administrators

Essay on restoring promise of a free public higher education

Time for a reset in our thinking about higher education.

The Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce recently released a study that estimates the potential impact of Hillary Clinton’s proposal to eliminate public college tuition for all in-state students whose families make less than $125,000 per year. The center concluded that impact would be an increase in enrollment at public institutions of between 9 and 22 percent, with a “best guess” estimate of 16 percent. Three-quarters of the enrollment growth would come from attracting new students into higher education. And that’s the point of her proposal: to attract marginalized students into higher education.

Unfortunately, much of the commentary around the center’s estimates has focused on the potential impact on private colleges and universities. These institutions could face declines in enrollment that would account for the remaining quarter of the increase in public college enrollments. Such concerns would be fully warranted if all private colleges and universities had on-time graduation rates as high as the 91 percent at Davidson College or Georgetown University. But they don’t.

The on-time graduation rate for half the nation’s four-year private nonprofit colleges and universities is below 39 percent. For a quarter of all private nonprofit institutions, the on-time graduation is below 22 percent. At four-year for-profit colleges, the median on-time graduation rate is 14 percent. Even more alarming, nearly a third of four-year for-profits graduated no students on time.

But it isn’t just on-time graduation rates that need to be considered when judging the promise of a free public college option. It is our nation’s addiction to debt to finance higher education.

For the last seven years, President Obama, former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and current U.S. Secretary of Education John King have worked to help students manage their college debt by providing opportunities to repay it by working in local, state or national nonprofit organizations. They also have introduced more generous income-based repayment plans. And these opportunities are paying off -- both for the students and for our economy. Recently, we learned that nearly 432,000 student loan borrowers registered their work with employers that qualify them for Public Service Loan Forgiveness and a quarter of borrowers were repaying their loans through the William D. Ford Direct Loan Program, using one of several income-based repayment plans.

While loan repayment programs, whether income-based or through public service, have relieved the strain and burden on thousands of individual borrowers, together they are not enough to reduce the impact of $1.26 trillion in outstanding federal student loans on the U.S. economy. The latest research studies confirm that student loans negatively impact home and auto purchases as well as small businesses and family formation.

In retrospect, we have all contributed to the growth in student loans. From the 1860s to the present day, if we look at the history of federal support to higher education, our nation’s leaders recognized that increasing the educational attainment of citizens was good and necessary for the country’s future. When direct federal support to students was introduced with the GI Bill in the 1940s, it fueled a sustained era of national prosperity that only a prolonged and unproductive war brought to an end.

Through the 1970s, students from a low- or moderate-income family could afford to go to a public college and take on no debt. These institutions were affordable because taxpayers supported low tuition -- including tuition-free community colleges in many states -- and need-based grants like Pell Grants and State Student Incentive Grants. The combination of an increasingly educated workforce, with little debt to hold us back, fueled economic prosperity.

An obscure law rooted in President Reagan’s government reform efforts -- the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990 -- addicted us to paying for higher education primarily through debt. Students and families increasingly took out loans to pay for a college education. Under FCRA, the lifetime costs of federal loans -- not just student loans -- are recognized and paid for in the year in which the loan is made. The lifetime cost of federal student loans are measured by discounting the expected future cash flows associated with the loan to a present value at the date the loan is disbursed. From a federal budgeting perspective, the FCRA made it cheaper to make loans to students than give them grants.

Today, students who graduate without any college debt still reap great economic benefit from a higher education, but they are a shrinking share of graduates. Today, nearly three-quarters of students graduating from four-year private nonprofit colleges have borrowed for their undergraduate education. Nearly 90 percent at four-year private for-profit institutions have borrowed.

The students who graduate without debt get all the rewards of pursuing a higher education with none of the risks associated with the debt or making bad choices, like being lured into college by predatory for-profit providers or enrolling in academic fields that lack substantial economic returns.

For everyone else, it is an enormous gamble. For those with debt and no degree, the prospects are the worst. Those who drop out receive none of the rewards of pursuing a college education while they took on all of the risks from being out of the labor market and taking on student loans. For those with large amounts of debt who successfully completed a degree program, it largely is a question of the quality of the credential and the field of study. If they attended a first-rate institution and received a degree in a high-demand field, they’ll do well. For everyone else, it depends.

And that’s the problem. It depends on decisions about where to go to college and what to study that an 18-year-old -- or 32-year-old -- makes with no ability to predict the future and, despite the best efforts of the Obama administration to develop and publish data on labor market outcomes, less than perfect information.

