Finally, college book costs go down

College textbook costs have gone down at four-year public and private schools for the first time in 17 years, according to College Board’s Trends in College Pricing 2016 report.

Annual student spending on course materials has decreased by almost $100 since 2007-08, reports Student Watch.

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“Students have more options than in the past,” said Elizabeth Riddle, of the National Association of College Stores (NACS).  “Stores offer lower-cost rentals, e-books, custom course packs and print-on-demand open educational resources (OER) as well as price comparison tools.”

My husband,  the author of a computer engineering textbook, thinks publishers have overpriced textbooks beyond what the market will bear. Students are buying pirated copies online, making do with an obsolete edition, sharing with classmates, using the library, etc. I see a new hardcover edition costs $230, but it’s available for $10.25 on Kindle. The $17 paperback edition is published in India and isn’t supposed to be sold in the U.S., but is.

Freshman year for free: Don’t show up

“Free college” is already here, for students who can handle online learning. Modern States Education Alliance‘s Freshman Year for Free kicked off this fall: Students can earn a year of no-cost college credit via edX classes.

With funding from philanthropist Steven B. Klinsky, Modern States has given edX the money to develop more than 30 entry-level college courses, taught by “some of the world’s leading universities and professors,” according to the New York-based nonprofit.

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In addition to online lectures, each course includes quizzes and tests. Textbooks and other learning materials will be provided online at no charge.

Courses will prepare students to pass Advanced Placement or College Level Examination Program” (CLEP) tests offered by the College Board. Courses include Sociology, Chemistry, Macroeconomics, Marketing, Business Law and more.

The Texas State University System is encouraging nontraditional (adult) students to skip freshman year by using the edX classes, reports the Texas Trib.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) tend to have very low completion rates, especially for less-educated students. However, that’s partly due to the uncertain payoff: Those who stick with the course typically don’t earn credit.

‘Dual’ grads find credits won’t transfer

Dual-enrollment programs are soaring in popularity, writes Catherine Gewertz in Education Week. Students hope earning college credits in high school will save them time and money in college. But some are discovering their colleges won’t accept dual-enrollment credits.

Are dual-enrollment students headed for disappointment?

Are dual-enrollment students headed for disappointment?

While in high school in Dallas, Sabrina Villanueva earned 12 credits at a local community college by taking speech, government, psychology and sociology. The credits counted toward her high school diploma — but the University of Rochester rejected them all. That ended her plans to minor in psychology or sociology while majoring in engineering.

“Dual enrollment is like the Wild West,” Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center, told Gewertz. “No one seems to know what credits students are earning and whether those credits are applicable toward any sort of degree.”

Only half the states have agreements that require public colleges and universities to accept dual-enrollment credits, according to the Education Commission of the States, and those agreements don’t require the compliance of private institutions.

More than 11 percent of high school students take dual-enrollment courses. Under a new federal pilot program, low-income students can “use Pell grants to cover costs at 44 institutions,” writes Gewertz.

Community college students also have trouble transferring credits to four-year institutions. Some states now require public universities to work with community colleges to agree on which courses are rigorous enough to generate transfer credits.

Many colleges and universities won’t award credit for a grade of 3 (supposedly a C equivalent) on an Advanced Placement exam; some give no credit for a 4 (B) or 5 (A).

Colleges should be required to accept AP credits, argues the Progressive Policy Institute.  However, Nat Malkus is dubious about the idea.

What colleges do the most for students?

Washington Monthly has released its annual College Guide, which includes how schools are improving social mobility and graduates’ ability to repay student loans.

Most of the top-rated schools are public institutions such as University of California at San Diego , Teas A&M and Utah state.

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The Monthly also ranks “Best Bang for the Buck” colleges and includes a first-ever list of Best Colleges for Adult Learners, including both four-year and two-year colleges that meet the needs of working adults.

Best-bang schools include the University of Mount Olive (NC), Cal State-Bakersfield, and College of the Ozarks (MO).

The issue also includes in-depth feature stories on: The False Promise of “Free” College and How the Internet Wrecked College Admissions.

Cheap college is better than ‘free’

Hillary Clinton’s “free college” proposal  — no tuition at in-state public universities for families earning up to $125,000 — is proving to be popular with middle-class voters. But it would prop up the old, expensive, unsustainable higher ed model, writes Julia Freeland Fisher on CNN.

The way to make college affordable is to encourage alternatives, writes Fisher, education research director for the Christensen Institute.

For example, short, intensive coding “bootcamps” cost students $5,000 to $15,000 — sometimes payable only after they find jobs. Employment rates are strong:  General Assembly reports “a 99% job placement rate into a student’s field of study.”

. . . Southern New Hampshire University’s College For America (CfA) has managed to offer online competency-based degrees at just $3,000 per year — a fraction of the cost of a traditional brick-and-mortar degree. CfA partners directly with employers to design their curriculum — ensuring that students graduate with skills that the labor market actually values — and allows students to move through coursework at their own pace.

These alternatives focus on workforce preparation, but “there is no reason innovations can’t usher in new offerings that allow students to explore the world and their place in it, or to study a range of humanities and the liberal arts,” writes Fisher. “But there is also no reason those experiences should be priced into behemoth traditional institutions’ broken business models.”

‘Free’ college? First, fix high school

Forget “free college” — now embraced by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, writes Will Swaim in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece. First, “deliver universal high school education.”

No, we don’t have that already, argues Swaim, who works for the California Policy Center. “What we’ve got is nearly universal credentialing.”

“Millions of American kids are conveyor-belted through a system that does not produce math proficiency or English literacy at grade level,” he writes.

In 2015, the Los Angeles Unified reported a 72 percent graduation rate, he notes.

At David Starr Jordan Senior High, just 18% of all students met the basic English standard and just 6% in math. So how did 64% of students graduate?

The story is much the same at Thomas Jefferson Senior High: 33% English proficiency, 9% in math – and, despite all that bad news, a graduation rate of 62%.

“The most imposing barrier to college isn’t tuition” for many high school graduates, writes Swaim. They don’t have an adequate high school education.

Know before you go

Colorado universities aren’t happy about a new web site,  launchmycareercolorado.org, which helps potential students estimate the return of investment on college based on their major, school and degree.

For example, a dental hygienist with a two-year degree can expect to earn considerably more than a sociologist with a four-year degree.

Dental hygienists with a certificate or two-year degree earn more than many non-technical college graduates.

Dental hygienists with a certificate or two-year degree earn more than many non-technical college graduates.

The site includes survey of graduates’ satisfaction with their jobs (often low) and with their lives (typically quite high).

A graph shows graduates’ earnings vs. a high school graduate with no college credential. Some college grads take many years to equal and then surpass the earnings of less-educated workers.

“There are many degrees that don’t have a return on investment, and you should know before you go,” said Mark Schneider president of College Measures, which helped launch the site.

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.