Unless California helps low-income parents learn basic skills, train for jobs and pursue higher education, the state’s prosperity is at risk, concludes Working Hard, Left Behind. The Campaign for College Opportunity, the Women’s Foundation of California and Working Poor Families project collaborated on the report.
California leads the nation in low-income working adults and in poorly educated adults. More than 1 out of 10 adults over 24 years of age have less than a ninth-grade education; nearly 1 in 5 adults didn’t complete high school.
The state will be 2.3 million vocational certificate, two-year and four-year degree graduates short of meeting the needs of the state economy by 2025, the report estimates.
“This is an alarming gap,” said Michele Siqueiros, the campaign’s executive director. “On one hand, we have millions of hard-working, low-income adults who have limited chances of upward mobility because of obstacles to higher education access and completion. On the other hand, thousands of companies are seeking well-skilled and highly trained workers.”
California needs to create a “public agenda for higher education that sets clear goals for preparing high school students for college, transitioning adult students into postsecondary education and the workforce, increasing the number of certificate and degree completions, while monitoring progress toward those goals, and aligning policies and budgets needed to reach them,” the report recommends.
It calls for improving coordination between high schools, adult education, community colleges and four-year universities and tracking low-income students’ progress as they move from one education system to another.
Non-traditional students need better access to financial aid and access to counseling and child care, Working Hard, Left Behind concludes. In 2009-10, only a third of the state’s community college students applied for a Pell Grant, leaving an estimated $500 million in aid unclaimed.
Gov. Jerry Brown wants to community colleges to take over adult education, but his plan is on hold in the Legislature, reports EdSource. Currently, K-12 districts spend less than $300 million on adult schools, down from $634 million before the recession. Courses include literacy, English as a Second Language, citizenship, parenting, vocational education and GED and high school diploma courses. Brown proposes $300 million in state funding for adult ed at community colleges.
Pell spending declined slightly halfway through 2012-13, reports the American Association of Community Colleges. Grants cost $16.6 billion compared to $16.7 billion the year before and $17 billion in 2010-11.
Fall enrollments declined by 3.1 percent at community colleges, while Pell recipients were down 7.2 percent, AACC estimates. Total Pell Grant funding for community college students fell by $358 million.
There was little change in enrollment or Pell use at public and private four-year institutions, but for-profit four-year enrollment fell by 7.2 percent and the number of Pell recipients went down by 7.9 percent.
More students are trying to earn vocational certificates, but most don’t qualify for federal student aid, reports the New York Times. Federal aid “goes overwhelmingly” to students in degree programs, while many certificate students have to pay their own way.
Federal financial aid, like Pell grants, is not available to students who take noncredit courses, and many certificate programs, whether to be a certified nurse’s aide or to fix air-conditioners and heating systems, are not for credit.
Suri Duitch, dean of continuing education at the City University of New York, said federal programs often treated certificate students like second-class citizens. “These programs are less expensive than the degree programs at many four-year schools, but this student population generally has fewer resources,” said Ms. Duitch, whose university has more than 220,000 students in nondegree programs.
Federal job training funds are limited and workers who want to upgrade their skills may not qualify.
Vocational certificates are growing in popularity. In a few months to a few years, workers can improve their employability and earnings significantly, especially in technical fields. Men with certificates in computer/information services earned $72,498 a year on average, more than 54 percent of men with bachelor’s degrees, according to a Georgetown study; women earned more than 64 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees.
Yet, Northern Virginia Community College dropped plans to offer information technology certificates because too few students could afford the course. NOVA also had to delay its program for certified nurses’ aides to give students time to come up with the money. Ana Bausher, who earns $250 a week as a part-time clerk for United Parcel Service, “had to save up six, seven months” to afford the $1,600 fee for the four-week course.
Anthony P. Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce and the chief author of its study on certificates, questioned whether it was the best use of federal money to give Pell grants to students at four-year colleges who pursue majors in fields like philosophy, with little economic payoff in employment and earnings. Why not, he asked, provide aid to students who take noncredit certificate courses that often translate quickly into jobs and higher pay?