But the nation and every state benefit from the cumulative impact of higher levels of educational attainment. Even those who don’t go on to higher education benefit from increases in productivity and gains in earnings because of those who do.

So, if we must talk about making America stronger together -- or greater again, depending on your political persuasion -- we must make higher education free again. When running for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed “College for All” -- the name Carmel Martin and I used when we released our plan for debt-free higher education in February 2015. Senator Sanders’s bold proposal encouraged former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to propose eliminating tuition for students from working families who attend public colleges in their home state, assuring continued support to students from low- and moderate-income families through Pell Grants and other programs, and creating a much-needed new college compact -- something I and my colleagues at the Center for American Progress proposed -- to increase accountability and improve our nation’s return on investment resulting from higher education. Private colleges will need to make adjustments if they want to stay competitive, but that’s just the cost of making our higher education system work for everyone.

As a society, we pay for what we value. So, do we want to be known as a society that values war more than peace, prison more than education? It’s time to step up and restore America’s promise of a free public higher education opportunity for the current and future generations of the greatest country on earth.

David Bergeron is a senior fellow for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress. He previously served as the acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the U.S. Department of Education.

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Push to Cut Expenses of U of New Mexico Press

Administrators are pushing to cut expenses of the University of New Mexico Press, which like many university presses is not self-supporting, The Albuquerque Journal reported. The university has moved the press from academic affairs to the administrative side of the university, and it will be part of institutional support services. The university has also cut an annual $250,000 subsidy to the press. Supporters of the press say that it was never intended to be a self-supporting operation and that it fills an important scholarly mission. The press has published 70 books a year and is known for its work in Chicano studies, Latin American studies and the American West, among other topics.

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Frustrations of Early Career Scientists

Current research funding trends discourage innovative thinking, according to a new essay in a special issue of Nature. The essay, written by four early-career scientists who have been named by the World Economic Forum as part of a group of scientists under the age of 40 who “play a transformational role in integrating scientific knowledge into society for the public good,” says that the “scientific enterprise is stuck in a catch-22,” with researchers charged with advancing promising new questions, but receiving “support and credit only for revisiting their past work.”

The authors say that their most striking common challenge is “barriers to achieving impact,” in that their research “often led us to questions that had greater potential than our original focus, typically because these new directions encompassed the complexities of society. We realized that changing tack could lead to more important work, but the policies of research funders and institutions consistently discourage such pivots.”

One of the paper’s co-authors, Gerardo Adesso, a professor of mathematical physics at the University of Nottingham, said in a statement that the key is allowing scientist to “pivot,” or to shift their focus during their career. Funders and institutions often hamper this, however, questioning researchers with no track record in the new area they want to explore, he said.

“We are not saying that scientists should dabble,” the essay argues. “Executing a pivot should still require conviction and risk, but the current strictures are too tight. Enabling early-career researchers to change trajectories is necessary to encourage the highest-impact research. Theories of brain plasticity and team productivity support this. Alongside specialization, diverse and varied experiences foster discoveries and promote the decision-making skills that are needed to lead research.”

In addition to promoting the pivot, the essay advises institutions to emphasize peer-review training, which it says could eventually change institutional cultures. “Equipping scientists with skills for more nuanced appraisal will help them to consider varied attributes, particularly how to address complex societal challenges and to evaluate broader interdisciplinary questions.”

“The greatest risk is that innovation will be stifled by failing to invest in the best emerging scientists, who are approaching the peak of their creativity,” the authors conclude.

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Wikileaks, Bill Clinton and For-Profits

A former adviser to Bill Clinton co-founded a corporate consulting firm that did communications work for Education Management Corporation, a for-profit college chain, as well as a company that does student-loan default-prevention.

The inner workings of the company, Teneo Holdings, were revealed in an illegally hacked memorandum that was released last week by Wikileaks, the antisecrecy group that federal authorities say has received documents from hackers working for the Russian government in an attempt to influence the U.S. presidential election.

Former Clinton adviser Doug Band co-founded Teneo. In the memo Band said he helped encourage Teneo's clients to donate to the Clinton Foundation. Band also described how he helped facilitate Bill Clinton's previously reported lucrative personal business relationship with Laureate Education, a for-profit college chain.

A Teneo subsidiary, Teneo Strategies, in recent years did public relations work for EDMC, including its Art Institutes chain. Another EDMC subsidiary, the defunct Brown Mackie College, donated up to $10,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to The Washington Post.

Teneo Strategies also performed communications work for Ceannate Corp., a company that colleges pay to help prevent former students from defaulting on their federal student loans. Ceannate does not appear to have donated to the Clinton Foundation.

