Top colleges for value, mobility

University of California at Riverside tops the Washington Monthly’college rankings, which give top honors to schools that enroll and graduate “students of modest means” while “charging them a reasonable price,” write the editors.

The rankings also give credit for research — are these schools “creating the new technologies and ideas that will drive economic growth and advance human knowledge?” — and whether they encourage students to join the military or the Peace Corps or perform community service.

You’ll see it doesn’t intersect very much with U.S. News‘ college rankings.

Two years ago, President Obama pledged to rate every college and university in America by “who’s offering the best value,” note the Monthly‘s editors.

The higher ed lobby mobilized to kill the ratings plan. In June, it was canceled.

The Monthly also ranks the best bang-for-the-buck colleges.


Ed Dept drags feet on competency pilots

Two years ago, President Obama touted competency-based education (CBE) as a key to college affordability and quality.

President Obama lauded competency-based education in a speech at SUNY-Buffalo two years ago.

President Obama lauded competency-based education in a speech at SUNY-Buffalo two years ago.

Giving “course credit based on how well students master the material, not just on how many hours they spend in the classroom” will help students finish a degree faster and for less money, the president said.

But no CBE experiments have been launched, writes Amy Laitinen on EdCentral. Colleges are eager to launch competency programs, she writes, “but the Department of Education has been dragging its feet.”

Study: Federal aid fuels tuition hikes

Federal grants and student loans have fueled the rise in college tuition, according to a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Each additional dollar in government aid led to a tuition hike of about 65 cents, the report found. “The numbers were not quite as grim for Pell Grants, where 55 cents of each additional dollar turned into higher tuition, but it was even worse for subsidized student loans (the most common type of aid), where every dollar loaned translates to a 70-cent tuition hike,” writes Blake Neff in the Daily Caller.

This is consistent with earlier research, writes Hans Bader, who’s got lots of links.

Increased regulation also has driven up college costs, argues Bader. Obama’s Education Department has “flooded the nation’s schools with new rules that have never been properly vetted or codified,” college presidents complained recently.

Wastefully run colleges can now increase tuition even faster, at taxpayer expense, as a result of the Obama administration’s recent expansions of the Pay As You Earn program. The Pay As You Earn program limits borrowers’ monthly debt payments to 10 percent of their discretionary income. The balance of their loans is then forgiven after 20 years—or just 10 years, if the borrower works for the government or a nonprofit. It will cost taxpayers a lot, while doing nothing for most student borrowers (who will experience tuition increases as a result), and it will favor imprudent borrowers over prudent borrowers.

. . . (Borrowers) will pay the same amount over 20 years (or 10 years) no matter how much their high-priced college charged in tuition—eliminating any incentive for such colleges to keep costs under control, or to keep their tuition from escalating at a dramatic rate.

Cato’s Neal McCluskey links to eight studies on the inflationary effect of student aid.

Obama’s higher ed legacy includes nearly doubling Pell funding for low- and moderate-income students and more than tripling tuition tax credits for the middle class.

Democrats unveil ‘free college’ bill

Community college would be tuition-free for two years under a bill introduced by congressional Democrats, reports Colleen Murphy in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The America’s College Promise Act of 2015 also promises to help cover the costs of a four-year degree at minority-serving institutions.

With a $90-billion price tag over 10 years for the federal government, the measure is about $30 billion more expensive than President Obama’s free community college proposal, writes Murphy. States would pay a quarter of the program’s costs.

Sixty representatives and 10 senators — all Democrats — sponsored the measure. With no Republican support, it has little chance of passing.

Nationwide, community college tuition averages $3,800 for a full-time student. In some states, low-income students pay nothing.

Under the bill, students at community colleges and minority-serving institutions could use federal Pell Grants to cover books, child care, rent, food and other living expenses. They’d have to make “satisfactory academic progress.”

Lowering already-low tuitions at community colleges “would encourage the neediest students to enroll at the lowest-funded colleges with the lowest graduation rates,” I wrote in U.S. News. Most “minority-serving” colleges also are poorly resourced and have very low graduation rates.

Sanders: “Free” and federalized higher ed

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

State colleges and universities should be tuition free, says Bernie Sanders. “In exchange for billions of new taxpayer dollars, the federal government would enforce a specific vision of what a high-quality college education means,” writes Kevin Carey, education policy director at the New America Foundation. It’s “a terrible idea.”

States would have to promise that, within five years, “not less than 75 percent of instruction at public institutions of higher education in the State is provided by tenured or tenure-track faculty.” In addition, any funds left over after eliminating tuition could be used only for purposes such as “expanding academic course offerings to students,” “increasing the number and percentage of full-time instructional faculty,” providing faculty members with “supports” such as “professional development opportunities, office space, and shared governance in the institution.”

States would be prohibited from using the money for merit-based financial aid, “nonacademic facilities, such as student centers or stadiums,” or “the salaries or benefits of school administrators.”

