Community college isn’t second class

Community college is not a second-class education, writes Isa Adney. It’s a “first-class opportunity.”

Just because community colleges don’t require a particular SAT or ACT score for admission does not mean that it’s easy to earn a degree, she writes. “Community college is hard.”

It’s a great way to save. It’s a great way to start. It’s a great way to learn.

But it’s also a lot of work. Sometimes even more so because the temptation to just go to class and go home is so huge. Students who are successful in community college do more than just go to class and go home. They branch out. They join (and lead) clubs. They visit professors during their office hours. They hound the career center. They spend time in the tutoring center. They do their homework and research in the college library. They stay on campus.

. . . College requires all of you. Your time management skills, your growth, your open-mindedness, your strength, your resilience, your learning, your time, and your greatest effort.

Community college students “must figure out why they’re there, writes Adney. Why is it worth the time, effort and sacrifice required?

Community colleges let you make mistakes without having to spend thousands of dollars per semester,” writes Nicholas Bostick, editor of the Brookhaven Courier. “You can take the time to explore different classes and majors before you take the plunge and head to a four-year university.”

Competency degree cuts costs

College for America, an online degree program designed for working adults gives credits for competency, reports PBS NewsHour tonight.

Illinois: CCs hope to add 4-year degrees

Illinois community college leaders tried to add four-year degrees eight years ago, reports The Southern. Now they’re trying again, arguing that offering four-year degrees at two-year colleges will enhance access and affordability.

Robert L. Breuder, president of College of DuPage, is leading the campaign.

“We spend time, money and effort recruiting and retaining students and then we ignore how they can best contribute to their local community’s economy and quality of life,” Breuder wrote in a March 26 letter published by the Chicago Tribune.

“We shouldn’t lose them because we couldn’t offer the baccalaureate degree in a field that no public university cares to offer despite a documented need within the districts the community colleges serve.”

Nursing, construction management, electronics and healthcare administration would be possibilities at John A. Logan College, says President Mike Dreith said. But he doesn’t want to endanger the college’s “extremely sensitive” relationship with nearby Southern Illinois University, which strongly opposed a baccalaureate option at community colleges eight years ago.

It’s time to let community colleges offer four-year degrees in technical fields, writes Jim Nowlan, a retired senior fellow with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs, in the News-Gazette.

A full-time community college student pays about $3,500 a year in tuition and usually lives at home, he notes. A state university student pays  $10,000 to $14,000 — before room and board fees.

College of DuPage enrolls 28,000 students — more than any campus in the state other than the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Students take courses in 90 certificate programs and 59 associate degree occupations.

Breuder wants to take advantage of COD’s strong position to offer low-cost, four-year degrees in fields like information technology, public safety management, advanced manufacturing, auto technology management and, especially, nursing.

Twenty-two states have approved four-year degrees at community colleges, writes Nowlan. Illinois should too.

White House promotes college counseling

Helping low-income and first-generation students enroll in college was the focus of a summit that brought experts on college counseling to the White House, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The White House’s January summit focused on encouraging low-income achievers to apply to selective four-year universities. This time around, James Kvaal, the deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, emphasized that “college” includes two-year colleges and job training programs.

“Four-year college degrees are important but so too are two-year college degrees and occupational training programs. Certificates often have great value in the workforce. So we’re talking about all of that.”

College counseling “is a key leverage point,” Kvaal said, because it touches on the academic, financial and informational barriers that students – especially low-income and first-generation students – face in going to college.

The Obama administration has put information online to help prospective college students research college costs. But web sites can’t do it all, said Mandy Savitz-Romer, the Harvard education professor who organized the conference. Students and their parents need help understanding and using the information, she said.

Lots of stuff is affordable — but not college

This chart shows why America’s low- and moderate-income families can afford flat-screen TVs but can’t afford to pay for their children’s college education, writes Grace at Cost of College.

20140503.COCCollegeInflationPoorPeople1

Don’t underestimate the value of career education, writes a New Orleans student.  Employability is the “ultimate prize,” writes Milan Miller, whose family members benefited from vocational education.  Developing a skill set valued by employers is possible with a bachelor’s degree, “a two-year degree, an online degree, work experience” or self teaching.

$10K degree isn’t impossible after all

When Gov. Rick Perry challenged Texas’s public universities to craft four-year degrees costing no more than $10,000, many said it was impossible, recalls Thomas K. Lindsay, director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Three years later, 12 Texas universities have announced $10,000 bachelor’s degrees and the idea has spread to Florida, Oklahoma and Oregon.

The rapid expansion of $10,000 degree offerings has not satisfied the “It’s impossible” critics. They note that the fledgling programs are limited to a few subject areas, mostly the applied sciences, and argue that the same model cannot work in other fields. Moreover, they point out, a number of the new offerings charge students $10,000 but do not actually reduce their schools’ cost of instruction and materials.

That’s a valid critique, writes Lindsay. The current $10,000 degree programs reduced the price charged to the student but ignored Perry’s suggestion to cut costs by using online learning and competency-based exams.

However, that’s changing.

Three higher-education partners — Texas A&M University-Commerce, South Texas College, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) — just launched the “Affordable Baccalaureate Program,” the state’s first public university bachelor’s degree combining online learning and competency-based standards. Developed by community-college and university faculty . . . a new degree in organizational leadership can cost as little as $750 per term and allows students to receive credit for as many competencies and courses as they can master each term.

According to THECB’s website, students arriving “with no prior college credits should be able to complete the degree program in three years at a total cost of $13,000 to $15,000.” Students who enter having already satisfied their general-education requirements can complete the degree in two years, while those entering with “90 credit hours and no credential” can complete the degree “in one year for $4,500 to $6,000.”

