Post-college tests would help job seekers

Post-college tests could help non-elite college graduates demonstrate their competence, writes Richard Vedder. A Ohio University economics professor, Vedder runs the Center on College Affordability and Productivity.

Right now a student graduating from, say, California State University at Fresno, Kansas State University, or the State University of New York at Brockport with a 3.3 average has a tough time getting considered for a good job. These schools, while by no means considered academic disasters or diploma mills, accept kids that were mostly above average but not exceptionally good high school students. A 3.3 average once denoted “a well above average student” but does not anymore in this era of grade inflation. In short, absent more information, this hypothetical student would be considered “a so-so student from a so-so university,” perhaps not worth employers investing human resource department dollars to carefully assess and interview.

Enter the CLA + and the new Gallup-Purdue Index. Our hypothetical student can take the CLA+ and employers can see quickly and inexpensively how he or she fares relative to, say, a 3.1 student graduating from the University of Virginia, UCLA, or Swarthmore College, far more selective institutions. On the basis of those test results, some of the students at the less selective universities will manage to get interviews and serious consideration by employers.

The Gallup-Purdue Index will survey recent graduates on how they’re doing in the job market and other factors, such as community engagement.

In 1960, fewer than 10 percent of U.S. adults were college graduates; now more than 30 percent have four-year degrees. The average student then earned a mix of B’s and C’s. Now, college students study less, but earn higher grades, writes Vedder. As a signal of academic diligence and ability, the non-elite college degree is losing value, he argues. Hard-working, capable students need alternatives.

North Carolina sets college pathways

North Carolina has launched a four-year plan to improve student success, says Scott Ralls, president of the North Carolina Community College System.

New college students will enter a structured program, reports Community College Times. Even high school students in dual enrollment programs will be encouraged to enroll tuition-free in a pathway that leads to a technical or bachelor’s degree.

The system also used research and analysis to identify and address “momentum loss points”—points where students become bogged down and too often pulled off course in their goals toward completion. In community colleges, that usually happens in a student’s first semester or first academic year, particularly in developmental education programs.

“We found too many students entering developmental education without exiting, which is why we have completely redesigned our efforts in North Carolina,” Ralls said.

The colleges tapped expert math and English faculty members across the state to re-engineer curriculum to shorten the length of courses and to develop modules to let students get the courses they need.

The state system also worked with high schools to align career and college readiness testing. Now students will know early whether they’re on track to take college-level community college classes.

Eighty technical programs in in transportation, energy, manufacturing, environment and construction now offer “stackable” credentials. A student can earn a certificate, leave college for the workforce and return later to add an advanced credential.

ACT: College hopes rise, scores fall

Most students aren’t ready for college, according to the latest ACT college readiness report. The composite score dropped to 20.9 in 2013, the lowest in eight years. That’s probably because more students — including less-capable students — are taking the exam.

Only 26 percent of test-takers in the class of 13 met all four readiness benchmarks in English (grammar, sentence structure, organization, rhetorical skills), reading, science and math; 39 percent met three of the four and nearly one-third did not meet any.

Twelve states are testing more than 90 percent of seniors, including students who don’t plan to go to college. Also, for the first time, disabled students with testing accommodations, such as extended time, were included in the overall reporting numbers.

College-readiness benchmarks were developed by ACT to predict whether a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher or a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a typical first-year college course. Students this year did best in English, with 64 percent achieving the standard. Forty-four percent met it in both reading and math, and 36 percent hit the benchmark in science.

This year, ACT moved the reading benchmark up 1 point to 22 and science down 1 point to 23 to match expectations for performance at a national sample of colleges.

Here’s how to ‘shake up’ higher ed

If President Obama really wants to “shake up” higher education, he should start by scaling back student loans, writes economist Richard Vedder on Washington Monthly‘s College Guide. That means dropping loans to affluent parents and the federal tuition tax credit, limiting student borrowing and, ultimately, getting the federal government out of the student-loan business.

Colleges that benefit from student loans and grants should share some costs of high default rates, Vedder argues. That would discourage colleges from enrolling students with little chance of success. (Politically, this is a big loser.)

Next, consumers need better information, he writes.

Lots of students enter college based on bad advice, often from guidance counselors and school marketing efforts. Politicians make things worse with a “college for all” mantra, implying life will be a failure without a college degree to provide the ticket to the moderately affluent middle class.

To counteract the propaganda, a bill proposed by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, would mandate the disclosure of information regarding post-graduation earnings of students by college and major. Polls show that college students’ single biggest goal is achieving financial success.

Colleges are expensive screening devices, writes Vedder. There should be other ways to demonstrate potential workplace competence.”Why doesn’t someone (College Board? Educational Testing Service? Google Inc.?) develop a national college equivalency examination that tests for the critical learning skills, literacy and basic knowledge that all college graduates are expected to have?”

A credible exam would reduce the worry about low-quality online courses and make it easier for students to assemble courses from multiple providers.

Finally, Vedder calls for eliminating barriers to entry to higher education.

The single largest obstacle is the dysfunctional accrediting system, which is rife with conflicts of interest and gives consumers little information. . . . Arguably, we should eliminate accreditation as such, with the government simply defunding programs that fail to meet minimum standards (such as institutions with student-loan-default rates greater than graduation rates).

Lowering the demand for college slots and increasing the supply of higher ed providers would bring costs down.

States expand college readiness testing

Thirty-eight states are measuring 11th-graders college readiness, reports the Community College Research Center in Reshaping the College Transition. Some use state exams,while others use the ACT, SAT or community college placement tests. Even more states are expected to start testing when Common Core State Standards’ assessments are available.

