45% of adults have degree, certificate

Postsecondary attainment is inching up, according to the Lumina Foundation’s new Stronger Nation report. As of 2014, 31.5 percent of working-age U.S. adults had a bachelor’s degree or more, 9 percent had a two-year degree and 4.9 percent had earned a “high-value” vocational certificate.

Certificates were considered “high value” if the holder was employed in the career field for which they’d earned a credential.

Lumina’s goal is for 60 percent of U.S. adults to hold a high-quality postsecondary credential by 2015.

Pie chart showing levels of education for U.S. residents age 25 to 64.

Ten years after 10th grade

Ten years after 10th grade, 41 percent of the high school sophomores of 2002 who enrolled in college had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, concludes a new federal study. (Eighty-four percent took at least one college class.) Forty-three percent had no postsecondary credential, while 7 percent had earned a certificate and 10 percent an associate degree.

College success strongly correlates with high school grades and test scores, students’ and parents’ expectations, parents’ education, family income — the usual suspects.

It might be useful if students and teachers realized how grim the college graduation statistics are for C students.

Only 4.9 percent of C- and D students (GPA less than 2.0) earned a bachelor’s degree by their mid-20s; another 18 percent earned a certificate or associate degree. For those with a solid C average (2.0 to 2.49), 14.8 percent earned a bachelor’s and another 1 percent a master’s degree. That rose to 28.2 percent and 3.8 percent for C+ (2.5 to 2.99 GPA) students.

By contrast 65 percent of B students and 81 percent of those with a 3.5 GPA or higher earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

There’s a lot here for data junkies.

The upwardly mobile barista


Alicea Thomas is a full-time shift supervisor at Starbucks — and a full-time online student at Arizona State.

Going to college is easy. Nearly all U.S. high school graduates enroll somewhere. Completing college is hard, especially for first-generation and lower-income students.

“Thirty-five million Americans now have some college experience but no degree, writes Amanda Ripley in The Upwardly Mobile Barista. Starbucks has teamed with Arizona State to help employees finish their degrees online.

As long as they worked 20 hours or more per week, any of the company’s 135,000 employees in the United States would be eligible for the program. Those who’d already racked up at least two years’ worth of credits would be fully reimbursed for the rest of their education. Those with fewer or no credits would receive a 22 percent tuition discount from Arizona State until they reached the full-reimbursement level.

As it turned out, the tuition aid wasn’t the most critical part of the plan, writes Ripley. Starbucks enrollees were promised “an enrollment counselor, a financial-aid adviser, an academic adviser, and a ‘success coach’ — a veritable pit crew of helpers.” A special orientation course teaches time management.

Advising has been critical. Baristas need lots of help to pry transcripts out of former colleges, track down missing paperwork and overcome their fears, writes Ripley.

Alicea Thomas, 23, works 35 hours a week as a shift supervisor, earning $11.46 an hour. When her computer was stolen, she dropped out of orientation. How do you take online courses without a computer?

But then she did something crucial. She reached out to her academic adviser at Arizona State, who got her signed up for another orientation class happening later that month and encouraged her to find a way to get online.

That’s when Thomas began taking her classes on her iPhone. She was amazed at how much she could do on the device. After work, she’d take it to Applebee’s, get a margarita, and start doing her reading and tapping out her discussion posts. Problems arose only when she needed a webcam to take the remotely proctored quizzes. In those cases, she usually borrowed a computer from a relative.

In her first semester, Thomas earned two A’s. She’s majoring in communications with hopes of working in public relations.

Only a small percentage of Starbucks workers have applied to ASU so far, but 85 percent of those who did were accepted. So far, persistence and pass rates are similar to other ASU online students.

Job retraining is the focus of today’s Upskill Summit at the White House.

Connected to the future

Senior Gerardo Lopez talks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at San Francisco's Burton High School.

Senior Gerardo Lopez talks to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at San Francisco’s Burton High School.

