More earn degrees, but 60% goal is uncertain

More Americans are earning college degrees, but the attainment rate must increase to meet the Lumina Foundation’s Goal 2025, a new report shows. Lumina wants 60 percent of adults to hold a “high-quality” degree, certificate or other postsecondary credential by 2025.

Currently, 39.4 percent of working-age adults have earned a two-year or four-year degree. Another 5.2 percent hold a “certificate of significant economic value,” estimates the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

If current trends continue, 49 percent will be college graduates by 2025.

Still, Lumina is thinking positive:  “Not only are postsecondary attainment rates generally increasing, the rate of that increase is rising as well,” says the report. If the current rate of increase continues, 56 percent of working-age adults will hold a degree or other credential by 2025;  young adults will hit 60 percent.

“We’re seeing momentum,” Jamie P. Merisotis, Lumina’s president, told The Chronicle of Higher Education.

College enrollment has dipped. The high school population is smaller and “the modest recovery of the job market” is reducing the number of adult students.  “We have to focus on adults because it is hard to conceive of a way to get to the goal just by focusing on traditional students,” Merisotis said.

The biggest challenge, however, is that higher education has to do a better job of educating the nation’s underserved minority students, as well as low-income and first-generation students, Mr. Merisotis said.

In particular, he said, colleges must improve completion rates among Hispanic and African-American students, who graduate at much lower rates than do their white and Asian-American peers.

While 59 percent of Asian-American adults and nearly 44 percent of whites hold a college degree, only 28 percent of black adults and about 20 percent of Hispanics are college graduates, according to Census figures. 

While more Hispanics are enrolling college, completion rates are low. If success rates don’t improve, the overall attainment rate could decline to less than 38 percent by 2025.

Who owes and who’s worried?

Student loan debt burdens 19.6 percent of adults, according to Forever in Your Debt: Who Has Student Loan Debt, and Who’s Worried?, a new study from the Urban Institute’s Opportunity and Ownership Project. Fifty-seven percent of people with student loans are worried they’ll be unable to repay their debts.

Nine percent of people with no more than a high school diploma have such debt, possibly incurred for non-degree training or to fund a child’s education. Twenty-five percent of those with some college experience but no degree have student loans, while 30 percent of college grads and 28 percent of those with advanced degrees contend with student debt.

While 16 percent of whites and 19 percent of Asians have student loan debt, 34 percent of blacks and 28 percent of Hispanics do so.

Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to enroll in high-cost for-profit colleges. They’re also more likely to quit college without earning a degree.

Seventy-two percent of low-income debtors worry about repayment, but so do 36 percent of those earning more than $100,000.

Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid has rejected a bipartisan proposal to tie Stafford loan interest rates to financial markets. If no deal is reached, interest rates on the subsidized loans will go from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. “The deal would avert a costly rate hike for now but could spell higher rates in coming years,” reports the Washington Post.

Hispanic grads pass whites in college enrollment

Hispanic high school graduates are now more likely than whites to enroll in college, the Pew Research Hispanic Center reports. In the class of 2012, 69 percent of Hispanic graduates and 67 percent of whites enrolled in college that fall.

Latinos are less likely to complete a high school diploma, but that’s improving too, reports Pew. In 2000, 28 percent of Hispanics 16 to 24 years old were high school dropouts, according to federal data. That fell to 14 percent by 2011. The Hispanic graduation rate rose to 78 percent in 2010, up from 64 percent ten years earlier, other research shows.

College graduation rates are lower for young Hispanics, however. Only 56 percent start at a four-year college, compared to 72 percent of whites. Hispanics are less likely to attend a selective college and more likely to enroll in community college. They’re also less likely to be full-time students.

Poor job prospects may be persuading more Hispanics to stay in school, Pew speculates. Since the onset of the recession at the end of 2007, unemployment among Latinos ages 16 to 24 has gone up by seven percentage points, compared with a five percentage point rise among white youths.

Latino families strongly value a college education. In a 2009 Pew Hispanic Center survey, 88 percent of Latinos ages 16 and older agreed that a college degree is necessary to get ahead in life today compared to 74 percent of the general population.

CC presidents earn $167K — more for minorities

Community college presidents average $167,000 in base pay, but blacks and Hispanics earn more, according to an American Association of Community Colleges survey. The median total compensation, which includes base salary plus other pay for fulfilling presidential duties, was $177,462.

That compares to $421,395 for public four-year college presidents in 2010-11, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. For four-year private-college presidents, the median total compensation was $385,909 in 2009.

Hispanic presidents reported the highest median base salary of any ethnic group, at $201,553, the study found. Black presidents had a median base salary of $190,000, and white presidents had a median base salary of $167,200.

. . .  black and Hispanic presidents were more likely than their white counterparts to work at large colleges and in urban areas, and both factors are associated with institutions that pay higher salaries.

Female leaders of community colleges reported a median base salary of $170,000, slightly higher than male presidents, but men took a slight lead in total cash compensation.

Most presidents receive additional compensation.