“If you want to take four years of Shakespeare, that’s up to you,” he said. “Is that what the public sector should support? The bottom line is, given the budget situation, we ought to be more concerned about preparing people for the job market.”
Despite high unemployment, employers complain they can’t find skilled workers. Few are looking for philosophers.
Louisiana has shifted adult basic education from high schools to community colleges: Unemployed and underemployed adults can train for skilled jobs while studying for a GED through the Louisiana Community and Technical College System’s (LCTCS) Work Ready U, reports Community College Times.
Most Work Ready U students are training for jobs in construction trades and welding or health care jobs, such as nursing assistants, phlebotomists and pharmacy technicians.
Delgado Community College (DCC) now has 2,500 students in adult basic education, compared to 500 in 2007-08. DCC is one of 10 Louisiana community colleges in Jobs for the Future’s Accelerating Opportunity program. “There is no reason why a student should need a GED before they start on a career pathway,” said Barbara Endel, national project director for Accelerating Opportunity.
Traditional adult ed courses didn’t provide enough structure and support, said LCTCS Chancellor Joe May.
When ABE was administered by the K-12 education system, it was run on an “open-entry, open-exit approach,” May said. That didn’t work so well with people who had dropped out of school, so there were high attrition rates.
. . . Work Ready U programs limit the number of people who come in at any one time and provide extra counseling and social services. Also, switching GED courses to community colleges allowed for more flexible scheduling, including evening hours, which are more convenient for adults with families and jobs.
“Pushing someone to get a GED requires a ton of effort, particularly for adults with families,” said DCC Chancellor Monty Sullivan. However, it’s worth the effort. More Work Ready U students are enrolling in credit-bearing courses. On average, they are less likely to drop out than regular students.
Last year Congress dropped Pell Grant eligibility for high school dropouts who passed an “ability-to-benefit” test. To keep Work Ready U on track, DCC turned to foundations to fund tuition aid.
Maintaining Pell Grants and restoring Pell eligibility for “ability to benefit” (no high school diploma or GED) students seeking job training lead the Association of Community College Trustees’ top legislative priorities for 2013, the National Legislative Summit decided.
To help students train for skilled jobs, the ACCT called for preserving the Community College and Career Training Grant Program (TAACCCT), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and the Workforce Investment Act.
Investments in direct institutional aid to colleges that serve disproportionate numbers of minority, low-income and first-generation college students are critical. Congress should continue its support for the Strengthening Institutions, Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges, and Predominately Black Institutions (PBIs) programs.
ACCT also endorsed the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, which supports science, engineering and math programs at community colleges. “Programs are developed in conjunction with businesses in nanotechnology, alternative energy, advanced manufacturing, and many other critical fields.”
Many community college students juggle classes and jobs while struggling to pay the rent and the babysitter, buy textbooks and put gas in the car. On some campuses, there’s help for low-income students, writes Sara Goldrick-Rab, an associate professor of education and sociology at the University of Wisconsin, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
In 1998, “Joanne” dropped out of the Borough of Manhattan Community College because she couldn’t afford the subway fare. When she came back to BMCC in 2011, after losing her job, it was very different. Single Stop USA had set up benefits counseling on campus.
She walked in a Pell Grant recipient, and walked out equipped with food stamps, transportation vouchers, and child-care benefits.
. . . Right in the middle of campus, between her classes, she had a 15-minute appointment with an electronic evaluation process facilitated by a knowledgeable counselor who equipped her with the money and support it seems she needed to make a degree possible. This spring, she will complete her associate degree.
Single Stop has offices at 17 community colleges around the country. In the last year, the nonprofit helped 20,000 students collect $38-million in benefits. For every $1 the program costs, it brings $14 in benefits students wouldn’t have otherwise had.
Single Stop hasn’t proven — yet — that its services boost completion rates, writes Goldrick-Rab. But it’s shown the community college can be “a point of connection as well as education.”
