Pell goes up, but so does tuition

The near-doubling of Pell Grant funding hasn’t decreased borrowing by low-income students, writes Ben Miller, a senior policy analyst at the New America Foundation, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Federal dollars are “gobbled up by insatiable college budgets” and used to offset state cuts in higher education spending.

The increased funding for Pell Grants provided colleges across the country with billions of dollars in additional revenue and resources. And it had arguably the least restrictive requirements of any stimulus dollars. Colleges did not have to ensure that Pell dollars supplemented and did not supplant funds already provided by states and schools. States were not told to avoid cutting their postsecondary budgets, as they were in other programs. This lack of strings left states and colleges free to slash support, increase tuition, and use Pell to make up the difference.

The federal government did not even ask for more transparency about whether colleges successfully graduated students getting this aid—a common last gasp attempt at oversight. Rather, colleges took the dollars and continued the same trend of increasing prices they’ve been following for decades.

The federal government needs to protect the purchasing power of federal student-aid investments and demand “transparency about basic outcomes like completion,” writes Miller.

Colleges rattled by Obama’s rating plans

President Obama’s college rating system has “rattled” college presidents, reports the New York Times. They were “appalled” when a top education official said it would be as easy as evaluating a kitchen appliance.

“It’s like rating a blender,” Jamienne Studley, a deputy under secretary at the Education Department, said to the college presidents after a meeting in the department’s Washington headquarters in November, according to several who were present. “This is not so hard to get your mind around.”

The rating system is in fact a radical new effort by the federal government to hold America’s 7,000 colleges and universities accountable by injecting the executive branch into the business of helping prospective students weigh collegiate pros and cons.

The “entire higher education system from elite private institutions to large state universities to community colleges” is worried the ratings will be simplistic and misleading, reports the Times. President Obama wants Congress to use the ratings to allocate the billions in federal student loans and grants.

Community colleges, which admit many poorly prepared students, are very afraid their challenges will be ignored. Federal data doesn’t track part-time and returning students. Students who transfer to a university before earning an associate degree may be counted as dropouts. College leaders “predicted that institutions that serve minority and low-income students, many of whom come from underfunded schools and have had less college preparation, would rank lowest in a new rating system, hurting the very populations the president says he wants to help,” reports the Times.

“Applying a sledgehammer to the whole system isn’t going to work,” said Robert G. Templin Jr., the president of Northern Virginia Community College. “They think their vision of higher education is the only one.”

Colleges and universities will be rated based on factors such as “how many of their students graduate, how much debt their students accumulate and how much money their students earn after graduating.”

Liberal arts colleges may do poorly compared with engineering schools. Colleges with “large numbers of students who major in programs like theater arts, social work or education, disciplines that do not typically lead to lucrative jobs” may rate poorly.

The system will “thoughtfully measure indicators like earnings, to avoid overemphasizing income or first jobs, penalizing relatively lower paid and public service careers, or minimizing the less tangible benefits of a college education,” wrote Studley in blog post on the Education Department website.

The college ladder is broken


College is supposed to be a ladder to the middle class, but it’s not working very well that way, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. After watching a new documentary, Ivory Tower. he’s worried about social mobility.

“The good news is that more and more kids are going to college,” said Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “The bad news is that higher education is becoming more and more stratified.”

. . .  since 1994, 80 percent of the white young men and women in this country who have headed off to college have gone to schools ranked in the top 500 by Barron’s. But 75 percent of the black and Latino young men and women who have entered college over the same period have gone to two-year or open-admissions schools outside the top 500.

Graduation rates are low at unselective four-year colleges and community colleges.

Do we over-invest in non-traditional students?

Do We Over-Invest in Non-Traditional Students? asks Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, on Minding the Campus. Older and part-time students are the “new majority” on college campuses, but their completion rates are low, reports the National Student Clearinghouse.

