Unless California helps low-income parents learn basic skills, train for jobs and pursue higher education, the state’s prosperity is at risk, concludes Working Hard, Left Behind. The Campaign for College Opportunity, the Women’s Foundation of California and Working Poor Families project collaborated on the report.
California leads the nation in low-income working adults and in poorly educated adults. More than 1 out of 10 adults over 24 years of age have less than a ninth-grade education; nearly 1 in 5 adults didn’t complete high school.
The state will be 2.3 million vocational certificate, two-year and four-year degree graduates short of meeting the needs of the state economy by 2025, the report estimates.
“This is an alarming gap,” said Michele Siqueiros, the campaign’s executive director. “On one hand, we have millions of hard-working, low-income adults who have limited chances of upward mobility because of obstacles to higher education access and completion. On the other hand, thousands of companies are seeking well-skilled and highly trained workers.”
California needs to create a “public agenda for higher education that sets clear goals for preparing high school students for college, transitioning adult students into postsecondary education and the workforce, increasing the number of certificate and degree completions, while monitoring progress toward those goals, and aligning policies and budgets needed to reach them,” the report recommends.
It calls for improving coordination between high schools, adult education, community colleges and four-year universities and tracking low-income students’ progress as they move from one education system to another.
Non-traditional students need better access to financial aid and access to counseling and child care, Working Hard, Left Behind concludes. In 2009-10, only a third of the state’s community college students applied for a Pell Grant, leaving an estimated $500 million in aid unclaimed.
Gov. Jerry Brown wants to community colleges to take over adult education, but his plan is on hold in the Legislature, reports EdSource. Currently, K-12 districts spend less than $300 million on adult schools, down from $634 million before the recession. Courses include literacy, English as a Second Language, citizenship, parenting, vocational education and GED and high school diploma courses. Brown proposes $300 million in state funding for adult ed at community colleges.
The U.S. Education Department will rewrite “gainful employment” regulations fought bitterly by for-profit colleges, according to a notice published in the Federal Register. The department plans to use “negotiated rule-making” to move forward its agenda on college aid and affordability, substituting regulation for legislation, notes Inside Higher Ed.
The traditional venue for enacting long-term changes to help students afford, attend and graduate from college would be the Higher Education Act, the massive law governing federal financial aid programs that is periodically rewritten to account for changing times or to pursue new policy goals.
Usually, negotiated rule-making comes after the revised act is signed into law, to wrangle with details and write more precise regulations to put a legislative vision into practice. The Education Department convenes a panel of stakeholders — representing different sectors of higher education as well as some advocacy groups — to hammer out new regulations for colleges to follow.
The Obama administration has proposed expanding Perkins Loans and federal work-study to reward colleges that offer “good value” by keeping cost-per-degree numbers down. However, spending more will require legislation.
The department used “negotiated rule-making” to write the “gainful employment” rule, which was partially overturned in court last year.
Congress members are pushing back. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., Rep. Virginia Fox, R-N.C., and several Democratic representatives sent a letter urging Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to “abandon these harmful regulations and instead work with Congress to strengthen the nation’s higher education system through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.“
In the State of the Union speech, President Obama promised to control college costs and provide a College Scorecard to help students and parents compare costs, graduation rates and loan repayments for any college or university. Some of the data is old and most has been available from other sources, reports the New York Times.
Further, the information is presented as averages and medians that might have little relevance to individual families. The scorecard does connect to each institution’s net price calculator, which allows individualized cost estimates, but it does not provide side-by-side comparisons of multiple schools, as other government sites do.
Meanwhile the Gates Foundation’s Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project is generating more ideas.
In Aligning the Means and the Ends, The Institute for College Access & Success calls for doubling the maximum Pell Grant and giving students 7 1/2 years to complete a degree. Colleges should be rewarded for serving low-income students, TICAS urges. In addition, the white paper recommends:
• Use IRS data to simplify financial aid applications
• Combine income-based loan repayment programs into one plan that assures borrowers of manageable payments and forgiveness after 20 years.
• Eliminate higher education tax benefits and use the savings for Pell Grants and incentives for states and colleges to educate low-income students.
“For students who are willing to study, work, or serve their communities, the federal and state governments, along with their institutions, should make sure they can afford to go to college without the fear of crushing student loan debt,” argues the Education Trust in Doing Away With Debt. the Education Trust.
By taking the federal resources we already spend on higher education and focusing them like a laser on reducing college costs for families with incomes below $115,000 a year (the bottom 80 percent) — providing debt-free education to those below $50,000 (the bottom 40 percent) and no-interest loans with income-based repayment to the rest — we can do much to solve this critical problem without adding to the overall cost of federal student aid.
National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ policy brief discusses reforming student loans, improving consumer information, “rethinking entitlement and professional judgment and ensuring that colleges and students have “skin in the game.”
Creating one-stop student services has changed the campus culture at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), reports Community College Times.
