Hamilton: Redesign Pell Grants, loans

Redesign Pell Grants, stretch out income-based loan repayment and simplify college cost estimates urged outside experts at a Hamilton Project forum today.

Pell Grants should provide guidance and support services tailored to recipients’ needs, write Sandy Baum of George Washington University and Judith Scott-Clayton of the Community College Research Center at Teachers’ College, Columbia.

They also propose dramatically simplifying eligibility and the application process and strengthening incentives for students to move quickly to a degree.

Income-based repayment should extend beyond the first 10 years after college, propose Susan Dynarski and Daniel Kreisman of the University of Michigan. Payments would rise and fall with a borrower’s income.

This model could prove less costly for taxpayers than the current system and it could even be less expensive; the proposal would reduce defaults and cut the cost of loan servicing, as well as eliminate what would become redundant policies, such as the student-loan interest deduction and the in-school interest subsidy. For the very small percentage of borrowers who take on significant student debt, the authors propose improving bankruptcy protection as well as tightening regulation of the private lenders who own most of these very large loans.

A better college cost calculator would help students from lower- and middle-income families to make informed  college choices, writes Wellesley’s Phillip Levine. His Quick College Cost Estimator uses six basic financial inputs.

Supports help Latinos stay in college

The youngest and fastest growing population group in the U.S., Latinos now account for more than 20 percent of K-12 students.  However, in 2012, 21.3 percent of Latino adults had earned an associate degree or higher compared to 40.1 percent of all adults. Excelencia in Education‘s national initiative, Ensuring America’s Future by Increasing Latino College Completion, is focusing on community colleges, because that’s where most Latinos start — and end — their pursuit of higher education.

In a new report, “Supporting Latino Community College Students: An Investment in Our Economic FutureExcelencia and Single Stop USA describe how innovative community colleges are changing financial aid and studentservices to help low-income students — including many Latinos — stay in college.

 . . . many Latino students are the first in their family to attend college and make choices to contain costs by enrolling at community colleges, attending part-time, and working more than 20 hours per week while enrolled. Unfortunately, data show all these practical choices by students hinder their college completion.

Too few Latino students know there are resources available to assist with college costs. They are also less likely to access financial resources like tax credits, food assistance, and public health insurance that can enable them to maintain a stable family budget while enrolled. Single Stop USA and its community college partners connect thousands of students to millions of dollars in existing benefits and services that immediately reduce the financial strain faced by Latino students.

Single Stop sites at 17 community colleges help students file their taxes, apply for government benefits, and receive financial and legal counseling. Thirty-eight percent of students served in 2012 were Latino.

The report recommends:

 Federal policy makers can utilize Higher Education Act reauthorization to incentivize colleges to implement student services that are well aligned with retention, completion and employment outcomes, such as the models being developed by Single Stop.

 Complement investments in financial aid by providing student support services that address multiple barriers that can thwart Latino student completion.

 Improve targeting of information regarding financial aid by intentionally developing dissemination strategies that will more effectively reach Latino, low-income and other post-traditional students.

 Address antiquated eligibility rules that disqualify needy students from receiving aid that can help them complete college and attain self-sufficiency.

“America’s future economic success is deeply connected to Latino college completion,” says Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, which is working with Single Stop.

College club: ‘Yo quiero transfer’

At Oakland’s Merritt College, only 20 percent of students transfer to a four-year college or university. Seventeen of 18 graduating students in Professor Claudio Duran’s transfer club are moving on to universities, reports the Oakland Tribune. Fourteen Altazor members will go to a selective University of California campus.

The club’s mascot is an animated Spanglish-speaking Chihuahua that says, “Yo quiero transfer.”


California’s community colleges have cut funding for advising, tutoring and other student support services.

Two years ago, Duran, who teaches U.S. history, English and Latin American studies, started the club. The Chilean-born composer and documentary filmmaker attended community college in Oakland before transferring to Berkeley and earning an advanced degree at Stanford. “The counselors do as much as they can,” Duran said, “but obviously it’s not enough.”

Altazor meets each Monday for pizza and college planning. Duran tells the students about transfer guarantee programs, reminds them of deadlines and  encourages them to study hard limit, limit their paid work hours and apply to top universities. Students join honor societies and edit one another’s personal statements.

“I think doing it alone is the hardest thing,” said Eduardo Chaidez, who was also accepted to UC Berkeley. “You’re just completely lost.”

Statewide, only a quarter of community college students who say they want to transfer do so within four years. Until recently, each university campus set its own deadlines and requirements. Some California State University schools froze out spring transfers for several years.

