The American Council on Education this week announced that 15 more colleges have joined an alternative credit consortium the higher-education umbrella group created last year. The new institutions will join 25 other colleges -- collectively representing a broad swath of higher education -- that have agreed to accept all or most of the transfer credit students seek after successfully completing courses from a council-created pool of about 100 low-cost online courses. The pool includes courses offered by online institutions and nontraditional providers. ACE is collecting data and tracking success rates of students who transfer in with consortium-approved course credits.
"This project already is yielding enormous benefits, adding to our body of knowledge about the most effective ways to go about increasing the number of Americans able to earn a college degree or credential by using education, training and life experiences gained outside of a formal higher education classroom," said Molly Corbett Broad, ACE's president, in a written statement.
The Lumina Foundation is funding a $2.25 million project to create a credential registry, which will help users compare the quality and value of credentials, including college degrees and industry certifications. The web-based system will receive credential information directly from issuing institutions. Its creators hope to create several applications, including one that will allow for the review of competency-based transcripts and portfolios that are based on transfer policies.
Other institutions that are participating in the registry's creation include George Washington University's Institute of Public Policy, Workcred (an affiliate of the American National Standards Institute) and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale’s Center for Workforce Development.
The Higher Learning Commission removed the University of Phoenix from "on notice" status effective June 25, according to corporate filings published Thursday. The status is a sanction that indicates the institution is moving in a direction that could place it out of compliance with the accreditor's requirements.
In a statement to Phoenix staff and faculty, President Tim Slottow and Provost Meredith Curley wrote: "We are appreciative of the work done by the HLC staff and the independent peer review team made up of professionals in higher education and their recognition of the efforts undertaken by everyone at University of Phoenix to satisfactorily resolve all concerns identified in 2013. But our work in this area is never done. We will host a comprehensive visit again in 2016-17 where we intend to demonstrate the university's further progress and continued compliance with all of the criteria for accreditation."
"Within my first 100 days, I will bust this cartel by establishing a new accreditation process that welcomes low-cost, innovative providers," the Florida Republican and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination said in prepared statement.
The speech in Chicago built on related proposals Rubio has pushed in the Senate. He cited student debt levels and the lack of workforce relevance of degree programs as reasons to create a new accreditation pathway for upstart providers. "This would expose higher education to the market forces of choice and competition," he said, "which would prompt a revolution driven by the needs of students -- just as the needs of consumers drive the progress of every other industry in our economy."
Rubio also mentioned a bipartisan bill he previously co-sponsored that would give prospective students and parents detailed information on how much graduates in academic programs at individual colleges could expect to make.
Last week, the Department of Education walked back from its plans to develop a comprehensive college ratings system. In its place, the department plans to release “easy-to-use tools that will provide students with more data than ever before to compare college costs and outcomes.”
But is anyone actually using these tools, and are the interfaces, graphics and user experiences designed to actually help students? And how “easy to use” will these new tools be?
To better understand what works and what doesn’t, I recently co-wrote a report with Healey Whitsett, now of the Pew Charitable Trust, that provides best practices on how to design and deliver information to help prospective college students navigate the best programs available for them. The department should turn to these principles as it develops its new tools to maximize their effectiveness.
We synthesized scores of studies on behavioral economics, information search, retention, and bottlenecks that get in the way and break down the proper processing of information – and recommended ways to design tools so students get the information they need to make more informed decisions about where to go to school, what to study, and how to pay for it. We also recommend that designers target their efforts at students from low-income families, as unfortunately, they’re the least likely spend a lot of time searching for information.
For example, designers shouldn’t try and cram too much information in one place. Cognitive research tells us this overwhelms the reader and makes it difficult to comprehend and retain the information.
In one study, researchers compared individuals' interactions with the standard mortgage disclosure form, against a redesigned, better organized prototype: borrowers using the redesigned form were 38 percentage points more likely to correctly identify the amount of the loan, and 11 percentage points more likely to correctly identify their monthly payment amount. Since students are unable to identify how much money they took out in student loans, redesigning these forms makes a lot of sense.
The literature also demonstrates the importance of personally tailored information: Consumers are much more likely to identify, remember, and use information if it is personally relevant to them. That’s why broad national rankings are probably only so useful to students and families. In this regard, the Department seems to be on the right track by making the tools “customizable” to the user.
Our research also finds that higher education stakeholders shouldn’t present students with too many options of comparison. With 7,000 colleges and universities to choose from, it’s critical that we figure out manageable ways for students to compare a limited set of schools that tailor to their interests, or they risk facing what we call the “tyranny of choice.”
A study by Judith Scott-Clayton at the Community College Resource Center at Columbia University's Teachers College showed that too many choices in community college majors or programs may overwhelm and discourage students from persisting in and succeeding at earning a credential.
Furthermore, information should be as personally tailored as possible, as individually contextualized information is much more likely to be recalled and used in decision making.
Aspiring students must also be able to compare and contrast their school and loan choices. It would be very difficult to choose which school to attend if you knew the graduation rate of one and the list of majors of the other. They must be able to compare the same variables side by side.
Fortunately, it looks like Congressional leaders are interested in arming students with more information as well. In its white paper on proposals for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee called for “extensive consumer testing on what information is needed and how it should be presented” and to “[a]pply this research to any federally produced consumer tools and make the research available publicly to voluntarily inform the market.”
The House Education and Workforce Committee recently said, “Access to better information will empower students with the knowledge they need to make smart decisions in the college marketplace.”
We hope that the department will take note of this research as it designs this new tool and we also applaud department officials for committing to work with outside parties to design their own mobile apps and interfaces optimized for usability. After all, aspiring students can have all the data and information in the world, but if it’s not packaged and delivered in a way that’s useful to them, then we’re wasting our time.
Tom Allison is research and policy manager at Young Invincibles.