CNM Connect offers the college’s 30,000 students access to achievement coaches, financial coaching, study skills workshops, free tax preparations and more in one location.
. . . “It’s the front door of our college,” said CNM President Katharine Winograd.
In 2006, the CNM Center for Working Families began bundling services for needy students. With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Kresge Foundation, CNM expanded to serve all students.
Students use Connect to pick up scholarship applications, plan finances and use the free tax preparation services. They visit achievement coaches, who help students set goals, select classes and evaluate the consequences of dropping a class or enrolling part time instead of full time.
First-time students who accessed CNM Connect in fall 2011 had a retainment rate of about 80 percent, compared to 72 percent for those who didn’t use the services. Of the non-first-time students who used the services in fall 2011, 79 percent returned in spring 2012, compared to a 67-percent rate for those who didn’t access the services.
Before CNM Connect, student services staffers were specialized: A financial aid employee only answered financial aid questions. With additional training and access to information on the computer system, staffers can help students solve a range of problems.
“Time-based units were never intended to be a measure of student learning,” writes Amy Laitenen of New America Foundation in The Curious Birth and Harmful Legacy of the Credit Hour.
“If credit hours truly reflected a standardized unit of learning,” students wouldn’t have so much trouble transferring credits from one college to another, she writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
. . . colleges routinely reject credits earned at other colleges, underscoring their belief that credit hours are not a reliable measure of how much students have learned. If higher education doesn’t trust its own credits, why should anyone else?
. . . Without broader agreement about learning outcomes, credits and the value of degrees will remain opaque. Measuring time is easy, but measuring learning is hard. . . . Those in higher education must roll up their sleeves and commit to the hard work of figuring out together what it is they expect students to know and how best to meaningfully assess what they have learned.
Some colleges are experimenting with the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile, which creates a framework for what students should know and be able to do, regardless of discipline. Lumina also has created Tuning, a process for faculty to “fine-’tune’ their expectations and make them clear to students, other institutions, and employers,” writes Laitenen.
. . . federal policy can help catalyze such efforts by leveraging the government’s authority to use financial aid—a huge incentive for institutions—to pay for learning. Today the multibillion-dollar federal financial-aid system runs on the credit hour. And it gets only what it pays for: time.
Richard Schur, an associate professor of English at Drury University, likes the credit, he writes, also in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Education is a process, not a destination,” Schur writes. It’s “not reducible to a set of facts or skills.”
My paradigm for teaching comes from Socrates. What is interesting about Socrates is that he doubted his wisdom, so he interrogated those who claimed to possess competency, experience, and knowledge. What he frequently learned was that those who claimed to have the answers rarely did. . . . the Socratic dialogue, imitates what should be happening in the classroom, with its give and take between student and teacher.
I know that the critics of the credit hour will point out how the example of Socrates illustrates precisely what is wrong with the existing model. First, Socrates did not have clear learning objectives for his students; his dialogues meander all over the place. Second, there was no outcome assessment, so we are not sure what, if anything, his interlocutors actually learned from these sessions. Third, this would be a very costly model to implement, especially with all the feasting and drinking. Fourth, this kind of education seems to privilege a life of luxury and wealth, which does not match the backgrounds of today’s students. Last but certainly not least, it is not clear that any of Socrates’ students ever got jobs, probably violating the “gainful employment” rule.
Time matters, argues Schur. It takes time “to have conversation, work on building student habits, develop relationships, and to try to make students into good citizens.”
Some 37 million Americans have “some college” but no degree, writes Anya Kamenetz in The Atlantic. That’s bad for the dropouts — and for the economy.
Small cash grants to help struggling students pay for transportation and child care have been shown to improve their chances of getting a degree. The government’s Pell Grants, possibly subject to budget cuts in a Washington debt deal, cover community-college tuition for the most hard-pressed students; if they can attend school while working and finish quickly, they need less money overall.
Colleges need to spend “differently and better,” not more, says Tom Sugar, a senior vice president at Complete College America, which calls itself a “do tank.” Complete College is working with 31 states to improve graduation rates by speeding the path to a degree, before “life gets in the way,” says Sugar. Tracking students’ progress and removing barriers helps.
The biggest obstacle isn’t money. It’s “academic fitness,” writes Kamenetz.
Notably, half of the students in community colleges and 20 to 30 percent of those in four-year schools need a remedial, high-school-level course when they enroll; having to spend time and money without accumulating credits toward a degree prompts most of them to quit. Complete College America prefers the idea of “corequisites” that combine remedial tutoring, sometimes using software, with college-credit work.
In addition, federal policy could update college completion data and link financial aid “directly to student achievement instead of using credit hours as a clumsy proxy for progress,” Kamenetz writes. “The Education Department could funnel more student loans and grants to states that fare best in moving students to graduation.”
