Tennessee: Certificate holders out-earn 4-year grads

Tennessee workers with associate degrees and long- term certificates often start at higher wages than four-year graduates, according to a new College Measures study. It takes five years for graduates with bachelor’s degrees to catch up.

“You don’t need to go to a flagship university to get a good job. There are many successful paths into the labor market,” said Mark Schneider, author of the report. “Students have the right to know before they go and know before they owe.”

The EduTrendsTN website, a joint venture of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Matrix Knowledge Group, has detailed data on labor market returns in Tennessee.

At the end of the first year in the workforce, long-term certificate holders earned more than $40,000, those with associate degrees, $37,000 and those with a bachelor’s, $34,262. After five years, the median wages of bachelor’s graduates were similar to two-year graduates’ earnings  ($41,888 versus $41,699), and slightly trailed certificate holders ($42,250).

“Many sub-baccalaureate credentials can be entryways to the middle class,” Schneider said.

Learning how to fix things or fix people pays off, writes Schneider on The Quick and the Ed. For associate degree graduates, electric engineering technicians earned the most ($61,000) after five years. Graduates in nursing and allied health fields also did well.

Graduates in business, liberal arts and management and information systems earned less than the state median. Human Development and Family Studies graduates earned much less.

After five years, associate degree graduates average $41,699, a few dollars more than Tennessee’s median household income.

“Five years after graduation, the 15 Tennesseans who got bachelor’s degrees in ethnic, cultural minority, or gender studies were making an average annual wage of $26,000, actually about $2,000 per year less than they were making one year after graduation,” notes Fawn Johnson on National Journal. 

In a recent survey, 99 percent of parents with children in college said that college is “an important investment in one’s future.” Yet, “only about half of students, graduates, and parents of college students had engaged in an ‘in-depth’ conversation about how student loans would be managed or paid for after graduation.”

Starbucks offers workers a free online degree

Starbucks workers will be able to study for a free online bachelor’s degree via Arizona State University, reports the New York Times. Employees anywhere in the U.S. are eligible if they work at least 20 hours a week.

Starbucks will pay ASU Online’s full tuition for a barista with at least two years of college credit. Those in their first two years of college will get a partial scholarship and need-based financial aid for two years of full-time study. Employees will not be obliged to stay with the company after completing a degree.

“Starbucks is going where no other major corporation has gone,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive of the Lumina Foundation. “For many of these Starbucks employees, an online university education is the only reasonable way they’re going to get a bachelor’s degree.

Arizona State’s online program is one of the largest in the U.S. with 11,000 students and 40 undergraduate majors. Tuition typically costs $500 per credit with 120 credits needed for a bachelor’s degree.

Seventy percent of Starbucks employees do not have a degree but want to earn one, the company reports. (The other 30 percent earned degrees in film studies . . . No, that’s unkind.)

“My dad lost his job during the recession, in my first year of college, and my parents were really struggling for money,” said Tammie R. Lopez, 22, who would also be the first in her family to finish college. “They were on the verge of losing their home, so I stopped going to school so I could get a second job and help them.”

Ms. Lopez, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, got a full-time job at Starbucks and goes to a community college at night. “I could never see myself finishing school because it’s taken me so long to get where I am,” Ms. Lopez said. She is studying to be a sign language interpreter, but is also weighing other possibilities, such as a business degree.

What Starbucks has planned, she said, completely changed her outlook. “I could be done with school in a couple of years — I can see it, that financial burden would be lifted,” she said.

Michael Bojorquez Echevarria, 23, another barista in the San Fernando Valley, is working toward an associate degree in sociology while working 60 hours a week at two Starbucks locations.

“My ultimate vision, what I’m striving for, is to work with children who have gone through physical or emotional abuse,” he said. “Imagine just waking up one day and knowing that your whole degree would be paid for, and the only thing you have to do is enroll and study and be a good student,” he said. “It would change my lifestyle, the whole dynamic of what I do every day.”

Limiting tuition aid to a single online university is “incredibly problematic,”  said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a University of Wisconsin professor. While Arizona State is a public university, “ASU Online is a profit venture,” she said.

In addition to limiting student choices, online-only courses don’t work well for low-income students, said Goldrick-Rab, citing recent studies.

California: Building transfer bridges

San Franciscans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.

