California is losing its higher education edge, warns a new report. State universities and community colleges must be redesigned to produce the educated workers the economy needs, said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who commissioned the report.
The percentage of young adults earning associate and bachelor’s degrees in California already is below the U.S. average, warns the Committee for Economic Development, which wrote the report. The higher education system must be redesigned to serve an increasingly diverse and low-income population, CED advised.
Along with boosting graduation rates at Cal State and community college campuses, which enroll the vast majority of the state’s college students, the study calls for greater collaboration with for-profit private colleges, employers and K-12 schools.
Lead author Patrick Callan, president of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that if the state is serious about meeting its “productivity challenge,” it will need to create “new kinds of institutions that take advantage of innovative instructional technologies and business plans to develop nontraditional ways of providing high-quality postsecondary education programs.”
“Modest injections of funding” and “tweaks in current educational policy and practice” won’t be enough to fix California’s underperforming higher education system, said Newsom.
The “overeducated American” is a “myth,” states a new College Summit report. Workplace demand for college graduates is rising, according to Smart Shoppers: The End of the ‘College for All’ Debate? College graduates earn 80 percent more than high school graduates, the report estimates. Even in jobs that don’t require a degree, more-educated workers earn significantly more.
However, returns on the college investment have been exaggerated, concludes another new report, which focuses on higher education in California. The Economics of B.A. Ambivalence notes that most students take more than four years to complete a bachelor’s degree. In addition, some earn much less than others.
When the California Master Plan for Higher Education was enacted, in 1960, only 10 percent of Californians had a college degree, and the earnings gap between degree holders and non-degree holders was 35 percent. In 2010, they say, that earnings premium was 43 percent—higher than in the past, but still half the figure cited in the College Summit report. But, the researchers point out, the wage gap is higher now not because wages for college-degree holders have gone up, but because wages for people with only a high-school degree have gone down.
Graduating with burdensome debt is a higher risk, the researchers write.
College remains a good investment for the average California student and for American society. Nevertheless, it is true that more graduates now run the risk of not earning enough to make their investment in college worthwhile. This reality explains why many families of ordinary means are increasingly skeptical about paying for college.
“College is a ‘steppingstone’ to the middle class—not a ticket,” the authors warn. “It deserves the scrutiny an individual would give to any risky investment.”
They recommend better advising and more loan-repayment options.
Adults who’ve left school without a degree ask: Is College Worth It for Me? But few look at graduation and default rates when they choose a postsecondary option, reports Public Agenda. And many don’t understand that for-profit higher education will be more expensive.
Linked learning academies are expanding in the troubled Oakland school district, reports Kathryn Baron on EdSource. Forty-two percent of students in grades 10, 11 and 12 are in programs that link schoolwork with internships and job shadowing. Gary Yee, acting superintendent, wants to raise that to 80 percent.
At Life Academy of Health and Bioscience, students intern in hospitals, medical offices, retirement homes and elementary school programs for at-risk children.
Linked learning students have more access to college-prep courses required by California universities, concluded Education Trust-West after a two-year study at four high schools. In addition, linked learning students were more likely to graduate than similar students at high schools that don’t offer the program. African American, Latino and low-income students in linked learning programs had graduation rates 9 to 29 percentage points higher than the statewide average.
Oakland Unified’s analysis found fewer absences, lower suspension rates and higher test scores for students in linked learning academies.
The district, the city of Oakland and Peralta Community College District plan to collaborate on creating pathways from high school to college to career.
Most Oakland Unified graduates enroll in community college. However, high school and community college systems aren’t aligned, said Laurie Scolari, who oversees the California Community College Linked Learning Initiative at Career Ladders Project, a nonprofit in Oakland.
The new collaboration will make it possible to follow high school graduates who enroll in community college, writes Baron. “That will give a clear picture of whether high schools are doing a good job of preparing students for college-level work and where the gaps are between academy and community college programs.”
Sixteen states now link higher education funding to student outcomes, such as graduation rates. That will rise to 25 states soon, reports Complete College America and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS).
“It’s sweeping across the country,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Less than 1 percent of state support in Illinois comes with performance strings, while virtually all of Tennessee’s support does. But the report said even those on the low end are headed toward 25 percent performance-based.
Tennessee scored the highest in the report. The state uses 15 of 16 recommended strategies to improve outcomes while rewarding colleges for serving low-income and adult students.
Most states consider student characteristics when designing performance measures, the report said.
“One of the major concerns voiced about outcomes-based funding, especially when the goal is to produce more graduates,” the report said, “is that institutions will seek to enroll only those students most likely to succeed and ignore students who are at risk academically, economically or otherwise.”
