administrators

A Look at Geographic Distribution of Student Debt

A new web tool from the Urban Institute reveals the geographic distribution of student loan debt, with interactive data on debt levels and the share of people who took out student loans at both state and county levels.

The Northeast and Midwest have the highest portions of college students who borrow (45 percent and 44 percent, respectively), according a related paper the institute released today. Students from the Northeast also borrowed the most, with an average annual amount of $8,749.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the share of college students who borrow in a state is “highly correlated with the cost of attending a public four-year college in that state,” according to the brief.

Likewise, states with high student debt levels tend to have four-year public institutions with higher average costs. New Hampshire leads both those categories, the institute found. Wyoming, which has low student debt levels, has the lowest average cost at its four-year public colleges.

“States with high tuition for four-year colleges and little financial assistance typically have a large share of college students using student loans to finance their education,” the paper said.

The tool and paper draw from federal data sources as well as credit bureau data and tuition information from the College Board. The tool’s 2016 data cover all adults with a credit file, while the related brief is limited to people who were between 19 and 22 years old, for a look at those who take on debt early in their college years.

The Urban Institute’s debt-tracking release follows other looks at regional student debt distribution, including those produced by the Institute for College Access and Success and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

College students in the western U.S. are the least likely to borrow, the institute found. About 26 percent of students in that region took out loans to attend college, according to credit bureau data. New Mexico, Wyoming and California are at the bottom of this list, with just 23 percent of college students borrowing in California, which has relatively low tuition levels at its public institutions.

On the other side of the country, New Hampshire, Maine and Pennsylvania are among states with the largest shares of undergraduates who borrow -- 58 percent in New Hampshire.

"We present new statistics on the distribution of student debt and the cost of attending college, but it is out of the scope of this study to discuss whether students borrow too much or too little in specific regions,” the paper concludes. “If the financial return on a college education is high enough, it is possible that students in a state would be more likely to take out loans to finance their education but less likely to default on those loans.”

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Men Likelier Than Women to Say They're Smarter Than Peers

Is intelligence a state of mind, dependent on gender? A new study in Advances in Physiology Education involving students in an undergraduate biology course says men see themselves as smarter than women do, even when they share the same grades. Researchers at Arizona State University asked students in the class to compare their intelligence with that of their classmates in general, and with one person with whom they worked closely in the course. Male students were 3.2 times more likely than women to say they were smarter than their partners, the paper says. A male student with a 3.3 grade point average is likely to say that he is smarter than 66 percent of his classmates, while a woman with the same GPA is likely to say she’s smarter than 54 percent of her peers, based on an advanced analysis. 

Researchers also found that students were more likely to report participating in class more than their partner if they had a higher academic “self-concept.” The findings “suggest that student characteristics can influence students’ academic self-concept, which in turn may influence their participation in small-group discussion and their academic achievement in active learning classes,” the paper says, especially as more and more biology courses move away from lectures to active learning. Non-native speakers of English also reported lower levels of academic self-concept than native speakers.

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UT-Austin to Consider Sanctions for Off-Campus Misconduct

The University of Texas at Austin will consider its Mission, Core Values and Code of Conduct policy when reviewing and responding to criminal violations by employees, President Gregory Fenves announced Thursday. That means the university may discipline employees for misconduct that directly impacts the campus and even that which doesn't. In January, Fenves charged a committee with reviewing the university’s related policies and procedures after it was revealed that the university investigated but did not ultimately discipline Richard A. Morrisett, a professor of pharmacy, in 2016 after he pleaded guilty to violently assaulting his girlfriend. The university's review "found no relation between how the professor acted in this situation and how he acted on campus, and as a result he was allowed to continue his teaching and lab activities," a Texas spokesman told the Austin American-Statesman at the time.