Sixty-six percent said they received a college-provided car or car allowance, 58 percent said they received allowances for professional club dues, and 32 percent said they received college-provided housing or a housing allowance. Only 15 percent reported that their spouse or partner also received allowances.

Some 75 percent of community-college presidents plan to retire in the next 10 years.

JFF: Dual enrollment boosts college success

Texas students who completed even a single college class in high school were significantly more likely to attend college and eventually graduate compared to similar students who weren’t in dual enrollment programs, reports Jobs for the Future in Taking College Courses in High School: A Strategy for College Readiness.

Dual enrollment students were more than twice as likely to enroll in a Texas two- or four-year college: 54.2% of dual enrollment graduates earned a college degree, compared to 36.9% of non-DE grads, and 47.2% of DE graduates earned a bachelor’s degree, compared to 30.2% of non-DE grads.

All groups did better, including students from low-income families and black and Hispanic students.

“A big question in education reform has been: ‘How do we increase the college readiness of those most likely not to go?’” said Joel Vargas, report coauthor and vice president of JFF’s High School Through College team. “Dual enrollment is a strategy states can use to help answer that question.”

The report also urged policymakers to support bearly college high schools that target minorities and low-income students. Texas has 49 early colleges, serving over 10,000 students statewide, and more than 90,000 students in dual enrollment.

Obama ads hit Romney on Pell, work-study aid

In an appeal to Hispanic voters, President Obama’s new campaign ad accuses Gov. Romney of backing Pell Grant cuts and promises to control rising college costs, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the ad, released in Spanish and English, Obama says the U.S. will remain competitive by ”training two million Americans with the job skills they need at our community colleges, cutting the growth of tuition in half, and expanding student aid so more Americans can afford it.”

In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama called for a 50-percent reduction in tuition growth over a decade “but offered no details about how to achieve such a goal,” the Chronicle notes. Earlier this year, the president proposed linking a college’s eligibility for federal student aid to tuition growth, graduation rates and students’ employability without providing specifics.

“President Romney. What would that mean? For our kids, a difficult path to the university,” a narrator says. “Up to two million Hispanic students would see their Pell Grants cut by almost $1,000. Thousands more would lose access to the Work-Study Program. And with his plan, fewer resources for community colleges.”

“Register [to vote] today,” the narrator urges, “so that Romney doesn’t close these doors on us.”

Last week, the Republican challenger released a Spanish-language ad blaming the president and Democrats for rising tuition and soaring student debt.

Obama’s ad refers to Pell changes proposed in the House Republican budget written by Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate. But Romney has rejected a freeze on the maximum grant. In an interview with Univision, a Spanish-language network, Romney called for letting Pell Grants rise with inflation.

Ryan’s budget would reduce funding for Pell grants, which are given to low-income students to attend college, increase eligibility requirements and freeze the maximum grant at $5,550, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. President Obama supports raising the maximum to $5,635 – about a 1.5 percent increase.

Speaking at the event, hosted by Spanish-language TV station Univision and held at the University of Miami, Romney went against his vice presidential pick. “I care about your education and helping people of modest means get a good education and we’ll continue a Pell grant program,” he said.

Romney’s proposal to let grants rise with inflation could mean a 3 percent increase, larger than Obama’s proposed 1.5 percent.

Romney also told University of Miami students that what they need is “good jobs,” not more loans. “I don’t want to overwhelm you with debts. I want to make sure you can pay back the debts you’ve already got and that will happen with good jobs.”

CC was first step for 45% of 4-year grads

Forty-five percent of four-year graduates studied — at least for awhile — at a community college, reports a National Student Clearinghouse study.  Among students who reported taking community colleges classes, 24 percent were enrolled for one term, 16 percent for two and 19 percent for three or four terms. Twelve percent were enrolled for at least 10 terms.

A majority of transfers who earn a bachelor’s degrees finish within three years, notes Inside Higher Ed.

Of the 45 percent of four-year-degree completers in 2010-11 who had studied at a community college, 16 percent earned their bachelor’s degree within one year of enrolling at the four-year institution, and 36 percent had earned a degree within three years of enrolling. (Twenty-four percent earned degrees within 4 or 5 years, 11 percent within 6 or 7 years, and 7 percent in 10 or more years.)

In 13 states, a majority of four-year graduates reported taking community college classes. Texas, at 78 percent, led the pack with California, another state with many Hispanics, at 65 percent.

By contrast, starting at community college is uncommon in New England states: Only 22 percent of New Hampshire four-year graduates report taking community college classes and no New England state topped 30 percent.

Hispanics’ college enrollment surges

Hispanics’ college enrollment is surging, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.  Forty-six percent of Hispanic high school graduates 18 to 24 years old enrolled in college — usually community college.  That equals black enrollment and is closing in on young whites at 51 percent. Asian-Americans, with 67 percent in college, lead the pack.

Hispanic students also are much more likely to complete high school.

In the 1990s, fewer than 60 percent of Hispanics 18 to 24 had a high school diploma, but that figure hit 70 percent for the first time in 2009, and 76 percent last year.

That high school completion rate, however, still remains below the national rate of 85 percent (81 percent for blacks), limiting the number of Hispanics who are eligible for college.

