Aid leader: Link ratings to ‘social responsibility’

Rate colleges on “social responsibility,” said the departing chair of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators at the group’s annual conference. Instead of President Obama’s proposed ratings system, colleges should be recognized for educating low-income students, said Craig Munier, who directs financial aid at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

The plan, which is modeled on the LEED ratings of green buildings, would assign institutions ratings of silver, gold, or platinum based on a calculation that would take the percentage of a college’s undergraduate students who are eligible for Pell Grants, multiply the number by a ratio of credit hours earned to credit hours attempted, and divide it by the institution’s cohort-default rate.

Part of the goal, Mr. Munier said, “is to create a little public embarrassment” for institutions that are not fulfilling their duty to educate needy students. He jokingly called the plan “Craig’s LEED certification on social responsibility.”

Panelist Marcus D. Szymanoski, manager of regulatory affairs at DeVry University, argued for multiple metrics that would recognize that different students have different priorities.

Carnevale: Link loans to value

President Obama’s student loan plan, which limits repayment to 10 percent of the borrower’s disposable income, closes the barn door after the horse is gone, says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, on NPR.  The fundamental question about college debt is whether students are “getting value for money,” says Carnevale.

Are we helping people cope with debts they never should have taken on in the first place?

Students and their parents don’t always think through what they’re spending for college and what they’re likely to get for it, says host Michel Martin.  If students know they’ll only have to pay 10 percent of their income — with the unpaid balance forgiven in 10 to 20 years — might they be tempted to think “it’s not going to be that big of a deal?”

That’s a risk, says Carnevale. If the system isn’t linking loans to long-term earnings, it will continue to be ineffecient.

Ultimately, the taxpayer pays for that as do many of the students who find these loans still overwhelming. That is, it’s not as helpful if you’ve built the loan and it’s going to burden you for a number of years. Just have somebody help you with the burden. The real issue is ensuring that you minimize the burden in the first place by linking value — economic value — to the loan.

The loan policy will help some people, he says. More fundamentally, we need to “ensure the young people know what they’re getting into when they borrow and make sure they’re not borrowing trouble down the road.”

Stop telling 18-year-olds to follow their “passion” — and run up huge debts, writes economist Peter Morici in the Baltimore Sun.

Easy access credit has pushed up college tuition far faster than inflation generally and even health care costs. University presidents are happy to pad bureaucracies and indulge faculty who would rather undertake research than teach, if students can borrow money to pay for it all.

College primarily “is about acquiring skills that have value in the marketplace,” writes Morici.

Borrowing trouble

President Obama’s executive order expanding Pay As You Earn (PAYE) will provide some debt relief to some borrowers, writes Diana Carew, director of the Young American Prosperity Project at the Progressive Policy Institute. But it also will boost subsidies for a “broken higher-education financing model” and reinforce the idea that college attendance is the only postsecondary option.

While everyone needs some form of post-secondary education to earn a living, not everyone needs a bachelor’s degree, writes Carew.

The wage premium for college graduates is growing not because the degree is worth so much more, but because high school diplomas as worth so much less. In fact, real earnings for recent college graduates have been falling over the last decade, and underemployment remains at record highs.

. . . Moreover, the new tools of digital learning — such as online courses — should be driving education costs down, yet tuition continues to climb. That suggests the entire financing model for higher education needs reform. And because there are too few viable pathways into the workforce after high school, our $100 billion per year federal student aid system is channeling people into four-year colleges who may be better suited for less expensive options.

Expanding PAYE may help some borrowers now, but it  almost certainly “will exacerbate the burden on the federal student aid system in the long run, argues Carew. “Borrowers have less incentive to make smart borrowing decisions, or complete in a timely manner. And schools have less incentive to control costs.”

Expanding PAYE “won’t do much to make college more affordable,” writes Clare McCann on The Hill.  It will affect only people who’ve left college and already are eligible for income-based repayment. They must be Direct Loan borrowers — but most pre-2007 borrowers used the now-defunct Federal Family Education Loan program instead.