Twenty-nine states are using catch-up courses or online tutorials to prevent students from landing in remedial education.

Measure learning, not seat time

It’s time to “boldly go” beyond the credit hour, writes Allen Goben, president of Heartland Community College in Illinois. In a series of meetings, Goben asked faculty, continuing education professionals and education, business and industry leaders to imagine starting a higher education system from scratch. They suggested replacing credit hours with assessment of learning outcomes. Students could “stack” learning modules, courses, certificates and degrees as they move toward their goals.

• A robust learning and prior learning assessment structure would be developed . . . Students who already have certain knowledge or skills would be allowed to move on to other learning experiences . . .

• If needed, lower testing fees would be used to document already-acquired knowledge and skills while comparatively higher fees would be charged for full instruction and instructional support, so that people and organizations offering these services would be able to sustain themselves.

• A thorough career and interest inventory and advising structure would fuel all goal setting, planning and monitoring, as well as adjustments in student learning and progress toward eventual career, college and life success.

• A tremendous mentoring program would anchor the approach where classroom efforts, lab experiences and self-guided tutorials would be complemented by apprenticeships, internships and one-on-one and/or small group mentoring.

• All of education would be built around the learner and learning needs, and this would require a high degree of interaction and personalization as each learner’s needs were explored and supported.

If higher education were based on learning outcomes, there’d be no need for the traditional “silos of liberal arts, career/technical/vocational education, allied health and continuing education,” concludes Goben.

MOOC-ing the college cartel

Online learning will revolutionize higher education and liberate students from ever-rising college costs, predicts Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, in an interview with MIT Technology Review.

Here’s what I think it could look like in five years: the learning side will be free, but if and when you want to prove what you know, and get a credential, you would go to a proctoring center [for an exam]. And that would cost something. Let’s say it costs $100 to administer that exam. I could see charging $150 for it. And then you have a $50 margin that you can reinvest on the free-learning side.

 Khan has a book out called The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined,

What’s a credit worth? Moves to give credits to students for taking massive open online courses (MOOCS) or demonstrating competency are threatening the college cartel, writes Jeff Selingo on The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The American Council on Education will review some free online courses offered by elite universities through Coursera and may recommend that other colleges accept credit for them.

Right now, it is easy for most institutions to deny students who ask to transfer credits from their local community college or a for-profit provider, such as StraighterLine. They just say the quality is not up their standards.

But what happens when students arrive at the registrars’ office with credit-bearing courses from professors at Stanford, Penn, and Princeton? What will the excuse be then to reject the credits—that the courses were free? Such an excuse might finally expose the true reason many colleges refuse to accept transfer credits: They want students to pay them tuition for a class, not another institution.

In addition, Southern New Hampshire University’s accreditor has approved its new competency-based associate degree, which is based on students’ knowledge rather than time in class. Students will pay no more than $2,500 a year. The university is working with local employers to design the curriculum.

Western Governors University pioneered the idea. Now, “Southern New Hampshire is about to show whether the idea can work within the walls of a traditional university,” Selingo writes. Northern Arizona University and the University of Wisconsin system also are developing competency-based degrees.

UW’s Flexible Option will let adult students “earn college credit by demonstrating knowledge they have acquired through coursework, military training, on-the-job training, and other learning experiences.”

Measure or perish

Measure or Perish, writes Kevin Carey of Education Sector in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Our higher-education system “refuses to consistently measure how much students learn,” Carey writes.

As a result, students have trouble transferring credits.

Credit devaluation, which wastes enormous amounts of time, money, and credentialed learning every year, is rooted in mistrust. Because colleges don’t know what students in other colleges learned, they’re reluctant to give foreign courses their imprimaturs.

It’s easy to exploit the federal financial-aid system for profit by inflating credits. In an attempt to stop this, the U.S. Education Department proposes to use classroom time to define the number of credits a class is worth.

Nearly a third of all college students took online courses last year. Why would anyone define credits in terms of seat time when, increasingly, there are no seats and no fixed learning time? Because they have no other basis for doing so.

Without a way to tell how much students are learning, higher education quality is defined by U.S. News & World Report, Carey writes.

Faculty cultures and incentive regimes that systematically devalue teaching in favor of research are allowed to persist because there is no basis for fixing them and no irrefutable evidence of how much students are being shortchanged.

Academics resist measuring learning, seeing possible assessments “as either gross violations of institutional autonomy or as so crude and imperfect that they require further refinement and study, lasting approximately forever,” Carey writes.

Meanwhile, accreditation has lost credibility. The U.S. Education Department’s “gainful employment” regulations for career colleges defines learning in “purely economic terms, comparing students’ postgraduate earnings with their debt.” How long before that spreads from vocational programs to the rest of higher education?

New psychometric instruments will puncture “the myth that everyone with a college degree actually learned something,” Carey predicts.

The real debate shouldn’t be about whether we need a measuring stick for higher education. We need a debate about who gets to design the stick, who owns it, and who decides how it will be used. If higher education has the courage to take responsibility for honestly assessing student learning and for publishing the results, the measuring stick will be a tool. If it doesn’t, the stick could easily become a weapon. The time for making that choice is drawing to a close.

I think online learning is going to change higher education dramatically. Brick-and-mortar colleges will serve a purpose for 18- to 22-year-old students who can afford the college experience. Many, many adults will want to take a test to prove what they’ve learned in online classes, in independent study or through life experience.  We’ll need very good tests to make that work.