For-profit career colleges have much higher graduation rates than community colleges, writes Matt Reed, who’s worked in both sectors. Here’s how for-profits get more students to completion.
It starts with minimal or no remediation, writes Reed. At DeVry, very few students started in remedial courses. When he moved to County College of Morris in New Jersey, he was surprised to see a majority of students placed in remediation.
Since I taught freshman comp at DeVry for a while, I can attest that the placements weren’t because the students were all fully polished upon arrival. They were not. 101 was a punishing course to teach, since you had to try to meet students where they were.
Math was a different issue, but even there, there was a premium on putting students in the highest level class they could conceivably pass.
For-profit colleges take the eat-dessert-first approach, writes Reed. Students don’t have to wait to start training for jobs.
Students at for-profits are there to get jobs. . . . And since many students have had checkered academic pasts, they’re sensitive to revisiting scenes of earlier failures.
Most traditional colleges force students to eat their vegetables — basic math, English, and the usual distribution requirements — before getting to what the students recognize as the reason they’re there.
. . . DeVry, and apparently other for-profits . . . offered a lot of A.A.S. degrees — associate’s of applied science, as opposed to associate of science or associate of arts — to reduce the amount of gen ed. And the gen ed courses it did require were spread evenly through the program, or even backloaded. Students started with dessert, and only got to the veggies at the end.
DeVry required a “college success” course, like many traditional colleges. It also required a “career development” course that covered how to write a resume, how to handle an interview and how to dress on the job. Those were things most students didn’t already know.
At Holyoke Community College where Reed is vice president for academic affairs, “eat dessert first” means linking developmental math to students’ intended major. ”We’ve moved career advising to the first semester, to help students identify goals before they choose majors,” Reed writes. “And we’re looking at ways to help students get through developmental coursework more quickly, so they don’t just throw up their hands in frustration and walk away.”
Boston’s deeply troubled Roxbury Community College is getting a fresh start with a new leader, writes Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson. Bunker Hill Community College, which is trying to raise student success rates, also has a new president.
Valerie Roberson has taken charge of Roxbury after years of “scandalous mismanagement.” Only 39.5 percent of students graduate or transfer within six years.
Pam Eddinger, who immigrated from Hong Kong when she was 11, hopes to raise the 47.1 percent graduation-or-transfer rate at Bunker Hill.
Both are women who hate to lose, writes Jackson.
A decade ago, Roberson was appointed interim president of Olive-Harvey College in Chicago. There was talk of closing the community college. The faculty went on a three-week strike. “After firing some full-time faculty, Roberson said she worked on stabilizing faculty relations and boosting scholarship and honors programs,” writes Jackson. She stayed as president for five years.
Roxbury’s “need for healing” is “like nothing she’s ever seen,” Roberson told Jackson. She’s started by “spiffing up the grounds and healing frayed relations with both community organizers and the business community.” And, she’s continuing an audit of the college’s tangled finances.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature are putting more funding into community colleges and offering incentives for colleges that improve graduation and transfer rates and help close the state’s skills gap, writes Jackson.
But community colleges have rapidly evolved into far more than skill schools. As the price of four-year private colleges spirals past $50,000 a year — and tuition, room, and board at UMass Amherst is $23,000 — less-expensive community colleges take on more ambitious students.
The state is also trying to align community colleges and university courses, so students can more easily transfer their credits. Lack of portability has depressed the state’s community college graduation and transfer rates, says Eddinger. Students are mobile. Their credits need to be mobile too.
“Proactive” college advisors should guide students to a program of study or “pathway” to boost success rates, says Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers. Currently, less than a third of the state’s college students graduate on time.
“Indiana students often experience college as a maze rather than as path to success, and many finish with debt and no degree,” said Lubbers. “With clear degree maps, proactive advising and related strategies, we can empower students to make better decisions, save time and money, and increase their likelihood of earning a degree.”
With “clearer direction, simplified choices and more structured support” students will move more quickly — and cheaply — to graduation, Lubbers argues.