Most students like Gerardo Lopez — Latinos and blacks from low-income and working-class families — enroll in community college, take a few remedial courses and drop out. They’ve been told they should go to college, but nobody’s told them what level of academic skills are necessary to pass college-level courses.

Many think any major will qualify them for a good job. They don’t know how the system works.

“Gerardo Lopez is preparing to turn his dreams into reality,” I write on Open Standard.

“Hands-on” learning opportunities drew Lopez, a Honduran immigrant, to the engineering academy at Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School in San Francisco. “As a kid, I loved to make little cars, bringing parts together to make something come alive,” he says.

But he didn’t know engineering was a possible career. His father is a hotel janitor; his mother is a housewife.

Now a senior, he spends two days a week as an “extern” at an architectural firm. Lopez hopes to major in mechanical engineering – or perhaps architecture – at a University of California campus or Stanford. If he hadn’t signed up for the engineering academy, “I wouldn’t have known what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

Burton offers “career academies” in engineering, health sciences and information technology, all high-demand fields. Students take college-prep and career-prep courses together, visit workplaces, do job shadows and compete for summer internships.

“Employers say they can’t find the skilled workers they need,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told business and education leaders at Burton High last week. But CEOs aren’t talking to superintendents. “There’s a total disconnect.

Thirty-five percent of Burton High graduates enroll in four-year universities, said Principal Bill Kappenhagen. Another 43 percent go to community college and 22 percent go straight to the workforce.  The six-year graduation rate is high – 90 percent – for the four-year students, he said. But only 10 percent of those who go to City College of San Francisco graduate in six years.

What’s going wrong for the community college contingent? Some get bogged down in remedial courses or overwhelmed by work and job responsibilities. I’d guess many more would succeed if they aimed for a technical certificate or two-year vocational degree rather than taking general education courses.

Full-time college isn’t for everyone

Student retention has improved for “ASAP” students at New York City community colleges. The program requires students to enroll full-time and accept “intrusive” advising. But many nontraditional students can’t drop everything to go full-time.

President Obama’s college plan should include 45 million peanut-butter sandwiches a week for Pell Grant recipients, argues a community college professor. 

U.S. spends big on schools, but results lag

The U.S. “is one of the world’s biggest spenders when it comes to education,” but is not keeping up with other nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The United States spends 7.3 percent of its gross domestic product on education from pre-kindergarten through the university level, the fifth highest in the world.  “But other countries have done a lot better at getting their resources where they will make the most difference,” said Andreas Schleicher, an education policy adviser to the OECD.

America used to have one of the highest college completion rates for young adults in the world. It has now dropped to 14th place, behind countries including Korea, Russia, Ireland and Canada, according to the OECD report

The United States also falls behind in early childhood education. Just half of 3-year-olds were enrolled in preschool in 2011 compared with more than 90 percent in nations such as France, Italy and Norway, according to the report.

In kindergarten through 12th grade, meanwhile, the U.S. posts middling test scores, dragged down by the high numbers of children living in poverty whose schools tend to receive lower revenues from property taxes.

“The U.S. is one of the few that invests in a regressive way,” said Schleicher. “Children who need (public funding) the most get the least of it.”

The U.S. spent $15,171 per student in kindergarten through college in 2010 — including more than $11,000 for K-8 students and more than $12,000 for high school students —  more than any other nation in the OECD report.

Switzerland’s total spending per student was close at $14,922; Mexico averaged $2,993.  The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per young person.

Public spending accounts for 70 cents of every education dollar in the U.S., down from 72 cents a decade earlier. Parents picked up another 25 cents and private sources paid for the remainder in 2010.

The average OECD nation spent 84 cents of every education dollar, down from 88 cents a decade earlier.

In the U.S., taxpayers pick up 36 cents of every dollar spent on college and job training, compared to 68 cents in other OECD nations.

