Retention’s up, enrollment’s down

Determined to raise retention rates, Klamath Community College mandated orientation and advising and eliminated late registration, reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed. The cost of improved retention was lower enrollment. The small college in southern Oregon saw enrollment fall 20 parent last fall, cutting state funds by $800,000,  more than 7 percent of Klamath’s total annual budget.

“We have a system that doesn’t reward student success,” said Roberto Gutierrez, the college president. “It rewards seat time.”

Klamath Community College is an Achieving the Dream partner institution.

Achieving the Dream is a vocal supporter of “make it mandatory,” a refrain often used by Kay McClenney, an expert on community colleges and director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement. McClenney, backed by research, argues that mandatory orientations and advising can boost student retention rates.

For example, prior to last year, only 50 percent of students at Klamath were attending orientation. College officials said that means those students were missing out on vital information about the college and how to navigate it.

Yet many colleges resist the mandatory approach, feeling it is paternalistic and too prescriptive for the large numbers of adult students who attend community colleges, where the average age of students typically hovers around 25. And red tape and hassles, like mandatory scheduling, can discourage students who may have been on the fence about attending college in the first place.

Students who can’t make the time to go to orientation or meet with an advisor probably won’t make the time for college classes, Gutieriez believes.

Banning late registration is hard adult students, who are juggling jobs and family duties. But it’s clear that late registrants have very high failure rates.

Klamath’s new policy “resembles recent decisions by a few for-profits, including the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University, which have created free trial periods” for prospective students, Fain writes. Those who realize they’re not ready for college can quit without using up financial aid, running up debt — or raising the university’s failure statistics.

Klamath’s graduation rate for first-time, full-time students is only 17 percent; another 31 percent transfers. That could improve in the future: Fall-to-winter retention rates jumped from 60 percent for first-year students to 80 percent this year.

U of Phoenix partners with community colleges

“The University Of Phoenix plans to roll out more than 100 new partnerships with community colleges in the coming year,” reports the Huffington Post. The nation’s largest for-profit university will offer bachelor’s degree programs to two-year graduates, gaining students who are more likely to graduate and repay their student loans.

Partnerships with community colleges in Virginia and Arizona have been announced. More are coming, said spokesman Ryan Rauzon, including several in California.

Under increasing regulatory scrutiny, the University of Phoenix has seen enrollment drop precipitously from a peak near 500,000 to 320,000.

Community colleges and for-profit schools typically serve the same working, non-traditional student demographic. They “divide up the market,” explained Dr. Anthony Carnevale, an education expert from Georgetown University.

And as increased demand for bachelor’s degrees is driving many four-year public and non-profit private institutions to become more selective, it is unsurprising that community colleges seeking to build new programs would find an eager partner in for-profits like the University of Phoenix, Carnevale pointed out.

“It’s a fairly obvious deal,” he said. “It’s kind of a wide open market space at the moment.”

The new partnerships will expand on articulation agreements already in place that help community college graduates transfer their credits to a bachelor’s degree program, say executives at Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix.

When community colleges in Arizona wanted to offer their own bachelor’s degrees, the University of Phoenix lobbied against the low-cost degrees. The for-profit giant “provided research and political muscle for a multi-year lobbying campaign,” reports Sarah Pavlus in the American Independent.

Phoenix blocks community college degrees

The for-profit “University of Phoenix played a key role in defeating legislation that would have allowed community colleges in Arizona to offer low-priced bachelor’s degree programs,” reports Sarah Pavlus in The American Independent.

That allowed the for-profit chain to continue to advertise that it offers more degrees than community colleges.

University of Phoenix is one of Arizona’s  biggest employers. The company “provided research and political muscle for a multi-year lobbying campaign,”  Pavlus writes.

For-profit schools and community colleges generally serve the same working, non-traditional student demographic, but tuition rates at community colleges are often much lower.

Historically, community colleges have offered two-year associate’s degrees, with students then transferring to other schools to earn a bachelor’s degree – also known as a baccalaureate degree. Recent efforts by community colleges to offer their own baccalaureate degree programs have been controversial, in part because they dramatically expand the traditional mission of these schools.