Two-thirds of full-time traditional-age students who started in 2007 — but only half of those 25 and older — earned a degree by 2013. Overall, 86 percent of full-time four-year students graduate within six years compared to 20 percent of part-time students. More than two-thirds of part-time students entering in 2007 not only had no degree by 2013, but were not in school.

. . . perhaps we should reduce subsidies for part-time or older students. Younger students have more than a 40-year work lifetime expectancy after graduation; older students often have 20 years or less. The economic and noneconomic benefits of a degree are far smaller for older students because they enjoy them for fewer years —and there is a far greater risk they won’t graduate. Encouraging older students to attend school part-time strikes me as questionable, something pushed by colleges facing enrollment shortfalls desperate for more bodies in the classroom.

At community colleges, the low costs are “considerably offset” by the greater non-completion risk, Vedder writes. Starting at a community college and transferring “works for many and saves lots of money.” But the reality is that many community college students never graduate.

Vets’ college success remains unknown

More than half of veterans using the GI Bill complete a certificate or degree in 10 years, according to the Million Records Project by Student Veterans of America. The report has a number of blind spots, writes Clare McCann on Ed Central.

The Million Records report isn’t comparable to other Education Department data because it gives students more time to complete a credential and includes job certificates.

Recent veterans, who are more likely to have served in combat, aren’t distinguished from older veterans, writes McCann. “It’s not clear from the SVA report how the added obstacles that more recent veterans may face are affecting student veterans’ academic progress.”

The data on for-profit colleges may be misleading, because National Student Clearinghouse, which provided much of the information, doesn’t include all for-profit colleges. The clearinghouse “will not publish data at the institutional level, especially if that information might make particular schools look bad – like veterans’ graduation rates by institution.”

A national student unit record system as proposed in College Blackout could make better use of the data scattered across institutions and the government” and help veterans succeed in higher education, McCann concludes.

‘What Excellent Community Colleges Do’

In What Excellent Community Colleges Do, Josh Wyner describes what he’s learned running the Aspen Institute’s awards for community college excellence.

The best colleges have improved graduation rates, learning, workforce success and equity, even as they struggle with inadequate funding, Wyner writes.

Valencia College in Florida, an Aspen winner, eliminated late registration — few latecomers will pass the class — but provided late-start sections of popular classes.

The best colleges don’t blame students for not knowing the “unwritten rules of how to navigate higher education,” adds Matt Reed, the Community College Dean.  

Colleges develop “guided pathways, targeted advising, mandatory counseling, student success courses” and the like to make clear the rules of the game, writes Reed. 

“Wyner is quite good on outlining some of the policy-based dilemmas that community colleges face,” he writes. “Most of the colleges he examines face many of the same fiscal and policy constraints as everyone else, but they’ve managed to find ways to move forward anyway.”

25 states pass graduation incentives

Performance based funding for higher education institutions
Performance based funding for higher education institutions

Twenty-five states now link college funding — typically 5 percent of higher ed dollars — to performance requirements, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

States are trying to raise graduation rates, reports the Washington Post. Some aim performance funding incentives at community colleges and others at state universities,while 16 states measure both two- and four-year institutions.

In addition to measuring graduation rates, some states give performance points for higher numbers of graduates in science, technology, engineering and math fields. Florida judges four-year universities, in part, by their graduates’ earnings.

Louisiana is linking funding to improvements in student retention at two- and four-year institutions.

Massachusetts community colleges will have to pay more attention to performance metrics than most schools in other states. The Bay State will award half of all base funding to schools that issue the highest percentage of certificates, and where students complete the highest number of entry-level math and English courses.

Five more states — Montana, Colorado, South Dakota, Georgia and Virginia — are planning performance-based funding mechanisms.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has proposed expanding outcomes-based funding” to community colleges writes Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Community colleges will be rewarded not just for enrolling students but for helping them earn “meaningful credentials.”

