Despite President Obama’s call for more college graduates, only 54 percent of students earn a two- or four-year degree in six years, reports the National Student Clearinghouse. The graduation rate is nearly flat, notes the Hechinger Report.
However, community colleges raised the six-year completion rate by 1.1 percentage points to 37.4 percent. That includes the 9 percent who earned a degree after transferring to four-year institutions.
Graduation rates also inched up for students who started at public universities in 2007.
While 76 percent of full-time students earned a degree, only 22 percent of part-timers graduated in six years with another 11 percent still enrolled.
The National Student Clearinghouse’s full report, due in December, will include college students who earned credits in high school through dual enrollment programs.
Gainful employment regulations aim to ensure that career programs don’t leave students jobless and in debt, writes the New America Foundation’s Ben Miller in Improving Gainful Employment. The Obama administration’s new proposal is simpler and stronger than the one invalidated by a judge in 2012, he writes. But it still has loopholes.
In addition to measuring students’ debt-to-earnings ratio, Miller suggests three performance tests. Students would have to pay down their loans, no more than a third of students could withdraw in a year and the average graduate would have to earn at least as much as a full-time minimum-wage worker.
Career programs that can’t meet these standards — or have graduates with too much debt compared to their incomes — would risk losing eligibility for federal student aid.
Career programs need to focus on all their students — dropouts as well as graduates — Miller argues.
Furthermore, it’s not enough for programs to show low student debt if students also have low earnings, he writes: “Students are also spending billions in federal grant aid and arguably an even more precious resource, their time. They should expect better than living in or near poverty after completing a postsecondary program.”
Community college students typically don’t borrow — or don’t borrow very much — to pursue a vocational credential. But some don’t earn much either. Community colleges also have high dropout rates.
Gainful employment rules will hit high-cost for-profit colleges the hardest, but they also apply to nonprofit colleges that provide job training.
A federal college ratings system could penalize open-access institutions and hurt disadvantaged students, said participants in a public forum in southern California. The U.S. Education Department plans three more forums to solicit feedback on President Obama’s ratings plan, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Community colleges can’t be rated fairly, several speakers said. State performance models make more sense than developing a new federal metric, said Thomas Fallo, the superintendent/president of El Camino Community College District in the Los Angeles area.
Audrey Dow, community affairs director at Campaign for College Opportunity, . . . expressed concern that underprivileged students would be denied access to education if they were to live in a community where local colleges performed poorly in the ratings system and they therefore received less federal aid. The administration plans to ultimately persuade Congress to link its rating system to federal funding starting in 2018.
David Levitus, the California deputy director of Young Invincibles , a student advocacy group, cautioned against ratings metrics that reduce incentives for institutions to enroll disadvantaged students. He said a recent move to performance-based funding in Ohio largely punished institutions that enroll low-income students.
The ratings will compare colleges with similar missions that serve similar students, said Deputy Under Secretary Jamienne Studley. “We take very seriously” the concerns about access for low-income students, she said.
The department plans to release a draft proposal in the spring.
Without better data, a ratings system could do more harm than good, warns Matthew M. Chingos on Brookings’ Chalkboard blog.
Clare McCann of the New American Foundation has described the significant limitations of existing data on colleges, such as the omission of part-time students from graduation rate data and the federal ban on linking student-level data across different sources, as the “elephant in the room” of the White House plan.
The best measure of whether a college is adding value is to look at the quality of entering students, Chingos writes. SAT and ACT scores are an imperfect measure. And students at community colleges don’t take the SAT or ACT.
A high-quality ratings system will require high-quality data, he writes. That will include “a radical overhaul of IPEDS, measures of college readiness, data that drill down from the campus level to the program level, and a creative strategy to link college graduates to their labor market outcomes.” It won’t happen in 2014.
President Obama’s visit to Brooklyn’s P-Tech spotlighted the idea of combining high school, community college and job training, reports the New York Times. After six years at P-Tech, graduates are “first in line” for jobs at IBM, which helped create the school. Some have earned an associate degree.
Is P-Tech the wave of the future? asks the Times‘ Room for Debate blog.
Very few U.S. students attend “high-quality vocational programs tightly aligned with industry needs,” she writes.
In Switzerland, Norway and Denmark, vocational students spend half to three-quarters of their schooling in work placements.
That kind of vivid experience helps kids see into the future; they can connect the dots between what they are doing in school and how interesting their lives can be.
. . America abandoned vocational high schools for good reason, decades ago: too many were second-rate warehouses for minority and low-income kids. But now that all decent jobs require higher-order skills, there’s an opportunity to get this right. American employers want higher-order skills, and American teenagers want more interesting work. The sooner they get together, the better.
“Aiming at a moving target like the job market is dangerously short-sighted,” warns Zachary Hamed, a computer science student at Harvard.
IBM’s Stan Litow calls for P-Tech-like options for students on the Shanker Blog.
“Young people who enter the workforce with only a high school diploma are expected to earn no more than $15 per hour, and many will earn less,” he writes. Yet only 25 percent of high school graduates who enroll in community college complete a degree in six years.
