Community college leaders are trying to double the number of graduates by 2020 to meet President Obama’s targets. It’s not easy, writes Stacy Collett in Community College Journal.
For administrators at Harper College in Illinois, 10,604 is the magic number—it’s the college’s share of the 5 million additional community college graduates President Obama challenged the nation’s two-year career and technical institutions to contribute to the economy by 2020. (That’s in addition to the college’s current trajectory of 21,000 credentialed students by 2020.)
Harper started by reaching out to students who were a few credits short of an associate degree. Some already had earned those credits at other institutions; others just needed a few classes. Now that the low-hanging fruit has been picked, raising the number of graduates will get harder.
“Many people working in community colleges still do not understand how abysmal our graduation rates or our student retention rates or course completion rates are,” says Angela Oriano, associate director at the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) at the University of Texas at Austin.
Completion rates are up 125 percent at Snead State Community College (SSCC) in Alabama since it started a campaign encouraging students to “finish what you start.” The college redesigned orientation, eliminated unneeded requirements, such as speech and computer training, and even dropped a $15″cap and gown” fee.
When Cindy Miles became chancellor at California’s Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District (GCCCD) in 2009, a dismal 3 percent of the 4,000 freshmen who entered the college in 2006 had earned a degree, yet 1,900 had successfully transferred to a four-year university by 2009.
“High numbers of transfer students who come to us don’t care if they get that degree,” Miles explains. “We’re trying to ascertain what the student’s version of success is, and we’re now trying to show value in the associate degree before they transfer.”
Four-year graduation rates are much higher for students who transfer with an associate degree.
The Roadmap Project at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in Pennsylvania helps students plan their college career and understand all the support services available. The first-year experience initiative includes mandatory orientation and success seminars, help from a success coach and access to walk-in “math cafés” staffed by faculty volunteers.
Streamlining federal aid to laid-off workers will help build the nation’s skills infrastructure, Seth Harris, acting secretary of Labor, told the board of directors of the American Association of Community Colleges at its annual convention.
In his fiscal year 2014 budget, President Obama proposed a Universal Displaced Worker (UDW) program, which consolidates two job retraining programs.
Right now, displaced workers have access to one of two programs to get them back on the job, but the services and benefits they receive vary greatly depending on how and why their jobs were lost. If your job was lost due to foreign trade, you have access to Trade Adjustment Assistance—an effective suite of training programs, relocation benefits, and wage subsidies for older workers.
But if you are one of the millions who lost a job for other reasons, you would access the Workforce Investment Act’s Dislocated Worker program, which provides fewer benefits that are available only on a first come, first serve basis.
UDW offers the same services, including up to $8,000 in training vouchers, to all laid-off workers, no matter how they lost their jobs.
The U.S. Education Department will rewrite “gainful employment” regulations fought bitterly by for-profit colleges, according to a notice published in the Federal Register. The department plans to use “negotiated rule-making” to move forward its agenda on college aid and affordability, substituting regulation for legislation, notes Inside Higher Ed.
The traditional venue for enacting long-term changes to help students afford, attend and graduate from college would be the Higher Education Act, the massive law governing federal financial aid programs that is periodically rewritten to account for changing times or to pursue new policy goals.
Usually, negotiated rule-making comes after the revised act is signed into law, to wrangle with details and write more precise regulations to put a legislative vision into practice. The Education Department convenes a panel of stakeholders — representing different sectors of higher education as well as some advocacy groups — to hammer out new regulations for colleges to follow.
The Obama administration has proposed expanding Perkins Loans and federal work-study to reward colleges that offer “good value” by keeping cost-per-degree numbers down. However, spending more will require legislation.
The department used “negotiated rule-making” to write the “gainful employment” rule, which was partially overturned in court last year.
Congress members are pushing back. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., Rep. Virginia Fox, R-N.C., and several Democratic representatives sent a letter urging Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to “abandon these harmful regulations and instead work with Congress to strengthen the nation’s higher education system through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.“
President Obama’s proposed change to student loan interest rates means today’s college students would save money but future students could pay much higher rates, reports Inside Higher Ed. The change, part of the president’s budget plan, would tie student loan interest rates to the government’s cost of borrowing. Right now, that’s very low. But if the economy improves, interest rates are expected to rise.
