Mobility? Non-profit colleges fall short

Upward mobility is a myth for many students who borrow to attend private non-profit colleges, a Third Way report, Incomplete: The Quality Crisis at America’s Private, Non-Profit Colleges.

New, full-time low- and moderate-income students who start at a four-year, nonprofit college have only a 50-50 shot at earning a degree, the report concludes.

Most low- and moderate-income students enroll in less selective colleges with low graduation rates. Looking at net price — what students pay after grants, scholarships and loans — the unselective colleges cost the most.

“Using our mobility metric, the average net tuition paid by low- and moderate-income students was lowest at top-quartile schools ($15,938) and highest at bottom-quartile schools ($18,776),” warns Third Way.

Six years after enrolling, nearly 40 percent of students who borrowed for college don’t earn any more than the average worker with only a high school diploma. On average, 19 percent of borrowers fall behind on repaying loans three years out of college.

Here’s what Third Way doesn’t quite say: College is an engine of upward mobility for students who have the academic preparation to get into a selective college and complete a degree. For those with weak academic skills or shaky motivation, college can lead to debt (that can’t be discharged by bankruptcy) without raising earning power.

“If we’re serious about promoting equality and removing barriers that keep the less fortunate from getting ahead,” we should ban the college box,” writes Glenn Reynolds in USA Today. “If you have to go to college to move up in the world, a lot of people aren’t going to move up.”

Dartmouth students: Fire the babysitters

Dartmouth should stop “policing student life” and return to educating students, argues a group of students in a petition on change.org.

Administrators have become “paternalistic babysitters” creating “safe spaces” that protect students from “uncomfortable ideas,” the petition charges.

By effectively taking sides in sensitive debates and privileging the perspectives of certain students over others, administrators have crossed the line between maintaining a learning environment that is open to all and forcing their own personal views onto the entire campus. In doing so, they have undermined the value of civility, harmed the free exchange of ideas, and performed a disservice to those students who see their time in college as preparation for success in the real world.

Adding administrators and support services has driven up college costs, the petition charges. (“The sticker price for a year at Dartmouth is now just below $70,000,” notes FIRE.)

The students want to strip away “unnecessary deans, administrators, and support offices,” give students “the liberty to lead their lives as they please” and “freedom to speak their minds.” Finally, they write, “We envision a College that has recommitted itself to its roots in rigorous and stimulating undergraduate education.”

The rich get more educated (and richer)

Americans are earning more bachelor’s degrees since 1970, but a larger share go to students from families in top half of the income spectrum, concludes a Pell study. In 2014, 77 percent of four-year graduates came from families in the top 50 percent. Students from the bottom 50 percent earned 23 percent of bachelor’s degrees, down from 28 percent in 1970.

Lower-income students tend to enroll in colleges with low graduation rates, such as community colleges and for-profit colleges, the report found. Middle-class and upper-income students are more likely to attend selective colleges with higher graduation rates.

Overall, only a third of students enroll in selective colleges and universities and only 14 percent in those rated “most,” “highly” and “very” competitive.

Rising college costs make it hard for lower-income students to stay in college, writes Stacey Teicher Khadaroo in the Christian Science Monitor. “There is good progress in high school graduation and college [entry] for low-income kids. Then these enormous financial barriers … just clobber them when they get to college,” says Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.

Parents pay $1.5 billion remedial college bill

One in four first-year college students must take remedial classes, according to an Education Reform study. Their families pay nearly $1.5 billion for no-credit classes.

Forty-five percent of remedial students come from middle- and upper-income families and nearly half are enrolled at four-year colleges.

“People are underestimating the breadth and depth of high school underperformance. They think it’s not their kids,” said Michael Dannenberg of Education Reform Now, a co-author of the report.

Dropout rates are much higher for unprepared students, leaving many with college debts, but no college degree.

Student aid leads to tuition hikes

A large fraction of the rise in college tuition is explained by the rise in financial aid, concludes a new NBER paper.

The researchers’ model supported the Bennett hypothesis, which states that colleges will raise tuition to capture increased student aid. (It’s named after William Bennett, Reagan’s Education secretary.)

The Bennett hypothesis “fully explains all the tuition increases between 1987 and 2010, according to the study,” reports Reason.

Increasing subsidies doesn’t increase enrollment because the aid is canceled out by tuition hikes, the study found. Instead, students borrow more, leading to more loan defaults down the road.

A study by the New York Federal Reserve also found linked student aid to rising tuition.

Here’s The Atlantic‘s round-up of proposals to make college affordable from Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio.

 

 

College pays — for some, not all

College pays — on average — but your results may vary, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View. That last part is important: College doesn’t pay for the poorly prepared, who are unlikely to earn a degree.

