More Americans are earning college degrees: 33.5 percent of Americans ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, compared with 24.7 percent in 1995, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The number of two-year college degrees, master’s degrees and doctorates has also risen.
Enrollment and graduation rates are up, reports the New York Times. “The recent recession, which pushed more workers of all ages to take shelter on college campuses while the job market was poor, has also played a role.”
“Basically, I was just barely getting by, and I didn’t like my job, and I wanted to do something that wasn’t living dollar to dollar,” said Sarah O’Doherty, 24, a former nail salon receptionist who will graduate next month from the County College of Morris in New Jersey with a degree in respiratory therapy.
However, only about half of first-time college freshmen in 2006 had earned a degree by 2012, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.
Low-income students continue to lag bar behind. ”Only about 1 out of 10 Americans whose parents were in the lowest income quartile held four-year college degrees by age 24 in 2011, compared to 7 in 10 from the highest quartile.
“There are worrisome signs that the demand for high-skilled talent is increasing more rapidly than we’re actually educating people,” said Lumina Foundation CEO Jamie P. Merisotis.
Lumina’s new report, A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education 2013, estimates that 38.7 percent of working-age Americans (ages 25-64) held a two- or four-year college degree in 2011. That’s rising, but not fast enough to meet the foundation’s Goal 2025, which aims to increase the percentage of Americans with “high-quality degrees and credentials” to 60 percent in 12 years.
While 59.1 percent of working-age Asian-Americans and 43.3 percent of whites have earned a degree, that falls to 27.1 percent for blacks and 19.3 for Hispanics. The gap is even wider for young adults.
“Americans want a more accessible and affordable system of higher education, one that does more to recognize and reward the personal skills, knowledge and abilities that are genuinely valued in the workplace and can be linked to future learning opportunities,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president of Lumina Foundation.
Most want to make it easier for adults to earn credentials. Seventy percent of those surveyed favored awarding credit based on mastery of content rather than time in class and 87 percent said students should receive college credit for knowledge and skills acquired outside of the classroom.
While 76 percent said traditional universities offer high-quality education, that drops to 54 percent for community colleges and 33 percent f0r 0nline colleges and universities.
Nearly everyone — 97 percent — said it is important to have a certificate or degree beyond a high school diploma. Of those who lack a postsecondary credential, 41 percent have considered going back to school in the last year.
“If credit hours truly reflected a standardized unit of learning,” students wouldn’t have so much trouble transferring credits from one college to another, she writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
. . . colleges routinely reject credits earned at other colleges, underscoring their belief that credit hours are not a reliable measure of how much students have learned. If higher education doesn’t trust its own credits, why should anyone else?
. . . Without broader agreement about learning outcomes, credits and the value of degrees will remain opaque. Measuring time is easy, but measuring learning is hard. . . . Those in higher education must roll up their sleeves and commit to the hard work of figuring out together what it is they expect students to know and how best to meaningfully assess what they have learned.
Some colleges are experimenting with the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile, which creates a framework for what students should know and be able to do, regardless of discipline. Lumina also has created Tuning, a process for faculty to “fine-’tune’ their expectations and make them clear to students, other institutions, and employers,” writes Laitenen.
. . . federal policy can help catalyze such efforts by leveraging the government’s authority to use financial aid—a huge incentive for institutions—to pay for learning. Today the multibillion-dollar federal financial-aid system runs on the credit hour. And it gets only what it pays for: time.
Richard Schur, an associate professor of English at Drury University, likes the credit, he writes, also in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Education is a process, not a destination,” Schur writes. It’s “not reducible to a set of facts or skills.”
My paradigm for teaching comes from Socrates. What is interesting about Socrates is that he doubted his wisdom, so he interrogated those who claimed to possess competency, experience, and knowledge. What he frequently learned was that those who claimed to have the answers rarely did. . . . the Socratic dialogue, imitates what should be happening in the classroom, with its give and take between student and teacher.
I know that the critics of the credit hour will point out how the example of Socrates illustrates precisely what is wrong with the existing model. First, Socrates did not have clear learning objectives for his students; his dialogues meander all over the place. Second, there was no outcome assessment, so we are not sure what, if anything, his interlocutors actually learned from these sessions. Third, this would be a very costly model to implement, especially with all the feasting and drinking. Fourth, this kind of education seems to privilege a life of luxury and wealth, which does not match the backgrounds of today’s students. Last but certainly not least, it is not clear that any of Socrates’ students ever got jobs, probably violating the “gainful employment” rule.