But advocates say these programs – which typically require approval from state lawmakers – better respond to student and employer needs by providing affordable, career-oriented, four-year degrees.

Beginning in 2005, the University of Phoenix lobbied Arizona state lawmakers against the community college baccalaureate option. In a 2006 meeting with Wall Street analysts, University of Phoenix founder John Sperling credited one of his top executives with “killing the community colleges’ four-year degree program in Arizona.”

Community colleges in 21 states now offer bachelor’s degrees, usually in occupational fields. Florida is the leader: Its 22 community colleges have added bachelor’s degrees in nursing, elementary education, business management and other majors that meet local workforce needs. In some states, public universities have lobbied to block community colleges from expanding into baccalaureate programs. It’s competition.

Manufacturers design job training

Some manufacturers have started their own training programs, reports AP. Some 600,000 jobs are going unfilled nationwide, according to a survey of 1,123 manufacturing executives released last year. Tool and die workers, welders, robot technicians, mechanics and sheet metal workers are in short supply.

In Indiana, AAR is having trouble filling well-paying jobs, despite a 7.9 percent unemployment rate.

“There are just not enough qualified people out there. So what we’re trying to do is grow them ourselves,” said Timothy Skelly, AAR Corp.’s vice president and chief human resources officer.

. . . AAR brings in utility workers at a lower wage and starts them on an 18-month program where they do general labor that doesn’t require a license. Eventually, they move into a program that allows them to try to learn a skill and are assigned a mentor. They’re given more complicated tasks and are tested every six months to make sure they are progressing.

Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College is working with employers to identify needed skills and design classes, said Matt Bell, president of the school’s Corporate College. However, many high school graduates with college ambitions think manufacturing is low-skilled, poorly paid factory work.
The manufacturing industry has taken the lead in creating a system of stackable certificates, notes Inside Higher Ed. Colleges help by providing a path to certificates and degrees.

For example, Harper College, a community college in Illinois, last month launched a program where students can earn industry-endorsed certificates in manufacturing. And 54 companies have agreed to hire students from the two-year college as paid interns, as soon as students complete the first level certificate, which, at 16 credits, can be earned in less than four months.

Frustrated with the education system, the Manufacturing Institute created its manufacturing skills certificates with four tiers of competency. Each level of skills serves as a foundation for the next level, making the certifications “stackable.”

The institute’s stackable credentials are designed to match up with curriculums at colleges (as well as high schools at the entry level). And in recent months the industry has signed up higher education partners to strengthen those curricular links.

The for-profit University of Phoenix has created a bachelor of science in management with a concentration in manufacturing that incorporates competencies from the industry’s credential system. Phoenix is working with other industries to create similar degrees.

One class at a time

Community College Dean’s college runs a January intersession — one course for two intensive weeks — that’s a bit hit with students and faculty. Ninety percent complete the course. So the college is thinking about going intensive for the whole year.

A semester could be broken up into two seven-week terms or “in the most radical version, five three-week sessions in which students take one course at a time.”

 . . . students seem to do better when they have fewer balls to juggle at any given time. There’s something to be said for the “total immersion” model of a course, just as there is for a language. . . .  If the class meets several hours per day for three weeks, and it’s the only class you’re taking, then it’s possible to build a day-to-day continuity that’s much harder when the class is broken into 45 50-minute periods over four months.

Students who had to miss a few weeks would drop a single class. Working students and parents would have a simpler, more consistent schedule.

Of course, there would be complications, the dean concedes:

Science labs could be a real challenge, at least on a large scale. I’m not sure how it would work for courses that require the material to seep in slowly, like philosophy or literature.  The financial aid implications could be a headache . . .

But it’s hard to ignore the success rates for intensive, short-term classes, the dean concludes.

University of Phoenix uses the intensive model with five-week classes. Colorado College students also take one class at a time in three-week blocks.