Hispanics make up about 16.5 percent of all college students, but 25.2 percent of community college students.  Graduation rates are low:  In 2010, Hispanics made up 13.2 percent of those earning an associate degree and 8.5 percent of those earning a bachelor’s degree.

College for all — with easier math

Math teachers at my daughter’s old high school oppose a plan to require all students to pass college-prep classes required for admission to California universities, known as A-G courses. They say some Palo Alto High students — disproportionately black, Hispanic and disabled — can’t pass the school’s demanding Algebra II class, which requires more than the UC/CSU standard.  Water it down to the minimal level and students will end up in remedial math in college, the teachers warn.

The department chair, Radu Toma, wrote the letter (posted on wecandobetterpaloalto.org), which is signed by his colleagues. He taught my daughter Geometry in ninth grade and AP Calculus in 12th grade. Her Algebra II and pre-calc teachers signed too.

The math teachers are snobs who only want to teach advanced classes, argues LaToya Baldwin Clark in the Palo Alto Weekly. Require A-G for graduation, she writes, and create an easier Algebra II class for average students who don’t have parents who can tutor them — or pay for tutoring.

By the department’s own admission, even the regular lane Algebra II class greatly exceeds the UC/CSU. In the view of Toma and his colleagues, “diluting the standards in our regular lane to basic benchmarks which might allow every student to pass Algebra II would end up hurting the district’s reputation.” The department refuses to teach an Algebra II that satisfies UC/CSU requirements that students can actually pass. And where does the Paly math department think those students who fail to complete Algebra II should go, rather than to college? They can “go on to community colleges or jobs for which district prepares them better than most districts.”

The reputation of a high school is enhanced when all students go to four-year colleges.

Last year, 85 percent of all high school graduates in the district met the UC/CSU requirements. But only 5 percent of special-ed students, 15 percent of blacks and 40 percent of Hispanic graduates were eligible for state universities.

Many of the black and Hispanic students have transferred from neighboring East Palo Alto, a low-income and working-class town, under a desegregation agreement. Many of the Palo Alto students are the children of very well-educated parents who work in high-tech or at Stanford. There’s no question that Palo Alto’s two high schools are designed to prepare students for very competitive colleges and universities.

The local community college, Foothill, is one of the best in the state. But graduation rates are low for community college students. Starting at a four-year university — San Jose State is the likely choice — would raise the odds of earning a bachelor’s degree.

But we’re still talking about long odds. Most remedial math students never earn a degree.

If a basic Algebra II is created, it should be aligned with college placement tests, so students know if they’re on track to take college-level or remedial classes. If the high school maintains high standards in its regular-lane Algebra II, then teachers need a strategy to help math-challenged students pass.

There’s another option: Work with Foothill to create a career-prep track. Community colleges offer programs that qualify students for a “middle-skill” job in two years or less. Some require advanced algebra, but others do not. But this would be seen as setting low expectations for other people’s kids. It wouldn’t fly.

 

Neither a borrower nor a graduate be

Afraid of debt, college students are working more, taking fewer credits and starting at community colleges. These debt-dodging strategies raise the risks students won’t graduate, reports AP.

“There’s been such attention on student debt being unmanageable that current students have internalized that,” said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and vice president for policy research at the group Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit advocacy group. In fact, “If you can take out a little bit of loan you’re more likely to complete. If you can go to a more selective institution that gives you more resources and support, you’re more likely to complete.”

Students are borrowing less in real dollars, College Board reports. Private loans are way down as students turn to federal aid.

What’s the upside of borrowing? Federal data analyzed by Santiago’s group and The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) in 2008 shows roughly 86 percent of students who borrow for college are able to attend full-time, compared to 70 percent of students who don’t borrow. That matters because roughly 60 percent of full-time students receive a bachelor’s degree within eight years, compared to 25 percent of part-time students.

Comparably qualified students are more likely to graduate from a four-year university than a community college, other research shows.

Student debt aversion is most pronounced among Hispanics and Asians, who borrow at lower rates than whites despite having higher financial need. And it appears to have the greatest consequences for Hispanics and blacks.

Fifty-one percent of blacks who had financial need but decided not to borrow had left school within three years without a degree, compared to 39 percent of those who borrowed, the study by Excelencia and IHEP found. For Hispanics, 41 percent of non-borrowers had left, compared to 32 percent who borrowed.

Despite recent tuition jumps at California community colleges, few students take out loans. But they work long hours to pay living expenses, often studying part-time.

Debt aversion is more dangerous than debt, says Eloy Oakley, the president of Long Beach City College.

“The longer they’re in school, the more opportunity they have to be distracted by life events, jobs, families, situations that change in their own families,” says Oakley, whose student body is 41 percent Hispanic and 16 percent Asian. “If we can minimize those exit points and shorten their time to degree, that’s much more advantageous to them.”

Students need “financial literacy” training to understand how to access financial aid and federal loans, balancing reasonable debt against future incomes, advocates say.

However, low graduation rates make debt a higher risk for community college students. A nurse will earn enough to pay off her loans. But most would-be nurses never make it to a degree.