Rubio: Dream the affordable American Dream

Education and the American Dream was the theme of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s keynote speech at Making Community Colleges Work, a Next America session sponsored by National Journal at Miami Dade College.

The son of immigrants, Rubio used Pell Grants, student loans, work study and summer jobs to pay for a four-year degree and law school. He started his career as an attorney with $100,000 in student loans.

To find a good-paying job, “it is vital that you get the right degree geared toward the right industry,” Rubio said.

Nationally, majors such as business, liberal arts, and hospitality have underemployment rates at or above 50 percent. There are simply more graduates than jobs in these industries. Meanwhile, engineering, health services and education all have underemployment rates less than 25 percent. 

Students and their families need to be equipped with the information necessary to make well-informed decisions about which majors at which institutions are likely to yield the best return on investment. This is why I, along with Senator Ron Wyden, proposed the “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act,” which aims to give students reliable data on how much they can expect to make versus how much they can expect to owe.

Rubio called for making income-based repayment the universal method for student loans.  He also proposed an alternative to student loans known as Income Share Agreements.

Let’s say you are a student who needs $10,000 to pay for your last year of school. Instead of taking this money out in the form of a loan, you could apply for a “Student Investment Plan” from an approved and certified private investment group. In short, these investors would pay your $10,000 tuition in return for a percentage of your income for a set period of time after graduation – let’s say, for example, 4 percent a year for 10 years.

This group would look at factors such as your major, the institution you’re attending, your record in school – and use this to make a determination about the likelihood of you finding a good job and paying them back. . . . Your only obligation would be to pay that 4 percent of your income per year for 10 years, regardless of whether that ends up amounting to more or less than $10,000.

Income Share Agreements are a great idea, writes Richard Vedder. Investors “buy equity in students as opposed to lending to them.” The risk shifts from students to investors.

Rubio also called for better career and vocational education in high school, apprenticeships and “more pathways for working parents” at the community college level.

Reforming the “broken accreditation system” would open the door to “new, innovative and more affordable competitors,” he said. He proposed a new accrediting agency for online education. With standardized tests to demonstrate competency, students could learn online or on the job and earn a low-cost job certification or degree.

City College of SF wins accreditation reprieve

City College of San Francisco will not lose accreditation until a legal challenge to the revocation is resolved, reports Bay Cities News. An accrediting commission had set a July 31 revocation date, after charging CCSF with mismanagement and poor governance.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera contested the revocation decision by the western regional branch of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow’s injunction will be in effect until a trial is held. A trial date will be set at the end of January.

Karnow said in a 53-page decision that the injunction was justified because of the severe harm to students, teachers and the city if the college lost accreditation and had to close.

“Those consequences would be catastrophic,” Karnow wrote.

“Without accreditation, the college would almost certainly close and about 80,000 students would either lose their educational opportunities or hope to transfer elsewhere; and for many of them, the transfer option is not realistic.

Herrera’s lawsuit and a similar lawsuit by the California Federation of Teachers charge the commission used unfair, biased or illegal procedures, was prejudiced against the college’s “open access”  mission and that two evaluation teams lacked adequate representation by professors.

As Matt Reed predicted, CCSF is too big to fail.

California accreditor survives — for now

The commission that accredits two-year colleges in California will keep its federal recognition for another year, reports Inside Higher Ed.  A federal panel told the accreditor to show that it is complying with federal standards.

The accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, has been under fire for its decision this year to revoke accreditation of City College of San Francisco. Many supporters of the college — faculty unions, student advocates, and some elected officials — had been pushing for the panel to recommend the Education Department strip the accreditor of its federal recognition.

More than two dozen students, faculty members, union leaders and other supporters of City College of San Francisco testified Thursday and Friday.

The federal panel also voted to recommend another year of recognition for the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which is under fire for how it’s handled complaints from adjuncts.

Last week’s meetings of the federal accreditation panel occurred against the backdrop of a larger debate over the future of accreditation that has begun to play out in Washington as Congress considers the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Policy makers have discussed, among other issues, whether accreditors are doing enough to promote innovation in higher education and whether they should do more to keep college affordable.

Outgoing Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter asked the panel to revisit its 2011 recommendations for improving accreditation and make new suggestions.

357 steps to accreditation at CCSF

City College of San Francisco is working to retain its accreditation and avoid a shut down, reports Inside Higher Ed. But the efforts may not be enough.

Administrators and faculty members have made steady progress on 357 tasks they must complete to satisfy the Accrediting Commission for Junior and Community Colleges. The college last week tapped Arthur Q. Tyler, a veteran community college leader, as its new chancellor. And Brice Harris, the chancellor of the state’s community college system, praised City College for the changes it has made.

“It’s been an exciting and exhausting 100 days,” Harris said last week during a conference call with reporters.

For example, he said the college, which enrolls 80,000 students, has made strong steps to stabilize its precarious finances. College officials recently decided to suspend plans to build a new performing arts center. And, working with the mayor’s office, they strengthened weak fiscal controls by filling several key positions in payroll and auditing.

