Duncan uses bogus stat to hit for-profit colleges

“Of the for-profit gainful employment programs that our department could analyze, and which could be affected by our actions today, the majority — the significant majority, 72 percent — produce graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts.” So said Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a White House news conference on March 14. That earned two “Pinocchios” for lying from the Washington Post’s fact-checker.

Embedded image permalinkEssentially, Duncan compares apples to oranges — with a few lemons thrown in — to make for-profit colleges look bad.

The Education Department estimates that high school dropouts average $24,492 year. The Labor Department puts the median annual wage at $18,580 to $22,860. A Census estimate is $20,241.

Then, Duncan compares employed dropouts’ earnings to all recent for-profit graduates. Comparing all dropouts to all for-profit graduates — or employed dropouts to employed graduates — would show a very different picture.

Comparing dropouts of all ages, including many with job experience, to less-experienced for-profit graduates also skews the results.

Duncan’s number looks at the number of programs that produce low-earning graduates, not at the number of graduates. “The Education Department does not have individual student data, so it could well be that most graduates do fine, especially from the larger programs,” reports the Post.
Six-year outcomes by starting institution type (Source: National Student Clearinghouse)A third of community college programs’ graduates earn less than high school dropouts, by the Department’s measure, observes the Post.  “Graduates of 57 percent of private institutions — a list that includes Harvard’s Dental School but also child-care training programs — earn less than high school dropouts.”

For-profit colleges enroll many low-income, minority and adult students, who are the least likely to succeed in college. Tuition is higher, since the for-profits aren’t subsidized by taxpayers. Students depend heavily on federal loans and default rates are high.

Community college students averaged $2,300 in tuition in 2009-10 compared to $15,000 for students at for-profit two-year colleges, according to one study. However, 62.4 percent of students at for-profit two-year colleges complete a credential in six years, compared to 39.9 percent of community college students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

Carnevale: We need practical pathways

Students need a choice of practical pathways, including career tech says Georgetown economist Anthony Carnevale in a New York Times interview.

Carnevale, who runs the Center on Education and the Workforce, worries the new Common Core standards will set the single-curriculum pathway in stone, despite lip service to applied learning.

In theory, the Common Core says, we just want you to be able to do a certain set of things, we don’t care how you learn it. But when I look at the assessments, basically it looks like very academic kinds of learning goals to me.

Today’s career tech isn’t a rehash of the old voc ed, which was “drummed out of the curriculum because it put all the females in home ec, and all the boys in the construction trades,” he says. Career and tech education can be integrated with high educational standards, but it “requires a different kind of teacher, a different kind of curriculum, different equipment” and funding.

C.T.E. is still the red-headed, illegitimate child at the family reunion in many ways. The path from high school to Harvard is still the one we all honor more, and that is a very academic pathway.

. . . it’s not practical to send everybody to Harvard. It is practical to send everybody to college. . . . (C.T.E.) . . . can produce higher high school graduation rates for less advantaged kids, higher math scores, more going to college.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is now backing career tech, says Carnevale. President Obama has been talking up certificates and two-year degrees for years.

The retirement of the baby boom generation will create 32 million job openings, predicts Carnevale. Economic recovery should produce 20 million new jobs. “That’s a huge opportunity, and now’s the time when the country needs to step up and meet it.”

$8 billion for ‘community career centers’

An $8 billion Community College to Career Fund will reward colleges that partner with local employers to train 2 million workers for high-demand, well-paying jobs in advanced manufacturing, information technology, health care and “green” tech. That’s if President Obama persuades Congress to pass his budget.  In a speech at Northern Virginia Community College yesterday, the president linked “America’s comeback” to investing in education.  “We can’t just cut our way into growth,” he said.

A key component of the community college plan would institute “pay for performance” in job training, meaning there would be financial incentives to ensure that trainees find permanent jobs – particularly for programs that place individuals facing the greatest hurdles getting work. It also would promote training of entrepreneurs, provide grants for state and local government to recruit companies, and support paid internships for low-income community college students.

Despite the recession, some high-tech industries report shortages of skilled workers. As the economy recovers and baby boomers retire, there will be 2 million job openings in manufacturing through 2018, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown. But there’s a catch, reports AP.

. . . these types of jobs frequently require the ability to operate complicated machinery and follow detailed instructions, as well as some expertise in subjects like math and statistics.

. . . Mark Schneider, the former U.S. commissioner of education statistics who now serves as vice president at the American Institutes for Research, said there’s no doubt that high-tech companies need skilled workers. But he said there are challenges with leaning heavily on community colleges. Many students enter community colleges lacking math skills. The sophisticated equipment needed for training is expensive, and there’s little known about the effectiveness of individual community colleges programs across the country, he said.

