There’s a growing wave of enthusiasm for degrees based on competency rather than credit hours. Echoing Sherman Dorn, Matt Reed asks whether high ed should just drop the “hours” from “credit hours.” His answer: Because then “credits” could mean anything or nothing.
For-profit providers have an incentive to inflate credits, writes Reed, who’s worked in the for-profit sector.
In my DeVry days, we were careful with the weekend program — which was specifically geared at working adults — to keep the number of classroom hours congruent with the requirements for the number of credits given, even when it became inconvenient. The idea was to avoid the suspicion that fell upon certain competitors, who made a habit of awarding outsize numbers of credits for various courses to both make it easier for students to complete programs and to keep their own labor costs down.
. . . If we just declare that credits mean whatever a given provider says they mean, then there’s no basis for denying federal funding or regional accreditation to a college that awards twelve credits for a three-hour class and a paper. And now that many of those classes are online — in which the entire conceit of “seat time” becomes vaporous — there would be nothing at all to put the brakes on a given college twisting “credits” to mean whatever is convenient at the time.
The “credit hour” was at least based on something, even though it was the wrong thing, he writes.
Competencies require a reliable way to document that students have acquired the skills they claim. That’s not simple. Southern New Hampshire University’s competency-based College for America — the first to receive approval for federal financial aid — doesn’t accept transfer credits. That doesn’t answer the question: How will a student transfer from a competency-based college to a credit-based one?
Federal aid is subsidizing colleges with low graduation, loan repayment and employment rates, writes Judah Bellon on Minding the Campus. Instead of singling out for-profit higher education, regulators should scrutinize the outcomes of all colleges and universities that rely on federal loans and grants.
For-profit colleges enroll more black, Hispanic, low-income and older students than public and nonprofit institutions. Their no-frills programs attract working students who need a flexible schedule, writes Bellon. Technical training is the strong suit of for-profit colleges, which adjust quickly to employer demand. For-profit students are more likely to complete certificates and associate degrees than community college students.
However, for-profit students are much less likely to complete four-year degrees and much more likely to default on student loans. That inspired the U.S. Department of Education’s attempt to enforce “gainful employment” rules limiting aid to programs whose graduates don’t earn enough to pay back their loans.
Regulate the bad applies, writes Bellon. But don’t single out for-profit higher education. If students are failing to graduate for jobs or unable to pay back their loans, it doesn’t matter if they attended a for-profit, private nonprofit or public institution.
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.“
California’s community colleges can’t meet the demand for career job training, argues a study commissioned by Corinthian Colleges Inc., which operates Heald College and WyoTech automotive schools.
Nearly 2.5 million Californians will be shut out of job training over the next decade, predicts “Left Out, Left Behind: California’s Widening Workforce Training Gap.” If skilled jobs go unfilled, that will result in $52.2 billion statewide in lost income, the report estimated.
For-profit career colleges can fill the gap, the report argues.
“For-profit colleges are finding it tougher to do business in general these days, but particularly in California,” reports the Sacramento Business Journal.
They’re feeling the effects of negative publicity about the for-profit sector, tighter federal regulatory controls, and a somewhat better economy, meaning that more people can find jobs without turning to college to learn new skills or improve existing ones.
In addition, California has tightened standards for graduation and loan-default rates, disqualifying 80 percent of for-profit schools from the Cal Grant student aid program.
However, the state’s community colleges don’t have enough classroom slots for students who want education and job training.
If community colleges cling to the “mini-university model,” they’ll fail, warns Bruce Leslie, chancellor of the Alamo Colleges in San Antonio, in the Huffington Post.
Community colleges serve almost half of higher education’s students today but face funding cuts, cost-sensitive customers and aggressive competitors, writes Leslie. Community colleges’ image is confusing and overly broad. The sector’s “traditions make any change ponderously slow.”
Meanwhile, for-profit colleges are competing for students. Key strategies include :
Customer Focus – in all things
Agile – able to respond quickly to the market
Placement – graduates matched to the market
Focus – niche driven to maximize enrollments and revenues
Marketing – sophisticated, continuous
Personal Service – the student/customer feels welcomed
Student Financial support – no lines, easy payment
Collective Mission – all employees focused on the customer
Scheduling – meets customers’ needs, not employees
Access – delivers where and when customer requires
Performance based – outcomes defined, applied/contextual learning with measured results
Streamlined – minimal credit hours to achieve certification
Community colleges need to adapt or die, writes Leslie. “We must stop functioning like mini-universities and fulfill the founding promise of a student centered, market responsive, academically innovative organization.”
With state funding often failing to keep up with enrollment growth, community colleges have struggled in the past decade, concludes a U.S. Treasury report, The Economics of Higher Education. Meanwhile, for-profit college enrollment has soared.
Community colleges depend on state funding, notes the Huffington Report. State funding has fallen behind enrollment gains, caught up, then lagged from 1999 to 2009, according to the report.
In 2009, community colleges received approximately $6,450 per FTE (full-time equivalent) student, only slightly higher than the $6,210 in 1999,
According to the report, the funding decline for public colleges and universities bottomed out in 2005, then slightly increased before dropping again in 2008.
