Community colleges should be free


Following Tennessee’s lead, several states are considering free tuition for community and technical college students.

Community Colleges Should Be Free, editorializes Scientific American. Community colleges train technicians for jobs in leading-edge industries and serve as gateways to higher education for first-generation, minority and working-class students.

The Tennessee Promise is showing the way. Starting next year, high school graduate will pay no tuition at two-year community colleges and technical schools.

However, many community college entrants have weak basic skills. Only 32 percent of Tennessee students complete a credential. Gov. Bill Haslam’s program includes “mentors” to help students succeed.

 To ensure that the newly enrolled reach graduation day, administrators of community colleges must emphasize accelerated remedial programs to get students through the basics and into career-related classes quickly enough to avoid the frustration and despondency that lead to elevated dropout rates.

The two-year colleges should also give serious consideration to new teaching methods that could maximize the time teachers have to interact with their students. Bill Gates, whose foundation has contributed tens of millions to remedy the failings of two-year schools, recommended in a speech last year that community colleges experiment with “flipped classrooms.” Students watch lectures from MOOCs (massive open online courses) at home. In class, instead of getting lectures, they complete homework-like exercises, with personalized instruction from professors and teaching assistants.

Oregon plans a Promise bill.  Mississippi legislators rejected the idea, but may come back to it next year. Now a Texas politician has proposed making community and technical college free to high school graduates in her state.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, wants the state to invest $2 billion in a Texas Promise Fund modeled after the Tennessee plan. “It is time to get Texans prepared for the jobs of the future,” said Van de Putte. Students would have to exhaust their federal grant aid and pay for their non-academic fees, books and living expenses.

In Michigan, the Kalamazoo Promise — funded by local philanthropists – guarantees college or university tuition to graduates of district-run public schools. Grades and AP enrollments are up and suspensions are way down, reports Politico. But, nine years after the Promise was announced, college dropout rates remain high for Kalamazoo students.

Brian Lindhal, a 2012 graduate of Loy Norrix High School, had a rocky start at Kalamazoo Valley Community College last fall. After earning a B in English and a D in history his first semester, he didn’t sign up for the winter term. “It didn’t click,” says Lindhal, 20, who works full-time at a company that restores garments after fires and floods. He plans to go back next semester. “I know a lot of people in other places would kill to have what I have,” he says sheepishly.

Rochester, New York also has a Promise program, writes Michael Holzman on Dropout Nation. Very few blacks — and even fewer black males — read proficiently in ninth grade and go on to earn a diploma at Rochester’s high schools. Only nine percent of blacks earned a degree in six years at Monroe Community College. The completion rate was five percent for black males.

Pushing minority kids to 4-year colleges

Latino and black students are as likely as whites to start college, but much less likely to earn a degree, writes Janell Ross in The Atlantic. Most Latino and black students start at two-year colleges with open admissions and low graduation rates. In Los Angeles, there’s a move to help disadvantaged students start at state universities.

Students at gang- and poverty-ridden East Los Angeles’s Garfield High School who meet minimum requirements will now enjoy guaranteed admission to California State University (Los Angeles). The same initiative will also guarantee that students at East L.A. College, a nearby community college, can transfer to Cal State L.A., and the community college will expand its course offerings available to Garfield students.

The partnership between the Los Angeles Board of Education, Cal State Los Angeles, and East Los Angeles College includes mentors and internships.

“Even minority students with high GPAs and standardized-test scores are far more likely to attend two-year schools than their white peers and are subsequently far less likely to graduate,” according to Separate and Unequal, a 2013 report by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “More than 30 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics with a high school grade point average (GPA) higher than 3.5 go to community colleges compared with 22 percent of whites with the same GPA.”

“Selective colleges spend anywhere from two to almost five times as much on instruction per student as the open-access colleges” and offer far more counseling, tutoring and other support services to help students earn a degree, the report observed.

College isn’t paying off for most black grads

Black college graduates with a four-year degree are more likely to be unemployed and underemployed than their classmates, reports A College Degree is No Guarantee by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

In 2013, 12.4 percent of black college graduates between 22 and 27 were unemployed ompared to 5.6 percent of all college graduates in that age range. Furthermore, more than half (55.9 percent) of recent black college graduates who were employed were working in a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree. That compares to 45 percent of all recent graduates.