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.”
The Pell Grant program is not going over a fiscal “cliff” any time soon, according to a new Congressional Budget Office report. Policy changes have turned a projected deficit into a surplus, reports Inside Higher Ed.
At the end of fiscal year 2013, the program will have $9.2 billion left over. Congress could fund the program at current annual appropriation levels — right now, the total program cost is $36 billion, with $23 billion from annual appropriations — for 2014 and meet the program’s needs, said Jason Delisle, director of the Federal Education Budget Project at the New America Foundation. The shortfall for 2015 is only $1.4 billion — much smaller than the $8.7 billion previously projected.
In September, the Education Department reported that the Pell Grant program cost $6.5 billion less than expected in the 2011-12 fiscal year, and $2.2 billion less than in 2010-11. That decrease, driven both by eligibility cuts and by a drop in spending on students at for-profit colleges, also came as a surprise to many observers.
The $1.4 billion shortfall in 2015 is “manageable,” Delisle said.
Last year’s changes to Pell Grants are “taking a heavy toll on community colleges and their students, depressing enrollments and squeezing the pocketbooks of thousands of students, if not pushing them out of the classroom altogether,” writes Paul Bradley on Community College Week.
Some propose requiring Pell recipients to earn more credits and capping remedial courses, making it harder for students to complete a certificate or degree.
Turner Gray, a 36-year-old freshman at Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York, is a single mother with two children who’s been unemployed for two years. She hopes to earn a business administration degree. But it will take longer because Pell no longer covers summer courses.
Excluding summer courses from the Pell Grant program was just one of the changes approved by Congress last June as it scrambled to plug a $1.3 billion gap in the Pell program, which has been growing for more than a decade as college enrollments have soared. The cost of the Pell Grant program doubled in cost to $36.5 billion in the four years ending in 2010, gobbling up an ever-growing share of discretionary funding of the U.S. Department of Education.
There were 19.4 million applicants for the grants last year, compared with 9.5 million a decade earlier. The changes enacted by Congress excluded about 100,000 students nationwide from the program.
At Montgomery County Community College in suburban Philadelphia, 10 percent of Pell recipients received less money or no grant at all, estimated college President Karen A. Stout. Many were enrolled in summer nursing courses designed to help students earn their degrees sooner. “Not only have the changes hurt students, but they have hurt the overall goal of college completion,” she said.
Under new eligibility limits, students can receive Pell aid for 12 semesters, down from 18. “The Pell Grant clock starts ticking while they are taking developmental classes that won’t count toward a college degree,” writes Bradley.
The change also could hurt students who have trouble transferring credits from a community college to a four-year college or university
To qualify for the maximum grant, students must come from families with an annual income of $23,000 or less, down from the previous level of $32,000.
The Pell changes resulted in lower enrollment at nearly all Mississippi and Alabama community colleges, concluded Steven G. Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama. He projected larger enrollment declines when eligibility limits kick in.
Pell Grants should be replaced with a single federal-state matching grant, recommends the Committee for Economic Development in A New Partnership: The Road to Reshaping Federal & State Financial Aid. Cut higher ed tax credits to save $18.2 billion for student aid that expands access, the report also urges.
“Replacing Pell Grants and the other federal grant programs with a need-based grant that would be partly matched by states is both novel and controversial,” notes the Chronicle of Higher Education.
At a luncheon . . . to release the report, several audience members voiced skepticism about the plan, worrying that it would penalize students in states that chose not to participate, and expressing doubt that a federal methodology for determining need would distribute aid fairly.
William R. Doyle, the Vanderbilt University professor who wrote the report, said he doubted states would refuse the aid, given the consequences for their students and colleges. He noted that states fought matching requirements in Medicaid and elementary and secondary education, but ultimately accepted the money.
“The federal government can’t be the only actor that’s concerned with access,” he argued. “They have to start expecting something back from states and institutions.”
The report is one of the studies commissioned by the Gates Foundation’s Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project.