Why job-seekers pick for-profit colleges

Some career-focused students choose a for-profit college over a much cheaper community college, writes Sophie Quinton on National Journal.

In Virginia Beach, 27-year-old Darius Mitchell was “really tired of making $9 an hour.” After years working retail jobs, he consolidated previous student loans and took out more to enroll at ECPI University. He’ll graduate in May with an associate degree in network security and a job at Canon Information Technology Services.

At about $14,000 a year, tuition at ECPI is more than triple that of an in-state student at nearby Tidewater Community College. But low-income students are willing to cough up the money because programs are shorter, graduation rates are higher, and 85 percent of students move into jobs in their field of study — usually health care or technology — soon after graduation.

. . . Students are drawn here because, unlike at a community college, they can start classes every five weeks and attend on nights and weekends. Course material is also accelerated, so an associate’s degree can take just a year and a half to complete and a bachelor’s can take two and a half. Students don’t have to load up on courses to meet broad requirements; they only take classes relevant to the credential they want.

ECPI also offers job placement help. The career-services team helped Matthew Bailey, 43, find a job in tech support for InMotion Hosting. He’s working on a software development degree.

ECPI’s graduation rate of 40 percent for first-time college students is twice the graduation rate at the local community college, notes Quinton.  ”In 2011, ECPI awarded more computer science associate’s degrees to African-Americans like Mitchell than all the public community colleges in Virginia combined.”

For needy students, a Single Stop for aid

Homeless, Jason showered at the gym at Borough of Manhattan Community College. After class, he did his homework in the library, then slept in a quiet corner. When the library closed, he rode the subway all night. Failing three of his four classes, he asked for help at Single Stop, which connects low-income people with a wide array of government benefits.  Deborah Harte got him off the streets, reports the New York Times.

She got him enrolled in SNAP, the federal food stamp program, and health insurance. He got financial counseling — “I want to be an accountant, so I want to make sure my credit’s O.K.,” he said. He did his taxes and filed a FAFSA — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. She got him a work-study job. (He was already working part time as an usher at Radio City.) Most important, Harte called someone she knew who worked in real estate and got him a room he could afford, with a shared kitchen and bathroom, in a house in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Jason expects to graduate soon. 

Community colleges “are largely second-chance schools for striving low-wage workers — an engine of economic mobility,” writes Tina Rosenberg. Single Stop is partnering with community colleges in eight states to help strivers get the aid they need to stay in school and achieve their goals.

“Community college administrators have always known students leave, and their No. 1 job has been keeping them,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, an associate professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, who is carrying out evaluations of Single Stop. “They’ve always wanted to do more — but the issue is: with what resources?”

Now they have a new financial motivation to find resources. State funding of community colleges is increasingly tied to their retention or graduation rates — six states did so in 2011, and now 34 states are in the process of adopting that reform or have already adopted it.

The B.M.C.C. office has a financial counselor, a health care navigator and, one day a week, an attorney. Students can get free tax preparation: They must file a return to qualify for federal student aid and the earned-income tax credit.

Can Single Stop keep students in school?

Goldrick-Rab analyzed the early data from CUNY colleges Kingsborough (Single Stop’s first community college program) and LaGuardia. She compared retention rates of Single Stop clients to a group of other students considered economically disadvantaged who didn’t use the service. Although the Single Stop students were most likely much poorer, a year after the program began their retention rates were 32 percent higher — 66 percent of other students re-enrolled the next semester, but 98 percent of the Single Stop students did. LaGuardia showed similar results.

On average, community colleges contribute 43 percent of the cost of a Single Site office on campus.

Miami Dade College has hired 28 counselors to provide one-stop advising — including financial aid, student services and eligibility for benefits — to all students. All will be trained by Single Stop.

In Watts, it’s easier to be a teen mom than a student

If only Shanice Joseph had gotten pregnant instead of going to community college, she’d have subsidized rent or a housing voucher, a welfare check, nutrition aid, counseling and more. There are five government aid programs and nonprofit agencies offering help to young mothers on her block in Watts. In her high-poverty neighborhood, it’s easier being a pregnant teen than a college student, Joseph writes in the Hechinger Report.

Shanice Joseph stands in front of the Watts library, which only has two computers available to adults. (Photo: Daniela Gerson)

Shanice Joseph stands in front of the Watts library, which only has two computers available to adults. (Photo: Daniela Gerson)

Joseph lives with her grandmother, who’s fighting cancer. If her grandmother dies, Joseph will be evicted. The subsidized apartments are for women with children.

A friend suggested getting pregnant. “Girl, the government will take care of you, trust me.”

Joseph’s mother relied on government aid to raise her and her six siblings. So did her grandmother. “But I also see that these government assistance programs often reinforce a cycle of poverty without offering a way out for young people like myself who want to pursue higher education and a career,” she writes.

Encouraged by her grandmother and an aunt, Joseph enrolled in a small college-prep charter school a long bus ride away from home. Now she has a long bus ride to community college.