Phoenix grads earn more

University of Phoenix alumni earn slightly more than graduates of traditional public and private universities throughout their careers, concludes the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

The chart compares Phoenix graduates to alumni of 153 “competitive” (mid-quality) colleges and universities, as rated by Barron’s. The salary data comes from Payscale.com. “As this is just a snapshot, it doesn’t control for demographic factors, test scores, or other information that would give more of a value-added description, nor does it say anything about other for-profit colleges.”

Since the graduation rate is low for Phoenix’s bachelor’s degree candidates, those who do complete a degree may be a select bunch.

‘Disaster’ if for-profit colleges go under?

Cutting federal loans to for-profit college students will create a “disaster” for lower-income, higher-risk students who need the flexibility the for-profit sector provides. So argues Donald E Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Co., which owns Kaplan University.

Most growth in student capacity over the past decade has come from for-profit, private institutions like Kaplan and the University of Phoenix, Graham writes. The Education Department’s proposed “gainful employment” regulations “would link programs’ access to federal student aid to the loan-repayment rates of graduates and their debt-to-income ratio,” rather than looking at the quality of education.

For-profit colleges cost the taxpayers less than public universities, which are subsidized heavily with public funds, and pay taxes on their profits, Graham points out.

In response to charges of aggressive recruiting, Kaplan now lets new students  “take four to five weeks of for-credit courses and walk away with no tuition due and no debt incurred if they don’t like any aspect of the program.”

It’s true that poor students need to borrow more and are more likely to default on their loans. That is true whether they attend traditional or for-profit colleges. If the proposed regulations were to apply to traditional colleges, many that serve predominantly poor students would have to shut.

. . . Private-sector schools educate 12% of all higher-education students, but 25% of African-American students, 24% of Hispanic students and 28% of students whose parents did not complete high school. These students tend to be older, poorer and more likely to have kids and jobs.

At Kaplan, “higher-risk students graduate at almost twice the rate — 32% versus 17% — at which demographically comparable students graduate from all U.S. four-year institutions of higher education,” Graham writes.

For-profit schools have an incentive to innovate, writes Michael Platt, chairman of Ad Venture Interactive, on Career College Central.

If universities were profit-driven, maybe they would stop misleading students with noted professors who then rarely step into a classroom. . . . Maybe they wouldn’t have one placement advisor for every 2,000 – 5,000 students. Maybe they would warn students who pay $80,000 for their education that their starting salary is likely to be well below DOE-proposed GE metrics.

. . . If community colleges were profit-driven, maybe they would grow in capacity instead of settling for 1-2 year waiting lists. Maybe they would attempt to address their barely double-digit graduation rates. Maybe they offer REAL placement assistance for their students. Maybe they would have enough student services staff to serve students.

The threat of regulation has depressed enrollment and stock values in the for-profit sector. Strayer Education’s enrollment fell by 20 percent in a year, sending its stock tumbling.

Apollo Group, which owns the University of Phoenix, sparked a for-profit college rally when it reported quarterly results that were higher than analysts estimated. An index of 13 for- profit colleges gained 5.7 percent.

However, the company also announced a whopping 42 percent decline in new enrollments from the same quarter last year. University of Phoenix now requires new students to take a free three-week orientation course before enrolling.

The for-profit sector could rebound in 2011, some analysts predict. Republican control of Congress may block or soften proposed “gainful employment” regulations.

The Village Voice has retracted a story critical of for-profit colleges, saying the reporter made up sources and quotes.

Kaplan faces scrutiny

Kaplan’s for-profit higher education division “faces growing scrutiny,” reports the New York Times, which emphasizes that its rival, the Washington Post, owns Kaplan.

. . .  Kaplan’s revenue grew 9 percent during the last quarter to $743.3 million — with higher education revenues more than four times greater than those from test-prep — helping its parent company more than triple its profits.

But over the last few months, Kaplan and other for-profit education companies have come under intense scrutiny from Congress, amid growing concerns that the industry leaves too many students mired in debt, and with credentials that provide little help in finding jobs.