The plan will use “benchmarks such as how many of their students complete their courses; how many succeed in remedial math and English; how many complete associate degrees and certificates; and how many successfully transfer to four-year institutions. writes Merisotis. “Colleges will be rewarded for success with adult, low-income and minority students, and a plan is under way to include students that arrive on campus academically underprepared.”

College heads resist federal ratings

College presidents “agree that their institutions should be reporting much more information about the career and other outcomes of their graduates,” but they’re wary of federal involvement,  according to Inside Higher Ed‘s new survey of college presidents.

Three-quarters of presidents say their institutions should be reporting the debt levels, job placement rates and graduate school enrollment rates of recent graduates, for instance (though fewer say they are doing so now). But just half of campus leaders agree that it is “appropriate for the federal government to collect and publish data on career and other outcomes of college graduates” (with public and for-profit college leaders much more likely to say so than their private nonprofit peers), and just 13 percent believe the government has a “good chance” of collecting such data accurately.

Higher education leaders aren’t happy about President Obama’s plans to create a federal ratings system of “college value,” notes Inside Higher Ed.

In  a poll of college presidents late last year, only 2 percent plan believed the ratings plan would be “very effective” at making higher education affordable.

Only a third of private non-profit college leaders.think it’s appropriate for the government to collect and publish outcomes data. By contrast, more than 60 percent of community college, public university and for-profit college leaders accept a federal role.

Few in any sector believed the federal government will do a good job of tracking higher ed outcomes.

Asked if the government has a “good chance” of collecting and reporting accurately on higher education outcomes, 9 percent of private nonprofit presidents (on the low end) and 16 percent of public university leaders (on the high end) answered positively.

We need college ratings aimed at the 85 percent of students who go to unselective or less-selective institutions, writes Carrie Warick of National College Access Network.

. . . prospective college students need to know not just about accessibility/selectivity (average GPA, SAT/ACT scores), but also about affordability (net price by income tier, average student loan debt, ability to repay loans) and accountability (graduation rates by race and by income). The information should be sortable by location (to aid place-bound students) and by institution type (two-year, four-year, public, private) for students to compare side by side.

. . . we must change the federal calculation of graduation rates as soon as possible to account for part-time and transfer students, and we must collect and report institutional Pell Grant recipient graduation rates as part of the federal data system (IPEDS). Over the long term, we should also find a valid way to assess workforce outcomes for students.

Get the system up and running quickly, writes Warick. Then “we can turn to the more complex and politically difficult question of how to use federal financial aid dollars to incentivize better institutional outcomes.”

Obama budget funds Pell graduation bonuses

President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget includes $7 billion over 10 years to reward colleges that do a good job of graduating Pell Grant recipients, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. The maximum Pell Grant would increase by $100 to $5,830.

The spending plan seeks $4-billion over four years to encourage states to maintain their higher-education spending and adopt performance-based funding models and $6-billion for job-training programs at community colleges. Community colleges would compete for grants to offer training programs and apprenticeships.

The plan partially restores eligibility for Pell Grants to high school dropouts who pass an “ability to benefit” test.

All borrowers would be eligible for Pay as You Earn, which caps monthly payments at 10 percent of discretionary income and forgives borrowers’ remaining debt after 10 to 20 years. Currently, only recent borrowers with no older debt qualify.

Community colleges are concerned about the call to “strengthen academic progress requirements in the Pell Grant program to encourage students to complete their studies on time,” reports Inside Higher Ed. The Education Department can do this at any time without congressional approval.

“This is absolutely something that causes us great concern,” said David Baime, vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.

Under the current rules, Baime said, students effectively have to pass two of every three classes they take in order to satisfy the requirement. “Since the standards were tightened a couple of years ago, we’ve heard concerns from our campuses,” he said, “So anything that would go further in the direction of tightening them is something that we would be looking at carefully.”

The budget request also seeks funds to develop a national college ratings system to “encourage colleges to improve and help students compare the value of colleges.”

Clare McCann has more on EdCentral.

Report: California is losing higher ed edge

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.