33% Raise for President, 6% for Professors

Faculty members at the College of the Sequoias, a community college in California, are raising questions about a 33 percent raise that the board granted to President Stan Carrizosa, The Fresno Bee reported. The raise brings his salary to $300,000. Faculty leaders note that they recently received a 6 percent raise, after a decade without any pay increase. Board officials defended the president's raise, saying that he was on the low end of the salary range for his position.

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Wide praise for restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for students at closed colleges

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The Education Department said Friday it would restore Pell Grant eligibility for students whose education was interrupted by the closure of their institutions.

Johns Hopkins threatens to close humanities center, sparking outcry

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Johns Hopkins threatens to close its interdisciplinary Humanities Center, sparking outcry from students and faculty members.

NCAA to Distribute Funds Based on Academics

The National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Thursday that, beginning in 2019, it will distribute millions of dollars in revenue to member institutions based on the academic performance of their athletes. The money will come from the association's new $1.1 billion multimedia rights deal for the NCAA's men's basketball tournament. Colleges will be awarded the funds by earning "academic units" based on the academic performance of their teams, similar to how programs earn units based on how far they advance in the tournament.

According to the NCAA, each school can earn one academic achievement unit per year if its athletes meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • Achieve an overall single-year, all-sport academic progress rate of 985 or higher.
  • Achieve an overall all-sport graduation success rate of 90 percent or higher.
  • Achieve a federal graduation rate that is at least 13 percentage points higher than the federal graduation rate of the student body at that school.

The NCAA estimated that about 66 percent of the 349 Division I institutions will earn an academic unit in the first year of the new system, meaning each of those colleges will receive about $55,678. The size of the distribution will grow each year, the NCAA stated, with the amount of money each college receives swelling to about $500,000 by 2031.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has called for the creation of such a system for 15 years. William E. Kirwan, the commission's chair, who is retiring in December after a decade of leading the group, said in a statement Thursday that he was glad to finally see the change happen.

“It’s especially gratifying, in my final months on the commission, to see the NCAA take this game-changing step to place a higher value on education in college athletics,” Kirwan said. “It is critical to align the incentives in college sports with educational values.”

But David Ridpath, president of the Drake Group, an organization pushing for more emphasis on academics in college sports, said the change was little more than a public relations move by the NCAA.

"Just like the [academic progress rate], this becomes a measurement that schools that are already rich can reach easily just by continuing a system of academic sleight of hand and eligibility maintenance, along with expensive 'academic support' programs," Ridpath said. "This monetary bonus and the current academic measurements used by the NCAA do not measure true academic progress, and without a system of transparency and disclosure, they never will. The lower-resource schools that need the money will continue to lose out, because they don’t have the resources or ability to chase these numbers. They end up getting punished for essentially not gaming the system. Let’s not forget some of the highest APRs over the past few years were Auburn, Michigan and North Carolina. Need I say more?"

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The importance of grad rates for minorities when selecting colleges (essay)

Application season will soon be upon us, and graduating high school seniors across the country will be in the thick of deciding where to apply to college. Unfortunately, after they are accepted and enrolled, many won’t go on to earn a degree -- especially if they are black or Latino. According to the Digest of Educational Statistics, only about 41 percent of black and 52 percent of Latino students obtain their bachelor’s degree within six years of enrolling, compared to 61 percent of white and 69 percent of Asian students.

I have spent the past three years tracking more than 500 black and Latino students across their first three years of college to better understand the factors that could increase their likelihood of degree attainment. Over the course of this work, one question kept coming to mind: How did so many of them arrive on a campus having thought so little about why go to college -- and why that college in particular?

The answer came from understanding how their high schools failed them in the college application process. Most received what I now call mechanical advising: maximum logistical assistance but minimal decision-making support.

For example: Claudia is both a first-generation American, born to parents who immigrated as teenagers, and a first-generation college student. She relied on her high school for everything concerning applying to college. Although she was an excellent student, graduating fourth in her class of more than 800 students, it was not until senior year that she received guidance on applying to college. Even then, most of that guidance came in the form of schoolwide announcements and application support for the entire class.

Claudia credits her senior year AP English Literature teacher with getting her into college: “If it wasn’t for [her] I probably wouldn’t even have applied or known how to apply. She was a big role in how I did everything, because one of the assignments was actually to apply to colleges. Every step of the way was an assignment, so I did it all.”

Mechanical advising is designed to make sure increasing numbers of high school graduates enroll somewhere, anywhere. Claudia recalls: “They said, ‘Go to college.’ They always announced on the megaphone for morning announcements. They would tell you deadlines, ‘apply, apply, apply.’”