In particular, “green” job training programs have produced disappointing results.

Community colleges have been partnering with industry on job training for many years. “Community colleges understand the needs of local employers,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in a White House press conference yesterday. The fund would allow colleges to hire staff, buy equipment and develop curriculum, she said.  (I wanted to ask why taxpayers should fund training for employers, but I was too far back in the phone queue.)

“We will give community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, echoing President Obama’s line from the State of the Union speech.  We will create “an America built to last,” said Duncan. Also “an economy built to last.” And a workforce “built to last.”

President Obama’s past budgets have been “rife with unfilled promises” to community colleges, notes Inside Higher Ed.


Adult ed, short-term students seek aid

Expand financial aid to part-time, non-credit students seeking job skills faculty and students told U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a town hall meeting at Tallahassee Community College last week, reports Community College Times.

President Obama wants two-year colleges to help train an additional two million Americans for  jobs.

”I can’t overstate how important the role community colleges are going to play, helping our country get back to where we want to go,” Duncan said.

Many students in adult education and non-credit training programs don’t qualify for financial aid and scholarships, despite their need, said Kristina Pereira, an adult education specialist at TCC.

People seeking short-term job training should be eligible for aid, TCC President Jim Murdaugh told Community College Times. For example, a TCC student was enable to enroll in a certificate course that would have lead to a good job because he didn’t have the $500 fee and didn’t qualify for student aid, Murdaugh said.

“There is no mechanism to provide any help to these folks,” Murdaugh said, noting that current rules on federal student aid eligibility “disadvantage” part-time and non-credit students enrolled in courses that can usually be completed in 90 days with jobs waiting for them. Eligibility requirement should factor in programs that successfully lead to employment.

“That should be the litmus test for success,” Murdaugh said.

Many laid-off workers seek short-term training to get back into the job market quickly.

The workforce development fantasy

President Obama focused on the workforce development mission of community colleges in his State of the Union Speech, calling on community colleges to train two million skilled workers for unfilled jobs.

The next day, Education Secretary Arne Duncan flew to Florida to praise job training programs at Tallahassee Community College.

Workforce development is the flavor of the month, writes Community College Dean. But it’s not as easy as politicians think to turn out skilled workers.

The most predictable lower-level workforce needs are actually the skills we expect students to pick up in their general education courses: effective communication, the ability to see the big picture, enough quantitative skill to know when an answer doesn’t sound right.  Those skills are evergreens, and like evergreens, they take time to grow.

There are always a few local employers who need workers who can be trained quickly, the dean writes. But those jobs get filled by the first or second cohort of trainees.

Many would-be workers need literacy or English as a Second Language classes. Community colleges’ developmental track is geared towards getting students into a degree program.  Adult Basic Education is a better fit, but often is underfunded and can’t meet the demand.

The dean’s advice:

If you want to improve the prospects of the local workforce, start with adult basic education, add short-term training programs, and beef up the classic academic offerings at community colleges for transfer. . . . Otherwise, you’ll just keep cycling people through training programs every few years, every time the economic winds shift.

The second word in “community college” is “college,” the dean points out. Community colleges are in danger of being defined purely as job training centers.

Federal aid fuels exploding college costs

Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s approach to controlling college costs is dead wrong, writes Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.  More federal aid will fuel exploding college costs, argues McCluskey, author of How Much Ivory Does This Tower Need? What We Spend on, and Get from, Higher Education.

To a system blackout-drunk on taxpayer money, the Obama administration would deliver even more booze while only whispering about tough love.

Speaking at a Nov. 29 Las Vegas gathering of financial-aid administrators, Duncan addressed exploding college costs, a problem highlighted by Occupy Wall Street protesters angry over rising student debt. He lauded loan forgiveness and repayment reduction, and exhorted colleges to do, well, something to become more efficient.

The education secretary inflated the benefits of a college degree — it’s not really $1 million over a working life — and ignored the reason colleges keep raising tuition, McCluskey writes.

Between 1985 and 2010, inflation-adjusted federal student aid rose from about $30 billion to about $140 billion, a 367 percent leap. Pell Grants alone ballooned from $8.1 billion in 1985 to $41.7 billion in 2011.

Add various tax credits and deductions to that, and it’s no wonder college prices have inflated even faster than health care: Government has ensured that ever-higher bills can be paid.

Declining state support for higher education isn’t the reason tuition keeps going up, argues McCluskey. Private colleges are charging more and more too.

President Obama wants to lead the world in college graduates by 2020.  That means raising graduation rates for the many students who start college and never finish, often because they’re not prepared for college-level work.

Duncan says the administration will “challenge” schools to improve their graduation rates. Great.