A new state study, Guided Pathways to Success, recommends:
• Supplementing college advising with structured degree maps that simplify the course-selection process and provide students with a clear path to graduate on time
• Encouraging students to complete 15 credits each semester; or 30 credits per academic year
• Instituting proactive advising practices that intervene when students fail to complete key milestone courses, take courses on their degree map, or make satisfactory academic progress
• Expanding block scheduling options that offer greater consistency and predictability, making it easier for working students to balance their schooling with work and family obligations
Complete College America advocates guided pathways to speed students to a degree. Students make the “big choice” of a major or program. After that, “all the other choices of necessary credits and course sequences are laid out for them.”
The average bachelor’s degree graduate earned more than 136 credits; 120 is usually enough. Associate degrees require 60 credits, but the average graduate has earned nearly 80. “Worse, certificate earners graduated with more than double the ordinary number of credits expected: More than 63 credits were achieved instead of the 30 normally needed for programs designed to be accomplished in one year.”
Excess credits are estimated to cost more than $19 billion each year.
Comparing colleges and universities that enroll different sorts of students will be challenging, write Beth Akers and Matthew M. Chingos on the Brown Center Chalkboard in response to President Obama’s higher education proposals.
The feds need better data and a rating system that uses “multiple measures of quality, such as graduation rates and success in the labor market, that are adjusted based on student characteristics,” they write.
For example, the University of Michigan has the highest six-year graduation rate — 90 percent — of any four-year public university. But it ranks poorly, when the rate is adjusted for students’ SAT/ACT scores (rating #1). U of M should have a 95 percent graduation rate. Adding student race/ethnicity, gender, and Pell grant eligibility status (rating #2) makes it even worse.
By contrast, only 77 percent of Michigan State students graduate in six years, but this figure is 11 percentage points higher than would be predicted based on the performance of similar students at other public universities.
The table shows strong performance in green, average performance in yellow and low performance in red. Penn State offers the highest value with Texas A&M and Michigan State also doing well.
President Obama’s plan to link financial aid to college “value” could use a reality check, write Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, and Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation, in a Chronicle of Higher Education commentary.
If his plan goes into effect — which isn’t likely, they believe — “student aid would become much more complicated” and less predictable, which is a barrier to lower-income students.
While the federal government provides about $136 billion in grants and loans to undergraduate students, “state governments are primarily responsible for establishing, supporting, and managing colleges and universities,” Baum and McPherson write. Federal dollars go primarily to students.
Providing simple and meaningful information to students is a good idea. But the reality is that it’s not easy to measure postsecondary outcomes. What students learn is not on the list, probably because of the measurement challenges. But surely it is at or near the top of the list of what we should care about. We want people to get good jobs when they finish school, but do we really want to suggest that maximizing earnings should be the primary goal? Should we value colleges that educate investment bankers more than we value colleges that educate teachers and social workers? Did the president waste his expensive Ivy League education when he went to work as a community organizer instead of heading to Wall Street?
Open-access colleges that enroll many low-income students won’t have the same graduation rates or debt levels as elite colleges with affluent students, they point out. Comparing “similar” institutions isn’t easy.
Furthermore, “the penalty for a college that charges its students too much is to take away some of those students’ Pell Grant dollars, making the unfortunate students who enroll there still worse off,” Baum and McPherson write.
Perhaps the idea behind the proposal is that students will vote with their feet. They will avoid colleges that charge too much or don’t have high enough graduation rates. In reality, students don’t have that much flexibility. If a low-income student lives in a state with a poorly run public system, she’s stuck, unable to afford out-of-state tuition or private alternatives. Cutting her Pell Grant just doesn’t help.
The president also wants to expand income-based repayment of student loans, which Baum and McPherson support, if loopholes are closed.
Federal subsidies for “cost-cutting innovation,” is fine in theory, they write, but we don’t know if MOOCs will “help students—particularly at-risk students—learn more while paying less.” It’s also not clear whether “competency-based degrees . . . will increase meaningful educational opportunities or just let us count more people as having college degrees.”
