Tracking students through college and into the workforce is an idea whose time has come back, reports Inside Higher Ed. The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act revives a controversial idea opposed by privacy advocates and adds a federal “unit record” database administered by the Education Department.
Colleges would make information public about students’ salaries by major and program; graduation and remediation rates; success rates for students who receive a Pell Grant or veterans’ benefits; and other benchmarks not currently collected in such detail.
. . . A unit record database has long been the holy grail for many policy makers, who argue that collecting data at the federal level is the only way to get an accurate view of postsecondary education. But privacy advocates, private colleges and Congressional Republicans, all of whom oppose the creation of such a database, teamed up in opposition the last time the idea was proposed, by the Bush administration in 2005. Then, the opponents succeeded; the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act included a provision specifically forbidding the creation of a federal unit record data system.
Nearly every advocacy group, think tank, committee and panel has called for a federal unit record system, reports Inside Higher Ed. States are developing databases to track their own students, but the federal government’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System still ignores part-time students and counts many transfers as dropouts. As more young people “swirl” from one campus to another and yet another, IPEDS data is increasingly inadequate for policymakers.
Privacy is a phony issue, writes Reihan Salam on National Review. It’s easy to make the data anonymous. Students and their parents really do have a right to know the odds of success before they write the first tuition check, writes Salam. Reliable data on student outcomes would threaten colleges and universities that offer a substandard education and leave students in debt and without marketable skills.
Many Pell Grant recipients aren’t prepared for college and never complete a degree, writes Jane Shaw of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Instead of denying Pell aid to remedial students, she proposes requiring evidence of readiness, such as SAT scores of at least 850 (verbal and math) and a high school GPA of at least 2.5 (between a C and a B).
“Not only would this save taxpayer money, it would provide a positive incentive for students to do better in school,” write researchers Jenna Ashley Robinson and Duke Cheston. “Students with very low high school academic performance are unlikely to graduate from college regardless of financial aid.”
According to the College Board, in order to have a 65 percent chance of getting a B- average in college, students should achieve about 1030 on the math and verbal SATs and earn a B average in high school (taking courses of at least “average” rigor). Using this benchmark, only 32 percent of students taking the SATs in 2009 were fully college-ready! On the other hand, to have a chance at a C average in college, they can get by with a 730 score on math and verbal, says the College Board.
But even getting a C average would be a struggle for these students, and the possibility of failure or dropping is out is all too likely.
Universities may already be designating remedial courses as college-level courses, even without the incentive of qualifying students for federal aid.
Pell Grant recipients don’t get a tuition break at many public and private universities, according to Stephen Burd, a senior policy analyst at the New America Foundation. Instead, universities compete for “the ’best and brightest’ students—and the wealthiest,” he writes in Undermining Pell: How Colleges Compete for Wealthy Students and Leave Low-Income Ones Behind.
Pell recipients are forced to take on more debt and work more hours, reducing their odds of completing a degree, Burd writes. Nearly two-thirds of private colleges and universities ask students from families making $30,000 or less to pay more than $15,000 a year for college.
Pell Grants should go only to college-ready students, proposes Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation on Bloomberg View.
“A huge proportion” of the $40 billion annual federal investment in college aid is going to unprepared students, he asserts.
About two-thirds of low-income community-college students — and one-third of poor students at four-year colleges — need remedial (aka “developmental”) education, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit group. But it’s not working: Less than 10 percent of students who start in remedial education graduate from community college within three years, and just 35 percent of remedial students earn a four-year degree within six years.
Currently, Pell recipients in a “program of study” — they say they’re seeking a credential — can take remedial courses for one year before losing benefits. Petrilli suggests cutting off Pell aid for remedial students.
Ambitious, low-income high-school students would know that if they want to attend college at public expense (probably their only option), they would first need to become “college-ready.” This would provide a clear sign and incentives for them to work hard, take college-prep classes and raise their reading and math skills to the appropriate level.
Many low-income students wouldn’t go to college without Pell support for remedial courses, Petrilli concedes. That “cuts against the American tradition of open access, as well as second and third chances.”
But it’s not clear unprepared students benefit by enrolling in college remedial courses, he writes. Most drop out long before they complete a degree or certificate. (Most drop out before they take a single college-level class.) “Many would be more successful in job-training programs that don’t require college-level work (or would be better off simply gaining skills on the job).”
Eliminating remedial Pell would free up money to boost the maximum grant for needy, college-ready students.