Colleges’ most likely response will be to run warm bodies through to graduation, while giving them few if any college-level skills. Indeed, we’ve been seeing this for years, with literacy for degree-holders dropping and earnings for people with only a bachelor’s degree falling, too.

The only way to make college much cheaper or more effective is “taking the jet fuel — federal student aid — out of college pricing, and being frank about the real value of higher education,” McCluskey writes.

He provides links here to research on the effect of aid on college prices.

Virginia Postrel has more in a Bloomberg View column, including a warning:

A good chunk of the educated public has decided that college educators are decadent and lazy. Many are positively lusting to see higher education get its Detroit-style comeuppance.

This attitude is unfortunate and often unfair, but it’s the direct result of decades of federal policies. Any strategy to reduce college costs needs to look beyond traditional subsidies to remove some of the insulation that stifles innovation and feeds public resentment.

I keep expecting the non-elite private colleges to collapse as students and parents realize that it’s just not worth the money compared to a state university or a community college. If we do see cost controls, they’ll come in the private sector.


Obama puts college costs on agenda

Rising college costs was on the agenda this week, when President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan met with college leaders at the White House. Most were chancellors of large state university systems, but Thomas Snyder of Ivy Tech Community College was invited along with the presidents of the three nonprofits, the all-online Western Governors University, Carnegie Mellon and Berea College.

New financial aid policies to encourage completion were discussed, said Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, who also testified before Rep. Virginia Foxx’s committee on streamlining college costs.

. . . there seemed to be some consensus at the White House meeting that the federal government should develop policies on financial aid, its biggest tool, to spur a higher graduation rates, whether by limiting the number of semesters for which students could receive aid, requiring them to attend full-time, or doling out aid bit by bit to discourage students from dropping out mid-semester, or other approaches.

Requiring full-time attendance to qualify for Pell Grants would have a huge impact on community college students.

College leaders also talked about the importance of linking colleges with K-12 education and the potential for technology to cut costs.

“If we’re going to address the 37 million adults with some college and no degree, we can’t just tweak the existing model,” said Robert W. Mendenhall of Western Governors University, an online nonprofit university. “Mostly in higher education, technology is an add-on cost that doesn’t change the model at all. We need to fundamentally change the faculty role, and use technology to do the teaching.”

Larry D. Shinn, the president of Berea College, did not disagree. “We’re structured in a 19th-century model, but I think we all know now that blended learning, combining technology and classroom learning, can let us educate for less cost,” he said. “The question is how we get there from here.”

“Technology can help us educate more students faster and better.”said Jared L. Cohon, the president of Carnegie Mellon, which has developed online classes used at other universities.

No for-profit colleges made the guest list.

Open-access universities and community colleges have the most experience in controlling costs, writes Jonathan Gibralter, president of Frostburg State in Maryland.

President Obama plans to continue to talk about the problem of college affordability, which was spotlighted by the Occupy protests.

Can college costs be controlled?

Despite the recession, college costs keep rising: Last year, tuition and fees increased by 8.7 percent at community colleges, 8.3 percent at public universities,  4.5 percent at private nonprofits and 3.2 percent at for-profit schools.

College leaders must “think more creatively and with much greater urgency” about controlling costs and reducing students’ debt loads, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan Tuesday at a conference of financial aid administrators in Las Vegas.

“Three in four Americans now say that college is too expensive for most people to afford,” Mr. Duncan said. “That belief is even stronger among young adults — three-fourths of whom believe that graduates today have more debt than they can manage.”

A college degree is an increasingly important investment, said Duncan, claiming that a four-year graduate will earn $1 million more over 40 years than a high school graduate. (That’s an inflated estimate, argues Richard Vedder.)

Exhortation won’t solve the debt problem, Patrick M. Callan, president of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told the New York Times.

“We’ve put huge amounts into Pell grants under Clinton, Bush and Obama, but the money that went to financial aid has been absorbed by tuition increases. And with all that we’ve invested, we have a less affordable system than we had a decade ago. We’re on a national treadmill.”

Duncan promoted the administration’s plans to link federal loans and grants to colleges’ success at graduating Pell recipients, increasing overall completion rates and closing achievement gaps.  He also promised grants “to support programs that use innovation to accelerate learning and hold down tuition.”

Edububble is skeptical:

The Feds can write as many checks as they want, but the college industrial complex will take all of the money and still demand more from the students. The only solution is for professors to teach more and for colleges to quit spending so much money on new buildings. Oh, and quit paying so much for administration. But no one wants to hear those ideas.

The next day, the House Education & Workforce Committee held a hearing on “Keeping College within Reach.