In addition to the new mission and values review, the university committee's report recommends highlighting an existing criminal record self-disclosure policy and making violations thereof subject to disciplinary action.  “These proposed policies and updated procedures focus on disciplinary action related to conduct, not to speech or viewpoints,” Fenves said in his email. “They provide the university with clearer guidelines so that we may live up to the values” of the university. Morrisett did not report his multiple arrests to the university, according to the Statesman.

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Serving California's 2.5 Million 'Stranded Workers'

As California's community college system develops a plan to create a statewide online community college -- an idea proposed and strongly backed by Jerry Brown, the state's Democratic governor -- a nonprofit group has released an analysis that seeks to identify the "stranded workers" the college would seek to serve.

The group, California Competes, found that 2.5 million Californians between the ages of 25 and 34 have graduated from high school but do not hold a college degree. The planned online community college would be aimed at improving the economic outlook for these workers. It will not issue degrees, instead focusing on short-term credentials in high-demand fields, such as advanced manufacturing, health care and child development.

More than 40 percent of the stranded workers identified in the analysis are parents. Most are from minority groups -- 49 percent are Latino, 31 percent are white, 9 percent are Asian and 7 percent are black, the report found. Men also are more likely to be stranded workers, comprising 54 percent of the group.

While the stranded workers tend to be lower income, with 58 percent earning less than $25,000 a year and a quarter lacking health insurance, the report found that 93 percent live in areas with good access to high-speed internet connections.

"Essential to the success of an online system is balancing the real-life constraints faced by working adults with known best practices such as deep instructor engagement, rigorous content and opportunities for face-to-face interaction with the learning community," the report said.

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Equity Gaps in College Spending

Education spending for students of color who attend public colleges in the United States trails spending on white students by an average of more than $1,000 per year, according to a new analysis from the Center for American Progress. Nationwide, the aggregate spending gap is roughly $5 billion per year.

Two primary factors contribute to this equity problem, the report said. Most states provide more financial support to research universities than to less selective community colleges and four-year institutions. And CAP said the "inequitable system of access to higher education" tends to disproportionally send students of color to the colleges that receive less funding.

"It is imperative that states, institutions and policy makers work together to improve the current system of college admissions and access to ensure the system does not sort students into institutions based on factors that are beyond their control," the report concludes. "Until the doors of opportunity are open to everyone, inequity will persist, and students of color will continue to be shortchanged at every level."

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KIPP charter school alumni more likely to report 'sense of belonging' at HBCUs

New findings show Knowledge Is Power Program alumni who attend historically black colleges are more likely to report a “sense of belonging” and good mental health than those who attend other colleges.

A president who prefers meetings around campus rather than in her office

As president, Lori Varlotta takes most of her meetings out and about on the campus of Hiram College.

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President Lori Varlotta during a walk around campus
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Colleges should consider halving the gen-ed curriculum requirements (opinion)

On my campus, as very likely on yours, we’ve recently emerged from a difficult if not well-intentioned struggle over deep general-education revisions. Raised on a Midwestern farm, I confess to being of a don’t-fix-it-if-it-ain’t-broke mind-set, but even I can admit the old-fashioned distribution model baked into our gen-ed curriculum had grown a bit moldy around the edges. While we ultimately decided on a new nexus model more relevant to a digital age, the battle left me asking why gen ed itself wasn’t on the cutting board.

It sounds heretical, perhaps especially to me, a faculty member based in the humanities, but it’s been my observation over the years that the unquestioned and often outmoded fixtures that institutions fight to preserve are sometimes those that have the weakest rationales, which may explain our sensitivity and defensiveness where they are concerned. Just as travel agents once fought bitterly to keep their monopoly against the rising threat of internet-based travel bookings, and defensive real estate agents brought out the heavy artillery in an attempt to defeat the creeping threat posed by online for-sale-by-owners, it’s worth asking if America’s colleges and universities need struggle so desperately for the 40 to 60 gen-ed credit hours they often require.

Even a 40-credit-hour requirement, for example, amounts to one-third of many students’ total required credits, or roughly the equivalent of one to one and a half years of tuition. Given the College Board’s calculation that average tuition and fees for the 2017-18 academic year averaged $34,740 at private nonprofit four-year colleges and universities, the cost to complete a general-education program could be in excess of $50,000.