City College also is trying to collect an estimated $10 million in unpaid student fees.

A website, CCSFForward includes updates on each of the 357 tasks the college is supposed to complete.

For example, efforts to better track student learning outcomes is about half complete, according to the website.

Faculty unions have filed a lawsuit to block closure. The suit claims the accreditation commission had overreached its authority.

Accreditor shuts down innovation

“We’re going to encourage more colleges to innovate, try new things, do things that can provide a great education without breaking the bank,” President Obama told college students in Scranton, Pennsylvania. “For example, a number of colleges across the country are using online education to save time and money for their students.”

That same day, Altius Education, an innovator in online education, learned it is under federal investigation, reports Matthew Zeitlin on BuzzFeed. The Justice Department “did not respond to an inquiry about the details of the investigation.”

The notice was the culmination of a more than two-year battle between Altius and the Higher Learning Commission, one of two members of the 118-year-old North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which controls accreditation — the vital credential that gives college degrees value — for over 1,000 colleges and universities in 19 states. The HLC’s university backers have an obvious interest in avoiding the sort of low-cost competition that reformers, and now the president, seek.

“It struck me as highly ironic and deeply frustrating that we were trying to do exactly what Obama describes what the market needs and yet we’re getting resistance from his administration,” said Paul Freedman, who started Altius in 2004.

Altius partnered with Tiffin University, a small private college in Ohio to create Ivy Bridge College, which offered Tiffin associate degrees to online students planning to transfer to four-year institutions. Tiffin controlled the academics, while Altius handled marketing, technology and student services such as “personal success coaches.”

Students paid just below $10,000 a year, on average, much of it covered by federal student loans. About two-thirds transferred to two- or four-year institutions, the program’s goal.

In 2012, Ivy Bridge won a Next Generations Learning Challenges funded by the Gates Foundation.

In a 2010 accreditation review, the HLC said Ivy Bridge furthered the university’s mission and was  ”an excellent strategic initiative” that “addresses an underserved population through a strong curriculum . . . and a very good online portal for program delivery.”

All that changed in late 2011. Tiffin told HLC that Ivy Bridge planned to apply for independent accreditation and become Altius University. The commission  and its president, Sylvia Manning, saw “another for-profit university gaming the system,” writes Zeitlin.

Manning had launched a crusade against what she viewed as suspect partnerships between traditional universities and for-profit upstarts, and instituted new rules in 2010 to require further HLC approval of agreements between accredited schools and for-profit companies that substantially changed the nature of the school.

In a report obtained by BuzzFeed, the HLC took steps toward shutting down the experimental arrangement precisely because “student body, faculty and educational programs are not like the structures” on the campus of the brick-and-mortar university that was its partner. This difference was the entire point of Ivy Bridge, and is at the heart of Obama’s proposals.

HLC complained that Ivy Bridge had a one-year retention rate of 25 percent, “notably poor even for 2-year students.”

Ivy Bridge’s five-year graduation rate is 31 percent, compared to 18.3 percent for Ohio community colleges,according to Altius and Tiffin. The graduation-and-transfer rate — transfer is the goal for most students — is 64.1 percent, compared with 42.1 percent at community colleges.

Under HLC orders to sever the partnership, Tiffin shut down Ivy Bridge College on Aug 1.  HLC’s statement primarily cited “bureaucratic concerns,” writes Zeitlin. So much for innovation.

Here’s the Ivy Bridge timeline of events.

Faculty doubt quality of online courses

Professors are skeptical about the quality of online courses, especially MOOCs, according to Inside Higher Ed‘s Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology.

Only one in five think “online courses can achieve learning outcomes equivalent to those of in-person courses.” However, professors who’ve taught online (30 percent of respondents) were much likelier to say online courses can be just as effective.

And while even professors who have taught online are about evenly divided on whether online courses generally can produce learning outcomes equivalent to face-to-face classes (33 percent agree, 30 percent are neutral, and 37 percent disagree), instructors with online experience are likelier than not to believe that online courses can deliver equivalent outcomes at their institutions (47 percent agree vs. 28 percent disagree), in their departments (50 percent vs. 30 percent), and in the classes they teach (56 percent vs. 29 percent).

Asked to rate factors that contribute to quality in online education, whether an online program is offered by an accredited institution tops the list for faculty members (73 percent), and about 6 in 10 say that whether an online program is offered by an institution that also offers in-person instruction is a “very important” indicator of quality. Only 45 percent say it is very important that the online education is offered for credit, and about 3 in 10 say it is very important whether the offering institution is nonprofit.

Most professors want to make sure faculty members control decision-making about MOOCs and that accreditors review their quality.

Of professors who’ve never taught an online course, 30 percent say the main reason is because they’ve never been asked.

Geoff Cain offers time-saving tips for teaching online at Brainstorm in Progress. He’s also got advice for online students.

Will employers value your online degree?

Employers value online degrees — in certain circumstances, according to Drexel University Online.