Fewer underemployed college graduates are finding high-paying, non-college jobs, the study found.

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CREDIT: CEPR

The college ladder is broken


College is supposed to be a ladder to the middle class, but it’s not working very well that way, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. After watching a new documentary, Ivory Tower. he’s worried about social mobility.

“The good news is that more and more kids are going to college,” said Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “The bad news is that higher education is becoming more and more stratified.”

. . .  since 1994, 80 percent of the white young men and women in this country who have headed off to college have gone to schools ranked in the top 500 by Barron’s. But 75 percent of the black and Latino young men and women who have entered college over the same period have gone to two-year or open-admissions schools outside the top 500.

Graduation rates are low at unselective four-year colleges and community colleges.

More earn degrees, but 60% goal is uncertain

More Americans are earning college degrees, but the attainment rate must increase to meet the Lumina Foundation’s Goal 2025, a new report shows. Lumina wants 60 percent of adults to hold a “high-quality” degree, certificate or other postsecondary credential by 2025.

Currently, 39.4 percent of working-age adults have earned a two-year or four-year degree. Another 5.2 percent hold a “certificate of significant economic value,” estimates the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

If current trends continue, 49 percent will be college graduates by 2025.

Still, Lumina is thinking positive:  “Not only are postsecondary attainment rates generally increasing, the rate of that increase is rising as well,” says the report. If the current rate of increase continues, 56 percent of working-age adults will hold a degree or other credential by 2025;  young adults will hit 60 percent.

“We’re seeing momentum,” Jamie P. Merisotis, Lumina’s president, told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

College enrollment has dipped. The high school population is smaller and “the modest recovery of the job market” is reducing the number of adult students.  “We have to focus on adults because it is hard to conceive of a way to get to the goal just by focusing on traditional students,” Merisotis said.

The biggest challenge, however, is that higher education has to do a better job of educating the nation’s underserved minority students, as well as low-income and first-generation students, Mr. Merisotis said.

In particular, he said, colleges must improve completion rates among Hispanic and African-American students, who graduate at much lower rates than do their white and Asian-American peers.

While 59 percent of Asian-American adults and nearly 44 percent of whites hold a college degree, only 28 percent of black adults and about 20 percent of Hispanics are college graduates, according to Census figures. 

While more Hispanics are enrolling college, completion rates are low. If success rates don’t improve, the overall attainment rate could decline to less than 38 percent by 2025.

Students will be less affluent, more Latino

Colleges and universities will compete for fewer white, affluent students, according to demographic projections. That could drive some tuition-dependent private colleges out of business.

The number of black students is declining too, while the number of Latino and Asian-American students will increase significantly in the next decade. “The nation’s already seeing a sharp rise in first-generation and low-income graduates, reports the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Some colleges and universities have stepped up recruiting of first-generation students, but most apply to low-cost community colleges.

The number of high-school graduates is projected to drop sharply in several Midwestern and Northeastern states.

Who Will Reach College Age in the Next 14 Years? shows demographic changes, interactively, down to the county level.

Nationally, the number of college-age whites will decline by 14.8 percent and blacks by 8.9 percent over the next 14 years, while college-age Latinos will rise by 13.7 percent and Asians by 14.6 percent.

California: Blacks have low completion rates

Young black Californians are less educated than their parents’ generation, according to  The State of Blacks in Higher Education in California: The Persistent Opportunity Gap by the Campaign for College Opportunity. Black freshmen and transfer students have the lowest completion rates at community colleges, California State University campuses and the University of California.

“The report reveals a troubling pattern,” said Michele Siqueiros, Executive Director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, the organization that produced the study. “Instead of trending up, Black success in higher education remains flat and in some cases, it’s trending downward.”

Only 30 percent of black Californians 25 to 34 years old have completed an associate degree or higher, compared to 35 percent for those 35 to 44 and 33 percent for those 45 to 54. “We have a system that promotes college access, but doesn’t equally promote success and completion,” said Siqueiros.

Black students have the lowest high school graduation rate of any ethnic group and the second-lowest rate of completing college-prep courses, next to Latinos. They are more likely to attend for-profit colleges and community colleges, less likely to enroll at state universities.

