Too much information

College students get more information than they can handle, concludes a report by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Streamlining consumer information regulations — and eliminating some requirements — would help students focus on what they really need to know, advises NASFAA.

“The number of disclosures students receive from their institutions is overwhelming,” said NASFAA’s President and CEO Justin Draeger. “Today’s disclosures aren’t just unhelpful, they may actually hinder students from deciphering what is truly important when making college-going and financial aid decisions.” The report recommends:

Enhancing the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) College Navigator to make it the primary tool for disseminating college information,

Making ED and loan servicers responsible for developing and distributing loan-related consumer information, including debt management, and

Repealing the ban on a federal-level student unit record, to develop a limited student unit record that collects more accurate and comprehensive data on contemporary student behavior.

Required information includes a Campus Security Report, Fire Safety Report and the Fire Log, Drug and Alcohol Prevention Information, notices about Constitution Day and Voter Registration and Athletic Disclosures, the report notes. It suggests studying whether these reports are useful to students or could be eliminated.

‘Summer melt’ may claim 40% of first-gen students

As many as 20 percent of high school graduates give up their college plans in the months after graduation, according to an upcoming book, Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College.

It’s even worse for low-income, first-generation students, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. As many as 40 percent “melt” away over the summer, write researchers Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page.

The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, a network of small high schools in Providence, R.I., “had a splendid record for getting struggling students ready for college through a series of internships that promoted academic, social and emotional development,” writes Mathews. “Its graduation rate was consistently more than 95 percent. Nearly every graduate was accepted to college and 75 percent of them reported that they had enrolled.”

But a third of the alleged new college students hadn’t enrolled, Boston College Professor Karen Arnold discovered.

She learned that the summer months before college had been too much for them. They didn’t understand the enrollment paperwork. Money problems emerged. Their parents and friends opposed their plans. They couldn’t bear to tell the Met counselors who checked up on them that they had not followed through.

In Washington, D.C., 75 percent of collegebound high school graduates send in college deposits, but only 62 percent enroll in the fall, says Argelia Rodriguez, head of the nonprofit District of Columbia College Access Program (DC-CAP).

One problem, Castleman and Page said, is the paperwork flooding the homes of disadvantaged students in the summer when they lack easy access to the teachers and counselors who helped them prepare their applications. Many of them “had yet to fully internalize the dream of going to college,” the authors said. “They were torn between the desire to further their education and the lures of home, staying with a girlfriend or boyfriend, receiving a steady paycheck, and continuing to contribute financially and otherwise to their family.”

About half the derailed students face financial aid problems, says Castleman. But there are other barriers. “Students encounter a pretty complicated array of financial and procedural tasks to complete over the summer.”

A number of college-prep charter schools now work with their low-income graduates to help them make the transition to college.

Aid leader: Link ratings to ‘social responsibility’

Rate colleges on “social responsibility,” said the departing chair of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators at the group’s annual conference. Instead of President Obama’s proposed ratings system, colleges should be recognized for educating low-income students, said Craig Munier, who directs financial aid at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

The plan, which is modeled on the LEED ratings of green buildings, would assign institutions ratings of silver, gold, or platinum based on a calculation that would take the percentage of a college’s undergraduate students who are eligible for Pell Grants, multiply the number by a ratio of credit hours earned to credit hours attempted, and divide it by the institution’s cohort-default rate.

Part of the goal, Mr. Munier said, “is to create a little public embarrassment” for institutions that are not fulfilling their duty to educate needy students. He jokingly called the plan “Craig’s LEED certification on social responsibility.”

Panelist Marcus D. Szymanoski, manager of regulatory affairs at DeVry University, argued for multiple metrics that would recognize that different students have different priorities.

California: 2-year degree takes 4 years

A “two-year” degree typically takes more than four years, raising the The Real Cost of College in California,” reports Campaign for College Opportunity. Furthermore, associate degree graduates earn a median of 78 credits — well over the 60 required. All those extra credits lead to higher costs and fewer available seats at the state’s community colleges.