One way to restrain college costs and expand diversity is to build a sturdier bridge between community colleges and elite universities, writes Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic.

The University of California is trying to do that, he writes. Last month, a task force urged the nine-campus system to “streamline and strengthen” the transfer process.

Overall, the report noted, 29 percent of the system’s entering students in 2012-13 arrived as community-college transfers.

. . . Just over half of the admitted transfer students, the study found, were first-generation students, slightly above the proportion in the freshman class. Perhaps most impressively, the study found that 86 percent of transfers graduated within four years after arriving, almost exactly equal to the 84 percent of freshman students who finish after six years.

However, transfers come disproportionately from seven community colleges in affluent areas such as Santa Monica, Cupertino, Pasadena, Santa Barbara, and San Diego.

 Although African-Americans and Hispanic students make up nearly 46 percent of the state’s huge community-college student body, they represented only about 25 percent of those who transferred into UC. That was actually less than their share of the entering freshmen class for the UC system.

To encourage more demographic and geographic diversity, the report recommended that UC build partnerships with the community colleges that send few students into the transfer pipeline; increase its visibility on every two-year campus; broaden its own direct outreach to community-college students; expand the transition services it provides to transfer students; and, perhaps most important, establish more consistency in the course requirements that each UC campus sets for admission.

UC still lets each campus set its own transfer requirements, making it hard for students to navigate the system, said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.  The less selective California State system unified requirements under a 2010 state law. “The UC system should be able to align their requirements for the different majors within the system, and that would allow students to prepare.”

Fifteen California community colleges would be allowed to one bachelor’s degree each in an area of “critical workforce demand” under a bill that has passed the state Senate.

Why get an associate degree en route to a bachelor’s?

Community colleges should encourage students to earn an associate degree before transferring, writes Davis Jenkins on Completion By Design’s blog.

More than 80 percent of new community college students intend to complete at least a bachelor’s degree, he writes. However, only a quarter eventually transfer to a four-year college or university and, of those, a third of transfers complete an associate degree first.

A Community College Research Center (CCRC) study compared community college students with similar characteristics who had earned 50 to 90 credits before transferring. Students who’d earned a transfer associate degree were 77 percent more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree within four years, and 52 percent more likely to earn one within six years.

. . . students who transfer in with an associate degree are more likely to have taken a structured set of courses leading to a degree in a program of study, and thus may have had an easier time transferring their credits. The students who transfer with 50-90 community college credits but no degree are more likely to have taken a “hodgepodge” of courses that are difficult to transfer, leading to delays in bachelor’s completion.

The loss of community college credits upon transfer is endemic across the country and, as a recent national study found, is the biggest barrier to bachelor’s completion for community college transfer students.

Community colleges should guide students “systematically and explicitly” into programs of study that lead to an associate degree, Jenkins writes. “Currently, community college students are faced with a bewildering array of courses and programs, and as a result they often make suboptimal choices.”

Completion by Design colleges are creating transfer pathways that will let students transfer with “junior standing in a major (rather than with credits that transfer as electives).”

Associate degree is key step to bachelor’s

Community college students who earn a transfer-oriented associate degree are much more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree than similar students who transferred with 50 to 90 credits but no degree, concludes a Community College Research Center study.

However, transfer students who’d earned an applied science associate degree, which is designed for direct entry into the workforce, were less likely to complete a four-year degree than no-degree transfers.

Nationally, nearly two thirds of community college students who transfer to four-year colleges do so without first earning an associate degree. And while over 80 percent of all entering community colleges indicate their intention to earn a bachelor’s degree, only 15 percent end up doing so within six years.

Associate-degree transfers are guaranteed full “credit capture” in the state that was studied. Transfers with no degree may have been denied credit for some of their community college courses. That costs students time and money and lowers the odds of completion.

Forty-two percent of transfer students lost at least 10 percent—and sometimes much more—of their community college credits, a recent CUNY study found. Students who were able to transfer 90 percent or more of their credits were two and half times as likely to complete a bachelor’s degree as students who transferred less than half their credits.

“Encouraging students to earn an associate degree before they transfer, coupled with state policies that guarantee credit transfer for associate degree holders, could significantly increase national rates of bachelor degree completion,” CCRC researchers concluded.

Ambition matters

Ambition matters,writes Bryan Caplan on EconLog. It explains why students who apply to selective colleges earn more than those who set modest goals.

