Community college leaders like the U.S. Education Department’s final gainful employment rules, which focus on graduates’ debt-to-earnings ratio, but don’t consider default rates.
The new regulations “protect students from predatory programs that lead to high levels of indebtedness,” said J. Noah Brown, president of the Association of Community College Trustees in a statement. “The final regulations contain a critical modification sought by community colleges, and the result is a stronger and simpler framework.”
Because tuition is low, only nine percent of certificate students at public two-year institutions take out federal loans, said Brown. Community colleges feared losing aid eligibility because of high default rates for a small number of students.
However, some consumer groups said the new rules are too weak.
“The final gainful employment regulation does not do enough to stop the fleecing of students and taxpayers,” according to the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).
Dropping the default rate opens “a giant policy loophole,” writes Ben Miller on EdCentral. The debt-to-earnings measure holds career colleges accountable for their graduates’ success. The default rate included borrowers who dropped out. That’s a large group.
We know that dropouts, especially those with debt, are substantially more likely to default on their student loans, be unemployed and suffer other negative consequences. In fact, dropouts account for more than 60 percent of defaulters. Ignoring these issues could encourage colleges to be judicious about who they allow to graduate and could lead to tactics like giving retroactive scholarships to students who are about to graduate just so they can keep their debt balances down.
Career colleges will be “at liberty to defraud students with impunity, so long as they make sure they don’t graduate,” said education policy analyst Barmak Nassirian.
For-profit career colleges “will feel almost all of the sting from gainful employment,” predicts Inside Higher Ed. Education Secretary Arne Duncan estimates that 1,400 academic programs with 840,000 students will fail to meet the standards, unless they improve. Ninety-nine percent of those programs are at for-profit colleges, he said.
The for-profit colleges’ trade association said the new regulations are based on an “arbitrary and capricious” metric. “The latest version of the gainful employment regulation has done nothing to fix this fundamentally flawed and misguided proposal,” said Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities in a statement.
Of 100 students from four different income groups who began a two-year or four-year college in 2002, who earned a degree by 2008? asks the Washington Post. (Click the link to check out the nice graphics.) Surprisingly few.
In six years, only 30 students completed a bachelor’s degree. That includes 12 students of 25 from the top quartile in family income ($92,000+) and four of 25 from the bottom quartile (less than $32,000). Another 14 students — two from the top quartile and five from the bottom quartile — earned an associate degree or certificate.
Three high-income students and seven low-income students are among the 21 dropouts. Thirty-five students from all income groups were still trying to complete a degree.
Only 56 percent of the highest-income students, 44 percent of the upper-middle group, 40 percent of lower-middle incomes and 36 percent of the lowest-income students had earned a credential of any kind in six years.
I’m not surprised that students from low-income (and usually poorly educated families) have trouble earning a degree. I’m shocked that middle- and upper-middle-class families get only half their kids through college in six years.
Giving full-time students an extra two years to complete a bachelor’s degree raises completion rates by less than 5 percent, according to Complete College America’s Time is the Enemy.
Lauren Bizzaro owes $40,000 for three years of college. (Caleb Kenna for The Wall Street Journal)
College dropouts are the “untouchables” of higher education, writes Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, in Forbes.
Looking at those 25 to 34 years of age, the median earnings in 2013 were $27,339, about 10 percent higher than those who stopped their education with a high school diploma ($24,835), writes Vedder. And most dropouts who enrolled in four-year institutions took out student loans.
One approach is to spend more money — more financial aid for low-income students, better remedial education — to “alleviate some causes of dropping out.”
The alternative, writes Vedder, is for four-year colleges and universities to stop accepting students with weak academic records and little chance of success. That would include students in the bottom half of their high school class or with low SAT or ACT scores.
Those failing to meet the admissions thresholds should be allowed to attend community colleges or non-degree schools offering certificated vocational training and, if they succeed there, be allowed to proceed to four-year schools. This approach should not only reduce the dropout rate, it should save a good deal of money, both for students and taxpayers. It should reduce student loan repayment problems a bit, and lower loan delinquency rates.
Above all, a more restrictive admissions approach would in the long run reduce the mismatch between the availability of relatively high paying jobs and the numbers of college graduates seeking those jobs. We have too many college graduates, not too few.
