Do we over-invest in non-traditional students?

Do We Over-Invest in Non-Traditional Students? asks Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, on Minding the Campus. Older and part-time students are the “new majority” on college campuses, but their completion rates are low, reports the National Student Clearinghouse.

Two-thirds of full-time traditional-age students who started in 2007 — but only half of those 25 and older — earned a degree by 2013. Overall, 86 percent of full-time four-year students graduate within six years compared to 20 percent of part-time students. More than two-thirds of part-time students entering in 2007 not only had no degree by 2013, but were not in school.

. . . perhaps we should reduce subsidies for part-time or older students. Younger students have more than a 40-year work lifetime expectancy after graduation; older students often have 20 years or less. The economic and noneconomic benefits of a degree are far smaller for older students because they enjoy them for fewer years —and there is a far greater risk they won’t graduate. Encouraging older students to attend school part-time strikes me as questionable, something pushed by colleges facing enrollment shortfalls desperate for more bodies in the classroom.

At community colleges, the low costs are “considerably offset” by the greater non-completion risk, Vedder writes. Starting at a community college and transferring “works for many and saves lots of money.” But the reality is that many community college students never graduate.

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.

AACC guide outlines how to meet lofty goals

Empowering Community Colleges To Build the Nation’s Future is an implementation guide to achieving the ambitious goals set in 2012 by the American Association of Community Colleges. By 2020, AACC wants “to reduce by half the number of students who come to college unprepared, to double the number who finish remedial courses and make it through introductory college-level courses, and to close achievement gaps across diverse populations of students,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“It is time for community colleges to reimagine and redesign their students’ experiences,” Walter G. Bumphus, the association’s president, said in a written statement. Students need “a clear pathway to college completion and success in the work force.”

Increase completion rates by 50 percent by 2020. Publicly commit to aggressive, explicit goals, the guide advises, with time frames for completion numbers and smaller gaps in the achievement of low-income and minority students relative to the overall enrollment.

Significantly improve college readiness. Establish strong connections with local public-school systems, using clear metrics and assessments to define what it means to be prepared for college. Collect baseline data, and track students’ progress.

Close the American skills gap. Understand labor-market trends and local employers’ needs, and communicate them to students. Establish clear pathways for students to build up industry-recognized credentials in high-demand fields.

Refocus the community-college mission and redefine institutional roles. Become “brokers of educational opportunities,” the guide advises, not just “direct providers of instruction.” By creating a consortium, for instance, colleges could share a curriculum, letting students draw from several campuses and delivery models.

Invest in collaborative support structures. Build alliances with other colleges and community-based or national nonprofit groups to pool resources and streamline operations. Small rural colleges, for instance, could create a purchasing cooperative. A national consortium could provide more-affordable access to tools for tracking students across sectors and states, from kindergarten to their first job.

Pursue public and private investment strategically. Keep seeking creative ways to diversify revenue streams. Meanwhile, join national groups advocating for expanded support for Pell Grants and clearer systems for transfer between two- and four-year colleges.

Introduce policies and practices that promote rigor and accountability. Adopt the Voluntary Framework for Accountability, a national tool developed by and for community colleges to broaden criteria for measuring success.

“We’re not going to achieve our mission unless we all decide we’re ready to lose our jobs over this,” said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, superintendent and president of Long Beach City College, at the AACC convention. 

Prize rewards tech solutions to boost success

The Robin Hood College Success Prize will reward innovative use of technology to help community college students complete a degree, writes Michael M. Weinstein, who leads the poverty-fighting Robin Hood Foundation. “Graduation will break the cycle of poverty.”

Nearly 70 percent of students entering community college are placed in remedial courses, where they waste time and money, Weinstein writes. Graduation rates are “appallingly low.” 

In partnership with ideas42, a behavioral ideas lab, the foundation is considering applications for the $5 million prize.  

The “prize” looks and feels like an incubator with a research component, rather than a traditional award, writes Fast Company’s Ainsley O’Connell. “Teams get staged funding, mentorship, press, and access to early adopters, and Robin Hood gets a portfolio of solutions aligned with its mission (no equity will change hands).”

‘Gainful employment’ rules are ‘awful’

The new “gainful employment” rules are “awful,” ”unfair and discriminatory,” writes Richard Vedder on Minding the Campus. An Ohio University economist, Vedder directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

The gainful employment rules apply to vocational programs at career colleges (primarily for-profit) and community colleges. If the goal is to stop wasting government money,”why not scrutinize students majoring in, for example, sociology, from Wayne State University?” asks Vedder. “Only 10 percent of students graduate in four years at Wayne State, and over twice as many default on loans as graduate in that time span.”