Joseph doesn’t own a computer. When she can’t use the college’s computer lab, she relies on her neighborhood library.  ”There are only two outdated computers available to adults, each with a 15-minute time limit—not a lot of time if a person has an essay to type up, needs to complete their FAFSA form, or wants to use the Internet to find places that actually do offer assistance to college students,” Joseph writes.

A few blocks away, Thomas Riley High School offers mentoring and one-on-one college and career counseling — “for pregnant and teen moms.” 

Housing vouchers and a resource center with computers and counselors would help low-income students succeed in college and escape the cycle of poverty, Joseph writes.

Career-tech dual enrollment shows promise

Dual enrollment courses with a career tech focus are drawing more students, according to an Education Commission for the States report. The trend should help states meet college completion and workforce goals, the report said.

Studies show CTE dual enrollment students are more likely to graduate high school, enroll in a four-year college or university full-time and persist in higher education. Researchers in one study noted, “In many cases, male and low-income students benefitted more from dual enrollment participation than their more advantaged peers.”

Among policy recommendations are exempting parents from fees for dual enrollment courses and ensuring credits will transfer. In addition:

Course content and instructor credentials must mirror those of traditional postsecondary instructors. Texas requires CTE dual enrollment courses to be college-level technical education courses listed in the state’s Workforce Education Course Manual.

Courses should incorporate industry curriculum and standards, and lead to certification. 

More than 80 percent of high schools now offer dual enrollment courses. About half include college-level career tech courses. 

Food pantry helps feed students

A new food pantry is helping students at Pueblo Community College in Colorado, reports the Pueblo Chieftain. Students can get nonperishable food and toiletry items for free. PCC’s student government is providing funding and seeking donations.

 “A lot of times it’s down to either buying a gallon of gas or a gallon of milk,” said Levi Ropp, student government president. “Students say they’ll pick the gas so they can get to school.”

Should Pell be linked to performance?

Pell Grants help low- and moderate-income students go to college, but graduation rates are low. In an Education Next forum,  Isabel Sawhill, co-director of the Center on Children and Families and Brookings’ Budgeting for National Priorities Project, and Sara Goldrick-Rab, associate professor of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, discuss what to do about it.

Target federal aid to low-income, college-ready students, argues Sawhill.  Needy students who are likely to complete a degree could get more money, if well-to-do families gave up their tax subsidies and low performers weren’t eligible for Pell.

According to 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, only a small fraction of high school seniors are at or above proficiency in math and reading: 26 percent and 28 percent, respectively. This lack of preparation makes it difficult for them to do college-level work. For example, of younger students enrolling in college in 2003–04 with a high school grade-point average (GPA) below 2.0, only 16 percent had received a degree six years later, while 84 percent had not. The question we need to ask is whether taxpayers should foot the bill for students whose odds of success are so low.

Currently, Pell Grants are available to anyone with a high school diploma or GED. That doesn’t predict the ability to do college-level work, Sawhill writes.

Linking Pell to academic performance denies help to those who need help most, responds Goldrick-Rab. Instead, she proposes increasing the size of grants so low-income students can work less and study more. 

While 54 percent of wealthy Americans complete college, only 9 percent of low-income Americans earn a degree, Goldrick-Rab writes. The college gap is growing. 

The K–12 system remains overwhelmingly unequal, and chaining Pell eligibility to it even further ensures that both ends of the educational process remain unequally distributed. It transforms the Pell Grant from a policy aimed at transforming lives to one that simply rewards students lucky enough to be born into situations where their families are able to seize good high-school educations for them.

When it was first created, “the Pell Grant covered nearly 90 percent of the costs of attending a public college or university,” writes Goldrick-Rab. Today, the maximum $5,550 grant covers 30 percent of the average costs at state universities.

President Obama has proposed rating colleges and universities by “value.” One measure would be the graduation rate of Pell Grant recipients. Linking Pell to performance would make colleges look a lot better.

After growing very rapidly, the Pell program is running a $1.7 billion budget surplus this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Don’t give up on the longshots, writes Matt Reed. “Open-door public colleges exist to give people options.”

Community colleges need big, bold reforms

“Undermatching” — disadvantaged achievers may not apply to selective colleges — was the focus of President Obama’s higher education summit. But the most effective way to help low-income students is to improve community colleges, writes Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teacher’s College Columbia, in Inside Higher Ed.  “The reality is that even in a perfectly matched world, millions of low-income, minority, first-generation, and immigrant students will continue to enroll in community colleges.”

Community colleges have been extremely successful at opening the doors to college for disadvantaged students, but thus far, they have had less success in helping them graduate. Less than 40 percent of students who start in community colleges complete a credential in six years. The success rates are worse for low-income and minority students.

In the past, reform initiatives “have focused too narrowly,” writes Bailey. It’s not enough to change remedial education or the first semester. What’s needed is “comprehensive and transformative reform.”

