‘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.

Why graduation rates are misleading

Federal college graduation rates don’t distinguish between certificates and associate degrees, presenting a misleading picture of community colleges and for-profit institutions, writes Ben Miller on EdCentral.
10 08 14 CC vs For Profit 2 The College Graduation Rate Flaw That No Ones Talking AboutAccording to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), three-year graduation rates are much higher at for-profit colleges than at community colleges: 63 percent compared to 21 percent.

However, 86 percent of for-profit graduates have finished less-than-two-year programs, “almost certainly certificates,” while three-quarters of community college graduates were in programs that were two years or longer, likely associate degrees. It’s a lot easier to finish a short program than a longer program.

In 2012-13, 58 percent of credentials awarded by community colleges were associate degrees; at for-profit colleges, 27 of graduates earned associate degrees.
10 08 14 CC vs For Profit 4 The College Graduation Rate Flaw That No Ones Talking About“About 47 percent of students at for-profit colleges who started out seeking an associate degree or certificate earned something,” writes Miller. “That’s higher than the attainment rate at public colleges (37 percent).” However, more public college students were still pursuing a credential.

The analysis includes public four-year institutions that award associate degrees. Not surprisingly, public students are far more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than for-profit students.

I’d like to see a comparison of completion rates at public technical colleges, which do not offer associate degrees for transfer. For students pursuing vocational credentials, are community colleges as effective as for-profit career colleges?

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.

Who completes college?

Less than 40 percent of students who start at a two-year public college will complete a degree in six years, reports Pew Research Center. The completion rate is 62.4 percent for students who start at a two-year for-profit institution.

Two-year colleges are enrolling fewer students but granting more associate degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s annual Condition of Education report.

Enrollment — about 7.2 million in 2012 — declined by 7 percent from 2010 after steady growth since 1990. The number of associate degrees increased by 8 percent from 2010-11 to 2011-12.

Higher ed pays — for technical grads

Higher Education Pays: But a Lot More for Some Graduates Than for Others concludes a Lumina-funded report by Dr. Mark Schneider, the president of College Measures. “What you study matters more than where you study,” says Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research (AIR).  Learning technical and occupational skills pays off, even for graduates of low-prestige colleges and universities. A music, photography or creative writing graduate from a prestige university will struggle.

Schneider analyzed first-year earnings of graduates of two-year and four-year colleges in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Some short-term credentials, including occupational associate’s degrees and certificates, are worth as much or more than bachelor’s degrees, the study found. For example, Texans with technical associate’s degrees averaged more than $11,000 more than four-year graduates in their first year in the workforce.

Certificates that require one or two years of study may raise earnings as much as an associate degree, especially a transfer-oriented degree.

In Texas, certificate holders earned almost $15,000 more on average than graduates with academic associate’s degrees, but about $15,000 less than graduates with technical associate’s degrees.

Not surprisingly engineering degrees have the biggest payoff, followed by nursing and other health-related fields. What is a surprise is the weak demand for biology and chemistry graduates. “The S in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is oversold,” the report found.

Despite the clamoring for more students to focus on STEM, the labor market shows less demand for science skills. Employers are paying more, often far more, for graduates with degrees in technology, engineering and math. There is no evidence that Biology or Chemistry majors earn a premium wage, compared with engineers, computer/information science or math majors. The labor market returns for science are similar to those of the liberal arts, like English Language and Literature.

Women now make up a majority of biology graduates and about half of chemistry majors.

“Prospective students need sound information about where their educational choices are likely to lead” before they go into debt, the report concludes.

Competency pilot produces first graduates

An experiment in online competency-based education has its first graduate, reports Inside Higher Ed. Less than 100 days after enrolling,  Zach Sherman, a 21-year-old sanitation worker in Ohio, earned a self-paced associate degree from College for America. Four others also have completed degrees.

Southern New Hampshire University launched the college in January

It is one of three institutions now offering “direct assessment” academic tracks, which are not based on the credit hour standard. That means students can control how fast they move through the program’s task-oriented homework, assignments and assessments. There are no formal instructors at the college — only academic coaches and reviewers who determine if students have mastered each task by checking each assignment and sending them back to students for more work until they demonstrate competency.

Sherman works nights at a ConAgra Foods plant that makes Slim Jim snack meats, usually working a 56-hour week. In three months, he earned the equivalent of 60 credits by mastering 120 competencies. In one month, he averaged 30 hours a week on schoolwork.

Most of College for America’s 500 students are enrolled through partnerships with employers such as ConAgra, Anthem, FedEx and the City of Memphis.

Sherman took vocational classes in high school, earned a diploma and enrolled in the local Edison Community College. But he quit after a year because he was “working crazy hours” at ConAgra.