The Pew Research Center reported that, from 1996 to 2012, college enrollment increased by 240 percent among Latinos and 72 percent among blacks, compared to 12 percent for whites. While efforts to increase college enrollment are apparently succeeding, is this system helping if we are simply increasing the numbers of blacks and Latinos who won’t get a degree?

Because college has large financial and personal costs, the past few decades of broadening access without increasing graduation rates has created a college-going context that could be particularly detrimental for students from economically disadvantaged families. Expansions in college access have coincided with rising college costs and a shifting of student aid funding away from grants that don’t have to be repaid to loans that can’t even be discharged in a bankruptcy. Essentially, students who do not obtain a degree still walk away with the burden of college debt. The most recent numbers from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found undergraduate borrowers who dropped out over a decade ago had incurred a median debt of $7,000 in loans before leaving college. Given the steep increase in college costs, it is likely that today’s student borrowers who drop out are leaving with significantly more debt.

Expanding access to student debt without also increasing the likelihood that students will graduate means not only is college more of a financial risk, but increasing numbers of low-income students are exposed to that risk. Because of the strong correlation between race and ethnicity and income, the likelihood of dropping out is not spread evenly across all racial and ethnic groups, as the percentages of students earning a bachelor’s degree show.

For black and Latino students in particular, there is one important thing to add to the list of factors to consider in the college decision: How many students of their racial or ethnic group has their potential college graduated in the recent past?

Using overall graduation rates can be misleading. For example, based on the six-year graduation rate of five cohorts of freshmen who enrolled from 2004 to 2008, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities had an overall graduation rate of 73 percent. But that dropped to 65 percent for Latino students and an even lower 52 percent for black students. Concordia University Wisconsin had an overall graduation rate of 59 percent that dropped to 31 percent for Latino students and, again, an even lower 20 percent for black students.

The pendulum has swung too far. The current narrative that pushes all students toward a bachelor’s degree has resulted in mechanical advising that is not in the best interests of many students. The alternative advising model asks counselors to be both encouraging and discouraging -- encourage all students to develop postsecondary education plans and discourage aspects of plans that are implausible and imprudent. That means going beyond merely providing application support and engaging in discussions about the costs and benefits of college, and how various certifications and degrees fit into a spectrum of occupational trajectories.

More immediately, students and their families can be armed with vital pieces of information that will enable them to make better decisions about which college or university they should choose to take on the student debt they are about to accrue. Comparing institutions based on their graduation rates is rarely on the list of things that students do when deciding where to apply and which admission offer to accept. But as students and parents are armed with more information, it increasingly will be.

To facilitate this, I have developed a summary report and online tables that give students easy access to individual institutions’ graduation rates for black and Latino students.

For their part, universities would do well to embrace the understanding that retention is as or even more important than recruitment. A high retention rate is itself a competitive recruitment tool, and an increasingly important success metric that determines government funding. For administrators eyeing the bottom line, it is more cost-effective to retain those already enrolled than invest in the replacement of those who have dropped out. One examination of the fiscal benefits of student retention found that retention initiatives are estimated to be three to five times more cost-effective than recruitment initiatives. One example found that at the University of St. Louis, each 1 percent increase in the first-year retention rate generated approximately $500,000 in revenue by the time those students graduated.

Graduation rates aren’t the only aspect of college that matters, but it is one tangible number that prospective students can use to guide their decisions. Admitted freshmen should enroll at the college with the highest graduation rate for their racial or ethnic groups. And if all of the institutions to which they have been admitted have low graduation rates for their racial or ethnic groups, we should expect them to think twice about the amount of debt they will need to incur.

As the costs and benefits of getting a college degree continue to rise, so do the stakes associated with making the decision to enroll in college and the decision about which college to attend. These two decisions are intimately intertwined -- students can no longer be encouraged to enroll at any college and at any cost just for the sake of being counted among the college-going population. And colleges, for the long term, can little afford not to help them succeed -- and graduate -- once they get there.

Micere Keels is an associate professor in the department of comparative human development at the University of Chicago. She is a faculty affiliate of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, and member of the Committee on Education.

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Blackboard Study on How Instructors Use the LMS

Blackboard today released a study on how instructors and students in 70,000 courses across 927 institutions used Blackboard Learn, the company's learning management system. The research found five course patterns or archetypes (below). The majority of the courses fell into the category of content heavy, with low interaction. Roughly a quarter were in a second category, which feature one-way interaction through content, announcements and a grade book.

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