What the CCRC calls the “guided pathways model” provides structure and guidance in “all aspects of the student experience, from preparation and intake to completion,” Bailey writes.

The model includes robust services to help students choose career goals and majors. It features the integration of developmental education into college-level courses and the organization of the curriculum around a limited number of broad subject areas that allows for coherent programs of study. And, importantly, it stresses the strong, ongoing collaboration between faculty, advisers and staff.

Initiatives such as the Gates-funded Completion by Design and Lumina’s Finish Faster are advancing such comprehensive reforms by helping colleges and college systems create clear course pathways within programs of study that lead to degrees, transfer and careers.

The new Guttman Community College at the City University of New York (CUNY) is experimenting with a full range of reforms, including the guided pathways model, concludes Bailey. CUNY’s holistic ASAP program has improved completion rates significantly.

A new analysis by the University of Michigan’s Michael N. Bastedo and Allyson Flaster questions key assumptions behind undermatching research, reports Inside Higher Ed. What’s far more important than enrolling in a more or less selective four-year institution is whether a student enrolls in community college, write Basteo and Flaster. Starting at community college significantly lowers the odds of earning a bachelor’s degree, they write.

 

Students will be less affluent, more Latino

Colleges and universities will compete for fewer white, affluent students, according to demographic projections. That could drive some tuition-dependent private colleges out of business.

The number of black students is declining too, while the number of Latino and Asian-American students will increase significantly in the next decade. “The nation’s already seeing a sharp rise in first-generation and low-income graduates, reports the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Some colleges and universities have stepped up recruiting of first-generation students, but most apply to low-cost community colleges.

The number of high-school graduates is projected to drop sharply in several Midwestern and Northeastern states.

Who Will Reach College Age in the Next 14 Years? shows demographic changes, interactively, down to the county level.

Nationally, the number of college-age whites will decline by 14.8 percent and blacks by 8.9 percent over the next 14 years, while college-age Latinos will rise by 13.7 percent and Asians by 14.6 percent.

Obama: Expand college opportunity

“We want to restore the essential promise of opportunity and upward mobility that’s at the heart of America,” President Obama said at a White House summit on higher education. “If we as a nation can … reach out to [low-income] young people and help them not just go to college, but graduate from college or university, it could have a transformative effect.”

The “story of opportunity through education is the story of my life,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, who grew up in a working-class family and went to Princeton. 

The administration asked colleges and universities to encourage low-income students to apply to challenging schools, start college preparation earlier, expand college advising and improve college remediation.

In California, the three branches of the higher education system – community colleges, state universities, and the University of California – will jointly reach out to seventh-graders in the state to encourage them to prepare for college and understand financial aid options.

Only 1 in 4 community college students in remedial classes go on to earn a degree, notes the White House report, Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students.  Summit participants have committed to “strengthening instruction, using technology, better supporting students in remediation, and reducing the need for remediation.”

Achieving the Dream, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and Jobs for the Future will work with community colleges and other higher education groups to develop and implement promising practices that accelerate progression through remediation and gateway courses.

Update:  It was “a productive meeting,” Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System​, told Community College Daily. “It will be the broad access institutions that will play the big role​ — not the nation’s elite universities. There needs to be more focus on leveraging the nation’s community colleges to promote access and college/university completion at more affordable rates.”

“The summit helped to reframe the current rhetoric around higher education, away from the issues of rating and affordability,  to issues of access for low-income students, our importance for economic competitiveness, and the need for increased public and private investment in our work,” said  Karen Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College (Pennsylvania). “The administration has clearly recognized our role in workforce development. I am pleased that our important role in transfer was recognized today in such a public way, by so many, including our university colleagues.”

CC choice blamed for Latino graduation gap

Forty-six percent of Latinos who graduated from high-scoring public high schools enrolled in a community college, according to a USC study. That compares to 23 percent of their black classmates, 19 percent of Asians and 27 percent of white students. White and Asian students are much more likely to enroll at a four-year university.

Graduation rates are much lower for students who start at community colleges.

Table 1. College-Attendance Rates of California High School Graduates by Public Higher Education System and Race/Ethnicity, 2010

 

Community College Attendance Rate

CSU Attendance Rate

UC Attendance Rate

Latina/o

33.7%

9.8%

3.9%

Asian

25.9%

13.2%

25.0%

White

23.1%

8.7%

5.2%

African   American

24.5%

8.3%

3.7%

South Pasadena is known for excellent public schools. Of South Pasadena High’s 2010 Latino graduates, 71 percent went straight to community college, reports KPCC.  Only about a third of the school’s white and Asian graduates that year attended community college.

“Perhaps certain kinds of college pathways are promoted for different types of students,” said George Washington University education researcher Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux, who authored the study. “We know that tracking is real. We know that differential expectations for academic performance based on things like race and class are real.”

Lower-income students are more likely to choose to a low-cost community college, especially if their parents don’t understand financial aid options.


From Colorado: For low-income students, getting into college is only half the battle. Graduating is a challenge.