End college tax credits for affluent families and subsidized loans. Put the savings into Pell Grants for low-income students. Enroll all borrowers in income-based repayment. Increasing Return on Investment from Federal Student Aid by the National College Access Network recommends prioritizing need-based aid over merit aid. The network, which includes groups trying to help low-income and first-generation college students, calls for restoring year-round Pell Grants and meeting the estimated $5 billion funding shortfall for the 2014 fiscal year with no new eligibility restrictions.
The proposals would help community colleges, which enroll many Pell-eligible students and relatively few borrowers. Restoring the year-round Pell Grant would encourage summer enrollment, making it easier for students to complete a credential.
Expect more ideas on how to change student aid, predicts Libby Nelson on Inside Higher Ed. The Gates Foundation has given grants to 16 groups to develop proposals. Pell faces a funding “cliff” at the start of the next fiscal year in October. Congress will face tough financial aid decisions.
Congress has chipped away at subsidized loans when looking for budget cuts to sustain other financial aid programs, eliminating subsidized graduate loans and then the interest-free grace period for undergraduates. As income-based repayment has grown, subsidized loans have come under increasing criticism from policy researchers as an inefficient use of federal spending, although the loans still have staunch defenders among private colleges because they reduce the long-term cost of student loans.
NCAN also called for eliminating another politically popular program: some of the tax credits for higher education. The credits have strong support from both parties and from the public — President Obama called for making one, the American Opportunity Tax Credit, permanent as part of his re-election campaign — but are sometimes criticized for providing help to middle-class and wealthy students who would go to college without government help.
The white paper calls for the elimination of the tax credit for individuals with incomes over $50,000 or families with incomes over $100,000 per year. Tax credits for high-income families, it said, are “inefficient at best and morally questionable at worst.”
The report also suggests distributing “campus-based aid, such as the Perkins student loan or Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, based on a competitive formula” that rewards colleges that enroll and graduate more low-income students than comparable institutions. Enrolling students who never graduate would not be rewarded.
In Dreaming Big, the Community College Consortium for Immigrant Education (CCCIE) recommends ways for community colleges to serve a new wave of young immigrants. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, announced by the Obama administration in June, will let undocumented immigrants who arrived as children stay in the U.S. and work legally, if they meet educational and other requirements. Many are expected to enroll in community colleges.
The report deals with increasing college access, extending financial aid to make college affordable, supporting college readiness and success, offering alternatives for adult learners and improving college retention and completion.
Net price calculators – required on nearly all college web sites — let would-be students enter their personal information and get an estimate on the true cost of a specific college, including financial aid, not just the “sticker price.” Are College Net Price Calculators Easy to Find, Use and Compare? asks The Institute for College Access and Success. Not really, concludes the new Adding It All Up 2012 report.
Based on an in-depth look at 50 randomly selected colleges’ calculators, tools are difficult for prospective college students and their families to find, use, and compare.
“While some were easy to find and use, others were buried on college websites, had dozens of daunting questions, or generated estimates that were confusing, misleading, or unnecessarily out-ofdate,” said Diane Cheng, author of the report.
The number of questions asked by the calculators ranged from eight to about 70. More than one-third asked for information that students and parents would not be able to provide without digging up detailed financial records, and only four indicated whether any such questions were optional. The majority of the calculators in the sample did not tell students how their information would be used.
. . . Some colleges subtracted loans and work from the net price estimate, frequently making the resulting lower dollar figure more prominent than the required net price figure.
“It’s still too hard for consumers to tell which colleges might be affordable before they have to decide where to apply or whether to go to college at all,” said TICAS President Lauren Asher.
A free service called College Abacus hopes to help by letting students compare the cost of attendance at more than 2,500 colleges without visiting each site.
Sticker prices are misleading, warns the College Abacus blog. By checking net price calculators at three Pittsburgh universities, Abacus estimated the cost of attendance for a student from a two-person family with $36,010 in income. University of Pittsburgh posts the lowest sticker price, but is the most expensive choice for the hypothetical student. Carnegie Mellon lists the priciest tuition but is the cheapest option once financial aid is factored in. Duquesne is in the middle.
Despite rising costs, college is still a good investment, concludes the Hamilton Project.
Even if we assume that all students actually pay tuition at the published rates, the bottom line is this: while college may be 50 percent more expensive now than it was 30 years ago, the increase to lifetime earnings that a college degree brings is 75 percent higher. In short, the cost of college is growing, but the benefits of college—and, by extension, the cost of not going to college—are growing even faster.
In 1980, four years at a university cost an average of $56,000 (adjusted for inflation), including tuition, fees and foregone income, Hamilton estimates. In 2010, four years of college cost more than $82,000, a nearly 50 percent increase. However, financial aid also has increased, moderating the sticker price for students and their parents. “According to the College Board, the actual cost of a four-year degree has remained relatively constant over the last 15 years.”
Someone starting college in 2010 can expect to earn $450,000 more over a lifetime compared to a high school graduate, Hamilton estimates.