Obama plan won’t control college costs

President Obama’s college rating plan won’t control college costs, an analyst argues.

Proposed changes in financial aid designed to improve completion rates could limit low-income students’ access to college, a new report warns.

States link financial aid to academic progress

Every year states hand out $11 billion in college aid — usually without tracking whether students earn a degree. That’s changing. Some states are linking financial aid to students’ academic progress.

To really improve college access and success, double or triple the average Pell Grant, recommends financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz.

The AP/IB challenge gap

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses could help close the “high-end achievement gap” —  if more low-income, black and Latino students take these rigorous courses, concludes Finding America’s Missing AP and IB Students. The report is by the Education Trust and Equal Opportunity Schools.

Low-income students are one-third as likely to enroll in AP as their middle and high-income classmates. While 25.1 percent of Asian-American students take at least one AP course, that drops to 11.9 percent for whites, 9 percent for Latinos and 6 percent for blacks.

Ninety-one percent of public high school students attend schools that offer AP courses.

. . .  preparation prior to high school is part of the problem, and the nation’s schools need to work hard on that. But a recent analysis of PSAT scores by the College Board suggests there are far more students who have the potential to be successful, but are not enrolling. The College Board found that 72 percent of black students and 66 percent of Hispanic students whose PSAT scores suggested they had the potential to be successful in an AP math course, as well as 69 percent of black students and 65 percent of Hispanic students whose scores suggested they had the potential to be successful in an AP science course, were left out of the program.

San Jose Unified has doubled AP participation rates for under-represented subgroups, the report finds.

In Washington state, the Federal Way went beyond open access to AP and IB courses. Now  automatically enroll students who scored proficient or better on the state exam are enrolled automatically in AP or IB.

Teachers found that some of the new AP/IB students didn’t need additional supports to be successful in AP/IB — they had been ready all along — but others did. Schools relied on the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program that was already in place . . . the district extended instructional coaching support to ensure teachers were capable of meeting the demands of their new classes, offering techniques and strategies for differentiating lessons to reach all their students.

The Road to Equity: Expanding AP Access and Success for African-American Students, a new report by the Broad Foundation, looks at six urban districts where more black students are passing AP exams.

Online courses can widen learning gap

Digital learning is expanding access to higher education, but may be widening the  achievement gap. Students who have trouble learning in a traditional classroom have even more trouble learning online, concludes a study of community college students in Washington state. For older students, women and high achievers, the difference between online learning and face-to-face learning is small.

Bridging the skills gap

Some 21 percent of jobs require “middle” skills — more than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree. Community colleges can help 1.5 million unemployed Americans bridge the skills gap, researchers say. But colleges will have to balance open access with the push for higher graduation rates.

MOOC opens the door

Massive Open Online Courses are the next big thing for learners who don’t need college credit.

Online ed means low-cost, high-quality college

Online technology “promises historic improvements in the quality of and access to higher education,” predict John Chubb and Terry Moe in the Wall Street Journal. Elite universities are putting classes — if not degrees — online.

One Nobel laureate can literally teach a million students, and for a very reasonable tuition price. Online education will lead to the substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive)—as has happened in every other industry—making schools much more productive.

And lectures just scratch the surface of what is possible. Online technology lets course content be presented in many engaging formats, including simulations, video and games. It lets students move through material at their own pace, day or night. It permits continuing assessment, individual tutoring online, customized reteaching of unlearned material, and the systematic collection of data on each student’s progress. In many ways, technology extends an elite-caliber education to the masses who would not otherwise have access to anything close.

College won’t be 100 percent online, Chubb and Moe predict. Students will “go to school and have face-to-face interactions within a community of scholars, but also do a portion of their work online.”

The “college experience” is very expensive.

Board: 2-tier tuition is ‘Robin Hood’ plan

Robin Hood was the model for Santa Monica College‘s plan to charge higher tuition for added classes, say members of the very liberal college board. Those who could afford it would pay more, opening up space in budget-priced classes for low-income students.

Low tuition is no bargain if colleges can’t meet student demand, an analyst argues. If community colleges charged enough to fund sufficient classes, students wouldn’t be turning to high-cost for-profit colleges that don’t put students on a wait list.

If not rationing by price, then what?

In the face of protests, California’s Santa Monica College has suspended plans to charge four times more for high-demand classes. But with demand exceeding supply of classroom seats — and no money to hire more instructors — that leaves rationing by wait list, the academic equivalent of Soviet bread lines.

Academic redshirting: Give students more time

Selective colleges should “redshirt” disadvantaged students, giving them an extra year of college prep, writes Grinnell’s president. It works for football players, he argues.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Police used pepper spray on protesters who stormed a board meeting at Santa Monica City College. They object to the college’s plans to charge premium pricing for priority access to high-demand classes.