Nationwide, college tuition and fees have risen 440 percent over the past 25 years, roughly four times the rate of inflation and nearly twice the rate of health-care cost growth, writes Lindsay. Total student-loan debt has risen to $1.2 trillion. Increasing federal subsidies so students can borrow more to pay higher tuition is fiscally unsustainable. So is increasing state subsidies for higher education.

Making college affordable

Are there better ways to pay for higher education? The Lumina Foundation has commissioned papers on new models of financial aid by a wide array of authors.

In Redefining College Affordability, Education Optimists Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall propose offering two free years at a public college to every high school graduate.

• All eligible students can attend any public college or university (2-year or 4-year) for free for the first two years

• Through a redirection of current federal financial aid funding, the federal government pays tuition for all students, and provides additional performance-based top-up funding for institutions that serve low-income students.

• Participating institutions cannot charge tuition or additional fees to students

• State funding for higher education will be redirected to cover books and supplies for all students

Student living expenses would be covered by a state and local stipend, a federally funded work-study job and access to federal loans.

California Competes’ College Considerator “tells users how likely they are to graduate and how long it will take based on a combination of their own self-described backgrounds and plans (such as working, or going part time) and the colleges’ graduation rates.”

The Considerator estimates “debt hazard” and predicts the “break-even age” – how old the graduate would be when the cumulative benefits of college surpass the costs.

Several papers looked at income-based repayment schemes:

· Can Income-Driven Repayment Policies be Efficient, Effective, and Equitable? Nicholas Hillman, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Jacob Gross, University of Louisville

· Estimating the Costs and Benefits of Income-Based Student Loan Repayment Systems: Beth Akers, Brookings Institution, Matthew Chingos, Brookings Institution

· From Income-based Repayment Plans to an Income-based Loan System: Robert G. Sheets, George Washington Institute for Public Policy, George Washington University, Stephen Crawford, George Washington Institute for Public Policy, George Washington University

· Should All Student Loan Payments Be Income-Driven? Benefits, Trade-offs, and Challenges: Lauren Asher, The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), Diane Cheng, The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), Jessica Thompson, The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS)

In I’ll Pay for College, But It’s Not a Loan, National Journal looks at proposed legislation letting students fund their college costs by selling investors a percentage of future income for a fixed period. Because the money isn’t a loan, the petroleum engineering major who decides to become a poet couldn’t default. 

Myth: Community colleges are inefficient

It’s a “big fact” that the economic returns to college are high, write Clive Belfield and Davis Jenkins in a Community College Research center paper. It’s a “big myth” that the “college affordability crisis is actually an efficiency crisis caused by wasteful spending by colleges.” That’s especially true for community colleges.

Neglect of this fact and acceptance of this myth have impaired policymaking, resulting in reduced state funding and new practices (more adjuncts, larger classes, online courses) that cut spending and lower quality.

If colleges invest in improving quality, they’ll improve efficiency as well, write Belfield and Jenkins.

Community colleges serve many underprepared students who need substantial support, they point out. Educating college-ready students is cheaper and easier. 

Reforms to remediation, which likely require more (not less) resources, are therefore essential, as are reforms that provide a better articulation between high school and college. Much of the potential efficiency gain would come from improvements at the high school level.

For students already in college, barriers to completion include no-credit remedial courses, college-level courses that don’t meet degree requirements at transfer destinations and “the earning of extraneous credits outside a program area.”

Reforms should include creating more educationally coherent program pathways that lead to student end goals, building on-ramps to help students get into a program of study quickly, and tracking student progress and providing feedback using information technology and reorganized advising.

Low-income and first-generation students, who disproportionately enroll in community colleges, need more information on the returns to college, write Belfield and Jenkins. They also need more “structure and guidance” to succeed in college.

Feds could make public colleges tuition free

Public colleges and universities could be tuition free for $62.6 billion, writes Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic. That’s how much tuition state schools collected from undergrads in 2012, according to Department of Education data. That’s less than the $69 billion the feds spent last year “on its hodgepodge of financial aid programs, such as Pell Grants for low-income students, tax breaks and work study funding,” writes Weissmann. “And that doesn’t even include loans.”

Washington could make public college tuition free with the money it sets aside its scattershot attempts to make college affordable today.

. . . rather than simply using our resources to maintain a cheap public system (and remember, public schools educate 75 percent of undergrads), we spill them into a fairly wasteful and expensive private sector. At one point, a Senate investigation found that the for-profit sector alone was chowing down on 25 percent of all federal aid dollars.

Actually, the feds would spend less than $62.6 billion to cover tuition because most of the $21.8 billion in Pell Grants is spent at state colleges and universities, Weissmann writes. However, state and local governments would have to continue their higher education subsidies.

Students at residential colleges would have to pay for room and board. Those choosing the private sector . . . Well, this plan would wipe out all but the elite, well-funded private nonprofit colleges and nearly all the for-profit sector.

California expands transfer degrees

transfer degrees

California will require community colleges to offer transfer degrees in all majors, reports the Ventura Star. Students who earn a transfer degree will be admitted to a California State University campus as juniors. They also would get priority admission to their local CSU campus.

The bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown will make transfers “efficient, cost effective and achievable,” said the Campaign for College Opportunity.

Gov. Brown also signed a bill letting six community colleges charge higher tuition for winter or summer “intersession” classes. A typical three-unit class that costs $138 during the regular academic year would cost $600 during the special sessions.

Colleges that decide to participate would have to use one-third of the money they collect on financial aid for low-income students.

Brown said the pilot program “seems like a reasonable experiment” that would let campuses “offer students access and financial assistance to courses not otherwise available.”