Four key ideas in President Obama’s proposal have been championed by major foundations and policy analysts, including the Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation and the New America Foundation, notes the Chronicle.
President Obama’s plan to rate colleges’ “value” is problematic, writes Matt Reed, the “Community College Dean.”
Students who choose higher-rated schools — based on graduation rates, graduates’ earnings and other metrics — would be eligible for larger Pell Grants and subsidized loans.
For community colleges, that falls somewhere between “irrelevant” and “catastrophic.”
Pell Grants go to students, not to colleges, Reed points out. At low-cost community colleges, “Pell money above and beyond tuition and fees goes directly to the student” to help offset the cost of books, transportation and living costs.
. . . for most community colleges, a higher Pell ceiling wouldn’t mean a single dollar more for the colleges themselves. But it might well mean a larger influx of low-income students, who would presumably be rewarded for forsaking more expensive options.
Over time, more expensive colleges would benefit doubly. They’d get higher graduation rates from having a higher-income student body — these things tend to correlate — and as a result, the low-income they do attract would come with larger checks. Meanwhile, the lower-cost colleges would absorb more high-risk students, without additional funding to pay for the supports that increase their chances of success. The only way that community colleges would capture a gain from an increase in Pell grants would be to … wait for it … raise costs dramatically.
Higher education needs to develop a sophisticated data system, like baseball’s sabermetrics, Reed writes.
Start with an “expected” graduation rate, say, based on the demographic profile of the students. Colleges that do better than their demographics would suggest must be doing something right; colleges that underperform their demographics presumably have some work to do. That way, we aren’t just conflating institutional performance with the economic class of the student body.
The federal method of calculating graduation rates, which ignores part-time students and transfers, is notoriously unreliable for community colleges. Analyzing graduates’ earnings also is complex.
Obama’s higher education proposals are drawing “mixed reviews,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Gloria Nemerowicz is president of the Yes We Must Coalition, which represents 33 small private colleges where at least 50 percent of the students are needy enough to be eligible for Pell Grants. She said she appreciates that the president’s plan would compare like institutions. But she’s uneasy about efforts to rate colleges based on the earnings of their graduates.
Many of Yes We Must’s member colleges are small regional institutions whose graduates serve their communities as social workers, as teachers, and in other careers that don’t pay well. It’s not fair to penalize colleges for that pattern, she said.
The Education Department’s College Scorecard will include earnings information in the fall, but only for student aid recipients, notes the Chronicle. Congress has forbidden a “unit record” system to track all students.
By 2018, the seven-college system aims to award 40 percent more degrees and 15 percent more certifications, boost the graduation rate to 20 percent, and increase transfers to four-year institutions. In addition, Reinvention7 calls for more than two-thirds of occupational students finding jobs in their field, a third of new remedial students advancing to college-level work and speedier success for adult ed students.
Cheryl Hyman, who took over as chancellor in 2011, launched the reinvention effort. “Since 2010, the graduation rate has risen from 7 percent to 12 percent, numbers of degrees awarded are up 80 percent, total awards granted has increased 21 percent and credit enrollment has risen 15 percent,” reports Community College Times.
“I graduated from Olive Harvey College,” one of the seven campuses, Hyman says. “I knew what the institution had done for me. I had very high expectations because it put me on the road to a very successful career. However, coming here, I found that the institution was performing well, but only for a small number of students.”
In addition to a low retention rate, Hyman adds that she believed credentials were not “aligned with the demands of the workplace. Then I started to ask myself, even for the 7 percent that was completing, how valuable was that credential?” she says. “I also started looking at operations, knowing that finances were tight. Where are we making investments? Are our faculty equipped with the latest knowledge?”
Students need credentials that will be respected by four-year institutions and by employers, Hyman says. “We need our students to be good problem-solvers, be good critical thinkers, be creative. The only way they can do that is with a good foundation of liberal arts training.”
City Colleges has hired more counselors, added “wellness centers” to help students deal with emotional and social issues, created veterans’ centers and established a “Student GPS” that provides semester-by-semester pathways for each course of study.