Time matters, argues Schur. It takes time “to have conversation, work on building student habits, develop relationships, and to try to make students into good citizens.”
Creating new models of student financial support that make college more affordable, make costs more predictable and transparent, provide incentives to increase completion, and align federal, state and institutional policies and programs.
Creating new higher education business and finance models that significantly expand the nation’s capacity to deliver affordable, high-quality education—supported by public finance and regulatory policies that create incentives for, and remove barriers to, innovation.
Creating new systems of quality credentials and credits defined by learning and competencies rather than time, clear and transparent pathways to students, high-quality learning, and alignment with workforce needs and trends.
Lumina plans to spend $300 million over the next four years.
Lumina will also continue to push completion-related efforts at both the state and federal levels. And the foundation’s leadebbrs said federal policy would be crucial in shaping a modern higher education system necessary to encourage the 23 million additional degrees and meaningful credentials needed to hit 60 percent attainment.
They pointed to a desperate need for strong leadership at the federal level on questions about the structure of student aid, quality assurance and accreditation, and the alignment of workforce development and higher education.
Lumina wants to make it easier for students who’ve learned on the job, online or on their own to earn credits for competency. Officials also are keeping an eye on “emerging forms of credentialing, like certificates issued by massive open online course (MOOC) providers,” notes Inside Higher Ed. Lumina will add certificates to its Degree Qualifications Profile, which “attempts to establish what constitutes a valuable college degree.”
Community colleges, occupational certificate programs and apprenticeships are key parts of the campaign to improve higher education success, write policy analysts in Getting to Graduation: The Completion Agenda in Higher Education. The book calls for rethinking financial aid, remediation and funding policies to promote completion.
Editors Andrew P. Kelly, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Mark Schneider, vice president for the American Institutes for Research, discussed needed reforms in an e-mail interview with Inside Higher Ed
The growth in middle-skill jobs, particularly in fields like healthcare and information technology, means that we are going to need more workers with sub-baccalaureate credentials.
The book highlights two particular approaches to boosting sub-baccalaureate productivity. First, several states have invested in one or two-year occupational certificate programs that have shown promising results. For instance, Tennessee’s Technology Centers boast high completion rates, low costs-per-degree, and strong labor market returns, providing the state with a high return on its investment.
. . . Second, federal and state governments should expand formal apprenticeship programs, where students learn on the job and complete academic coursework, all while earning a wage from a participating employer.
Community college leaders can’t just wait for public funding to return, Schneider and Kelly write. They must look for changes that will improve productivity.
It is important to remember that although community colleges are cheap for consumers, they can be expensive for taxpayers. High rates of remediation and student attrition often translate to high costs per student outcome.
Adding student success initiatives to the existing structure won’t be effective, they argue. Entrepreneurial community college leaders are asking:
How can colleges shift some of their instruction from brick and mortar classrooms into quality online models that lower costs and build capacity? How can they leverage a competency-based approach to reduce the time and money spent on remediation?
. . . tweaks to student aid programs, more articulation agreements and even replication of particular “disruptive” innovations will not be sufficient to achieve new goals.
State and federal policies should “encourage providers — new and established, public, nonprofit or for-profit — to compete with one another on the value they deliver to their students,” Kelly and Schneider conclude. “If we wish to make dramatic improvements in student success and productivity, policies should cultivate a market that rewards those things.”
“We think it’s going to be a real asset to help us reach the national attainment goal that’s essential to our work at the foundation and critical to the nation’s future,” said Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation and a co-founder of IHEP.
Lumina wants 60 percent of Americans to have a postsecondary credential or degree with labor-market value by 2025.
Reports on the website can be accessed by asking a question in the search field or simply entering a keyword. A search for “access,” for instance,” turned up 99 results—at least for a report from as far back as 1999 but most from recent years. Each report on the website is accompanied by a brief summary written by a group of “emerging scholars.”
Topics include Developmental Education, Financial Aid, Transfer and Student Mobility, Career and Technical Education, Employment Outcomes, High School Coursetaking and more.