Few borrowers have opted for income-based repayment so far because the plans are so complex, she writes. “Gimmicks like this one don’t help much — in fact, they make the system even more complex.”

Obama extends 10% cap on loan repayment

Another five million people with student loans will be able to limit payments to 10 percent of their discretionary incomes. Loans will be forgiven in 20 years — or 10 years if they take public-service (government) jobs.

President Obama issued an executive order Monday extending generous repayment terms to more debtors. He also urged Congress to approve a bill to let 25 million borrowers refinance student loans at lower rates.

The biggest winners will be people who took on debt to pay for graduate school, notes the Christian Science Monitor.

All student borrowers – including those 5 million likely to be affected by this change – already had access to some form of income-based repayment, notes Jason Delisle, director of the New America Foundation’s Federal Education Budget Project. Under the previous terms, those who didn’t have access to PAYE (Pay As You Earn) could still do income-based repayment where they paid 15 percent of their incomes, after a $17,500 exemption, and had their debt forgiven after 25 years. In many ways, he says, those terms made much more sense, and were more fair, especially for students borrowing large sums of money to go to grad school, who are very unlikely to be able to pay off their loans in 10 or 20 years even with high incomes.

“Income-based repayment is vital, and it’s important we have it, but it’s very important we get the terms right,” says Mr. Delisle. “The payments are too low and the terms are too short for someone who’s borrowed to go to grad school.”

Burdened with student loan debt, young people can’t buy their first home, Obama said.

That’s saying “we need to help [student loan debtors] with debt so they can go into even more debt”  with a mortgage, Delisle said. Student loans already helped these borrowers consume beyond their means, he said.

Encouraging students to borrow more for college also enables colleges to keep raising tuition.  “It’s dealing with the symptoms and not the disease,” says Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability.

Some low-income, minority and first-generation students think their loans will be forgiven, reports Sophie Quinton on National Journal.

“A lot of students will take out loans because they hear that if you’re in a certain job it gets paid off. That’s not always the case,” says Lauren Ellcessor, 28, a counselor at the Educational Opportunity Center in Norfolk, Va.

. . . “I get the quote: ‘I’m here to get Obama’s plan to get rid of my student loans,’ ” Ellcessor says. It’s not that easy, she tells clients.

Loan forgiveness should be eliminated, argue Brookings’ researchers Beth Akers and Matthew Chingos. It encourages students to borrow more and stick the taxpayers with the bill. Frugality is not rewarded.

Nationwide, student loan debt tops $1 trillion.

Obama: Train solar energy workers

“Building a skilled solar workforce” will be a priority, said President Obama in a speech last month. The Department of Energy’s Solar Instructor Training Network (SITN) “will support training programs at community colleges across the country that will assist 50,000 workers to enter the solar industry by 2020.”

However, solar energy graduates are having trouble finding work, reports the Denver Post.

Hundreds of students intent on finding work in the solar energy industry have graduated from four-month and two-year programs at Red Rocks Community College since 2008.

But finding a permanent job today in the rapidly changing, competitive industry that is heavily influenced by public policy, may require grads to start their own businesses or even look for jobs in other energy businesses.

Most solar companies have only a few employees, said Troy Wanek, who leads Red Rocks’ renewable energy technology department.

“Graduates have found jobs manufacturing solar panels and are also prepared to work as installers,” says Clark Mozer, who directs the Electro-Mechanical and Energy Technology Program at Front Range Community College’s Fort Collins campus. Students learn a “tool box of electrical and mechanical skills.”

Find jobs for “green” graduates has been a problem in Texas, Michigan, Maryland and elsewhere.

Dreams of millions of “green-collar jobs” haven’t come true notes the Wall Street Journal. “Solar employment stood at about 93,000 in 2010. Two years—and a ninefold increase in solar power—later, solar employment had increased just 28%.” Wind power doubled but cut the number of workers.