The average high school teacher in the United States earns about $53,000, well above the average of $45,500 among all OECD nations. But other countries are raising teachers’ pay more quickly than the U.S.

2/5 of grads aren’t ready for college or work

Two-fifths of high school graduates are unprepared for college or the workforce, according to a new study. One third of graduates are ready for college and one fourth are ready for job training. The rest, who typically passed  lightweight, faux college-prep classes, make up a “virtual underclass” with a bleak future.

While more Americans are earning college degrees, the U.S. is not on track to meet President Obama’s goal — 60 percent of young adults will earn a degree by 2020 — or College Board’s more modest goal — 55 percent by 2025.

KIPP on college completion

One third of KIPP’s middle-school graduates go on to complete a bachelor’s degree. That’s a tad higher than the national average and much higher than the average for the low-income black and Hispanic students that KIPP educates. But it’s much lower than KIPP’s goal. KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth tells Rick Hess what the 99-school network is doing to meet the college completion challenge.

The number one thing is academic rigor. We’ve committed to going kindergarten through twelfth grade in KIPP schools across the country. The original cohorts that we just [reported upon] only got fifth through eighth grade. So [we’re going to] start with our kids earlier and stay with them longer. The second thing is we’ve got to do a much better job of finding the right match when it comes to college. We are sending too many of our kids off to campuses that have low graduation rates. . . . one of the simplest and clearest things we can do is to form partnerships with colleges that are doing a better job of not just taking kids, but seeing that they finish. We also think we can do a better job of making sure our KIPPsters are better aware of the financial costs of college and are preparing for that. It is pretty clear that as the original KIPPsters went off to high school, they weren’t sure what it was going to take from a financial standpoint to get to college. We’re piloting a match savings program, so for every dollar a family commits, they can get a match dollar.

KIPP is partnering with  the University of Chicago on a financial literacy program to help families plan for college costs.

The network also hopes to start 25 pilot programs on college campuses to help first-generation students cope with choosing the right classes, financial aid and other demands. In addition, KIPP will strengthen counseling to encourage more KIPPsters to choose the same colleges, so they can support each other.

KIPP, which started as fifth-to-eighth-grade middle schools, now has 15 high schools and is building more.  “We sent a lot of our kids to high schools that we thought would keep the progress going and they didn’t.”

KIPP is rethinking its academic program, Barth says.

As we’ve gotten into the high school business ourselves, there’s been a really big push on writing, which we think is a proxy for critical thinking skills. And we’re trying to learn how to let go of the supports and scaffolding [so as] to let kids be more responsible for decisions on their own. Our middle schools are highly structured, and as we’ve gotten into high schools, we’ve realized we have to prepare them for a world with far less structure. We’ve got to get better at that.

The difference between “to college” and “through college” is huge, Barth says.

This is a challenge facing all the college-prep charter schools that focus on low-income, minority, first-to-college students. It’s easy to get graduates into college because so many aren’t selective. It’s very hard to get students to a college degree. In addition to strong academic preparation, they good work habits and time management skills, financial literacy and the kind of support that college-educated parents can provide to their kids. The school in my book and other college-prep charters now ask their counselors to work with graduates (usually via e-mail) to help them cope with college challenges.

Colleges spend more, students fail

College leaders waste money on ineffective college-completion strategies, such as reducing class sizes, while ignoring cost-effective alternatives, argue two University of Wisconsin researchers.

Also on Community College Spotlight: A non-credit, enrichment class called What is Islam? is off the schedule at a Eugene community college. The community member who proposed to teach the class is anti-Muslim, complained the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Barry Sommer runs the local chapter of a group that warns Islamic jihadists are trying to take over America.

Certificates are path to success

On Community College Spotlight:  For many students, earning a vocational certificate “can be the most direct path to college completion and career success,” says a new report.

To save money, the University of California may expand online classes and encourage students to complete a bachelor’s degree in three years.