“This troubling trend of higher prices has several causes, including weak local economies, increased spending on student services and academic support, and state budget crises,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, who chairs the committee.

“. . . as our nation struggles with trillion dollar budget deficits and unprecedented national debt, continuing to increase federal subsidies to supplement the growing cost of college is simply unsustainable … colleges and universities must do their part to streamline costs and lessen the burden for students whenever possible.”

Jane V. Wellman, executive director of the Delta Cost Project, said tuition is rising “much faster than spending or costs” to replace state and local revenues and to cover costlier employee benefits. “Pretty much all of the new money coming in from tuition increases [is] going out the door to pay for the growing costs of health care,” she said.

Go to Pell!

Once a fan of Pell Grants, Ohio University economist Richard Vedder, director of the Center for Affordability and Productivity, is in a Go to Pell! mood. Once a benefit for low-income students, Pell is on its way to becoming a universal entitlement, Vedder writes. Half of undergraduates now receive Pell Grants.

Why is this bad? To start with, “millions of middle-class Americans who would have gone to college anyway are getting the award.” That’s enabled colleges to raise tuition.

Pell is degrading academic quality, he adds.

Many academically unprepared students are bribed to go to college for which they flounder, or are helped through by deteriorating academic standards as manifested in such phenomenon as grade inflation.

Pell is wasting billions of dollars.  The Obama Administration does not know or will not release the aggregate four-, five-, and six-year graduation rate of Pell Grant recipients.

. . . I would guess that for every full-time student with a Pell who graduates from college within six years, there are at least two who do not. For every success, there are double the number of those who mostly think of themselves as failures—unable to achieve their dream after six years of trying. IT IS A NATIONAL SCANDAL THAT THIS DATA IS BEING WITHHELD FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE!

Pell rewards poor academic performance by giving more money to students who spend years taking classes without completing a degree.

The marginal student who takes courses for eight years and then drops outs gets twice as much Pell money, other things equal, as the otherwise identical student who works hard and graduates with honors in four years. There are utterly no performance standards, no academic expectations, and no “tough love” to encourage good performance.

Finally, Pell encourages “over-investment in higher education” that our nation can’t afford, Vedder concludes.

I had the opportunity to ask Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the graduation rate for Pell recipients at community colleges. He said he didn’t know, but assumed it was lower than the overall rate of 22 percent since low-income students are less likely to complete a degree.

Pell reforms are inevitable. I foresee stricter time limits on eligibility and requirements for half- to full-time enrollment. Stronger enforcement of academic progress rules — students are supposed to pass their classes to remain eligible — also would cut costs.


Pell Grants may be safe — for 2 years

Pell Grant funding will continue for two years under debt-ceiling proposals by both Republican John Boehner and Democrat Harry Reid. Both congressional leaders propose cutting the interest subsidy on Stafford loans to graduate students to fund Pell, notes Higher Ed Watch. But the future is murky.

As Ed Money Watch reported last week, any proposal that Congress ultimately adopts to reduce federal spending would include caps on annual appropriations for future years, and would be enforced by across-the-board spending cuts called “sequestration.” These caps on so-called discretionary spending will squeeze education funding over the coming years as nearly all federal education programs are funded through the annual appropriations process.

More than a third of Pell Grant recipients attend community colleges, notes the American Association of Community Colleges in a policy brief.  With the federal aid, students are more likely to enroll full time and to cut work hours, boosting their chances of earning a credential.

However, federal expenditures for Pell Grants have increased by 182 percent in five years, making the $35 billion program an attractive target for budget cutters, notes Community College Times.

“Discussions on Capitol Hill about changes to the Pell Grant program should factor into them the real lives and people who could be impacted,” said AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus. “The Pell Grant program has historically been a vital support for many seeking to better themselves.”

. . . “More people are turning to community colleges to help them keep their dreams of higher education alive, and they need funding to stay in school and earn the credentials needed for the workplace,” he said.

Traditionally, Pell Grants have enjoyed bipartisan support, but those days may be over. Republican and Democratic lawmakers clashed on the growing cost of Pell Grants when U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testified Wednesday before the Senate panel that oversees K-12 spending, notes Ed Week’s Politics K-12.  Aid for low-income college students is “eating up an ever-larger share of the U.S. Department of Education’s nearly $70 billion budget.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the K-12 spending committee, admonished Duncan about runaway spending at the department. He said the department has requested a more than 20 percent increase in spending compared with two years ago.

But Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the panel’s chairman, pointed out that most of that money is Pell Grants. “What’s going on is, we’ve got a lot of people out of work,” he said. “Most of this increase is because of the increased use of Pell grants.”

Joining a conference call earlier this week, President Obama thanked student leaders for a letter on the importance of student aid.  However, he made no promises.