Because of the budget squeeze, community colleges are pushed to either raise tuition or or to limit class size, and often choose the latter, leading to a correlating spike in for-profit college enrollment. According to the report, community colleges are “more likely to serve low-income and first-generation student populations than four-year schools, and these students now constitute the bulk of the student population at for-profit schools.”
Both community colleges and for-profit colleges primarily serve low-income and first-generation students, the report found. When public colleges put students on wait lists, the for-profits expand quickly to meet the demand. While completion rates are low for community college students, graduation rates are high for students in for-profit vocational programs of two years or less. And there are no wait lists.
College enrollments declined by 1.8 percent in fall 2012 — 3.1 percent at community colleges, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. For-profit colleges took the biggest hit with a drop of 7.2 percent. Enrollment fell by 0.6 percent at four-year public colleges and universities, and rose by half a percentage point at four-year private nonprofit colleges.
College enrollments typically rise and fall with the unemployment rate, notes Inside Higher Ed.
So the fact that the enrollment boom that colleges enjoyed as the economy tanked in 2008 and 2009 has begun to reverse itself is in many ways to be expected.
But that suggests that the philanthropic and government efforts to get significant numbers of adults to go to college (or to return there) to pursue President Obama’s goal of driving up the number of Americans with a postsecondary credential may not be bearing much fruit.
Enrollment declines were bigger for full-time students, compared to part-timers, and for those aged 24 and older (-3.4 percent) compared to traditional-aged students (-0.7 percent).
Community colleges are losing students to high-cost for-profit competitors. Now Ozarks Technical Community College in Missouri is fighting back with an ad campaign that compares its tuition to its competitors, reports Inside Higher Ed.
A TV commercial the college unveiled last week compares the $3,300 annual cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies at Ozarks to $32,000 at Bryan College, a small Christian for-profit, $18,000 at ITT Tech and roughly $14,000 at Everest College and Vatterott College.
“When looking at the costs, there is no comparison,” a voiceover says during the commercial. “The numbers speak for themselves.”
With rapidly growing enrollment, Ozarks is struggling to meet demand and has turned away allied health and technical students, Inside Higher Ed reports. While chancellor Hal Higdon says his college isn’t losing enrollment to the for-profits, he wants students to be “smart consumers.”
For-profit dropouts who enroll at Ozarks bring along their debts for federal reporting purposes, which raises the colleges loan default rates.
On the campaign trail, President Obama touted the expansion of Pell Grants and income-based repayment of student loans. He proposed federal funds to train two million workers at community colleges. But, with increased funding pressures and a still-divided Congress, what’s ahead for higher education in the president’s second term?
Expect more of the same, predicts The Chronicle of Higher Education. President Obama will continue to sidestep Congress to “change education policy through his own executive and regulatory authority,” higher-education advocates said.
The for-profit higher education sector is expecting the return of “gainful employment” regulations, which could cut access to student aid: For-profit college shares fell sharply the day after the election.
Even the nonprofits are concerned about more federal regulation, reports the Chronicle.
The Obama administration over the past four years “sharply expanded the federal government’s role in overseeing colleges and universities, often with no evidence that there was a serious problem that needed regulation,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education. He cited as examples some of the Education Department’s regulations on gainful employment, state authorization of online programs, and academic issues like the definition of a credit hour.
In speeches, President Obama talked of linking federal aid to colleges’ willingness to slow the rate of tuition growth. His goal is to cut the growth rate in half over the next 10 years. However, some think the president’s campaign rhetoric won’t generate a policy proposal. Deciding whether a college provides “good value” isn’t easy: Colleges that have raised tuition sharply will find it easy to cut the rate of growth, compared to those that have raised tuition moderately.
Subsidized student loans could be “on the table” in budget negotiations, predicts Inside Higher Ed.
The Higher Education Act, which includes federal financial aid programs, expires in 2013, but the reauthorization process could drag on.
California’s community colleges are searching for ways to make room for new students and cut wait lists. Inevitably, they’re looking to online courses. Orange County’s Coastline Community College is taking a step further: Coastline is partnering with out-of-state universities to create “low-cost, online bachelor’s degree pathways,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
Instead of working with the California State University system, which has its own problems, Coastline turned to the University of Massachusetts Online, Penn State University’s World Campus and the University of Illinois-Springfield. Students would take Coastline courses full-time– on campus or online — in their first year, earning 30 credits, then take a mix of community college and online university classes for two years and another 60 credits. In their fourth year, they’d take 30 credits of “capstone” courses at the online university.
A bachelor’s degree is expected to run 30 to 40 percent less than the for-profit college cost, Coastline officials say.
The college is a natural spot for an online experiment in the state’s community college system. It lacks a traditional campus, with three small locations around Orange County and a focus on distance education and serving members of the military. Most Coastline students take at least one class remotely.
“It operates more like a Rio Salado model,” said Stella Perez, executive vice president and chief operating officer at the League for Innovation in the Community College, referring to the fully online community college in Arizona’s Maricopa system. “It’s a college without walls.”
The League is overseeing the “Learning First” pilot, which has $450,000 in Gates Foundation funding.
With the new online degrees, Coastline hopes to cut its wait list in half and enroll 10,000 additional students.