Change is underway to make the move clearer, smoother and faster. The Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, which took effect in 2011, requires California’s community colleges to develop transfer degrees that correspond with the most popular state university majors. Students who complete them will be guaranteed admission as a junior on a Cal State campus — without any extra course requirements on either end.

Low transfer rates predate the recession, said Colleen Moore, a researcher at Sacramento State’s Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy. “You’re essentially taking a group of students that is probably the least informed and the most likely to be the first in their families to go to college, and you’re putting them in institutions that have made this super complex for students to follow,” Moore said.

What low-income women need to succeed

Low-income community college students may not get the support they need to persist and earn a credential, concludes a UCLA study, What Matters for Community College Success? Interviews with low-income female students — about half were single mothers and 80 percent were minorities — at an unnamed California college revealed taken-for-granted assumptions aren’t correct:

Assumption #1: The availability of programs equals students’ ability to access them.

Assumption #2: Students will seek support if they need it.

Assumption #3: Providing general information and advice is sufficient to aid students.

Low-income women often give up if they have trouble scheduling appointments, receive incorrect information, have unpleasant encounters with faculty or staff or fear negative judgments about their abilities, the study found.

Supplemental instructors — usually peer tutors — offer help to all students in courses with high failure rates. The SI coordinator said:

We don’t go to at-risk students. We go to at-risk classes, and that’s a big difference. … We found out that it takes that stigma away from saying, “Oh you think I’m stupid.”

Tutoring sessions are conducted in groups, giving students opportunities to network with their classmates. However, many low-income students have little time to spend on campus because they’re juggling jobs and family responsibilities.

California colleges get good news on funding

After years of higher education cuts, California Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal gives the state’s colleges and universities “good news for the first time in years,” reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The CSU and UC systems would each receive an additional $125 million, thanks to the passage of two tax initiatives. Community colleges would receive $197 million more in general-purpose funds next year. That means “community colleges can begin to make room for some of the hundreds of thousands of students who have been shut out of our system due to recent funding cuts,” Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said in a news release.

The governor’s plan also calls for expanding online education, transferring adult education from K-12 districts to community colleges and funding community colleges based on student enrollment at the end of the term, not the beginning.

The California Community College Online Initiative plans to create a centralized “virtual campus” to provide online courses.  In addition, the chancellor’s office will expand options for students to earn college credit by passing a “challenge” exam.

Students would be held accountable too, writes Kathy Baron on EdSource.

A significant, and likely controversial, piece of the budget proposal would cap state subsidized community college classes at 90 units. Beyond that, students would have to pay full freight – from $127 to $190 per credit based on a quarter or semester calendar.

The latest figures, from the 2009-10 academic year, show that 4.7 percent, or more than 117,000 students, exceeded 90 units.

Student leaders oppose the idea. There’s also controversy about shifting control of adult education.

Community colleges will get an additional $300 million to fund the adult education takeover plus $15.7 million for an apprenticeship program. Adult ed would provide basic skills, English as a Second Language, citizenship classes and vocational training, but no enrichment classes for older adults or parent education.

“Any moving or shifting of adult ed to community colleges is a serious concern,” said Dawn Koepke, a lobbyist for the California Council for Adult Education. “It doesn’t make sense at all. Adult ed is tied to K-12 because we’re talking about basic skills and access. The infrastructure is already in K-12.”

Funding community colleges based on end-of-term enrollment would be phased in over five years. Lost funding would be used to fund student support services.

CC students crave college connection

Community college students want to be more connected to faculty, classmates, coursework and career exploration, according to Connection by Design. The report is based on focus groups of current and former students conducted by WestEd and Public Agenda for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation‘s Completion by Design initiative.

Students wanted community colleges to engage them in classes and campus life, but they said mandatory orientation or student success courses must be high quality and relevant to their goals to be worth time in their busy schedules.

In the discussions, students spoke like consumers — saying they wanted more individualized help, if not in-person through personal emails or texts. Students felt most college websites fall short and would welcome more interactive features. Too often students said in making college-related decisions, they don’t know what questions to ask until it is too late.

Students want schools to better anticipate their needs and provide them with clear information, especially if they are at risk of dropping out and could benefit from extra services. And supports should be offered beyond the freshman year, many in the focus groups felt.

Many former students who have dropped out want colleges to invite them to return and let them know how to do so.

Most students wish their college had provided them with more structured opportunities to explore their academic and career options.

Students in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Texas participated in the focus groups.

California CCs: 470,000 wait for classes

California’s community colleges are offering fewer classes and enrolling fewer students, according to a survey of the state’s two-year public colleges. “More than 470,000 community college students are beginning the fall semester on waiting lists, unable to get into the courses they need,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

The system has been hit by $809 million in state funding cuts since 2008 and could lose another $338-million in the middle of the academic year, if voters reject a tax hike on the November ballot. The measure, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is ahead in the polls, but not by much, said Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin. “Its prospects are partly cloudy with a chance of rain.”

