eight community colleges in the state, including Macomb, will use a $24.9 million federal grant “to upgrade facilities and train more than 2,700 workers in machining, production, welding and fabrication, and multi-skilled technical positions,” writes Hagland.

Macomb also is among four community colleges in the state participating in the new MAT2 apprenticeship program, a three-year training program for engineering technician, information technology and technical product design jobs.

High school seniors and recent graduates entering the program get paid for on-the-job training from employers who also pay tuition costs. Those who complete the program get an associate degree and a guaranteed job.

Mottt Community College in Flint, Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills and Henry Ford College in Dearborn also will participate with 18 manufacturing employers.

Enrollment is declining at Michigan community colleges.


It’s not a bargain education if you drop out

California’s community colleges are accessible and affordable, reports KCRA-TV. But completion and transfer rates are low. Are California’s community colleges a bargain?


Adjunct faculty consider unionization

Andrew Nelson earns $22,000 a year — with no benefits — teaching three courses per semester at East Central College near St. Louis and Lindenwood University, reports AP. He drives as much as 100 miles a day and works 50 hours a week during the nine-month school year.

Tired of low wages and no job security, adjunct faculty in the St. Louis area are exploring unionization, reports AP.

Colleges and universities are relying more heavily on poorly paid adjuncts.

 Nelson gets paid about $2,500 a semester for every three-credit course he teaches. So he picks up as many courses as he can, splitting his time between two universities to make ends meet.

But, he said, it’s not just about money.

“The most important thing is that we have no input into the departments we work in. We have no say on textbooks, either,” he said. “So other people determine what we are going to teach and how we are going to teach it.”

Nelson also said adjuncts miss out on holding office hours to better connect with students, plus paid faculty development days which help instructors become better at their jobs.

The Service Employees International Union is organizing at several colleges and universities, including  St. Louis Community College.

Adjuncts are talking union at Cayuga Community College in Auburn, New York.  Seventy percent of the college’s 200 adjunct faculty want to organize, said Greg Sevik, who read a prepared statement at the board of trustees meeting.

“The college and its lawyers have decided to delay, arguing that, instead, we should join the existing union for full-time faculty members,” he said.

. . . full-time and adjunct professors “by no means work under the same conditions; unlike full-time faculty, adjuncts have no health benefits, few opportunities for professional advancement, no required office hours or member on college committees, and little assurance that they will have a job after the end of each semester.”

“I have no problem, this board has no problem, with an adjunct union,” responded Gregory DeCinque, the college’s interim president.


Relentless mentoring keeps students ‘On Point’

On Point for College is helping New Yorkers get into college, reports the Syracuse Post-Standard. A personal touch and “relentless” mentoring has helped thousands of first-generation students.

It all started, Ginny Donohue says, when a friend of her daughter sought advice on how to get into college.

He was chronically homeless, living from couch to couch. She pointed him in the right direction and helped him through the bureaucratic hoops to get into Cayuga Community College.

Then she helped a few more people, and a few more after that, and her reputation began to grow.

“People started stopping me in the grocery store to say, ‘Are you the lady that got Jack in?’ ” she said.

Eventually, Donahue quit her finance job and started the nonprofit, which has expanded from Syracuse to Utica and now New York City.

Program employees and volunteers take On Point’s clients on college visits, help them with their applications and financial aid forms and keep in close contact with them throughout their college careers, transporting them back and forth and visiting frequently to make sure they’re able to stay on track.

Eighty-four percent of On Point clients who went to two-year colleges went on to earn bachelor’s degrees or were in the process of doing so, a Syracuse University study found.  Those who began in four-year colleges all completed their degrees within 4½ years.

On Point workers visit students twice a semester at four-year schools, every month at two-year schools, every week at Mohawk Valley Community College and New York City community colleges, and twice a week at Onondaga Community College.


Structure leads to success

Community colleges are improving pass rates and persistence by integrating “high-impact practices” into coherent academic and career pathways reports the Center for Community College Student Engagement. A Matter of Degrees: Practices to Pathways links a clear class attendance policy, participation in a student success course and on-time registration to completion of remedial and gatekeeper courses and persistence.

Guttman Community College students working  in the Information Commons.

Guttman Community College students use Mediascape technology to collaborate in the Information Commons.

Structured group learning experiences — orientation, accelerated or fast-track developmental education, first-year experience, student success course and learning community — increased the odds of success significantly.

“Attending college should not be a series of disconnected classes and experiences, but instead, it should be a complete-and completed-educational journey,” says Kay McClenney, center director emeritus.

Among the colleges placing students in structured pathways are: Alamo Colleges (Texas), Miami Dade College, Guttman Community College (New York City) and Long Beach City College (California).

Klamath Community College (Oregon) has designed career pathways leading to certificates.

Lake Washington Institute of Technology (Washington) has increased success rates by integrating basic skills instruction with vocational instruction through the states I-BEST approach.


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