The college wage premium has risen sharply in the last 30 years for U.S. males, concludes a working paper. However, there’s a much larger gap between high-earning and low-earning graduates.

“More people start college than did in 1985,” writes McArdle. “It’s just that they don’t finish.”

Dropping out may be a sensible decision for low-tier students who are likely to end up in low-paying jobs that don’t require a degree. Why borrow to be a barista?

While we’d like to think of enrolling in college as a guaranteed route to a stable, well-paying job, in reality it’s more like a lottery ticket. There are good jobs out there that are available only to folks with a college diploma. But not everyone with a college diploma gets one. You can also end up underemployed.

. . . Of course, it’s not exactly like a lottery ticket, because the distribution of the rewards isn’t random. Not every college graduate is entered in the “investment banker” or “Silicon Valley software engineer” draws.

According to this model, “the gains from pushing marginal students into college are likely to be small, for both the students and for society,” McArdle concludes.

People who’ve had trouble learning — and getting their work done — in high school occasionally bloom in college. But not very often.

For-profit colleges and the mobility lie

As a for-profit college inspector, Michael Fitzgerald called recruiters, pretending to be a potential student, to see if they were lying. His employer in the summer job was a large chain of for-profit colleges that wanted to protect itself from fraud charges, he writes in Pacific Standard.

Recruiters didn’t lie very often, Fitzgerald reports. They didn’t have to. “They were pitching a product—upward mobility via higher education — that the rest of society had already primed their customers to desire, no matter the cost.”

Raised in a low-income family, Fitzgerald turned down a scholarship to University of Vermont to attend the more prestigious Carnegie Mellon. He used a $5,000 annual Pell Grant, and federal loans — the interest rate was seven percent — to pay the $40,960 annual bill for tuition, room and board. He ran up more than $70,000 in student debt.

I wish anyone involved in my indebtedness—my family, Carnegie Mellon, the federal government, the state of Pennsylvania, or even the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (which accredits both Carnegie Mellon and many of the for-profit schools I called as a fake prospective student) had asked me what I planned to major in and what career I aspired to. Then, maybe, when I’d said “English” and “writer,” they’d have denied me a $5 loan for cab fare home, or told me they’d rather see an armed robber in their office. I would have had to seek out a solid, affordable state school.

His Carnegie Mellon degree helped him get “a salaried position in a competitive field of my choosing,” he writes. He’s paying off his loans.

Marginal students drawn to for-profit colleges typically start poor and remain poor — and in debt — after trying and failing to earn a degree, Brookings warns.

Young people are told that “college is a must-make, can’t-lose investment,” writes Fitzgerald. “For some people, it’s a shouldn’t-make, can’t-win investment.”

Free college

‘Dual’ students will get federal aid

Some low- and moderate-income high school students who take “dual enrollment” college courses will be eligible for federal college aid,  U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced in Memphis last week, reports the Commercial Appeal.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (center) talks with student Shimera Paxton, 13, (right) during chess class at Douglass K-8 School. Credit: Brandon Dill, Commercial Appeal

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan talks with Shimera Paxton, 13, during chess class at a Memphis school. Credit: Brandon Dill, Commercial Appeal

The experimental program will offer Pell aid to cover college tuition for 10,000 students.

Dual enrollment courses are expanding rapidly nationwide. Some states or school districts cover high school students’ college tuition and textbook costs, but others do not.

Pell Grants, which now cost more than $30 billion a year, should be require college readiness, argues Isabel Sawhill, a Brookings researcher.

Targeting college aid to those most likely to succeed should start with counseling in 9th grade or earlier on the courses, grades and test results needed to do well in college. Students who “achieved a basic level of proficiency” would receive more generous support than the current Pell maximum. Low performers would not get college aid, but could receive “support for other training or education programs.”

Linking Pell to readiness misses students who need help most, responds Sara Goldrick-Rab.

38% of new grads: College was worth the cost

Half of college graduates — 38 percent of recent graduates — strongly believe their college education was worth the cost, according to the Gallup-Purdue Index.

Alumni of for-profit colleges were the most dissatisfied: Only 26 percent strongly agreed their postsecondary education was worth the cost.

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Earnings of former for-profit college enrollees (not necessarily graduates) show wide variability, notes Clive Belfield’s analysis of College Scoreboard data. Top for-profit students earn more than the average four-year student, but low-percentile students earn much less.

The boxes show the middle 50 percent of colleges; the “whiskers” show the 10th and 90th percentiles.

There’s less variability for students who enrolled in community colleges, he writes. “Median earnings at community colleges are significantly below those of four-year colleges, but the top 25 percent of community colleges have median earnings that exceed the average four-year public college.”