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.”

Obama budget funds Pell graduation bonuses

President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget includes $7 billion over 10 years to reward colleges that do a good job of graduating Pell Grant recipients, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. The maximum Pell Grant would increase by $100 to $5,830.

The spending plan seeks $4-billion over four years to encourage states to maintain their higher-education spending and adopt performance-based funding models and $6-billion for job-training programs at community colleges. Community colleges would compete for grants to offer training programs and apprenticeships.

The plan partially restores eligibility for Pell Grants to high school dropouts who pass an “ability to benefit” test.

All borrowers would be eligible for Pay as You Earn, which caps monthly payments at 10 percent of discretionary income and forgives borrowers’ remaining debt after 10 to 20 years. Currently, only recent borrowers with no older debt qualify.

Community colleges are concerned about the call to “strengthen academic progress requirements in the Pell Grant program to encourage students to complete their studies on time,” reports Inside Higher Ed. The Education Department can do this at any time without congressional approval.

“This is absolutely something that causes us great concern,” said David Baime, vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.

Under the current rules, Baime said, students effectively have to pass two of every three classes they take in order to satisfy the requirement. “Since the standards were tightened a couple of years ago, we’ve heard concerns from our campuses,” he said, “So anything that would go further in the direction of tightening them is something that we would be looking at carefully.”

The budget request also seeks funds to develop a national college ratings system to “encourage colleges to improve and help students compare the value of colleges.”

Clare McCann has more on EdCentral.

CC leaders question college ratings plan

Dubious about President Obama’s plan to rate colleges’ value, community college leaders grilled U.S. Education officials at the Community College National Legislative Summit, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Linking college ratings to federal aid raises will be challenging, admitted Jeff Appel, a deputy undersecretary of education.

Under Mr. Obama’s plan, colleges that performed well in the ratings would be rewarded with additional federal dollars while colleges that performed poorly would lose some aid. Skeptics fear such a system would punish colleges that serve many low-income and minority students and would encourage open-access institutions to tighten their entrance criteria or dumb down their standards.

More federal dollars could flow to selective colleges with wealthier students said Peter L. Mora, president of Atlantic Cape Community College, in New Jersey.

Pauline T. Jaske, board chair of Waukesha County Technical College, in Wisconsin, suggested that the administration place less emphasis on a college’s graduation rate and more on whether its students achieve the goals they came to college with—transferring to a four-year institution, earning a job promotion, or simply gaining additional skills. “If they reached that goal, that’s a success,” she argued.

Mr. Appel said the department was considering using the results of alumni surveys as a measure in its ratings, saying satisfaction scores could be “potentially useful” to consumers.

Michele Bresso, associate vice president for government relations at Kern County Community College, in California, asked for relief from redundant and sometimes conflicting reporting requirements. 

There may be streamlining opportunities, said Mr. Appel, despite the “triad” of federal, state and accreditor oversight.

The White House plans to release a draft rating system in the spring and publish the first ratings in the 2014-15 academic year. Then the president will ask Congress to link federal aid to the ratings. 

The “ambitious timeline” is troubling, said Karin M. Hilgersom, president of Sullivan County Community College, in New York. She asked how the administration would get results that aren’t “garbage in and garbage out,” given the shortcomings of federal outcomes data.

Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News and designer of its college rankings, also questioned the Obama plan at a federal symposium, reports the Washington Post. Who’s in charge? he asked. How will decisions be reviewed?

How should community colleges be rated when many of their students are not really seeking degrees but instead are aiming for certificates or just taking a couple of random classes? And of those who are seeking degrees, many transfer to four-year schools without getting an associate’s degree. Shouldn’t that be considered a success? If so, how will the government track it?

If outcomes are not properly measured, “things start to get more dicey for community colleges,”said Patrick Perry, a vice chancellor of California’s huge community college system.

Colleges fail older, part-time students

Colleges are failing older students, writes Lila Selim in The Atlantic. She flunked out of college in her sophomore year, cycled through part-time programs and finally earned a degree. That makes her part of the “new majority” of older students. Few can enroll full-time while supporting themselves “and often a child or relative.”

Unfortunately, part-time attendees are set up for failure. Most universities, even community colleges, which are meant to serve just these kinds of students, schedule few classes in the evenings. Administrative offices aren’t open outside of business hours. Online classes, widely touted to adult learners as practical and convenient, are hard to commit to . . .   

Part-timers get very little student aid, Selim writes. Pell Grants cover a small share of college costs and are prorated.  Universities usually reserve scholarships for full-time students. 

The Full Time is 15 initiative is encouraging colleges to provide incentives to students who take 15 credits — not just 12 — per semester. That moves students more quickly to a degree — if they can afford to take that many units. But trying to push adults “into the traditional student model only locks them out of the system, she writes.

Several schools are also pushing programs to make school more conducive to working adults—from things as simple as offering consistent courses at consistent times, so students can plan their next term, to adding prior learning assessment programs, where, for of a fraction of normal tuition cost, a student can create a portfolio displaying academic study related to their previous professional experience.

The 18- to 22-year-old full-time, dorm-dwelling residential college student represents only 15 percent of college enrollees, writes Tressie McMillan Cottom in Slate. President Obama’s college ratings plan has little relevance to working, child-raising adults, she argues. “Their educational choices are often about convenience, geography, and access.”