Gary Rhoades said the NCHEMS report confirms worries that the completion agenda is incomplete and even counterproductive. Rhoades, a professor of higher education at the University of Arizona, also directs a virtual think tank, the Center for the Future of Higher Education.
He said the report places “thoughput” – the production of graduates and degrees – over academic quality.
“The concern about quality is real and should be addressed head-on,” the report concedes. Missouri and Tennessee have included measures of student learning in funding formulas. Nevada and other states are working on ways to track learning.
Community colleges need to start marketing themselves, writes Matt Reed. He remembers when the California Raisins’ version of “I heard it through the grapevine” was a huge hit. A consortium of farmers paid for a series of commercials selling their product.
Each college is (rightly) concerned with its own local visibility and brand awareness. But there’s a common interest across the sector in raising public awareness of the transfer option as a way around increasing student loan burdens. No individual raisin farmer could afford to advertise the entire industry, but the industry as a whole could.
In other words, in addition to the message that “your local community college is a good school,” we need to send the message as a sector that community colleges can be good launch pads for higher degrees.
Community colleges need to expand the discussion beyond just remediation and workforce development, Reed argues. Colleges need to challenge the fallacy that a 20 percent graduation rate means that all students have a 20 percent chance of success. In reality, full-time students, women and academically prepared students have higher rates of success.
“It’s time to send a different message through the grapevine,” Reed concludes.
There’s “no money” in ranking community colleges, Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris tells Amy Sullivan, director of the New Economy Project, in The Atlantic. The Monthly‘s community college guide is a first.
Most people go to the closest community college to them. And no one was holding those schools accountable. We thought that community colleges are damn near as important as four-year schools. There is just as much variation in community colleges as in regular colleges. If you look at most of them, though, they may have noble missions, but their graduation rates are not great.
The magazine analyzes the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, which tracks teaching practices.
. . . how often do students work in groups, how many books and papers are they assigned, how often do professors and students talk outside of class? We know from research that these practices are correlated with higher levels of learning.
Community college administrators don’t get much respect, says Glastris. “We desperately need a reputation and reward system that says to a community-college administrator: You’re taking care of working-class kids with moderate SAT scores, and that’s serving your country.”
Different community colleges succeed based on different strategies and different missions. Some of the schools at the top of our list are great at providing a sound education for students who are going to transfer to a four-year school. Cascadia College in Seattle is a classic example of this. Our No. 1 school this year, St. Paul College in Minnesota, has a different strategy. It used to be a vocational and technical college. The school increased its academic rigor without losing its technical focus; that combination really is the wave of the future.
We used to think of vocational education as purely mechanical—helping people learn how to fix a car. It also used to be a way to track minorities into low-paid jobs or jobs that were going to be off-shored. A lot of people turned against it for those reasons. But the new thinking is that if you combine technical training with an applied academic curriculum, then you create graduates with not only technical skills but also the ability to think through problems, work with colleagues—all of the skills that are required by the modern workplace.
The Monthly’s college rankings focus on whether colleges are “recruiting and graduating kids of modest means and having them become better citizens,” says Glastris. “We’ve factored in an outcome measure as well—the capacity of students to pay off student loans. We hope we’ve created an incentive system to produce affordable degrees that mean something in the marketplace.”
President Obama’s higher education plan praises performance funding in Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee, but two new Community College Research Center (CCRC) studies find “little evidence that performance funding improves student success,” says researcher Kevin Dougherty. “It remains very much in the experimental stage.”
Envisioning Performance Funding Impacts and Performance Funding for Higher Education look at Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee, which have tied substantial higher education funding to student success measures, such as retention and graduation rates.
. . . in states where funding for public colleges and universities is tied to student performance, colleges struggle to pinpoint the causes of poor student outcomes, develop and implement meaningful solutions, and track whether the solutions are improving student success. Additionally, performance funding has the potential to produce strong negative side effects, such as lowered standards, decreased access for at-risk students, and a weakened faculty voice.
“State policymakers tend to assume that if there is enough money on the table, schools will figure out how to get retention and graduation numbers up,” Dougherty says.
But colleges need help to research their problems and find solutions. Without that, there’s a risk they’ll improve their numbers by restricting access and lowering expectations. Performance funding plans should include “financial incentives for enrolling at-risk students and systems to track whether colleges are keeping up academic standards,” Dougherty advises.