IBM analyzed a community college freshman class. “Nearly 100 percent of community college freshmen who required two remedial courses—with one of them being math—failed to complete even one postsecondary semester,” Litow writes. A majority of these students dropped out of college within two months.
President Obama’s plan to control college costs is heading in the wrong direction, writes Sara Goldrick-Rab on the Education Optimists. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has taken the lead on the planning, which means “yet another quasi-market solution that fails to grapple with the real problems.”
The current financial system hinges on the actions of students, prioritizing their consumer choice in the hopes that those choices will be well made. It assumes that any problems with schools will be resolved by students turning away from them. But this assumption is deeply flawed, not only because students do not (and cannot, and will not) make informed choices, but also because a segment of selective schools (and states) have manipulated aid policy for so long that the incentives are now distorted and they can do whatever they wish. And what they want is to maximize their own interests, which are rarely aligned with those of their students. So the problem, in other words, is really the behavior of schools and states. Yes, students and families are an issue too, but their lack of information is just a fraction of the overall college cost problem.
Creating a ratings system for colleges and universities won’t help, Goldrick-Rab writes. Student choice is limited by “finances, family and geography.” If a local community college is “bad,” most students have no choice but to attend anyhow. If it closes, they may be forced to try a high-price for-profit institution.
A college ratings system is a waste of money, she writes. The Scorecard and Navigator sites “aren’t used or demonstrably effective,” and this will be no better. (Both Scorecard and Navigator were shut down when federal government furloughed “nonessential” staff. You’d think they could run automatically.)
Tying Title IV financial aid to institutional performance makes sense, writes Goldrick-Rab. Instead of turning to Duncan, Obama should rely on “experts who’ve crafted nuanced accountability systems with anti-creaming provisions.”
We can’t afford to make every institution Title IV eligible, she argues. Private colleges should have to re-compete for eligibility:
(a) the selective, elite private non-profits whose admissions criteria mean they do not serve any kind of public good while they establish “standards” for college quality that are conflated with great expense, and
(b) the for-profit institutions that set their tuition according the availability of federal aid.
President Obama should put public funds into public institutions of higher education, Goldrick-Rab argues. Funding them well will decrease students’ time to degree and raise the quality of instruction.
Next, create accountability metrics intended to lower costs and open access at the private non-profits (else cut them out of Title IV), and to lower costs and increase completion rates at the for-profits (again, or else they’re out).
The community colleges will “do their jobs better by having a decent amount of money to spend,” Goldrick-Rab concludes.
President Obama’s plan to rate colleges is “yet another mistaken attempt . . . to alleviate some of the symptoms of a problem without actually addressing the underlying disease,” writes Erika Johnsen. The other part of the plan – promoting income-based repayment – will make the disease worse.
The “easy, cheap and indiscriminate availability of student loans ” juices demand and helps universities raise their prices, writes Johnsen. The Obama administration keeps sending out “signals about how ‘easy’ it will be to repay these huge loans after you graduate with a little help from Your Friend, The Federal Government.”
“We’re going to encourage more colleges to innovate, try new things, do things that can provide a great education without breaking the bank,” President Obama told college students in Scranton, Pennsylvania. “For example, a number of colleges across the country are using online education to save time and money for their students.”
That same day, Altius Education, an innovator in online education, learned it is under federal investigation, reports Matthew Zeitlin on BuzzFeed. The Justice Department “did not respond to an inquiry about the details of the investigation.”
The notice was the culmination of a more than two-year battle between Altius and the Higher Learning Commission, one of two members of the 118-year-old North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which controls accreditation — the vital credential that gives college degrees value — for over 1,000 colleges and universities in 19 states. The HLC’s university backers have an obvious interest in avoiding the sort of low-cost competition that reformers, and now the president, seek.
“It struck me as highly ironic and deeply frustrating that we were trying to do exactly what Obama describes what the market needs and yet we’re getting resistance from his administration,” said Paul Freedman, who started Altius in 2004.
Altius partnered with Tiffin University, a small private college in Ohio to create Ivy Bridge College, which offered Tiffin associate degrees to online students planning to transfer to four-year institutions. Tiffin controlled the academics, while Altius handled marketing, technology and student services such as “personal success coaches.”
Students paid just below $10,000 a year, on average, much of it covered by federal student loans. About two-thirds transferred to two- or four-year institutions, the program’s goal.
In 2012, Ivy Bridge won a Next Generations Learning Challenges funded by the Gates Foundation.
In a 2010 accreditation review, the HLC said Ivy Bridge furthered the university’s mission and was ”an excellent strategic initiative” that “addresses an underserved population through a strong curriculum . . . and a very good online portal for program delivery.”
All that changed in late 2011. Tiffin told HLC that Ivy Bridge planned to apply for independent accreditation and become Altius University. The commission and its president, Sylvia Manning, saw “another for-profit university gaming the system,” writes Zeitlin.
Manning had launched a crusade against what she viewed as suspect partnerships between traditional universities and for-profit upstarts, and instituted new rules in 2010 to require further HLC approval of agreements between accredited schools and for-profit companies that substantially changed the nature of the school.