The Campaign recommends creating a higher education plan with statewide and college-by-college goals for lowering the number of black students in remedial courses and  increasing completion rates. Funding should create incentives for increasing graduation rates for blacks and Latinos, the nonprofit recommends. In addition, expand “college knowledge” about financial aid and the college application process and invest in orientation, counseling and peer tutoring.

Whites doubt college degree’s value

While whites are skeptical about a college degree’s value, Latinos and blacks believe higher education is essential, writes Ronald Brownstein. The divergence shows up in a new College Board/National Journal Next America Poll.

Jason Parkinson, a 29-year-old electrician from Cleveland, doesn’t consider it much of a handicap that he never obtained a four-year college degree after high school. “It doesn’t do any good anymore,” he says. “You get a four-year degree, you work at a fast-food restaurant. You can go to trades and manufacturing…. I’m not big on going to college for a career that might not even be there in 10 years.”

Jose Stathas, a 47-year-old assistant to the owner at a pottery company in Buena Park, Calif., didn’t finish college either, but he believes he would be better off if he had. “I don’t have a four-year degree, and I’ve learned the hard way that it can affect how much you make,” he says. “It gives you opportunities to get jobs in the competitive marketplace we have now.”

Parkinson is white. Stathas is Hispanic.

“While minorities worry more than whites about affording the cost of higher education, they are more likely to see a payoff from the investment,” writes Brownstein.

college value

Most Latinos, blacks and Asian-Americans said “young people today need a four-year college degree in order to be successful.” Slightly fewer than half of whites agreed.

Minorities were also far more likely than whites to say the economy would benefit if the United States meets President Obama’s goal of increasing by half the share of Americans with postsecondary degrees through 2020. “The higher the education mark, the more competitive we’re going to be in the world economy,” Stathas said. “There’s a lot of talk of the rise and fall of the U.S. Unless we step it up a notch, there are going to be parts of the world that eat our lunch.”

Minorities are more likely than whites to support spending more to improve the availability and affordability of higher education.  “Whites and Asians were far more likely than Hispanics and African-Americans to argue that the best way to control mounting student-loan debt is for colleges to hold down costs, rather than for government to provide greater financial assistance,” Brownstein reports.

Who owes and who’s worried?

Student loan debt burdens 19.6 percent of adults, according to Forever in Your Debt: Who Has Student Loan Debt, and Who’s Worried?, a new study from the Urban Institute’s Opportunity and Ownership Project. Fifty-seven percent of people with student loans are worried they’ll be unable to repay their debts.

Nine percent of people with no more than a high school diploma have such debt, possibly incurred for non-degree training or to fund a child’s education. Twenty-five percent of those with some college experience but no degree have student loans, while 30 percent of college grads and 28 percent of those with advanced degrees contend with student debt.

While 16 percent of whites and 19 percent of Asians have student loan debt, 34 percent of blacks and 28 percent of Hispanics do so.

Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to enroll in high-cost for-profit colleges. They’re also more likely to quit college without earning a degree.

Seventy-two percent of low-income debtors worry about repayment, but so do 36 percent of those earning more than $100,000.

Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid has rejected a bipartisan proposal to tie Stafford loan interest rates to financial markets. If no deal is reached, interest rates on the subsidized loans will go from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. “The deal would avert a costly rate hike for now but could spell higher rates in coming years,” reports the Washington Post.

California study finds achievement gaps

“Disturbing” achievement gaps were found in a new study of what high school tests predict about students’ first year performance at community colleges, notes John Rosenberg on Minding the Campus.

The study measured students’ performance on the California Standards Test as high school juniors against their first year community college performance in four areas: the portion of the classes they took that transferable to the California State University system; the portion of remedial classes taken; and their grades in both types. In dramatically unsurprising findings. . .  the authors found that students with the best scores on the CST had higher grades their first year in community college and were enrolled in fewer remedial classes.

One finding was surprising: “Regardless of their academic achievements in high school, Asian and white students consistently enroll in more transferable courses than their Latino and black counterparts do,” the study found. Whites and Asians in the bottom 25% of CST performance enroll in more transferable courses that blacks and Hispanics in the top 25%.

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Latinos and blacks may have attended high schools with lower academic standards, start with less “college knowledge” and be sidelined by placement tests with cultural biases, Michal Kurlaender, an associate professor at the University of California at Davis’s School of Education, told Inside Higher Ed.