Indiana debates free tuition

Indiana is debating free tuition for community college students, reports the Indianapolis Star.

Nearby Tennessee has promised a free community college education in hopes of improving job skills.

“Think how we’d change the state,” said Jeff Terp, Ivy Tech Community College chief operating officer. “We’d have one of the most educated workforces in the country.”

However, Teresa Lubbers, state commissioner for higher education, fears eliminating tuition would do little for low-income students, who already are eligible for state and federal aid. Many attend IvyTech for free and have grant money left over to pay for books and expenses, she said.

Most of the benefits of free tuition would flow to students whose families can afford to pay community college tuition, Lubbers said.

California: Building transfer bridges


San Franciscans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.

One way to restrain college costs and expand diversity is to build a sturdier bridge between community colleges and elite universities, writes Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic.

The University of California is trying to do that, he writes. Last month, a task force urged the nine-campus system to “streamline and strengthen” the transfer process.

Overall, the report noted, 29 percent of the system’s entering students in 2012-13 arrived as community-college transfers.

. . . Just over half of the admitted transfer students, the study found, were first-generation students, slightly above the proportion in the freshman class. Perhaps most impressively, the study found that 86 percent of transfers graduated within four years after arriving, almost exactly equal to the 84 percent of freshman students who finish after six years.

However, transfers come disproportionately from seven community colleges in affluent areas such as Santa Monica, Cupertino, Pasadena, Santa Barbara, and San Diego.

 Although African-Americans and Hispanic students make up nearly 46 percent of the state’s huge community-college student body, they represented only about 25 percent of those who transferred into UC. That was actually less than their share of the entering freshmen class for the UC system.

To encourage more demographic and geographic diversity, the report recommended that UC build partnerships with the community colleges that send few students into the transfer pipeline; increase its visibility on every two-year campus; broaden its own direct outreach to community-college students; expand the transition services it provides to transfer students; and, perhaps most important, establish more consistency in the course requirements that each UC campus sets for admission.

UC still lets each campus set its own transfer requirements, making it hard for students to navigate the system, said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.  The less selective California State system unified requirements under a 2010 state law. “The UC system should be able to align their requirements for the different majors within the system, and that would allow students to prepare.”

Fifteen California community colleges would be allowed to one bachelor’s degree each in an area of “critical workforce demand” under a bill that has passed the state Senate.

Talking about credentials for competence

Credentialing is complex and costly, concludes a new report,  Call for a National Conversation on Creating a Competency-based Credentialing Ecosystem.

Leaders of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), National Skills Coalition, New America Foundation, Workforce Data Quality Campaign and other groups endorsed the report, which calls for improving “transparency, trust and portability.”

Competency-Based Education (CBE) is increasing due to growing concerns about college costs and quality, according to a paper from the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. While some colleges are embedding CBE in the traditional curriculum, others are redesigning the curriculum around competencies; or redesigning the credentialing process around CBE, using direct assessment.

Tennessee Promise guarantees 2 years of college

The Tennessee Promise — two years of community college tuition for all high school graduates — is part of the state’s “drive to 55,” Richard Rhoda of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission tells NPR. By 2025, the state wants 55 percent of adult Tennesseans to have some kind of post-secondary credential.

Students must  agree to have a mentor, says Rhoda.

Someone who will guide you through the process of applying for financial aid, applying for admission and making sure you, the student, meet all the deadlines. And there is also a very modest community service obligation, but that’s it. There’s nothing beyond – academically – beyond good standing and being admitted.

Financial aid will help students pay for books and living expenses, say sRhoda. Once students receive all the aid for which they’re eligible, the Tennessee Promise will cover any unpaid tuition and fees.

Tennessee will shift aid from university to community college students, observes NPR host Celeste Headlee. “Why the focus on a two-year college, a community college, instead of giving students a scholarship to a four-year university?”

That’s based on “a realistic assessment” of Tennessee’s workforce needs, says Rhoda. Young people will need the kind of skills taught at a community college or a Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT). Also, two-year colleges “really serve the needs” of first-generation and low-income students.

The Tennessee Promise will apply at the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and several public and private universities that offer associate degrees. 

Job 1 is job training

Job training is job one for the fast-growing Louisiana Community and Technical College System, reports Community College Week.  The state is rebuilding its economy, says Monty Sullivan, the new president of LCTCS.

“We have an economy that is growing faster than nearly anywhere else in the country, which means our workforce needs are greater than ever,” says Sullivan.