The Post Company spent $350,000 on lobbying in the third quarter, reports the Times. That’s more than any other higher-education company. Donald Graham, chairman of the Post Company, “has gone to Capitol Hill to argue against the regulations in private visits with lawmakers, the first time he has lobbied directly on a federal issue in a dozen years.”

The Washington Post editorialized against regulations linking student loans to graduates debts, earnings and repayment rates.

Though it disclosed its conflict of interest, the newspaper said the regulations would limit students’ choices. “The aim of the regulations was to punish bad actors, but the effect is to punish institutions that serve poor students,” Mr. Graham said in an interview.

. . .  “For students with risk factors, older working students with children, Kaplan has dramatically better graduation rates than community colleges.”

In 2009, only 28 percent of Kaplan’s students were repaying the principal on their student loans. The proposed “gainful employment” regulation requires a 45 repayment rate for full eligibility for federal aid. “By comparison, 44 percent of students at the largest for-profit, the University of Phoenix, were repaying their loans.”

Under a new program called the Kaplan Commitment, students can take classes for a four- to five-week trial period before paying tuition, making it more likely that those who take out loans understand the demands and will complete the class.  That should cut enrollment and boost graduation and loan repayment rates.

University of Phoenix rolled out a similar strategy this month: New students must complete a free three-week orientation before enrolling and borrowing. In pilot orientations, 20 percent of prospective students decided not to enroll.

For-profit colleges really do enroll many students with risk factors, as Graham says. For-profit students are more likely to be low-income, non-white, older and balancing job and family responsibilities. Success rates are higher for these students at for-profit colleges than for similar students at public universities and community colleges.

Dependent on Kaplan’s profits, the Washington Post shouldn’t editorialize on for-profit education, argues Stephen Burd of Higher Ed Watch. The Post also owns a stake in Corinthian Colleges.

Higher education’s bubble is about to burst, predicts Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor who blogs as Instapundit.  “If you’re going to go after schools for charging a lot and graduating students with poor job prospects, there’s no reason to focus on the for-profit sector exclusively — unless you’re just attacking the competition on behalf of the existing education establishment.

Personalizing online learning

A new online learning platform now under development will adapt to the “learning DNA” of students, said Angie McQuaig, director of data innovation at the University of Phoenix.  Learning from Facebook, the for-profit company hopes to “deeply understand our learners,” McQuaig said at the Educause conference. From Inside Higher Ed:

Phoenix’s Learning Genome Project will be designed to infer details about students from how they behave in the online classroom, McQuaig said. If students grasp content more quickly when they learn it from a video than when they have to read a text, the system will feed them more videos. If a student is bad at interpreting graphs, the system will recognize that and present information accordingly — or connect the student with another Phoenix student who is better at graph-reading. The idea is to take the model of personal attention now only possible in the smallest classrooms and with the most responsive professors, make it even more perceptive and precise, and scale it to the largest student body in higher education.

“[Each student] comes to us with a set of learning modality preferences,” McQuaig said. The online learning platform Phoenix wants to build, she said, “reject[s] the one-size-fits-all model of presenting content online.” In the age of online education and the personal Web, the standardized curriculum is marked for extinction, McQuaig said; data analytics are going to kill it.

The University of Phoenix has been a pioneer in online learning.

For-profit colleges’ stock prices sink

Instead of trying to expand enrollment, Apollo Group’s University of Phoenix will concentrate on increasing graduation rates, company officials said in an Oct. 13 conference call,  Immediately, the stock nosedived, dragging down the stock of other for-profit higher education companies, notes California Watch.

. . . Apollo says it is expanding a free orientation program, increasing the accuracy of marketing statements so that students aren’t misled, and changing the way enrollment advisers are compensated so that their pay is not tied to the number of students they enroll.

But if it sounded like good news for students, it sounded like trouble to Wall Street. The changes to Apollo’s business model, coupled with a great deal of negative press in the last several months, could result in a steep enrollment decline, Apollo executives said. They estimated this quarter’s figures could be down 40 percent or more compared to last year at this time.

The value of the company’s shares dropped by 25 percent.  Overall, the publicly traded for-profit sector lost 20 percent of its value.