In Ambition Revisited, he looks at James Rosenbaum’s College-For-All: Do Students Understand What College Demands? It shows degree completion as a function of high school students’ grades and goals.

Exhibit A: Percentage of high school seniors who plan to get a BA who successfully do so.


Exhibit B: Percentage of high school seniors who plan to get an AA who successfully do so.


More than two-thirds of A-students who plan to get a BA succeed, compared to less than half of A-students who plan to get an AA, Caplan observes. “This pattern extends all the way down to the weakest students.” In fact, B students who aim for a bachelor’s are as likely to succeed as A students who aim for an associate degree.

It’s likely seniors who want a BA are more ambitious than classmates willing to settle for an AA, Caplan writes. “As a result, they are — holding grades fixed — markedly more likely to achieve their goal despite its intrinsic difficulty. Seniors who say they only want an AA, in contrast, simultaneously aim low and fall short.”

Ninth graders should be shown Exhibit A: Less than half of B students and one fifth of C students earn a bachelor’s degree. Ambition isn’t enough: You need to do the work in high school.

Pew: Not going to college is costly

The cost of not going to college is rising, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. “On virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment—from personal earnings to job satisfaction to the share employed full time—young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education,” the report finds. The gap is widening between four-year college graduates and high school graduates.
Rising Earnings Disparity Between Young Adults with And Without a College Degree
Millennial college graduates ages 25 to 32 who are working full time earn about $45,500, while high school-only young adults average $28,000. The $17,500 gap is a record. College-educated Millennials also are more likely to be employed full time (89% vs. 82%) and significantly less likely to be unemployed (3.8% vs. 12.2%).

Median earnings for college graduates haven’t increased much in since 1986, but less-educated workers are doing much worse than in the past.

Young people today are far more likely to be living in poverty, Pew reports. Among those ages 25 to 32, 22% with only a high school diploma are living in poverty, compared with 6% of college-educated young adults.

In contrast, only 7% of Baby Boomers who had only a high school diploma were in poverty in 1979 when they were in their late 20s and early 30s.

College Days, Reconsidered

Despite rising college costs, 72% of four-year graduates said college has paid off; 17% believe it will pay off in the future. Even among the two-thirds of college-educated Millennials with student loans, 86% say their degrees have been worth it or expect that they will be in the future.

Graduates had some regrets: Many said they wished they’d gained work experience and studied more in college.

Unfortunately, Pew combines Millennials with associate degrees, certificates or “some college” but no credential in one category. There’s a huge gap between people with a few community college courses, those who’ve earned a vocational certificate and those who’ve earned an associate degree in a vocational field. (Associate degrees in general education typically don’t raise earnings significantly unless the student transfers and completes a bachelor’s degree.)

Florida’s low-cost degrees pay off

Florida’s low-cost bachelor’s degrees are paying off for students, writes Sophie Quinton in The Atlantic

Graduates from the Florida College System’s workforce-oriented bachelor’s degree programs earn about $8,000 more the year after graduation than university graduates, according to research mandated by the state legislature. Tuition for four-year degrees from FCS institutions typically cost $13,000—less than half the cost of four years at a state university.

Alberto Partida, 43, will spend less than $10,000 to earn a four-year degree in supply-chain management from Broward College, a former community college in South Florida. A high school graduate and former restaurant owner, Partida  hopes to enter a growing field. The college estimates there will be 3,555 new supply-chain management jobs in the county by 2019, driven by the expansion of local ports.

The FCS (formerly the Florida Community College System) offers four-year degrees in high-demand fields, such as nursing and computer engineering technology, that lead directly to jobs. FCS colleges don’t offer liberal arts degrees, and can’t offer programs that compete with nearby universities.

But in programs roughly equivalent to university majors, FCS graduates do just fine. Business administration and elementary education majors at state universities earn about the same their first year out of school as FCS graduates, the report found. Registered nurses who graduate from FCS institutions actually earn about $10,000 more their first year out than their university-educated peers.

Florida Prepaid, a state program that lets parents pay for college in advance, charges $53,729 for a four-year university plan, almost three times as much as a four-year FCS degree plan. “Each year that goes by we’re starting to see more families purchasing the four-year Florida College plan and the 2+2 plan,” says Kevin Thompson, executive director of Florida Prepaid. The 2+2 plan combines an associate’s degree with two years at a state university.