Provide reentry concierges: Many states and institutions are providing single points of contact for returning adults to navigate the reentry process.
Secret Shoppers: Some states had “secret shoppers” pose as potential returning adults to better understand the reentry process from the student perspective.
Policy and practice audits: Policy and practice audits help states and institutions understand how well they serve ready adults. Tools like CAEL’s Adult Learner Focused Institution (ALFI) survey can identify areas for improvement.
Redesign gateway courses: Many institutions have redesigned gateway courses, particularly college-level math, to improve both student success and institutional efficiency.
Academic amnesty: Institutions and states can implement policies that allow students to eliminate grades that may have been due to simply walking away from school rather than sub-par academic performance.
Many returning students need to work full-time while completing coursework. They need courses and access to student services outside traditional hours.
Rebuilding America’s Middle Class, a coalition of community colleges, met in Indianapolis last week to discuss workforce development policies, affordability and removing regulatory barriers to training community college students for jobs.
“We face a defining moment for America’s future – one that will determine just how committed we are to providing everyone a shot at the American Dream and the middle class,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges and founding member of RAMC.
America’s community colleges provide a pathway to the middle class at a much lower cost than their four-year counterparts, the coalition points out. Students can complete a professional certificate in one to two semesters for $1,500 to $4,000 or a two-year degree for $7,000 to $8,000. An associate degree in nursing, with training time in a clinical setting, averages $10,000. That’s less than half what students pay at state universities.
In a keynote speech, Lumina’s Jamie Merisotis reaffirmed the foundation’s commitment to its “big goal” of raising the number of Americans with high-value college credentials and degrees from 40 percent now to 60 percent by 2025.
Community colleges . . . can be the exemplars for change in the system as a whole. And change is certainly needed.
Without question, this nation needs a more productive higher-ed system—one that enables institutions to meet each student where he or she is and provide the support each student needs to succeed. We need a system that ensures quality by fostering genuine learning, not mere program completion … a system that truly prepares students for work—and for life—in an increasingly global society.
Such a system would allow students to accumulate credits from different institutions over several years to earn a degree, minimizing waste and duplicative learning. It would acknowledge and credit prior learning—skills developed through work or military service and which often reflect a student’s abilities as well as or even better than earning classroom credit. It would also be far more focused on the needs of students and less on the needs of higher education institutions.
And it’s critically important that the system be designed to serve today’s students—the ever-growing number of low-income, first-generation, minority and adult students who constitute the “real world” on campuses and in classrooms these days. To reach the Big Goal, America needs alltypes of students to succeed, and they must succeed in far greater numbers. That means we need a student-centered system—one that is flexible, accessible, accountable and committed to quality.
Almost all of today’s jobs are high-skilled jobs, Merisotis said.
The foundation wants to increase the percentage of working-age Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60% in 2025 — a goal similar to one set by President Obama in 2009. Obama said he wants the United States to reclaim its position as the world leader in the proportion of college graduates by 2020. If the current pace continues, that figure will reach just 46.5% by 2025, the Lumina report says.
More Americans are earning college credentials: 38.3% of Americans ages 25 to 64 had at least an associate’s degree in 2010, up from 38.1% in 2009 and 37.9% in 2008. For the first time, more than 30 percent of adults have earned a bachelor’s degree or more.
A nation’s economic growth certainly depends on the productivity of its people, but productivity and national prosperity have a limited relationship to higher-education attainment. Some countries with relatively low post-secondary degree attainment rates (e.g. Germany, Switzerland) have very high rates of productivity and prosperity. Some countries with high college degree attainment rates (e.g. Russia) have low productivity and less prosperity. What a nation needs to thrive economically is not necessarily a population where college degrees are commonplace, but a hard-working, ingenious, and versatile workforce.
As more people get college degrees, higher education will “have to conform itself to the abilities of a lot of students who aren’t very bright or ambitious,” Wood writes. The workforce will be flooded with graduates with dubious credentials. The college advantage will “evaporate.”
Community College Spotlight is written by Joanne Jacobs. It provides a forum for discussion and debate about America’s community colleges, which are home to nearly half of all college students in the U.S.
Views expressed on the blog are those of Joanne Jacobs and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The Hechinger Report or the Hechinger Institute. MORE