When pressed, Sherman also says the traditional college classroom experience was underwhelming. His faculty and coursework at Edison were good, he says. But going to class reminded him of elementary school.

“I don’t necessarily like that sit-down format,” he says. “It felt like we were robots at times.”

Sherman has applied to be a sanitation supervisor job at the plant. His associate degree is “going to help me move up,” he believes.  “They’re really big on degrees.”

Sherman’s couldn’t transfer his community college credits to College of America’s program, which isn’t based on credit hours. But students can “use their knowledge and learning from previously taken college courses to more quickly demonstrate competencies,” explains Inside Higher Ed. If a graduate wants to go for a higher degree, the associate degree can be “translated” into course equivalencies.

Tuition was free for the first cohort. The next group will pay $2,500 a year and will be eligible for college aid, employer-paid tuition subsidies and Pell Grants.

College for America is a learning revolution that will help fill the job skills gap, writes Julian Alssid.


Associate degrees pass 1 million mark

Community colleges awarded more than 1 million associate degrees in 2011-12, an increase of 8 percent over the previous year, reports Community College Week, which lists the top 100 associate degree and certificate producers.

Completion campaigns are starting to pay off. Indiana’s Ivy Tech, a statewide system, ranks first among two-year institutions and third overall in associate degrees awarded with a 12 percent increase. Completion is “now a priority for all community colleges,” said President Thomas J. Snyder. But Ivy Tech is underfunded, he complained.

The situation only worsened when students poured into the system after the 2008 recession.

“The facilities themselves are woefully under built,” Snyder said. “Our student to adviser ratio is 1000-1. Most colleges try to get to 500-1.”

Snyder said while 47 percent of all students enrolled in public colleges in Indiana attend Ivy Tech, the state gets just 14 percent of the higher education appropriations.

The Lone Star College System in Texas ranked third among two-year institutions, and 10th overall, in the number of associate degrees conferred, with 4,208, a 27 percent increase from a year earlier. The number of degrees earned by Hispanic students increased by 55 percent from the year before.

“Our board has made student success its top priority,” said Chancellor Richard Carpenter. “For the past three or four years, not a meeting goes by where we don’t talk about completion.”

Lone Star leads the statewide Texas Completes program, which aims to “identify, address and eliminate obstacles to student success and implement procedures and policies to speed a student’s completion.” For example, all new students must attend a common orientation and declare a program of study in their first year.

60 credits for a degree? Don’t count on it

Credit creep is making it harder for community college students to complete an associate degree, according to a Complete College America survey. In theory, college students need 60 credits for an associate degree and 120 for a bachelor’s degree, but none of 104 associate degree tracks surveyed had a median requirement of 60 credits or less.

Many associate degrees now require 70 credits or more, notes Inside Higher Ed.

Nate Johnson, a higher education data expert who managed the survey, said he was surprised that half of the community colleges surveyed did not have a single program limited to 60 credits, including general education degrees and those aimed at students who transfer to four-year institutions.

. . . The likely reason for the credit inflation, he said, is a common one in higher education. “People tend to add things without taking anything away.”

Students who change majors often need to take extra courses. Some take more courses to earn credits that will transfer after realizing earlier credits aren’t useful. On average, students who earn an associate degree have racked up 80 credits, according to Complete College America. Many give up before they complete a degree.

Some states — Maryland, Indiana and South Dakota — are setting credit limits for associate degrees. California Gov. Jerry Brown wanted to limit community college students to 90 credits at the low in-state rate, but the Legislature rejected the idea.

Completion rises as enrollment dips

Colleges and universities awarded 5.1 percent more degrees in 2011-12, despite a 1.6 percent dip in enrollment, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Community colleges lost 250,000 students, but granted 8 percent more associate degrees. The number of bachelor’s degrees rose by 4.3 percent.

How to avoid college rip-offs

On 11D, Laura McKenna advises people considering postsecondary education:  “Don’t get an AA degree anywhere but at a super cheap community college . . . live at home, and get a part time job.”

She adds: Don’t get a degree in a profession that doesn’t require a degree. “You don’t need an AA degree in party planning” to be a party planner.

For those going for a bachelor’s degree, don’t borrow more than $15,000, try to finish in four years and “don’t choose a school based on the college atmosphere,” writes McKenna, a former political science professor.

President Obama’s College Scorecard is “a little buggy,” but may help those who can’t spot a rip-off, she writes.

Work for a year before starting college, adds Megan McCardle on The Daily Beast. “You’ll get much more out of the experience, and you won’t need to borrow as much.”

As an English major who went to graduate school, McCardle advises: “Don’t major in English or history.  It’s getting hard to overcome a poor major choice by going to grad school.”

Both warn against investing time and money in low-value master’s degrees and PhDs.