Moreover, while dropouts and loan defaults are high at many for-profits, when one corrects for the socioeconomic and academic characteristics of the students, the findings are decidedly more mixed. For example, the for-profits have roughly double the proportion of African-American students as do other institutions, and black students disproportionately come from low-income homes with high incidence of college attrition.

. . . I happen to disagree fundamentally with the “college for all” approach of the Obama Administration, but if you are going to pursue it, why attack the very providers who most aggressively are trying to help meet your goals? The for-profits disproportionately enroll poor first-generation students, and who are members of minorities. Moreover, accounted for properly (including state subsidies for public schools, taxes paid by for-profits, etc.), the for-profits use fewer of society’s resources per student.

The six-year completion rate for students at two-year for-profit colleges is 62.4 percent, the National Student Clearinghouse reports. At community colleges, which also enroll many disadvantaged students, the completion rate is 39.9 percent.

Finally, the “gainful employment” regulations say a borrower shouldn’t have to spend more than 12 percent of total income (20 to 30 percent of so-called discretionary income) to repay student loans. A person earning $35,000 a year with $4,800 annual loan repayments would not be considered gainfully employed. “If the individual in question went from a $20,000 job before going to school to a $35,000 job with a $4,800 loan commitment, that person has advanced considerably,” Vedder argues.

Repeal the Higher Education Act and “radically rethink federal provision of aid to students,” he concludes.

Students at a community college in rural Texas may lose all access to federal aid, including Pell Grants, because of a new regulation on defaults, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Miller hits remediation, low completion rates

“Remediation just isn’t hard to do. It’s almost a killer for college completion,” said Rep. George Miller in a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing.

Complete College America President Stan Jones discussed reforms such as “co-requisite” remediation, which lets students take college-level courses while working to improve their basic skills.

Miller has introduced a bill to help community college students transfer credits to a four-year institution, the Transferring Credits for College Completion Act of 2014 (H.R. 4348).  Students “start at community colleges to avoid burdensome debt, only to find that their credits will not transfer to their chosen four-year college and they need to repeat courses,” he said. “They are forced to take classes in subject areas they have already mastered and in which they have real-world experience. We need to eliminate these barriers to completion and empower students to complete their degrees and enter the workforce.”

Remedial ed ban forces readiness push

Connecticut’s ban on no-credit remedial courses goes into effect this fall. Community colleges and school districts are working to prepare students for college-level classes, reports WNPR News. Students who are too far behind to take college-level classes, even with extra support, will go into college-readiness “transitional” programs. 

Some community colleges are offering intensive two- to five-week math and English boot camps. Others have developed online prep courses.

About two-thirds of the state’s community college students aren’t prepared for college-level math, reading or writing — or all three — when they start. Only eight percent of students who start in a remedial class complete a certificate or degree in three years.

Credit Connecticut Association for Human Services/Connecticut State Colleges and Universities

Under the new policy, many adult students will be placed in the “transitional” program, predicts Roger Senserrich, policy coordinator at the Connecticut Association for Human Services. “They haven’t been in a school setting for a long time,” he said. 

Black and Latino politicians fear minority students will be shut out of college if they’re assigned to a college readiness program, reports the New Haven Register.

Some high schools are giving students a chance to catch up in 12th grade.

In the New Haven Public Schools, about 700 seniors were informed they would need remedial support this year if they planned to attend Gateway Community College. The district is partnering with Gateway to offer those students the remedial courses at the high school level. Students who receive a C in the course will have automatic acceptance into Gateway.

Manchester Public Schools is working with Manchester Community College to offer a free 10-week program to students who need help with basic math skills, reading comprehension and essay writing. “We’re really teaching the developmental courses that MCC teaches,” said Allison Nelson, a former supervisor of Reaching Educational Achievement for College Transition, or REACT.

Half of vets complete a degree or certificate

Half of veterans who used the GI Bill completed a vocational credential or college degree from 2002 through 2013, according to research released by the Student Veterans of America. About one in three of the veterans earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The veterans’ 51.7 percent completion rate is close to the six-year graduation rate for younger, non-veterans, 56.1 percent. However, the rates aren’t directly comparable since the veterans’ survey included vocational certificates and job training and gave vets 10 years to reach completion.”