 “We need to link the needs of employers with our educational institutions,” Gov. Bobby Jindal told the Associated Press. “I think our big challenge this session is getting ready for this manufacturing expansion.”

Only 27.9 percent of Louisiana’s working-age adults hold a two- or four-year college degree, well below the national average of 38.7 percent.

A number of states are stressing workforce development,  according to the Education Commission of the States.

In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley wants to create a Statewide Workforce Council of business and industry leaders to advise colleges on workforce needs. In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal has called for a Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative to bring together education officials, industry leaders and economic development officials to identify workforce needs. In Idaho, Gov. C.L. Otter wants to improve a workforce grant program to better target individual businesses and industry sectors.

Louisiana is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in training facilities and workforce “centers of excellence” linked to their regional economies.

 Baton Rouge Community College, for example, is planning a center that will focus on transportation and logistics; its home city is the ninth-largest port in the United States. Delgado Community College, in New Orleans, is home to a culinary arts and hospitality center of excellence.

Industry partners supply at least 20 percent of the funding. 

At Fletcher Technical Community College, the Deepwater Center for Workforce Excellence will train oilfield engineers and technicians. BP America Inc. contributed $4 million to pay for state-of-the-art equipment.

University wants to give 2-year degrees

Kent State University wants to start awarding two-year degrees to students on their way to four-year degrees, reports the Columbus Dispatch.  Students who earn 60 credit hours could qualify for the associate degree, which would “provide a fallback” for those who never complete a bachelor’s degree — and increase state funding.

 Of the money that Ohio sets aside for four-year public schools, a greater share this year is tied to the number of degrees that schools grant. That includes associate degrees, even though they traditionally have been a specialty of community colleges and the regional campuses of four-year universities.

That could be a boon for Kent State but take a toll on other schools –– the state sets aside only a certain amount of money for colleges, so more for Kent State means less for others. 

Community college presidents are wary of competition. “It’s gaming the system,” said Karen E. Rafinski, interim president of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges. 

All four-year colleges should award associate degrees to students who finish two years of higher education, argues Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University, in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.

He imagines two brothers. One goes to community college, earns an associate degree and finds a job. The other goes to a university but drops out in his third year. Without a credential, he can’t find an entry-level job. 

Three years of college study but no earned degree is worth less in the market place than two years of college that culminates in an associate degree. If that is so, then why not award the A.A. to students who successfully complete two years of study but don’t make it to the finish line at traditional four-year institutions?

An associate degree in no particular field of study isn’t worth much in the workforce. The dropout brother would do better to reverse transfer to a community college and pick a field of study that lets him use some of his old credits. 

‘What Excellent Community Colleges Do’

In What Excellent Community Colleges Do, Josh Wyner describes what he’s learned running the Aspen Institute’s awards for community college excellence.

The best colleges have improved graduation rates, learning, workforce success and equity, even as they struggle with inadequate funding, Wyner writes.

Valencia College in Florida, an Aspen winner, eliminated late registration — few latecomers will pass the class — but provided late-start sections of popular classes.

The best colleges don’t blame students for not knowing the “unwritten rules of how to navigate higher education,” adds Matt Reed, the Community College Dean.  

Colleges develop “guided pathways, targeted advising, mandatory counseling, student success courses” and the like to make clear the rules of the game, writes Reed. 

“Wyner is quite good on outlining some of the policy-based dilemmas that community colleges face,” he writes. “Most of the colleges he examines face many of the same fiscal and policy constraints as everyone else, but they’ve managed to find ways to move forward anyway.”

States consider $0 community college tuition

Worried about a shortage of skilled workers, some states are considering free community college tuition, reports NPR.

In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam wants to use lottery money to create a free community college program for high school graduates. The state wants 55 percent of Tennesseans to have a college degree by 2025, up from 32 percent now.

In Oregon, a state commission will look at whether free tuition is feasible.

However, Oregon and Tennessee legislators aren’t sure that middle-class students should pay nothing. A Mississippi bill passed the state House, but then failed in the Senate.

“I think everybody agrees that with a high school education by itself, there is no path to the middle class,” said State Sen. Mark Hass, who is leading the no-tuition effort in Oregon. “There is only one path, and it leads to poverty. And poverty is very expensive.”

Hass said free community college and increasing the number of students who earn college credit while in high school are keys to addressing a “crisis” in education debt. Taxpayers will ultimately benefit, he said, because it’s cheaper to send someone to community college than to have him or her in the social safety net.

Nationwide, the average annual cost of community college tuition is about $3,300, not counting books and fees. 