The math is imperfect, but it still raises the question: As important a contributor to civil society as gen ed may be -- and as emotionally tied to its long-standing virtues as many of us are as teachers, scholars and mentors -- can we adequately justify its hefty price tag to our most financially needy advisees, many of whom are working one and sometimes two part-time jobs to help foot the tuition bill, to say nothing of room and board?

A product of a humanities education and a liberal arts professor myself, I can easily articulate the time-honored virtues of general education: it creates better-rounded individuals, develops more engaged critical thinkers and citizens, builds common cause and community around a shared set of concerns, and so on. But during an era of record student debt and continuing retention and demographic challenges, it’s worth asking whether we might find ways to reduce gen-ed mandates by half. Putting gen ed on a diet may enable some students to graduate a term, if not a year, early, thereby lessening the debt load they carry into a difficult job market.

Making gen ed lean wouldn’t necessarily mean surrendering our most sacred outcomes -- writing, critical thinking, scientific and mathematical literacy, physical education, service learning, and community engagement -- but better incorporating those outcomes into existing majors. For example, suppose a new, streamlined gen-ed package required one rather than two composition classes, while asking students to enroll in a writing-intensive course within their major or minor to make up the difference. Granted, such hybrid intensives may prove more difficult to administer and staff, but their necessary economies would no doubt stimulate and incentivize interdisciplinary invention.

For example, I know a senior mathematics professor who piloted a course in the mathematics of square dancing. While even he would admit the course presented students quantifiably more mathematics than physical education, its innovative transdisciplinary curriculum got students moving, thinking and quantifying, all while tapping their toes.

While far from a panacea, and problematic in their own right, internships, co-ops, student-faculty research, undergraduate theses, student teaching, study abroad and other substantive outside-of-class commitments could, if properly sanctioned and supervised, help students acquire core competencies in areas like writing, communication and quantitative reasoning. Why couldn’t more established internships with proven corporate and nonprofit partners be preapproved to meet a gen-ed requirement? Rather than charge students a full three or four credit hours of tuition for an internship taking place off campus that requires little if any on-site faculty supervision, low-overhead credits like these could be offered at a discounted rate. Or, as an alternative, corporate internship sites could compensate students for a portion of the tuition cost incurred in return for their labors.

Before we devote scarce faculty and administrative resources to building a bigger, better, more enlightened mousetrap, perhaps it’s time to set students free by reducing gen ed’s appetite for increasingly expensive credits. Yes, we must be careful, lest, like the travel agents of yore, we argue ourselves right out of a job, but surely we can acknowledge that enlightened self-interest has limits. The credit-hungry gen-ed revision packages under consideration at so many campuses this academic year may be giving faculty a free pass on necessary innovation and needlessly harming students’ pocketbooks while damaging something far more valuable: their good faith.

Zachary Michael Jack is an associate professor of English at North Central College, where he is a member of the Leadership, Ethics and Values faculty.

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Students' access to food still a problem on college campuses, study shows

New report finds large numbers of students lack adequate food and shelter -- but the data are not representative.

Relevance and Perceptions of Higher Education

People are much more likely to have positive perceptions about the value and quality of their college experience when they feel their college courses are relevant to their work and daily lives, according to the results of a survey conducted by Strada Education Network and Gallup.

The survey, which is part of a broader series from the two groups, included a nationally representative sample of 78,000 adults who were employed and had taken at least some college courses. It found that respondents who had a positive feeling about the relevance of their college courses were 63 percentage points more likely to strongly agree that their education was worth the cost. They also were 50 percentage points more likely to strongly agree that they received a high-quality education.

“The clarity and strength of these findings tell us that career relevance of courses and experiences is a key driver of consumer assessments of the quality and value of their education,” Brandon Busteed, executive director of education and work-force development at Gallup, said in a written statement.

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