Colleges would lose enrollments and revenue, Vedder writes. That would force “some needed creative destruction upon higher education.”
A Bit of College Can Be Worse than None at All, according to the Wall Street Journal. For one thing, employers don’t like quitters.
Candidates with degrees or certificates have “shown perseverance and persistence to obtain that credential,” says Kevin Brinegar, president and chief executive of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Dropping out after a few courses makes managers wonder “‘Is that what they’re going to do when they come to work for me? They’ll work for three weeks or three days and say, ‘I’m out of here?’ ”
A majority of students at four-year institutions who didn’t complete college took out federal loans, with average borrowings of $9,300 to $10,400 depending on the type of school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“More than three quarters of college freshmen who finished in the bottom 40 percent of their high school class will not graduate in eight years,” writes Bill McMorris in American Spectator.
How many students are learning online? The federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS, is unreliable, concludes a study by the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies and consultant Paul Hill.
“After billions of dollars spent on administrative computer systems and billions of dollars invested in ed-tech companies, the U.S. higher education system is woefully out of date and unable to cope with major education trends such as online and hybrid education, flexible terms and the expansion of continuing and extended education,” Hill and Russ Poulin, deputy director of research and analysis for WCET, write in a summary of their findings.
. . . “It’s shocking when you think about two things,” Hill said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed. “We’re moving more and more in this country to talking about data, scorecards, holding colleges accountable. It’s this whole culture of data-driven accountability, but we’re not ready.”
IPEDS is notorious for miscounting community college students, writes Matt Reed, the Community College Dean. The federal data system is designed for 18- to 22-year-old full-time, dorm-dwelling students supported by their parents. It doesn’t do well with adults.
It shouldn’t matter whether a student makes progress in a regular semester, an accelerated semester, or even an intersession. With competency-based programs starting to catch on, the entire ‘semester’ edifice is making less sense anyway.
We shouldn’t conflate stopping out with dropping out, as the current system does. Students who need to work full-time while going to school often have to take time off along the way . . . The trend towards “stackable” credentials is based on an overdue recognition that students move in and out of college for economic reasons, and it’s better to give them something useful before they go. But in the current data, those stopouts count as attrition, and are held against us.
Community colleges should be judged on how they help students learn something useful in the time — and aid — they’ve got, writes Reed. If IPEDS can’t adapt, perhaps it should go the way of the dinosaurs and be replaced by a better system.
Only 1 percent of first-time, full-time students completed a degree in four semesters (fall-spring-fall-spring), and less than 4 percent completed a degree within the two years generally assumed in the college catalogue, the study found.
Thirty-five percent of students dropped out after one semester.
“Continuous and intense enrollment” was most likely to lead to success.
Flexibility encourages students to take “meandering” paths through — and out of — college, researchers said. “More structured programs—coupled with advising to help students choose and map out an efficient plan for completing these programs—would encourage students to make enrollment choices that will ultimately help them achieve their educational goals.”
Going to college is “clearly” a smart economic choice because the “college premium” is increasing, wrote David Leonhardt in the New York Times.
Not so fast, writes Grace at Cost of College. There’s been plenty of pushback to Leonhardt’s thesis.
Compare apples to apples, writes Matthew Yglesias on Vox.
Suppose I got someone to make a chart showing the incomes of prime-age BMW drivers versus average Americans. It would reveal a large BMW earnings premium. I could even produce a chart showing that the children of BMW drivers grow up to earn more than the average American. But that wouldn’t be evidence that BMWs cause high wages, and that the BMW Earnings Premiums extends across multiple generations. It would be evidence that high-income people buy expensive cars and that there’s intergenerational transmission of socioeconomic status.
. . . How do college graduates fare in the labor market compared to people who were otherwise similar at age 18 in terms of SAT scores, non-cognitive skills, parental socioeconomic status, etc?
The college premium varies significantly by field of study, writes Bryan Caplan. Petroleum engineering or theater arts?
“Most of the benefits of college come from graduating, not enrolling,” writes Ben Casselman on the Five-Thirty-Eight blog. The wage premium for people with “some college” has been flat “even as debt levels have been rising.” Dropouts may be worse off than if they’d never enrolled.