If Obama’s plan had gone into effect in 1990, “many students would have been looking at 10 or 11 percent interest at several points in the recent past, points out Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic.
Student groups criticized the interest rate plan, reports Inside Higher Ed. “Without a cap, this proposal falls far short of the comprehensive reform to student loans that we need,” five groups representing young voters — the National Campus Leadership Council, Rock the Vote, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Young Invincibles and Our Time — said in a combined statement. “Students have never taken out federal student loans without a cap on how high interest can go.”
The change in student loan interest rates is likely to become law, since it resembles a Senate Republican proposal, according to Inside Higher Ed. Other proposals are long shots.
. . . much of the budget — particularly proposals that call for new federal spending — is a politically symbolic wish list of ideas with little chance of becoming law: $8 billion in new money for community colleges from the Education and Labor Departments; a $150 million expansion to federal work-study; and $1 billion for a new competition among states to improve public higher education, among others. Obama proposed increasing discretionary spending on the Education Department by 4.6 percent over all, and increasing the maximum Pell Grant to $5,785 for the 2014-15 academic year.
The budget plan calls for supporting development of “third-party validation systems” for competency-based learning and ways to fund programs with good student outcomes, regardless of accreditation.
A Republican bill to streamline federal job training programs passed the House last week, but the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act faces strong opposition from congressional Democrats and the Obama administration. Both complain the bill doesn’t guarantee that low-income people are first in line for job training.
House GOP leaders promoted the SKILLS Act, which would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), in a visit to the automotive skills training program at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), reports Community College Times.
The SKILLS Act would eliminate or streamline 35 “ineffective and duplicative programs,” according to GOP leaders, and create a flexible WIA fund to serve as a single source of support for workers, employers and job seekers. Democrats, however, are concerned that would mean less funding for job training at a time when more is needed.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), a former president of Mayland Community College in North Carolina, said the SKILLS Act would “unravel the complicated mess” that the American workforce development system has become and streamline it.
Noting that the nation is spending $18 billion on these programs, Fox said the SKILLS Act can achieve better results with less money. Providing more control at the local level is “extraordinarily important,” she said, because “the suits in Washington” don’t understand local needs.
Only 14 percent of would-be workers receive the job training they need, said Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce and a co-sponsor. People get “lost in the maze,” he said. “Our bill empowers community colleges to get people the skills they need to go to work,” he said.
Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), formerly an executive at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, said the SKILLS Act would let local workforce investment boards (WIBs) funnel more funding to “priority providers,” such as community colleges. Local boards could contract with community colleges to provide training to large groups of participants rather than funding individual job seekers.
The American Association of Community Colleges supports greater flexibility, but is concerned about some provisions, wrote President Walter Bumphus in a letter to Kline and Foxx. The letter was co-signed by the Association for Community College Trustees. Both groups called for prioritizing training for low-income people.
On 11D, Laura McKenna advises people considering postsecondary education: “Don’t get an AA degree anywhere but at a super cheap community college . . . live at home, and get a part time job.”
She adds: Don’t get a degree in a profession that doesn’t require a degree. “You don’t need an AA degree in party planning” to be a party planner.
For those going for a bachelor’s degree, don’t borrow more than $15,000, try to finish in four years and “don’t choose a school based on the college atmosphere,” writes McKenna, a former political science professor.
President Obama’s College Scorecard is “a little buggy,” but may help those who can’t spot a rip-off, she writes.
Work for a year before starting college, adds Megan McCardle on The Daily Beast. “You’ll get much more out of the experience, and you won’t need to borrow as much.”
As an English major who went to graduate school, McCardle advises: “Don’t major in English or history. It’s getting hard to overcome a poor major choice by going to grad school.”
Both warn against investing time and money in low-value master’s degrees and PhDs.
A math professor who told students to sign pledges to vote for President Obama’s re-election should be fired, President James Richey advised the Brevard Community College Board of Trustees.