Still, “researchers say veterans appear to be doing better than other so-called non-traditional students — those who delay attending college, enroll part-time or have children, factors common with many current veterans,” reports USA Today. Completion rates are much lower for older students.

“Looking at the obstacles and the issues that student vets have to deal with. … I think we’re doing quite well,” says D. Wayne Robinson, a former Army command sergeant major and now president and CEO of Student Veterans of America.

. . . Studies have shown that about half of those veterans eligible for the GI Bill after World War II obtained a training certificate or college education, as did about two-thirds of Vietnam veterans, according to a 1976 VA study.

Veterans often pursue degrees in business, social sciences, homeland security, law enforcement and firefighting, and computer and information services, the survey found.

Seventy-nine percent of veterans start at a public college or university, notes Ed Central. Most choose a community college. The completion rate was 50.8 percent for enrollees in public schools, 63.8 percent for private nonprofits and 44.9 percent for for-profit colleges.

The National Student Clearinghouse analyzed nearly 800,000 college records.

‘Skill builders’ don’t want degrees

 Not every college student wants a degree. “Skill builders” use community colleges to pick up expertise, writes Eddie Small on the Hechinger Report. Once they have what they need, they depart. If they’re counted as degree-seeking students — the only way to qualify for financial aid — that drives up the college’s dropout rate.

Kevin Floerke, 26, earned an archaeology degree from UCLA in 2010. Now he’s taking a course in fieldwork techniques at Santa Rosa Junior College in Northern California. He hopes to use the skills in his job leading tours for the National Geographic Society.  

Nearly a third of California community college students take one to four courses in a career or technical field, succeed and depart without a credential, according to a study called The Missing Piece.

Skill builders in California are concentrated in construction, real estate, computers, law enforcement, and early childhood education, according to Kathy Booth, co-author of the study. For most of them, the college credits led to wage increases. Students who took courses in information technology, for instance, saw their pay increase by 5 percent, and skill builders at California community colleges overall saw their median salaries go up from $49,800 in 2008-09 to $54,600 in 2011-12, the system reports.

Increasingly, colleges are evaluated — and sometimes funded — based on completion. A student who takes two IT courses, gets a raise and doesn’t re-enroll may be considered a dropout. “That’s a success story for that student and for the overall economy and society, but it’s hard to count,” said Paul Feist, spokesman for the California Community Colleges System.

Some colleges are creating “very short-term certificates” for skill builders, said Patrick Perry, vice chancellor of technology at the California system chancellor’s office.

In Watts, it’s easier to be a teen mom than a student

If only Shanice Joseph had gotten pregnant instead of going to community college, she’d have subsidized rent or a housing voucher, a welfare check, nutrition aid, counseling and more. There are five government aid programs and nonprofit agencies offering help to young mothers on her block in Watts. In her high-poverty neighborhood, it’s easier being a pregnant teen than a college student, Joseph writes in the Hechinger Report.

Shanice Joseph stands in front of the Watts library, which only has two computers available to adults. (Photo: Daniela Gerson)

Shanice Joseph stands in front of the Watts library, which only has two computers available to adults. (Photo: Daniela Gerson)

Joseph lives with her grandmother, who’s fighting cancer. If her grandmother dies, Joseph will be evicted. The subsidized apartments are for women with children.

A friend suggested getting pregnant. “Girl, the government will take care of you, trust me.”

Joseph’s mother relied on government aid to raise her and her six siblings. So did her grandmother. “But I also see that these government assistance programs often reinforce a cycle of poverty without offering a way out for young people like myself who want to pursue higher education and a career,” she writes.

Encouraged by her grandmother and an aunt, Joseph enrolled in a small college-prep charter school a long bus ride away from home. Now she has a long bus ride to community college.

Joseph doesn’t own a computer. When she can’t use the college’s computer lab, she relies on her neighborhood library.  ”There are only two outdated computers available to adults, each with a 15-minute time limit—not a lot of time if a person has an essay to type up, needs to complete their FAFSA form, or wants to use the Internet to find places that actually do offer assistance to college students,” Joseph writes.

A few blocks away, Thomas Riley High School offers mentoring and one-on-one college and career counseling — “for pregnant and teen moms.” 

Housing vouchers and a resource center with computers and counselors would help low-income students succeed in college and escape the cycle of poverty, Joseph writes.