Colleges could respond by giving credit for courses that used to be considered “remedial,” Petrilli writes.
Indeed they could. Placing poorly prepared students in credit-bearing courses, with extra help to learn basic skills, already is a trend due to the high failure rates in traditional remedial ed.
Remedial education costs millions of dollars a year with very poor results, said Stan Jones of Complete College America at the Education Writers Association conference last week at Stanford. “We pride ourselves on access, but access to what? Most never access a true college course.”
Of half a million new community college students in remedial education every year, “maybe 20 percent” will move on to college-level courses, said Carnegie’s Alicia Grunow. “We’re killing the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of students every year.”
With a budget deficit made worse by student abuse of Pell Grants, Henry Ford Community College (Michigan) will raise tuition by 7 percent, reports the Press and Guide. The college will have to pay back $9.5 million in federal dollars — about 20 percent of tuition revenue — because many Pell recipients dropped out or failed all their classes after collecting up to $5,550 in student aid.
Collecting from “Pell runners” — students who stop attending once they get their grant money — rarely is successful, President Gail Mee said after the board meeting.
Trustee Aimee Schoelles asked if the college could see if the students have unpaid tuition bills from other colleges — a sign they are milking the system at one school and then moving to the next.
Mee said a federal registry tracks students who misuse their loans, but the data is too old to be useful.
Schoelles also suggested looking at class data to see where students drop or never attend and then overenrolling those courses so when students withdraw or never show the class is still closer to full.
Looking only at first-time, degree-seeking students, HFCC has the lowest graduation rate — 9 percent — of Michigan’s 18 community colleges; a third of students transfer before earning a degree.
Recent graduates with a technical or vocational associate degree average higher earnings than four-year graduates in three states analyzed by CollegeMeasures. In Virginia, the average technical associate degree graduate earned $49,000 a year between 2006 and 2010.
Community college degrees “are worth a lot more than I expected and that I think other people expected,” said Mark Schneider, president of CollegeMeasures and a vice president at the American Institutes for Research.
The job news gets even better for two-year graduates, reports Forbes.
This on the heels of stats from the Department of Labor from the fall that showed job growth for those with associate’s degrees was outpacing that of more advanced degree holders. The good news doesn’t stop there; the majority of the fastest growing occupations in the US, from dental hygienists to veterinary technologists, require only a community college education.
In 2010 – 2011, the average community college student paid $2713 in tuition and received, on average, $1700 in Pell Grant aid, Forbes notes. Most community college students don’t borrow to complete an associate degree and those who do don’t need to go heavily in debt.
Community college enrollment dipped by 2 percent in Texas this fall, reports the Houston Chronicle. The state’s improving economy may be drawing students back to the workforce. However, public universities and for-profit career colleges, saw slight enrollment gains.
“It was a bit of a wake-up call,” said Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “We’ve been going gangbusters on enrollment since 2000.”
Areas of the state undergoing an economic boom, such as with lucrative energy jobs near the Eagle Ford Shale natural gas and oil formation, are experiencing more substantial enrollment declines than other regions.
“It’s hard to keep a student in school to get their associate’s when they can go make $65,000 a year as a truck driver,” Chavez said.
Other factors are changes in federal Pell Grant rules: Students no longer can get “year-round” aid covering the summer semester. In addition, the state has fewer 18-year-olds. Finally, students are required now to be vaccinated against meningitis, a rule that’s discouraging some potential enrollees, according to a report by the Coordinating Board.
First there are diploma mills that persuade unqualified students to sign up for federal grants. Some are for-profit colleges, he writes, but unselective non-profits also sign up the unqualified.
Second is the “probable fact” that most Pell Grant recipients do not graduate from college. (It’s “probable” because the U.S. Education Department doesn’t publish data on Pell graduation rates.) ”This is arguably a scandal, certainly an inefficient use of public money,” Vedder writes.
Even worse, Pell “has been hijacked from its original purpose –helping poor people get degrees,” he writes. Fewer Pell recipients come from bottom-quartile families as the program expands to more and more students.
In 1980, fewer than 40 percent of full-time students received Pell Grants, according to Vedder’s calculations. That rose to 47 percent in 2006-07 — and soared to 82 percent in 2011-12. While that probably reflects the growing eligibility of part-time students for Pell aid, it’s out of line with the number of low-income students, he writes.
About 40 percent of college students — roughly seven million out of 18 million undergraduates — come from families earning less than $60,000 a year, a generous definition of financial need. Yet in 2011-12, there were 9.6 million Pell Grant recipients.
