Cost-effective ways to expand college access

Expanding college opportunity is an “economic imperative” argues the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project. If America is to continue to be the land of opportunity, we need to find cost-effective ways to get more high-achieving, low-income students into good colleges.

“A college degree can be a ticket out of poverty,” concludes Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education. “Few investments yield as high a return as a college degree, according to the policy memo. “New low-cost interventions can encourage more low-income students to attend, remain enrolled in, and increase economic diversity at even top colleges.”

Increasing financial aid is an expensive way to raise low-income students’ college enrollment.

Providing high-achieving, low-income students with personalized information about college options would cost only $6 per student but greatly increase the numbers going to selective colleges with high graduation rates, concludes Informing Students about Their College Options: A Proposal for Broadening the Expanding College Opportunities Project by Caroline M. Hoxby of Stanford University and Sarah Turner of the University of Virginia.

Simplifying financial aid applications and assisting low-income applicants also is cost effective. It increases college enrollment by 8 percentage points, and costs less than $100 per student or about $1,000 per each additional enrollee.

By contrast, increasing Stafford loans, which offer lower rates to lower-income borrowers, costs about $20,000 to send one additional student to college.

Too much information

Why weren’t Monroe Community College students registering early? The New York college was bombarding students with too much information, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The college had conducted research that showed students who registered earlier were more likely to succeed: they get financial aid earlier, they’re more likely to get courses at a convenient time, and they have time to buy books and prepare for the first day of class. But while “express enrollment days” for first-time students were a success, continuing students were much less likely to show up.

That wasn’t for lack of communication. In fact, college officials discovered, students were overwhelmed with e-mails, letters, phone calls and postcards about enrollment.

A “communications audit” discovered 286 separate emails, letters and phone calls about enrollment.

Various departments sent notes and e-mails about immunizations, advising, placement tests, involvement on campus and financial aid applications. Often, each task a student needed to complete generated several pieces of communication from several different departments, duplication that college officials decided was unnecessary. Students could get up to 10 letters and e-mails from the college per week — which, (Kimberley) Collins said, made none of them seem particularly important.

The timing was off too: Applicants would get information about advising months before advising was available.

Monroe now sends emails with several “action items,” using red ink or bullets to create a to-do list, avoids outdated personal email accounts and sometimes sends postcards that may be noticed by other family members.

Open hours for placement exams were replaced by appointments to give students an action to take. The number of students taking the exams during their April break increased 50 percent, Collins said. Early registration is up 30 percent.

Libraries go digital

Community college libraries are going digital, reports Community College Week.

Bronx Community College‘s new library offers a central study area, known as the “information commons,” with 42 Apple Macs and 158 Dell PCs.  Study rooms for small groups ring the commons.

Community college libraries today must assume a dual identity as a home to both traditional printed resources and contemporary information technology. In the North Hall and Library, that duality plays out on the second floor. There, on one end, is the circulation desk, where students can check out books that are part of the library’s vast collection. At the other end is the New Media Desk, where students can order videos to be streamed to screens in the group study rooms. IPads, laptops, cameras, and calculators can also be checked out. Students in some courses can borrow a laptop for an entire semester.

Students can access “multimedia educational resources 24/7 from any location,” notes Teresa McManus, BCC’s chief librarian.

College librarians worry about competing with Google, reports Community College Week. But Kenley Neufeld, library director at Santa Barbara City College is confident librarians will change with the times. “We are not going to be replaced by technology,” said Neufeld.

“The role of the librarian is to help students think critically about the resources that are available. Scholarly inquiry takes more than a Google search. We can guide them to other resources. We’re an indispensable part of the learning environment, and I think we can position ourselves to be a key player in the future.”

Libraries aren’t reserved for solitary study any more, reports CC Week. Modern libraries provide spaces for students to work on group projects. Some have cafes.

On a tour of the New York Public Library last month,  I saw only one person with a book in the reading room. He wasn’t reading it. He was sleeping on it.

College consumers need more info

Do Colleges Need a Consumer’s Report Card? asks career Marty Nemko in The Atlantic. He’s seeking feedback on his nutrition label for higher education.

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If government can require “every package of taco-flavored Doritos (to) tell you the percentage of the FDA recommended daily allowance of vitamin A to zinc is in each ounce,” colleges should provide information to help prospective students make what “may be our life’s most expensive (and important?) purchase,” Nemko writes.

The data might include: the percentage of freshmen that graduate in four years, the progress they make in reading and critical thinking, the employment rate and earnings for recent graduates by degree, and (as the Occupiers would approve) the actual four-year cost of school, including cash and loan financial aid, broken down by family income and assets.

There are plenty of college guides out there and “more statistics, facts, and opinions are a mere Google-search away,” Nemko concedes. Would a standardized college report card just add to the information overload?

Know Before You Owe for college

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is seeking feedback on a Know Before You Owe site for student loans.

Before students borrow, they should understand the costs and risks of the loans they will use to help pay for the school of their choice.

Financial aid offers can be difficult to understand and compare. The Department of Education plans to publish a model financial aid letter that will help students evaluate their options.

You can look at CFPB’s “thought-starter” for the new form and express your ideas for improving financial aid information.


Where are Q&A sites?

Where are Q&A sites with information about community colleges? AAS Degrees list 25 useful sites from around the country.