Drexel University Online vs Traditional Degrees

The best of colleges, the worst of colleges

Washington Monthly‘s 2013 college rankings include the best community collegesSaint Paul College (MN), North Florida Community College (FL), North Dakota State College of Science (ND), Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WI) and Lawson State Community College (AL) top the list.

The Monthly relied on the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), which asks about teaching practices, student workload, interaction with faculty, and student support, and U.S. Department of Education measures of student retention and completion.

Some of the worst community colleges are in the otherwise thriving San Francisco Bay Area, writes Haley Sweetland Edwards.

City College of San Francisco is slated to lose accreditation next year because of “broken governance and fiscal mismanagement,” she writes.

If that happens, it will mark by many measures the most catastrophic implosion of a community college in our nation’s academic history. And more to the point, City College’s roughly 85,000 students, most of whom are minority or working class, will be out of luck. While they’ll be allowed to transfer with their credits, commute to another institution, or simply stick it out during the turmoil, the truth is that many won’t. They will be added instead to the roster of hundreds of thousands of students in the last decade who have enrolled in a community college in the greater San Francisco Bay Area with the hope of getting a credential or degree, of clawing their way to a better job and into the middle class, but have left school empty-handed.

Nearly all the schools in the Bay Area are bottom-feeders in the Monthly‘s community college rankings, which uses the same metrics as the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Out of 1,011 colleges rated, San Francisco City College ranked 842. In the East Bay, Laney College was 882, the College of Alameda was 971 and nearby Berkeley City College was 982. Heading south, “San Bruno’s Skyline College scored a relatively sparkling 772, but neighboring College of San Mateo, where a director of information technology was recently charged for selling the school’s computer equipment and embezzling the cash, ranked 845. Cañada College ranked 979. North of the city, the College of Marin ranked 839.

 So the question here is clear: How is it that a region of the world that prides itself on its booming growth and vibrant market—on “growing the jobs and companies of the future”—presides over a system of higher education that is so broken for so many?

California’s community colleges granted only 10.6 certificates or degrees per 100 students enrolled over a three-year period,  almost 40 percent worse than the national average, Edwards writes.

Funding is a problem:

Year after year, the community colleges have fallen victim to what one administrator described to me as the “Jan Brady problem”: the least “pretty” of California’s three sisters of higher education, it’s perennially “overshadowed and under-loved.”

In addition, California community colleges  are “a confederacy of semiautonomous fiefdoms.” State oversight is weak. “Shared governance” laws require district boards to share power with faculty, students, administration and staff. In some districts, board meetings become “hair-pulling, mudslinging turf wars that feel a little like Robert’s Rules of Order meets Lord of the Flies.”

In places where the local leadership is good—even visionary—the colleges are quite good, too. In places where the local leadership is bad or mediocre, the colleges are truly terrible. “Some campuses have a culture of destruction and some have a culture of collaboration,” observes Utpal Goswami, who became president of the College of the Redwoods just before the school was slapped with the regional accrediting agency’s most severe sanction.

Santa Barbara City College was a co-winner of this year’s Aspen Prize. The College of Marin, which serves a similar population, “grants only about eight certificates or degrees per 100 students over a three-year period—a success rate that’s barely half of Santa Barbara’s.”

High defaults suggest lax accreditation

Accreditors appear to be the most lenient on two-year colleges in the North Central and Middle States, according to Education Sector. The analysis looked at two-year colleges with “a much higher default rate than we would expect based on their graduation rate,” suggesting low graduation standards and unprepared students.

Accreditation was toughest in the Western region.

Public community colleges “dominate the list of schools that are possibly too lenient in their graduation requirements,” writes Andrew Gillen, though “a disproportionate share of for-profits did not have enough data to be included.”

Feds threaten accrediting commission

“The U.S. Department of Education is threatening to “limit, suspend or terminate” federal recognition of the accrediting commission that has threatened to shut down City College of San Francisco, reports EdSource Today.

In a six-page letter to Barbara Beno, president of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), the Department of Education said that the commission needed to take “immediate action” to correct four areas of non-compliance with federal regulations. The letter came in response to a 275-page complaint filed by the California Federation of Teachers over how the commission handled the accreditation review of City College.

The union, which represents the faculty and other staff at City College, charged only one faculty member served on two evaluation teams with eight and 16 members. In addition, Beno’s husband was on one of the evaluation teams, which CFT said created the appearance of a conflict of interest, and that the commission failed to provide a “detailed written report that clearly identifies any deficiencies in the institution’s compliance” with the commission’s standards.

In a statement published on its website, a statement published on its website, the commission said it was “disappointed” with the findings, and that it would make “necessary changes to appropriately address the Department’s concerns.” However, it took issue with the assertion that only one academic was represented on the evaluation team, and also said that it appeared that in another area the federal government was imposing new requirements.

In 2007, when its federal recognition came up for its five-year renewal, the ACCJC was found to be “non-compliant” with federal standards, “essentially for for not being tough enough on colleges not meeting its standards for accreditation, reports EdSource Today.

CCSF is the largest community college in California and one of the largest in the nation.