Sharon Sweet, an associate professor of mathematics with tenure at the Florida college, is “guilty of electioneering, harassment, and incompetence,” concluded a report based on a three-month investigation.
“Professor Sweet strongly encouraged or mandated that students from several classes sign a pledge card that stated, ‘I pledge to vote for President Obama and Democrats up and down the ticket.’ She also misrepresented her intentions to multiple students, indicating at various times that she was conducting voter registration for the college, that the pledge cards were non-partisan voter registration forms, and that the pledge was a ‘statistical analysis.’”
Sweet created a hostile environment for students, who told investigators they feared she’d lower their grades if they refused to sign the pledge.
In the State of the Union speech, President Obama promised to control college costs and provide a College Scorecard to help students and parents compare costs, graduation rates and loan repayments for any college or university. Some of the data is old and most has been available from other sources, reports the New York Times.
Further, the information is presented as averages and medians that might have little relevance to individual families. The scorecard does connect to each institution’s net price calculator, which allows individualized cost estimates, but it does not provide side-by-side comparisons of multiple schools, as other government sites do.
Meanwhile the Gates Foundation’s Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project is generating more ideas.
In Aligning the Means and the Ends, The Institute for College Access & Success calls for doubling the maximum Pell Grant and giving students 7 1/2 years to complete a degree. Colleges should be rewarded for serving low-income students, TICAS urges. In addition, the white paper recommends:
• Use IRS data to simplify financial aid applications
• Combine income-based loan repayment programs into one plan that assures borrowers of manageable payments and forgiveness after 20 years.
• Eliminate higher education tax benefits and use the savings for Pell Grants and incentives for states and colleges to educate low-income students.
“For students who are willing to study, work, or serve their communities, the federal and state governments, along with their institutions, should make sure they can afford to go to college without the fear of crushing student loan debt,” argues the Education Trust in Doing Away With Debt. the Education Trust.
By taking the federal resources we already spend on higher education and focusing them like a laser on reducing college costs for families with incomes below $115,000 a year (the bottom 80 percent) — providing debt-free education to those below $50,000 (the bottom 40 percent) and no-interest loans with income-based repayment to the rest — we can do much to solve this critical problem without adding to the overall cost of federal student aid.
National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ policy brief discusses reforming student loans, improving consumer information, “rethinking entitlement and professional judgment and ensuring that colleges and students have “skin in the game.”
Alan Aleman, a Mexico-born “Dream” student was among Michelle Obama’s guests for the State of the Union address. Aleman, a student at the College of Southern Nevada, was one of the first in Nevada to sign up for deferred action for undocumented youth, which includes a renewable work permit. Aleman hopes to join the Air Force and become a doctor.
High schools should put “our kids on a path to a good job,” said President Obama in the State of the Union speech.
Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.
. . . Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.
Many high schools offer “dual enrollment” courses that let students earn college credits — usually through a local community college — while completing high school. Moving to a German-style apprenticeship system, which explicitly prepares students for skilled jobs, not for higher education, will take a lot more than money. It will take a major attitude change from college for all to competency for all. (Competency for most?) President Obama, whose administration cut funds for career tech programs, could lead the way.
Despite high unemployment, some 600,000 jobs in advanced manufacturing and other high-tech fields are unfilled for lack of qualified workers, testified Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Chicago is trying to fill the skills gap.
Five high schools in the Chicago Public Schools district, including Corliss High School, Chicago Vocational Career Academy, and Lake View High School, began offering career-training tracks in September. The vocational programs are aligned with the needs of area businesses such as IBM, Motorola, and Verizon, which each partnered with a school to design alternative curricula, according to the CPS Website.
. . . Students enrolled in the program can earn a technical certification and credit toward an associate degree from City Colleges of Chicago, along with a high school diploma.
Two-year technical pathways can lead to lucrative careers, notes U.S. News. “Electrical engineering technicians earn a median salary of about $56,000 with an associate degree, and the median pay for nuclear technicians is roughly $68,000 with an associate’s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Radiology technicians also earn high salaries with a two-year degree.