Broward students attend a debt management workshop. John O’Connor/WLRN
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” Polonius advised Hamlet. At Florida’s Broward College, financial aid officer Kent Dunston tells would-be borrowers not to borrow more than they need. The two-hour money-management workshop is required. “You’ll be offered more,” says Dunston. “You don’t need it.”
Starting this year, Broward will not accept unsubsidized federal loans that require students to begin making interest payments immediately, reports NPR. Twenty-eight other community, four-year and online colleges around the country take subsidized loans only to prevent defaults. Broward has gone farther: The college no longer accepts private loans.
About 75 students were in (Dunston’s) class on a recent day, listening as he tells them the story of a young woman concerned about how her $137,000 student debt might affect her chances of getting married.
“That can throw a lot of cold water on a relationship, unless the guy can say, ‘Well, that’s OK baby, I owe $87,000 myself,’ ” Dunston says.
Broward student George Aleman thinks he owes about $60,000 in student loans. The middle-school dropout, who went on to complete his GED, came to Broward already owing that much in debt from a previous attempt at trade school.
The Broward College admissions and financial aid staff “couldn’t believe that I owed so much, and I only have an associate’s degree,” he says.
Aleman is eligible for one more year of loans. After that, he’ll have to pay Broward’s tuition of $2,400 a year and cover his living expenses.
Debbie Cochrane with The Institute for College Access and Success “fears that rejecting unsubsidized loans may force some students to turn to credit cards or other high-interest loans to pay for school and living expenses,” reports NPR.
Broward’s default rate has fallen to 12 percent, lower than the national rate of 13.7 percent.
Remedial enrollment has dropped by half this year at Florida’s Broward College, but that doesn’t mean students are better prepared, reports the Orlando Sun-Sentinel. Under a new state law, Florida high school graduates can choose to skip remedial courses and start at the college level.
Broward College officials said they’ve beefed up tutoring and advising to assist these students and have taken other steps to help them succeed. For example, the college offers a new statistics math class where students can get elective credit. About 1,200 students are enrolled in 40 sections, most of whom would have been in remedial classes before. The class is designed for students who are not planning on going into the fields of math or science.
And the college has changed its remedial classes as well.
The semester-long classroom lectures have been replaced with accelerated “boot camps” and computer programs that allow students work at their own pace and focus on their deficiencies. The school also developed a “Massive Open Online Course” or MOOC, where students can learn skills on their own time.
While placement tests are optional, counselors look at new students’ high school transcripts and recommend remedial classes if their grades or test scores are low, said Broward Provost Linda Howdyshell. She believes making remediation optional will enable more students to earn a credential.
But some are skeptical, reports the Sun-Sentinel. “Unfortunately, if they don’t know the basics, they probably won’t have a lot of success, and that makes me nervous,” said Juliet Carl, a math professor at Broward.
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.
“Florida’s community college system today is regarded as the very best in the land,” boasts the Gainesville Sun. Florida has placed more community colleges in the Aspen Institute‘s top 10 percent than any other state: 15 of the state’s 28 community colleges made the list this year. Gainesville’s Santa Fe College and Broward College in Fort Lauderdale were listed in the top 10 colleges in the nation.
Aspen honors give community colleges more credibility, says Jim Henningsen, president of the College of Central Florida in Ocala.
“For us, what’s great is it’s third-party validation of the great work we do for students and our communities around the state,” he said. “… We’re the best investment for the dollar that the state’s got, and the state knows that.”
Because of the Aspen recognition “higher caliber students are picking community colleges,” says Henningsen.
Community college students will be able to demonstrate competency to earn credits in self-paced classes, reports the Texas Tribune. It’s the Western Governors University model — but classes will include classroom instruction as well as online learning.
WGU Texas and three community colleges — Sinclair Community College in Ohio, Broward College in Florida and Texas’ own Austin Community College — have received a shared $12 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to develop curricula for key technology fields that allow students to move at their own pace in courses that aren’t purely internet based.
ACC hopes to offer self-paced computer programming courses as early as the fall of 2013. Students who earn an associate’s degree will be able to go on to WGU Texas for a bachelor’s degree.
(ACC President Richard Rhodes) said using “competency units” rather than credit hours would allow the school to be more responsive to the region’s workforce needs. If, for example, a company wanted employees to acquire certain skills quickly, they might be able to “invert the degree” by teaching the requested skills first and then later adding general education requirements necessary for an associate’s degree.
Computer science students could earn 11 industry certifications, an associate degree and a bachelor’s, says Mark David Milliron, chancellor of WGU Texas, a former Gates Foundation official.
The competency model could expand to other majors, Rhodes says.