Older students “may take longer to graduate” and “may need to cobble together credits from several institutions,” Cottom writes. The financial aid system should be redesigned to meet these students’ needs. They’re not “non-traditional.” They’re “typical.”

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.”

Job training vs. art history?

Speaking at a General Electric plant in Wisconsin, President Obama said learning skilled manufacturing or the trades pays as well as earning an art history degree.

Now, nothing wrong with an art history degree — I love art history. (Laughter.) So I don’t want to get a bunch of emails from everybody. (Laughter.) I’m just saying you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education as long as you get the skills and the training that you need. (Applause.)

Hackles were raised, writes Ann Althouse.

Arts education teaches critical thinking, responded Linda Downs, who directs the College Art Association.

Obama is promoting “job-driven training,” which means training for jobs that exist. That does sound like a good idea.

Vice President Joe Biden will lead a review of the many federal job training programs. The Government Accountability Office reviewed federal job training programs in 2011, but perhaps more have been created since then.

Obama touts job training, partnerships

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama proposed improving job training programs and expanding apprenticeships. He highlighted partnerships between community colleges and employers, citing Jackie Bray, a single mother in North Carolina who was laid off from her job as a mechanic.

“Then Siemens opened a gas turbine factory in Charlotte and formed a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College,” Obama said. “The company helped the college design courses in laser and robotics training. It paid Jackie’s tuition, then hired her to help operate their plant. I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity as Jackie did.”

Obama also promised to simplify federal job training programs, echoing a proposal by his Republican rival, Mitt Romney.

“I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people like Jackie have one program, one website and one place to go for all the information and help they need,” the president said.

The White House provided few details on the apprenticeship plan, reports Inside Higher Ed.

There’s nothing new about community colleges partnering with employers on job training, said David S. Baime, senior vice president for government relations and research at the American Association of Community Colleges. “In truth, it’s something they already do week in and week out.”

A “program-by-program review” of federal job training programs, to be led by Vice President Joe Biden, won’t help, said Baime. “The federal job training programs have been reviewed repeatedly, and so more than another review, we need a Workforce Investment Act reauthorization and greatly enhanced funding.”

President Obama didn’t mention his controversial plan to rate colleges by “value.” Instead, he pledged to “give parents more information, and colleges more incentives to offer better value.”

Completion agenda takes off in 2014

Complete College America thinks 2014 will be a “tipping point” for the completion agenda. Twenty-six states are implementing performance funding; 22 states (and the District of Columbia) are trying to accelerate remedial education. In addition, 15 states are deploying “15 to Finish” campaigns and 11 are developing plans for either structured schedules or Guided Pathways to Success.

 The Game Changers report identifies “the five best college completion strategies.”

At the White House summit on expanding college opportunity, 23 Alliance of States members committed to ensuring more remedial education students succeed in gateway math and English courses, writes Bruce Vandal. These “are STATE commitments that have the potential to impact hundreds of thousands of students enrolled at all of the participating states’ public institutions.”

In 2009, President Obama pledged the U.S. would lead the world in college graduates. Much has been learned since then, writes Vandal.

We did not understand that only a fraction of the 50% of all college students who are placed into remedial education each year make it to a college level gateway course, much less pass that course and proceed to a postsecondary credential. Second, in 2009, states and institutions had little idea how to increase success rates in gateway college courses . . .

In 2014, research has shown “corequisite” remediation — placing most students in gateway courses with academic support — can increase success rates dramatically, writes Vandal.

Critics hit elitism of White House summit

The White House higher education summit sidelined community colleges and other institutions serving low-income students, complain critics, reports Katherine Mangan in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Most were excited that the issues they’d long grappled with were taking center stage. But some couldn’t help pointing out that many ideas emerging from the White House summit—targeted scholarships, better test preparation, summer enrichment programs, fast-tracked remedial education—were old news on their campuses, which nonetheless continue to see low completion rates.

More than 100 colleges made the guest list. Only 10 community colleges participated, even though most lower-income college students attend community colleges.

Colleges had to commit to new efforts to serve needy students, said Patricia A. McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University. ”If you’re an institution like us, where 80 percent of the students are eligible for Pell Grants and the median family income is $25,000, there’s hardly any room to do anything new or more than we’re already doing.”

Much of the discussion at the White House meeting was about the phenomenon of “undermatching,” in which many high-achieving, low-income students who would qualify for admission to selective colleges instead end up at institutions that are beneath them academically, and typically have lower graduation rates. More-selective colleges, the thinking goes, tend to offer better support—small classes, tutoring—to students unfamiliar with the demands of college.

Not surprisingly, many educators bristle at the suggestion that the colleges that enroll most of the nation’s low-income and underrepresented students aren’t up to the task.

Achieving the Dream, which focuses on raising community college completion rates, committed to dedicating a day of its annual institute to workshops on helping the least-prepared students. ”While our colleges have been working for a long time to try to improve outcomes, they’ve deepened their commitment in light of the call from the White House,” said Carol A. Lincoln, senior vice president at Achieving the Dream.

College leaders were “inspired” by the summit, reports the Chronicle in another story.

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.”