Only 60 percent of full-time college students earn a degree in six years and the odds are much lower for racial minorities, low-income students, older students and part-timers, he writes. “The six-year graduation rate is well under 20 percent” for some groups. These are the people struggling with the “Should I or shouldn’t I?” question.
Going to college is risky for marginal students — especially for men — according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
People in the top half of the income distribution don’t question the value of college for their own children, notes EduOptimists. The real question is: “who should go to college among those in the bottom 50%?” and “what should we pay for those people to go?”
Whether a college student earns a degree — or just a few memories and a lot of debt — correlates very closely with family income, writes Paul Tough in Who Gets to Graduate? in the New York Times.
More than 40 percent of U.S. students who start at four-year colleges don’t complete a degree in six years. “If you include community-college students in the tabulation, the dropout rate is more than half, worse than any other country except Hungary.”
Students with similar SAT scores have very different odds of making it through college.
Vanessa Brewer was admitted to the University of Texas at Austin with 22 on the ACT (equivalent to a 1020 SAT score) and a 3.5 grade point average because she ranked in the top 7 percent of her high school class. She wants to major in nursing and become a nurse anesthesiologist.
Students with similar grades and test scores have a 2 in 3 chance of graduating if they come from families in the top-income quartile, writes Tough. “If they come from families in the bottom quartile, they have just a 1 in 6 chance of making it to graduation.”
Only 52 percent of UT-Austin students complete a degree in four years, compared to 70 percent at comparable flagship universities. Admitting students by class rank raises the percentage of first-generation-to-college Latinos, blacks and rural whites, but disadvantaged students tend to have lower test scores than the UT-Austin average. And they’re less likely to make it through.
UT is trying to help high-risk students through “student success programs” that include “small classes, peer mentoring, extra tutoring help, engaged faculty advisers and community-building exercises,” writes Tough. Some students get an extra scholarship in exchange for leadership training.
Telling students their anxiety is normal and won’t last can be very powerful, researchers have found. In one experiment at an elite college, first-year students read brief essays by older students.
The upperclassmen conveyed in their own words a simple message about belonging: “When I got here, I thought I was the only one who felt left out. But then I found out that everyone feels that way at first, and everyone gets over it. I got over it, too.”
After reading the essays, the students in the experiment then wrote their own essays and made videos for future students, echoing the same message.
. . . Compared with a control group, the experiment tripled the percentage of black students who earned G.P.A.s in the top quarter of their class, and it cut in half the black-white achievement gap in G.P.A.
In another experiment, 288 community-college students enrolled in developmental math were told to read either a generic article about the brain or an article saying that intelligence is malleable. “When people learn and practice new ways of doing algebra or statistics, it can grow their brains — even if they haven’t done well in math in the past,” the article said. The students then wrote a letter to future students explaining the key points.
The 30-minute exercise cut the dropout rate in half by the end of the semester.
A majority of community colleges don’t offer child care on campus. That’s why student parents with young children are more likely to drop out than other students, according to AAUW’s Women in Community Colleges: Access to Success.
“Student parents most often cite caregiving responsibilities and limited financial resources as their reasons for leaving” without completing a credential, reports the AAUW. High child care costs make it difficult to stay in school.
In Delaware, Nevada, and Rhode Island, all community colleges offer on-campus child care. Alaska, Vermont, Guam and Puerto Rico have no community college child care centers.
Bringing a toddler to class isn’t a solution, writes Dear Abby in response to a community college student’s complaint about a classmate.
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.
The college premium is growing, but higher education’s benefits vary significantly depending on “individuals, types of credentials, occupations, and geographical locations,” concludes an Urban Institute study by Sandy Baum.
Median earnings for full-time workers aged 25 to 34 with an associate degree were 19 percent higher than for high school grads in 2012. The college premium rose to 26 percent for workers 35 to 44 years old and 28 percent for those 45 to 54.
Full-time workers 25 to 34 years old with “some college but no degree” earn 7 percent more than those with a high school diploma only. That rises to 19 percent for workers 35 to 44 years old.
The “some college” group includes a mix of college dropouts and people who earned vocational certificates. Dropouts aren’t likely to see an earnings premium, while some vocational certificates raise pay significantly.
Including full- and part-time students, 56 percent of college enrollees complete a degree or certificate in six years, one study estimates. After 10 years, 62 percent have completed a credential.