Colleges rattled by Obama’s rating plans

President Obama’s college rating system has “rattled” college presidents, reports the New York Times. They were “appalled” when a top education official said it would be as easy as evaluating a kitchen appliance.

“It’s like rating a blender,” Jamienne Studley, a deputy under secretary at the Education Department, said to the college presidents after a meeting in the department’s Washington headquarters in November, according to several who were present. “This is not so hard to get your mind around.”

The rating system is in fact a radical new effort by the federal government to hold America’s 7,000 colleges and universities accountable by injecting the executive branch into the business of helping prospective students weigh collegiate pros and cons.

The “entire higher education system from elite private institutions to large state universities to community colleges” is worried the ratings will be simplistic and misleading, reports the Times. President Obama wants Congress to use the ratings to allocate the billions in federal student loans and grants.

Community colleges, which admit many poorly prepared students, are very afraid their challenges will be ignored. Federal data doesn’t track part-time and returning students. Students who transfer to a university before earning an associate degree may be counted as dropouts. College leaders “predicted that institutions that serve minority and low-income students, many of whom come from underfunded schools and have had less college preparation, would rank lowest in a new rating system, hurting the very populations the president says he wants to help,” reports the Times.

“Applying a sledgehammer to the whole system isn’t going to work,” said Robert G. Templin Jr., the president of Northern Virginia Community College. “They think their vision of higher education is the only one.”

Colleges and universities will be rated based on factors such as “how many of their students graduate, how much debt their students accumulate and how much money their students earn after graduating.”

Liberal arts colleges may do poorly compared with engineering schools. Colleges with “large numbers of students who major in programs like theater arts, social work or education, disciplines that do not typically lead to lucrative jobs” may rate poorly.

The system will “thoughtfully measure indicators like earnings, to avoid overemphasizing income or first jobs, penalizing relatively lower paid and public service careers, or minimizing the less tangible benefits of a college education,” wrote Studley in blog post on the Education Department website.

Not all apprenticeships are equal

Apprenticeships are hot, but not all lead to middle-class jobs, writes Mark Schneider on The Quick and the Ed.

Last month, President Obama announced a $100 million fund to support apprenticeship programs in fields such as information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing. For all the praise of apprenticeships, the number enrolled is much lower than 10 years ago. Completions are down from 52,000 in 2002 to 44,000 today.

The White House says that 87 percent of apprentices find jobs that average more than $50,000 a year in pay. This is an exaggeration, according to Florida data. The median wage is $37,252 for registered apprentices, who typically study at a community or technical college.


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Graduates with an associate degree in science earn the most, with the associate in applied science coming second and apprentices a close third.  Graduates with a bachelor’s degree start at only $33,652. 

Starting wages are much higher for apprentices in jobs that “keep things working” than for those in cooking and early childhood education. Elevator construction mechanics start at $67,565.


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“The best training is on-the-job training,” says Linda Poage, program manager at the Apprenticeship and Journeyman Training Center at Spokane Community College. Community College Daily looks at existing college-linked apprenticeship programs and plans for expansion with new federal dollars.

Obama touts job training, but where’s the money?

President Obama’s “rhetorical support for vocational training” hasn’t been matched with money, writes Avi Yashchin, CEO of CleanEdison, a vocational education company. In 2012 the federal government spent more than $166 billion on aid and $14 billion on tax benefits, but only $1 billion on vocational education.

Rejuvenating vocational education and skill-specific certificate programs would do more for students than subsidizing bachelor’s degrees, Yashchin writes. But vocational education still has a stigma.

There is a perceived distinction between preparing students to be career-ready, with employable skills, and preparing them to be global, well-rounded citizens, with critical thinking skills — but the two are not actually mutually exclusive. We must convey to both rising students and displaced workers that, to the contrary, many vocational training programs lead to sophisticated work, rather than dirty, mind-numbing labor, as was the case 30 years ago. Today’s technical jobs require not only hands-on skills, but also the ability to troubleshoot, adapt, innovate, synthesize data, and communicate effectively.