College leaders are planning for the worst, reports the Times. Some are negotiating union contracts that allow pay cuts and furloughs if funding is cut further. Others warn they’ll cut more classes and lay off ful-time faculty if the tax measure fails.

“There is no question that the system is shrinking in terms of the number of students we’re serving but not shrinking in terms of demand,” Chancellor Jack Scott said in an interview Tuesday. “The real problem is we don’t have the financial resources to offer the courses that we could fill. In the long run, it’s going to be hurtful to the economy. These are the individuals who are going to make up the future workforce of California.”

Under the Student Success Act, which Gov. Brown is expected to sign, community colleges will give enrollment priority to students who develop an academic plan and show progress toward reaching their goals. “Requiring education plans and orientation” will help students earn the credits they need, but no more, freeing up spaces for others, says Michelle Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

However, students will have trouble developing education plans if they can’t talk to advisors.  Seventy percent of colleges surveyed have reduced hours for support services, such as advising and tutoring, and 87 percent have cut support staff.

California’s community colleges have been struggling for several years, the Times notes.

Overall enrollment dropped about 17%, from about 2.9 million in the 2008-09 academic year to 2.4 million in 2011-12, and officials have estimated a further decline this year. The number of class sections decreased 24% from 522,727 in 2008-09 to 399,540 in 2011-12.

The colleges say they are being forced to cut into vital services that for many students can mean the difference between success and failure. Nearly 67% of colleges reported that students have had to wait longer for financial aid, counseling and other appointments since 2009-10, with an average wait time of 12 days. West Los Angeles College reported that it had eliminated tutoring and field trips to four-year universities and stopped publishing a student handbook.

El Camino College in Torrance is offering about 1,922 class sections this fall, down from 2,027 last year. Nearly every class has a waiting list, said spokeswoman Ann Garten.

“We have all of these students who want to take courses — high school graduates, then a whole group who had planned to go to the University of California or Cal State but can’t afford to, and with the economy, all of these people coming back to college because they need skills,” Garten said. But, she said, “we’re all being forced by the state to offer fewer courses for students.”

At East Los Angeles College, Rogelio Cervantes Jr., 20, saw more than 40 students lined up trying to add a math class that was already full. Unable to get the schedule he wanted, he takes classes from 8:20 a.m. to 10 p.m. “He plans to remain on campus and nap in his car so he doesn’t lose his parking space.”

CCs cut veterans’ programs

As more military veterans arrive on campus, cash-strapped community colleges have cut programs for veterans, according to an ACE survey, From Soldier to Student II: Assessing Campus Programs for Veterans and Service Members.

Of 690 colleges and universities surveyed by ACE, 62 percent offer programs and services for veterans, up from 57 percent in 2009.  Fifty-seven percent of community colleges offered programs, down from 67 percent in 2009. Community college is the most popular choice for GI Bill users, though more are enrolling in for-profit colleges.

Student veterans who receive support services are retained and graduate at rates higher than classmates, notes Inside Higher Ed.

The average number of active-duty students and veterans at the responding institutions has more than doubled since 2009, the survey shows. On average, each institution enrolls about 453 active-duty military students and 370 veteran students today, compared to 201 and 156, respectively, three years ago.

Far more institutions this time around reported that they’re considering “veteran-friendly changes” as part of their long-term strategic plans: 71 percent said so in 2012, 28 percent more than in 2009. And 64 percent said they are “engaging in recruiting efforts” specifically to attract military service members and veterans.

Colleges are shifting focus from offering help with VA benefits and enrollment to creating student centers where veterans can meet, socialize and study.

Colleges with veterans’ services are much more likely to offer counseling for vets with post-traumatic stress disorder, physical disabilities and brain injuries.

Online ed grows up

Online education isn’t just a money-making add-on, writes Community College Dean. As more instruction goes online, his college is under pressure to “remake the ways we do all kinds of business, from registering students to providing advisement to administering financial aid to accommodating disabilities to providing counseling.”

Online education, done right, is labor-intensive, the dean writes.  If the goal is saving money, it’s hard to beat a poorly paid adjunct teaching a big lecture class.

The institutional savings from online education come mostly from infrastructure. Adding server space is dramatically (and increasingly) cheaper than adding classroom space. You don’t have to add parking, or heating costs, or seats in the library. When your physical campus is running full, this is no small consideration.

For years, his college adding online students without adding infrastructure or  support staff to meet their needs. It was profitable. But that era is over. Online students want services that will cost money to provide.