In a report obtained by BuzzFeed, the HLC took steps toward shutting down the experimental arrangement precisely because “student body, faculty and educational programs are not like the structures” on the campus of the brick-and-mortar university that was its partner. This difference was the entire point of Ivy Bridge, and is at the heart of Obama’s proposals.
HLC complained that Ivy Bridge had a one-year retention rate of 25 percent, “notably poor even for 2-year students.”
Ivy Bridge’s five-year graduation rate is 31 percent, compared to 18.3 percent for Ohio community colleges,according to Altius and Tiffin. The graduation-and-transfer rate — transfer is the goal for most students — is 64.1 percent, compared with 42.1 percent at community colleges.
Here’s the Ivy Bridge timeline of events.
In calling for innovation in higher education, President Obama praised awarding college credit based on learning rather than “seat time.” Competency-based education lets students “learn material faster, pay less and save money.”
That’s true, writes Deb Bushway, chief academic officer of Capella University, in an Inside Higher Ed essay. However, federal financial aid — built around credit hours — will need to change.
. . . requirements around weeks of instructional time simply do not work with a direct assessment model that focuses on what the student is learning, not the number of weeks it takes them to do so. Additionally, an examination of artificial, time-based barriers to completion highlights the need to reinstate year-round Pell Grant funding and explore the elimination of annual loan limits. The current funding rules around both the Pell Grant program and the Stafford Loan program prevent ambitious students from moving more quickly through their programs and increase the likelihood that students will have to pause their education for a term or more in order to gain additional aid eligibility.
Capella was the first university to receive U.S. Department of Education approval to offer competency-based bachelor’s- and master’s-degree programs, Bushway notes.
President Obama’s higher education plan praises performance funding in Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee, but two new Community College Research Center (CCRC) studies find “little evidence that performance funding improves student success,” says researcher Kevin Dougherty. “It remains very much in the experimental stage.”
Envisioning Performance Funding Impacts and Performance Funding for Higher Education look at Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee, which have tied substantial higher education funding to student success measures, such as retention and graduation rates.
. . . in states where funding for public colleges and universities is tied to student performance, colleges struggle to pinpoint the causes of poor student outcomes, develop and implement meaningful solutions, and track whether the solutions are improving student success. Additionally, performance funding has the potential to produce strong negative side effects, such as lowered standards, decreased access for at-risk students, and a weakened faculty voice.
“State policymakers tend to assume that if there is enough money on the table, schools will figure out how to get retention and graduation numbers up,” Dougherty says.
But colleges need help to research their problems and find solutions. Without that, there’s a risk they’ll improve their numbers by restricting access and lowering expectations. Performance funding plans should include “financial incentives for enrolling at-risk students and systems to track whether colleges are keeping up academic standards,” Dougherty advises.
While President Obama focuses on sending more young people to college, “apprenticeships and other pathways to rewarding careers are more cost-effective for millions of young people,” argue Robert Lerman, an American University economics professor, and Nicholas Wyman, founder of The Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation, on PBS NewsHour.
Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images.
Two out of every five young adults are unemployed, yet employers can’t find “machinists, computer numerical controllers, electricians, welders, healthcare technicians” and other workers with “middle skills,” Lerman and Wyman write. The idea that everyone should pursue a bachelor’s degree has created a skills gap.
They see encouraging signs:
In New York City, for example, ‘P-Tech’ school, a collaboration involving IBM, the City’s Education Department and CUNY, is providing a STEM oriented, grades 9-to-14 curriculum with work-based learning that leads to a high school diploma and an associates degree. P-Tech’s aim is to turn out graduates with the skills they need to step directly into solid, good paying technical jobs–or to go on the higher learning with great confidence of success.
South Carolina is strengthening career tech, developing first-rate technical colleges and boosting apprenticeships.
In Pickens County, which is part of Appalachia, the closure of cotton mills and textile plants has depressed incomes and expectations.
Yet the county’s K-12 school system is confidently preparing young people for decent careers. It begins in grammar school where children receive hands-on experience with STEM concepts and problem solving. It continues at the district’s state-of-the-art Career & Technical Center, where vocationally-oriented high school students have access to industry-experienced teachers and to the machine tools, computers, robotic systems, and other equipment they will encounter in the most modern workplaces. School leaders and teachers have also overturned the long-standing perception of parents and students that the Career & Tech Center is for low-achievers. Entry to the Center’s ‘Technician Scholar’ program is by application only; kids with low GPAs and bad attitudes need not apply. It’s now cool to be a “Scholar Technician.”
Local employers collaborate with superintendents, sending their managers and technicians to work with teachers and mentor promising students.
Apprenticeship Carolina, a state program, helps employers start apprenticeships programs and coordinates with local technical colleges. Since its 2007 start, apprenticeships have increased six-fold in the state.
Students with different goals need different skills, Lerman argues. “High schools fail so many kids partly because educators can’t get free of the notion that all students — regardless of their career aspirations — need the same basic preparation. As states pile on academic courses, they give less attention to the arts and downplay career and technical education to make way for a double portion of math.”