Pell Grants “have not increased the proportion of lower-income Americans amongst those graduating from college,” Vedder concludes. “It is time for a new federal financial aid model – a leaner, more efficient one that is both performance and need driven, not just an entitlement handed out to a majority of those attending college.”
After collecting $105,000 in student loans and grants, a Pennsylvania man faces federal charges of student loan fraud and mail fraud. Robert Thomas Price Jr., 45, spent the loan money on crack cocaine, cars, motorcycles, jewelry, tattoos and video games.drugs, motorcycles, games and tattoos, the indictment charges. He claimed to be a student at Harrisburg Area Community College from 2005 and 2007. Tuition for three years of full-time study would have totaled less than $16,000.
U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith said today that Price secured about $92,000 in private student loans and around $13,000 in federal Pell Grants and Stafford loans. Price was aided in the alleged scam by his ex-wife, a former HACC employee who is not charged or named in the case, Smith said.
If convicted, Price could receive up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.
College access and college success are in conflict, writes Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb.com and FinAid.org. Low-income, minority and other high-risk students are significantly less likely to complete a degree. “One of the easiest ways to increase graduation rates is to exclude high-risk students.”
Kantrowitz analyzes proposals to require colleges to graduate a minimum percentage of Pell recipients to retain eligibility. Community colleges would be “hit the hardest,” he finds. Funding would shift to four-year institutions and to more selective schools.
A 20% minimum graduation rate threshold on institutional Pell Grant eligibility would cut overall Pell Grant funding at community colleges by more than $5 billion. While 4-year for-profit colleges would also lose nearly $1 billion, the for-profit sector as a whole would experience a net gain of more than $500 million in Pell Grant funding.
A 20% minimum graduation rate threshold on institutional Pell Grant eligibility would cause the average graduation rate for Pell Grant recipients to increase by 8.5 percentage points, but there would be a net 1% decrease in the number of college graduates.
Graduation rates are significantly lower for first-generation college students, low-income students, single parents, students who lack a high school diploma, adults, full-time workers and part-time students, he writes. Pell dollars would shift from the neediest students to those with more advantages.
About one eighth of students pursuing four-year degrees come from high-risk groups, compared with more than half of students in associate’s degree programs and two thirds of students in certificate programs, Kantrowitz writes.
For-profit colleges enroll many high-risk students: Pell recipients at for-profit colleges are less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree, but more likely to earn an associate degree or certificate.
Instead of restricting access to Pell Grants, Kantrowitz suggests doubling or tripling the average grant to help low-income students earn degrees.
College graduates pay more than twice as much in federal income taxes as high school graduates. Every dollar invested in the Pell Grant program yields more than two dollars in profit to the federal government over the typical recipient’s work-life.
He calls it a “bold” idea. Yes. And very unlikely.
After nearly tripling in five years, Pell spending fell $2.2 billion in the last fiscal year, even as more students received grants, reports Inside Higher Ed. Spending totaled $33.4 billion, “well short of the department’s estimated $40 billion price tag for Pell.” Five years ago, the program cost $12.8 billion.
. . . more of the almost 9.7 million lower-income students who received the grants last year got smaller awards. One reason for that could be more students attending college part time, because part-time enrollment status reduces Pell award amounts.
Experts said another probable cause for the decrease in expenditures is the elimination of the year-round, or summer, Pell Grant, which allowed students to qualify for two awards in a year. But that cut, which went into effect in July 2011, was projected to save only $4 billion per year, and the program came in more than $6.5 billion under its estimated cost. So something else must also be at play.
Fewer recipients are attending for-profit institutions, accounting for $1.4 billion of the decline. Slightly fewer community college students received Pell Grants, but Pell revenue increased a bit as students qualified for somewhat larger grants.
For-profit students’ average grant award is larger than that for students who attend community colleges, who are more likely to enroll on a part-time basis. So the flattening of Pell spending despite increasing numbers of recipients might be partially due to the for-profits’ woes, but experts said it was too early to make that call based on the new numbers.
The $2.2 billion decrease surprised officials at the American Association of Community Colleges, said David S. Baime, the association’s senior vice president of government relations and research. “It’s really dramatic at a time that the program is growing.”
Pell was expected to be short $20 billion this year. By cutting summer grants, Democrats saved the $5,550 maximum grant, which Republicans had proposed cutting by 845. However, advocates fear higher education spending will go off a “fiscal cliff” next year as Congress tries to balance the budget.