Obama puts college costs on agenda

Rising college costs was on the agenda this week, when President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan met with college leaders at the White House. Most were chancellors of large state university systems, but Thomas Snyder of Ivy Tech Community College was invited along with the presidents of the three nonprofits, the all-online Western Governors University, Carnegie Mellon and Berea College.

New financial aid policies to encourage completion were discussed, said Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, who also testified before Rep. Virginia Foxx’s committee on streamlining college costs.

. . . there seemed to be some consensus at the White House meeting that the federal government should develop policies on financial aid, its biggest tool, to spur a higher graduation rates, whether by limiting the number of semesters for which students could receive aid, requiring them to attend full-time, or doling out aid bit by bit to discourage students from dropping out mid-semester, or other approaches.

Requiring full-time attendance to qualify for Pell Grants would have a huge impact on community college students.

College leaders also talked about the importance of linking colleges with K-12 education and the potential for technology to cut costs.

“If we’re going to address the 37 million adults with some college and no degree, we can’t just tweak the existing model,” said Robert W. Mendenhall of Western Governors University, an online nonprofit university. “Mostly in higher education, technology is an add-on cost that doesn’t change the model at all. We need to fundamentally change the faculty role, and use technology to do the teaching.”

Larry D. Shinn, the president of Berea College, did not disagree. “We’re structured in a 19th-century model, but I think we all know now that blended learning, combining technology and classroom learning, can let us educate for less cost,” he said. “The question is how we get there from here.”

“Technology can help us educate more students faster and better.”said Jared L. Cohon, the president of Carnegie Mellon, which has developed online classes used at other universities.

No for-profit colleges made the guest list.

Open-access universities and community colleges have the most experience in controlling costs, writes Jonathan Gibralter, president of Frostburg State in Maryland.

President Obama plans to continue to talk about the problem of college affordability, which was spotlighted by the Occupy protests.

Go full-time, make a profit

Enroll full time. Get more aid. That’s the message California community colleges are sending students, reports Inside Higher Ed. Tuition is only $624 a year for a full-time student, the lowest in the nation. Those who qualify for a Pell Grant — and many do — collect $5,550, which can be used for expenses as well as tuition. Half-time students, who pay $312 and collect $2,775, have a lot less left over for expenses.

Since full-time students are much more likely to complete a degree, Chancellor Jack Scott has told financial-aid officers to make sure students know the financial advantages of full-time enrollment.

Only 29 percent of the state’s community college students are enrolled full time, but 39.8 percent of Pell Grant recipients enrolled full time in 2009-10, up from 33.4 percent a year earlier.

California is imitating the Connecticut Community Colleges, which began using aid to encourage full-time enrollment 10 years ago.

. . . the system’s overall headcount has grown by 42 percent since 2000-01, but its full-time enrollment has grown by 101 percent.

In 2008-09, 63 percent of Connecticut community college students applied for aid, compared to 42.5 percent of community college students nationally.

CUNY OKs innovative new college

With full-time students pursuing a common first-year curriculum, New Community College — the first new community college in New York City in more than 40 years — hopes to improve graduation rates. The new college, scheduled to open in fall 2012, was approved this week by the City University of New York trustees.

New Community College will offer associate degrees in business administration, human services, liberal arts and sciences, urban studies, energy services management, health information technology, information technology and environmental science.

. . . the new college builds in developmental coursework for those who need it while immediately starting academic work. The program features full-time enrollment for at least the first year; a common first-year curriculum that provides twice the normal time for math; a professional studies component with worksite experience; and majors in fields with available jobs and pathways toward bachelor’s degrees.

The new college’s goal is a 35 percent graduation rate in three years, significantly higher than the average for urban students, reports the New York Post.

To do that, the school is introducing a number of measures that research has shown to improve outcomes for students — including a summer bridge program, a mandate that students attend classes full-time as freshmen, and groupings called “learning communities” in which students can study with and support one another.

Additionally, remedial work will be given only in conjunction with credit-bearing courses, to keep students from getting discouraged early on.

Enrollment has increased by 40 percent over the last decade at CUNY’s existing community colleges.