Colleges join ‘honors’ transfer network

Quad Learning‘s American Honors is creating a national transfer network to help high-achieving community college students earn bachelor’s degrees at selective colleges and universities, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Twenty-seven colleges and universities, including Amherst, Swarthmore Colleges, Purdue and UCLA, have agreed to recruit and enroll honors college transfers. Last week, New Jersey’s Mercer County Community College and Union County College joined Community Colleges of Spokane and Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College in starting American Honors programs.

The American Honors vision is to wrap a rigorous academic honors program developed and delivered by the host community colleges themselves within a bundle of American Honors-provided advising and other services that exceed what financially strapped two-year institutions usually manage themselves. (For instance, the programs have one academic adviser for every 100 or so students, compared to a ratio of about 1,000-to-1 normally.)

Quad Learning, a for-profit company, doesn’t develop the curriculum and has no plans to seek accreditation for American Honors, said president Chris Romer.

The curriculum is delivered in a blended format, with both on-ground and synchronously delivered online courses; academic and other advising is delivered both online and in person, and mandatory “transfer coaching” is done face-to-face.

Spokane’s first graduates have been accepted at institutions such as the University of Washington, Cornell, Stanford and Vanderbilt.  The program, which has tripled its enrollment, is drawing students who wouldn’t have considered community college without an honors option, said Lisa Avery, vice provost for strategic partnerships at Spokane.

Ivy Tech also is expanding American Honors to more campuses.

“From what we’ve seen, these American Honors students are going to be really good students who are well prepared and can persist and graduate,” said Kasey Urquidez, associate vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at the University of Arizona, which is joining the program.

State universities often have agreements with community colleges in their own states to automatically admit transfer students who meet certain academic standards, and to accept certain credits. But those deals generally do not cross state lines or apply to private colleges, which organizers say makes the new alliance the first of its kind.

A handful of universities in the group will offer automatic admission to some American Honors graduates, though the criteria for that, like grade point average, will vary by institution. None have pledged to accept all of the students’ community college credits, but administrators say they have committed to accepting as many as possible.

Some community colleges already have honors programs. Miami Dade College‘s program was a model for American Honors.

American Honors students pay more than the normal community college tuition but considerably less than they’d pay at a four-year institution.

CC nursing programs fight ‘degree creep’

Community college nursing programs are resisting “degree creep,” the push to make a bachelor’s degree the entry level for registered nurses, reports Community College Times.

Community colleges educate more than 40 percent of the nation’s nurses, said Thomas Snyder, president of Indiana’s Ivy Tech, who chairs the National Council of State Directors of Community Colleges’ Nursing and Allied Health Professions Workgroup.

Nurses with ADNs pass licensure exams at the same or better rate than nurses with BSNs, said Stacey Ocander, dean of health and public services at Metropolitan Community College (MCC) in Nebraska and president of the National Network of Health Career Programs in Two-Year Colleges.

However, it’s harder for ADN nurses to train and find jobs.

Some hospitals have already started to only hire nurses with BSNs, and hospitals all over the country—including two in Omaha where MCC is based—are refusing to open their doors to clinical experiences for community college students, Ocander said.

. . . “Ethically, how can hospitals say they won’t educate them? It is part of hospitals’ mission to provide service to the community,” she said. “They are discriminating against a whole class of people who have chosen a community college education.”

Eliminating the ADN would eliminate a step in the career ladder that makes it possible for disadvantaged students to become registered nurses, said Barbara Jones, president of South Arkansas Community College (SouthArk) and a former president of NN2.

“Starting with an 18-month LPN or CNA [certified nursing assistant] program is a wonderful opportunity for someone who never thought they could go to college,” said . . . Jones. An LPN can get a good job with benefits, and from there, it’s less daunting to pursue an associate degree, RN license and then a BSN.

. . . “Many of our students are first-generation college students, so it could take six or seven years to finish a degree if they are working and raising a family,” Jones said. “Sometimes the only way they can do it is with the stackable certificates—the learn-and-earn concept.”

At Ivy Tech, which graduates 1,300 nurses a year, many students are working adults or single parents, said Snyder. Requiring them to earn four-year degrees would cost an extra $20 million to $50 million a year with no improvement in patient care.

Community College Dean has more on “degree creep” for nursing.