At California State University campuses, where many community college students hope to transfer, the median is 4.7 years for a four-year degree and 135 credits instead of 120.

Reducing the number of excess credits by just one in the community college system would save students $2 million in fees, save the state $21 million and create space for an additional 7,320 full-time students, notes Michele Siqueiros, the Campaign’s executive director.  A 10 percent reduction in credits would yield $16 million in student savings, and $168 million in savings to the state, which could create space for an additional 58,560 students.

Time is a key part of the “college affordability crisis,”  Siqueiros told the Los Angeles Times.

During the recession, California’s 112 community colleges lost $1 billion in funding. “Because of the lack of state funding, we had to reduce our workload and students were on long waiting lists, so that was a big factor,” said Francisco Rodriguez, the new chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District.

Shut out of the classes they needed, some students signed up for whatever courses had empty seats to remain eligible for financial aid, the study found.

The report recommends:

Get students in and through pre-college level classes faster and improve the way students are placed into college level math and English

Require campuses to do a better job of matching class offerings with student needs

Increase college funding to restore classes so that students can get the courses they need and graduate more quickly

Encourage students to enroll full-time and take a full 15-credit course load every semester

Increase financial aid knowledge, simplify the financial aid process, and increase the amount of financial aid available to students so that more students can attend college full time and graduate on time

Provide information on time to degree to students, policymakers and researchers

Many community college students nationwide earn extra credits, writes researcher Matthew Zeidenberg in a 2012 working paper. Good advising could help students save time and money, while raising their odds of completing a degree.

Students may need to experiment to gain clarity about academic and career goals; they may be taking courses that deepen their knowledge or improve their skills more generally; and there may be labor market returns to more credits independent of a credential. On the other hand, students may . . . lack information about the correct courses to take to complete a program of study, or they may accumulate excess credits when their required classes aren’t available, thus forcing them to enroll in “extraneous” courses that allow them to maintain full-time status for financial aid.

Colleges could “direct undecided students to intensive one-on-one academic and career counseling” while using “light-touch” or e-advising for students with clear goals, Zeidenberg writes. “Such a system could electronically track every student and contact them via email if they register for courses that do not advance them in their declared program or will not transfer to their target institution, and offer alternative registration options that would satisfy these goals.”

Georgia’s Guided Pathways to Success is designed to help students earn the credits they need — without excess credits — to cut the time and cost of earning a degree.

Text nudges boost persistence

More than 18 percent of Pell recipients with a B average or higher didn’t reapply for aid for a second year of college, a recent study reports. Close to half did not return to college and those who did return had lower persistence rates than students who had reapplied for aid,

Text-message reminders to apply for aid can boost persistence for community college students, according to a new working paper, Freshman-Year Financial-Aid Nudges. The nudges cost only $5 per student.

Researchers designed a series of messages about financial aid, refiling the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (Fafsa) and maintaining satisfactory academic progress, a precondition of receiving aid, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A group that had helped the students in high school with college and aid counseling, uAspire, sent the messages.

The messages were designed to both connect students with advising and remind them about deadlines and requirements.

. . . The messages made a difference for community-college students. Sixty-four percent of such students in the control group persisted to their second year. For those who got the messages, the rate was 12 percentage points higher: 76 percent.

Messages didn’t affect the re-enrollment rate — 87 percent — of  students at four-year colleges and universities.

Advising gets pushy

Intrusive advising is keeping students on track at Palo Alto College (PAC), part of the Alamo Colleges District in Texas, reports Community College Daily.

When a student first steps through the door of a college, “You have less than 48 hours to keep them at your institution,” says Robert Garza, vice president of student affairs at PAC.

Garza spoke at the annual conference of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development.

Every new student meets with an academic advisor when they first arrive, he said. The advisor will contact the student once a week, in person, on e-mail or over the phone.