President Obama proposes rating colleges and universities on access, graduation rates, graduate earnings and affordability, writes Richard Hersh in an essay on Inside Higher Ed. What about learning?
Myriad studies over the past several decades document that too little “higher” learning is taking place; college students do not make significant gains in critical thinking, problem solving, analytical reasoning, written communication skills, and ethical and moral development.
Institutions respond to rewards, Hersh writes. Linking federal student aid to easily measured goals “will steer colleges and universities further away from higher learning.”
Hersh is co-author of We’re Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education.
College costs will keep rising under the Obama plan, predicts economist Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
“Colleges’ exploitation of young Americans through rapidly rising and increasingly exorbitant fees is a national scandal,” writes Vedder on Bloomberg News. After promising “tough love” for higher ed for the last two years, President Obama has a plan.
Some of what he proposes is good in principle; some is very bad.
He wants to expand access to information on colleges by having the Department of Education issue a ranking of institutions relating outcomes to costs. The government has the power, via the Internal Revenue Service, to get some interesting data on college graduates’ earnings, and providing that data to consumers would be useful.
. . . Tying federal funding after 2018 to the new federal ratings, which in turn incorporate performance measures such as graduation rates, may be a step toward giving colleges incentives to take cost reduction seriously. But the potential for unintended and damaging consequences is high: If the key to federal funding is raising graduation rates, colleges may lower already abysmally low standards.
Funding educational innovation sounds like a good idea, but previous efforts haven’t paid off, Vedder writes. A better approach would be to stop accrediting agencies from stalling the “cheap or free online courses” that are being created without federal involvement.
The president’s “very bad idea” is to link loan repayments to income, letting millions of students avoid repaying part of their obligation, writes Vedder.
So why not major in fields the economy values least — anthropology or drama instead of engineering or math — if you don’t have to worry about earning enough to pay off your student loans over a certain period?
The idea simply raises incentives for future students to borrow more money, if they know their obligation to pay it back is capped. That, in turn, allows colleges to keep raising costs.
Federal aid has soared from $56.8 billion in 2001-2002 to $173.8 billion a decade later, Vedder writes. That’s fueled tuition increases — without improving access for low-income students.
Massachusetts will link community college funding to improvements in graduation rates, job training and minority student success, reports Marcella Bombardieri in the Boston Globe. Half of each college’s budget will hinge on performance when the program is fully phased in within a few years. That’s one of the most ambitious performance-funding programs in the nation.
Every community college president endorsed the plan, a turnaround from less than two years ago when reform proposals from Governor Deval Patrick and others met with outrage among community college leaders.
A $20 million boost in funding from the Legislature, after years of budget cuts, helped make the idea palatable, and no campus is losing money this year, so they have time to adjust to the new standards.
The change also redresses huge imbalances that left the best-funded community colleges — topped by the scandal-plagued Roxbury Community College — getting more than double the money per student than the most starved campuses received.
The state’s 15 community colleges educate about half of public college students in Massachusetts.
Nine states have linked some higher education funding to performance, typically 5 to 10 percent of the budget. The outlier is Tennessee, which linked all higher education budget to performance three years ago. Performance is improving, reports the Globe.
. . . an earlier wave of state performance funding initiatives failed to help students do better, said Kevin Dougherty, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, in part because the amount of money that states put on the line was too small.
The idea also carries risks, he said. To boost their statistics, colleges could quietly cut back on recruiting at weaker high schools whose graduates are often ill-prepared, or encourage students not to enroll in difficult classes they are less likely to pass.
Massachusetts and other states are designing benchmarks more carefully and putting more money on the table, said Dougherty. ”A more effective form of performance funding may be emerging, but I think we want to be cautious.”
The Massachusetts plan starts every community college with an operating subsidy of $4.5 million. Half of the remaining allocation will be distributed based on student credit hours completed, weighted for the cost of teaching in different fields. Colleges won’t get any money for students who drop classes.
The other half of the remaining funding will be based on the numbers of students who earn degrees or certificates, or transfer with a certain number of credits. Colleges will get extra credit for degrees in fields with high workforce demand, such as science, health care, and technology, and or the successes of African-American, Latino, and low-income students.
Under the old funding scheme, Bristol Community College, based in Fall River, and Quinsigamond Community College, in Worcester, received less than $3,000 per student in 2010, while Roxbury Community College received more than $6,000 per student, according to the Boston Foundation. This year, Bristol is getting a 21 percent boost and Quinsigamond is getting 26 percent more.
The Hechnger Report’s Jon Marcus discusses performance funding with two Massachusetts community college presidents on WBUR, a Boston radio station.