California’s community colleges were free until the mid-1980s. (Even now, students don’t pay “tuition.” They pay “fees.”)

“What is exciting to us about the idea is that it signals that the state understands there needs to be significant reinvestment in community colleges in some way, shape or form,” said Mary Spilde, the president of Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., where in-state students pay $93 per credit hour. Back in 1969-70, baby boomers paid $6 per credit hour — about $37 in today’s money, adjusted for inflation.

Tennessee and Oregon may adopt the “last-dollar in” model: The state would fund tuition not covered by other forms of aid, such as Pell Grants. That means state money would pay primarily for middle-class families, said Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas. “And is that your best use of dollars within the public interest?”

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, said students are more likely to be successful if they have “skin in the game” and pay something toward their education.

College heads resist federal ratings

College presidents “agree that their institutions should be reporting much more information about the career and other outcomes of their graduates,” but they’re wary of federal involvement,  according to Inside Higher Ed‘s new survey of college presidents.

Three-quarters of presidents say their institutions should be reporting the debt levels, job placement rates and graduate school enrollment rates of recent graduates, for instance (though fewer say they are doing so now). But just half of campus leaders agree that it is “appropriate for the federal government to collect and publish data on career and other outcomes of college graduates” (with public and for-profit college leaders much more likely to say so than their private nonprofit peers), and just 13 percent believe the government has a “good chance” of collecting such data accurately.

Higher education leaders aren’t happy about President Obama’s plans to create a federal ratings system of “college value,” notes Inside Higher Ed.

In  a poll of college presidents late last year, only 2 percent plan believed the ratings plan would be “very effective” at making higher education affordable.

Only a third of private non-profit college leaders.think it’s appropriate for the government to collect and publish outcomes data. By contrast, more than 60 percent of community college, public university and for-profit college leaders accept a federal role.

Few in any sector believed the federal government will do a good job of tracking higher ed outcomes.

Asked if the government has a “good chance” of collecting and reporting accurately on higher education outcomes, 9 percent of private nonprofit presidents (on the low end) and 16 percent of public university leaders (on the high end) answered positively.

We need college ratings aimed at the 85 percent of students who go to unselective or less-selective institutions, writes Carrie Warick of National College Access Network.

. . . prospective college students need to know not just about accessibility/selectivity (average GPA, SAT/ACT scores), but also about affordability (net price by income tier, average student loan debt, ability to repay loans) and accountability (graduation rates by race and by income). The information should be sortable by location (to aid place-bound students) and by institution type (two-year, four-year, public, private) for students to compare side by side.

. . . we must change the federal calculation of graduation rates as soon as possible to account for part-time and transfer students, and we must collect and report institutional Pell Grant recipient graduation rates as part of the federal data system (IPEDS). Over the long term, we should also find a valid way to assess workforce outcomes for students.

Get the system up and running quickly, writes Warick. Then “we can turn to the more complex and politically difficult question of how to use federal financial aid dollars to incentivize better institutional outcomes.”

Employers: Grads aren’t ready to work

Eleven percent of business leaders strongly agree that today’s college graduates have the skills and competencies their companies need, according to a new Gallup/Lumina poll. Yet, in a Gallup/Inside Higher Ed survey, 96 percent of university officers believe that they’re effectively preparing students for success in the workplace.

“Something is very wrong when you see the academic leaders of higher education giving themselves an A+ on this while business leaders give them an F,” said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education.

Just 16 percent of business leaders strongly agree that jobs at their business require a post-secondary degree or credential to be successful; 38 percent strongly disagree.

Business leaders were asked what talent, knowledge or skills will prepare graduates for success in the workforce. The most popular response was that higher education institutions should provide internships and practical, on-the-job experience. In addition to experience, business leaders most want to hire people with strong communication skills, including writing and speaking skills.

Employers value both hard and soft skills, writes Julian Alssid, chief workforce strategist at College for America, in the Huffington Post.

I’ve had conversation after conversation with leaders in manufacturing, healthcare, insurance, government, retail and other industries, and the song remains the same. The skills sets that matter across all of these sectors are too often missing from their entry-level employees, whether they have degrees or not. These include hard skills — such as producing an extended piece of writing or interpreting information contained in graphs and charts — and soft skills — such as negotiating with others to settle conflicts and disputes.

To produce job-ready graduates, colleges and universities “must teach and hone skills through learning activities that mimic real-world scenarios rather than testing students on abstract principles,” writes Alssid.

Competency-based, project-based education can narrow the skills gap, argues College for America.