If a student doesn’t check in, the advisor will go to the student’s class and leave a note. As a last resort, a hold is put on the student’s record until he or she talks to the advisor.

“Advising can’t be just one conversation,” Garza said. “You can’t hand them a roadmap and let them go.”

Advisors start by checking financial aid and whether the student has the right textbooks. Later, they monitor mid-term grades.

Currently, each academic advisor works with about 350 students, Garza said. The Alamo system is hiring more advisors to lower that ratio. 

CC transfers can succeed at selective schools

Community college achievers from low- to  moderate- income backgrounds can succeed at highly selective four-year institutions, according to Partnerships that Promote Success. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Community College Transfer Initiative (CCTI) was evaluated by Brandeis researchers.

With the foundation’s support, eight elite colleges worked with community colleges to improve student preparation, financial aid, orientation and “bridge” programs and post-admission support.

CCTI students collectively earned a 3.0 GPA, passed 95 percent of their classes and persevered to graduation, the evaluation found. They also became campus leaders and formed campus organizations.

Transfer students raised their aspirations: 79 percent planned to attend graduate or professional school. “I had never dared dream this big,” said one CCTI student. Another said, “It has expanded the things I thought I could do. I see that doors are not locked.”

Community colleges improved their advising and developed “more rigorous curricular and honors programs.”

At four-year institutions, the CCTI  increased student diversity “in terms of life experiences, income and maturity.”

Pell aid for dual-enrollment students?

Extending Pell Grants to dual-enrollment students would encourage low-income students to get a head start on college, advocates argued before a congressional briefing yesterday.  “For low-income students, they are essentially penalized for taking college early,” Adam Lowe, the executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, told CollegeBound.

Dual-enrollment students are more likely to enroll in college and earn a degree, says Lowe.

In some states, dual-enrollment courses are free, but most charge students for some of the costs, Lowe said. 

Several financial-aid proposals are under discussion, including a recent report from the College Board, reports CollegeBound.

The U.S. Department of Education late last year asked for colleges willing to be experimental sites for new financial aid strategies, including giving high school students Pell Grant money to pay for college. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators recently suggested a promise of a Pell Grant in 9th grade would motivate students to pursue higher education.

It’s hard to estimate the cost of extending Pell coverage. About 1.4 million high school students are taking more than 2 million college courses across the country.

‘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.

Non-elite students need help to graduate

Harvard lavishes counseling and support on its elite students, while students who really need the help are left to sink or swim, writes David L. Kirp, a Berkeley public policy professor of public policy, in the New York Times.  Non-elite colleges can raise graduation rates by providing structure , guidance and financial aid, he writes.

At the City University of New York’s community colleges, the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) has more than doubled graduation rates, according to a MDRC report:  56 percent of ASAP students have graduated compared to 23 percent of the control group.

The program for community-college students addresses money issues, which are typically students’ top concern, by covering tuition that’s not paid for by federal and state grants, as well as paying for public transit and giving students free use of textbooks, saving them upward of $900 a year. To help balance the demands of college with work, life and family obligations, students take their classes in a consolidated course schedule (morning, afternoon or evening).

While the added dollars make a big difference, students consistently report in individual profiles found on the CUNY ASAP website that the personal touch — biweekly seminars and one-on-one advising — is crucial. The ASAP adviser for Desiree Rivera, a LaGuardia student, became her life coach. “I am completely able to let my guard down around her and discuss both personal and academic struggles,” Ms. Rivera wrote on her profile. “Her support has played a major role in my success as an ASAP student.”

ASAP costs $3,900 per student each year, but “it’s a solid investment for New York City’s taxpayers,” writes Kirp. “Total lifetime benefits — from increased tax revenues as well as savings in crime, welfare and health costs — are a whopping $205,514 per associate degree graduate,” another study estimates.

CUNY is tripling the size of ASAP by fall. The “strategy merits a nationwide rollout,” writes Kirp. The nation badly needs educated workers.