Wealthy philanthropists are transforming public — but not private — higher education, writes Robin Rogers, an associate professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, in a Chronicle of Higher Ed commentary. The Gates Foundation‘s focus on improving college attendance, graduation rates and career opportunities for low-income students “could further institutionalize the divide between the roughly 72 percent of American students who attend public colleges and the 28 percent who attend private colleges, even if it improved economic mobility between the lower and middle classes,” she warns.
At CUNY, for example, a Gates-style systemwide reform effort known as Pathways recently received a 92-percent vote of no confidence from the faculty. Faculty criticism has focused on Pathways’ decreased academic standards, reductions in required course credit hours, and cuts to nonapplied areas—including philosophy and languages—to increase graduation rates.
. . . One Gates-supported project that deserves scrutiny is Degree Compass software, which enables colleges to collect students’ demographic data and prior grades to match them with courses and majors in which similar students have been successful. George Orwell could not have created a better system to reinforce social stratification and inequality.
Philanthropists are shaping public policy, Rogers writes. She believes we need “a viable public option in higher education that is not determined by the priorities and judgments of the very wealthy, however well intentioned they may be.”
Private non-profit colleges rely heavily on the “economic elite” for funding. If any higher ed sector is on the other side of the philanthropy divide, it’s the for-profit colleges.
Default rates are higher than graduation rates at 514 colleges and universities nationwide, according to an analysis by Education Sector and USA Today. Nearly half of the “red flag” institutions are operated by for-profit colleges and about one-third are community colleges.
”These colleges should set off a red flag in the minds of prospective student borrowers — and their parents,” says Andrew Gillen, research director for Education Sector, a non-profit, non-partisan think-tank on education policy that gathered the federal data. “Many students at these colleges will no doubt take out loans, graduate and get good jobs. But the high default rates and lower graduation rates suggest that many will not.”
In Debt and In the Dark, a new Ed Sector report, identified colleges where the percentage of borrowers who started repaying loans in 2009 and had defaulted by 2012 was higher than the schools’ graduation rates. At 256 of these, at least 30 percent of students take out loans.
Some 117 for-profit institutions — most offering four-year degrees — made the list. ITT Educational Services, which has 145 technical institutes nationwide, operated 45 of them. In addition, the analysis found 88 community colleges where default rates were higher than graduation rates, though most students don’t borrow and those who do take out small loans.
At New River Community and Technical College in Beckley, W.Va., administrators attribute the 5% graduation rate and 25.7% default rate to several factors, including high unemployment and the residual effect of a period of years when loan amounts were inflated because an incorrect formula for awarding aid was used. That attracted a number of students who had “no intention of completing their education,” says Barbara Elliott, director of public relations. Even for those who did earn a degree, “the payments were so high that they may have had trouble making them.”
The Education Sector report argues that default data would be more useful if it provided information about defaulters, such as whether they also received federal aid for low-income students and which fields they were studying. That would help students determine the likelihood they would default if they borrowed, Gillen says.
Default data should provide more information, including whether which types of students are prone to default and their field of study, argues In Debt and In the Dark. “Given the importance of defaults, and the recent jump in their numbers, it makes sense for the government to provide more detailed information on defaults, not just as an accountability lever but as a basic consumer right,” writes Gillen.
The remediation rate was nearly 80 percent for graduates of New York City public high schools who enrolled in a City University of New York community college last year, reports the New York Post.
A stunning 79.3 percent of city public-school grads who went to CUNY’s six two-year colleges arrived without having mastered the basics, up from 71.4 percent in 2007.
The ballooning numbers come despite the state having raised the requirements to graduate from high school in each of the past five years.
Education officials say the city has raised graduation rates since 2002, sending more students, to CUNY, without significantly raising remediation rates.
“When you increase the number participating and you hold essentially steady on remediation, that means you’re increasing the number who are passing the bar,” said Josh Thomases, deputy academic chief at the DOE. “That said, I don’t want anyone to go to remediation.”
Most remedial community college students need to improve their math skills. CUNY raised its math standards in 2011 and 2012.