MDRC: Benefits of student grants don’t last

Grants to low-income students had little lasting impact on their performance, concludes a MDRC study at  Borough of Manhattan Community College and Hostos Community College, both in New York City.

Based on their enrollment and completion levels, study participants received grants of up to $1,300 for each of two semesters, and some received a similar-sized grant for a third (summer) semester. In each term, a student received $200 for registering for six or more credits, another $450 if still enrolled by the middle of the term, and $650 for achieving a grade of C or better (or the equivalent in developmental courses) in at least six credits.

Students who received the performance-based grants were likelier to enroll for that term, compared to the control group. But a year after students received grants, the average recipient hadn’t earned more credits or registered for more semesters.

“This suggests that while the program was effective when students were eligible for scholarships, the effects on enrollment and credits earned dissipated after the program ended,” the authors write. (The relatively small number of grant recipients at Hostos, a much smaller institution where the students are older and the program was housed in a student services division of the college, did accumulate more credits than their peers did, the authors note.)

While “bare bones” grants may not work, other forms of aid show promise at other colleges, said Reshma Patel, project and data manager for the Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration Project.  Studies are testing the effect of offering advising and tutoring services and larger scholarships.  “We have had consistent findings across the sites, in terms of improvements in credit accumulation,” she said.

4-year grads seek associate degrees

Unemployed college graduates are heading to community college, writes David Koeppel in Fortune. Instead of pursuing an expensive graduate degree that may not pay off, they’re seeking associate degrees in vocational fields.

Some of the returning students are recent graduates who have found that their sociology or philosophy major has not been enough to find gainful employment. They are now training for careers as nurses, IT specialists, or medical technicians.  Radiation therapists and registered nurses with associate’s degrees earn median salaries of $74,200 and $63,800 respectively, according to a 2009 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Many of these students have graduated fairly recently and the job market didn’t pan out the way they expected, says Felix Matos Rodriguez, the president of Hostos Community College in the Bronx. “Some say their initial choice of major was not the right one. For some folks that were laid off, it was a wake-up call.”

In California, 260,000 college graduates under 30 are working in food service, retail and clerical jobs that don’t require education, reports KEYT in Santa Barbara.

“We’re seeing graduates in humanities and some of the arts fields struggling,” said Ian Moats, staffing consultant at Express Employment Professionals.

“A bachelor’s degree used to be a golden ticket into getting a decent middle wage paying job where you could have the opportunity to prove yourself. We’re seeing that that’s not the case so much now due to the competition and the skills gap they’re not getting the opportunity to prove themselves in the job market and they’re resulting and taking lower wage jobs,” said Moats.

Jobs that require “good customer service, interaction, good communication . . .  are good preludes” to more responsible jobs, said Raymond McDonald of the Santa Barbara County Workforce Investment Board.


Pell Grants turn 40

Pell Grants are celebrating their 40th anniversary, notes Community College Times. In 1972, Rhode Island Sen. Claiborne Pell wrote the law creating college grants for low-income students. Now expanded to moderate-income students, Pell spending is a huge part of the U.S. Education budget.

“It’s absolutely indispensable,” said Félix Matos Rodríguez, president of Hostos Community College (HCC), a City University of New York college. An estimated 5,000 of 7,000 HCC students use Pell aid.

Phi Theta Kappa, the community college honor society, asked members how Pell has helped them. Kimberlee Jenkins, who attends Mesa Community College in Arizona, wrote that the grant enabled her to earn a degree in two years while raising a child.

I had a great career with my first child on the way when the economy took a dive and I was laid off. As a soon-to-be single mother, I was lost and scared. . . . I went to the college looking for information, but realized I couldn’t afford to pay for school, take care of my baby and look for a job. I was directed to look into financial aid and loans—another scary thought: loans with no income! I was extremely excited when I learned I could qualify for a Pell Grant. I am currently on track to graduate this May with honors. Completion time has taken me less than four semesters.

Thanks to Pell aid, Capri Richardson was able to earn a nursing degree at Florence-Darlington Technical College in South Carolina.