The career-apprenticeship model lets students divide their time between the classroom and the workforce. They learn theoretical and practical skills.

Studies have shown that high school students who graduate from these programs earn, on average, 11 percent more than their counterparts who end up in the same field.

Apprenticeships work with industry-recognized certification to make young people highly employable.

Government must provide funding to allow schools to purchase state-of-the art equipment, writes Yashchin. Businesses must hire and train apprentices. “And finally, parents and society at large must recognize that the jobs that vocational education lead to today are both well-paying and rewarding.”

Obama: ‘Take a job-driven approach’

Apprenticeships and employer-sponsored job training will prepare young people for middle-class jobs, President Obama said last week at a Pittsburgh community college. 

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited Community College of Allegheny County last week to announce $500 million for community college job-training programs and $100 million for apprenticeship grants. The money is the last installment of funding approved in 2009.

“In today’s economy it has never been more important to make sure that our folks are trained for the jobs that are there and the jobs of the future,” Obama said. “We have to move away from a train and pray approach. We train them and we pray that they get a job.” Instead, “we need to take a job-driven approach,” the president said.

The president and vice president toured CCAC and met with “mechatronics” students preparing for manufacturing jobs. Mechatronics “sounds like something Godzilla would be fighting,” Obama joked.

Community colleges will compete for the job training grants by partnering with industry associations and employers. “This competition will focus, in part, on partnerships that create programs in high-growth fields, such as information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing, as well as programs that provide college credit or industry-wide skills certification,” reports U.S. News.

Job training has been “ignored by policymakers,” except when it’s criticized for being ineffective, writes Fawn Johnson on National Journal.  Now the White House hopes to get employers help design community college training and expand their own on-the-job training programs.

College heads resist federal ratings

College presidents “agree that their institutions should be reporting much more information about the career and other outcomes of their graduates,” but they’re wary of federal involvement,  according to Inside Higher Ed‘s new survey of college presidents.

Three-quarters of presidents say their institutions should be reporting the debt levels, job placement rates and graduate school enrollment rates of recent graduates, for instance (though fewer say they are doing so now). But just half of campus leaders agree that it is “appropriate for the federal government to collect and publish data on career and other outcomes of college graduates” (with public and for-profit college leaders much more likely to say so than their private nonprofit peers), and just 13 percent believe the government has a “good chance” of collecting such data accurately.

Higher education leaders aren’t happy about President Obama’s plans to create a federal ratings system of “college value,” notes Inside Higher Ed.

In  a poll of college presidents late last year, only 2 percent plan believed the ratings plan would be “very effective” at making higher education affordable.

Only a third of private non-profit college leaders.think it’s appropriate for the government to collect and publish outcomes data. By contrast, more than 60 percent of community college, public university and for-profit college leaders accept a federal role.

Few in any sector believed the federal government will do a good job of tracking higher ed outcomes.

Asked if the government has a “good chance” of collecting and reporting accurately on higher education outcomes, 9 percent of private nonprofit presidents (on the low end) and 16 percent of public university leaders (on the high end) answered positively.

We need college ratings aimed at the 85 percent of students who go to unselective or less-selective institutions, writes Carrie Warick of National College Access Network.

. . . prospective college students need to know not just about accessibility/selectivity (average GPA, SAT/ACT scores), but also about affordability (net price by income tier, average student loan debt, ability to repay loans) and accountability (graduation rates by race and by income). The information should be sortable by location (to aid place-bound students) and by institution type (two-year, four-year, public, private) for students to compare side by side.

. . . we must change the federal calculation of graduation rates as soon as possible to account for part-time and transfer students, and we must collect and report institutional Pell Grant recipient graduation rates as part of the federal data system (IPEDS). Over the long term, we should also find a valid way to assess workforce outcomes for students.

Get the system up and running quickly, writes Warick. Then “we can turn to the more complex and politically difficult question of how to use federal financial aid dollars to incentivize better institutional outcomes.”