This is a professor’s dream, writes Carey. There’s “tenure for everyone, nice offices all around, and the administrators and coaches can go pound sand.”

It will lead to “lengthy regulatory guidance” and lots of lawsuits, he predicts. Meanwhile, new models that might be more affordable, flexible and effective would be shut out.

Responding to middle-class anxiety, candidates are proposing “free college, debt-free college, or some combination of the two,” writes Carey. Federal money “will come with serious conditions based on some vision of what constitutes a high-quality college education.”

It’s time to break up the higher education “cartel,” said Republican candidate Marco Rubio, who borrowed heavily to earn his college degrees.

Rubio pledged to create a new accreditation process that would allow low-cost providers — perhaps largely online – to compete with established schools. He has called for colleges to tell potential students how much salary they can expect to earn for a given degree before they commit themselves to a major.

Loan repayments should be based on postgraduate incomes, said Rubio.

Free college doesn’t attract all students 

College is almost complete free in Norway, yet only 14 percent of the children of non-college-educated parents enroll in college, reports Jon Marcus in The Atlantic. That contrasts to 58 percent of students with college-educated parents, according to a 2013 analysis.

Students pay no tuition to attend Finnmark University in Alta, Norway.

Students pay no tuition to attend Finnmark University in Alta, Norway..

Thirteen percent of U.S. students with non-college educated parents earn a degree, according to the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.

Wages are high for blue-collar jobs in Norway. Young people don’t need a college degree to earn a middle-class income.

If you want a European college system, consider what that means, writes Jane the Actuary on Patheos. Costs are lower because there’s no general ed, no advising, no football team and no frills. College is for well-prepared, motivated students.

Students are also expected to plunge into their major requirements immediately. It’s assumed that your high school coursework has been of sufficient rigor that you don’t need a set of “general education” courses in composition, the humanities, and the sciences — you’re assumed to have learned that already.

That’s why students are expected to complete a degree in three years rather than four — or five or six.

No money is spent on fancy dorms or facilities, athletics, “school spirit” activities, diversity, sustainability or Title IX, concludes Jane.

Colleges compete on ‘leisure pools’

best-college-pools-Oklahoma State UniversityOklahoma State’s $20 million Colvin Rec Center includes an indoor/outdoor pool, a gym, rock climbing, basketball and racquetball courts, putting greens and golf simulators and a wellness center.

Two-thirds of the “30 best college leisure pools” are located at state universities, notes Rick Hess. What does this say about higher education?

College Rank‘s list includes “institutions that routinely insist they desperately need more state funds, including two University of California campuses and two Cal State campuses,” he writes.

When legislatures trim public spending, universities don’t cut back on the pools; instead, they resort to the old “close the Washington Monument strategy” and wring their hands while explaining they’re going to have to shutter the chemistry department. In fact, outside of Purdue under President Mitch Daniels, in recent years, it’s hard to think of a major university that has really made cutting costs and trimming fat a point of public pride.

“Having an incredible pool on campus (often with lazy rivers!) gives colleges a leg up on competition,” according to College Rank. As tuition rises, students are pickier about the amenities that “complete the collegiate experience.”


Few graduate at ‘cafeteria colleges’

Easy come, easy go is the reality at community colleges, writes Meredith Kolodner in the Hechinger Report. Only 39 percent of degree-seeking students earn a credential within six years. A quarter of fall enrollees are gone by spring.

The “cafeteria college” — take whatever courses you fancy — isn’t serving students’ needs, argues Tom Bailey, who runs the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia.

Without college-educated parents to guide them — and good luck getting time with a college counselor — many community college students pick courses that won’t help them reach their goals. They get frustrated and drop out. Or they transfer and learn that their credits won’t be counted.

In Redesigning America’s Community Colleges, Bailey and colleagues Shanna Smith Jaggers and Davis Jenkins argue for creating pathways to a degree.

The “defined pathway” that we’re talking about would create a default program, which would lay out semester by semester the courses a student needs to complete a degree.

It provides an easier way to understand sequence of courses. If you want to take other courses you can, but then you have to talk to somebody about that. It has to be part of a plan.

Some colleges offer “nine or 10 meta majors,” says Bailey. “You might not know you want to be a nurse, but you’re interested in the medical field. Or business. There are some basic courses in those fields that everybody takes. They don’t need to specialize that much.”

President Obama’s plan to make community college free won’t raise the graduation rate unless it’s combined with other reforms, says Bailey. “Financial burdens do prevent students from continuing, but I think the evidence about whether that alone will do it is much weaker.”

Parents rank ‘perfectly good’ state colleges

From The Onion: Nation’s Parents Release Annual Ranking Of Top 50 ‘Perfectly Good’ State Schools “for the price.”

Can tech break the college monopoly?

Online courses will revolutionize higher education when learners can earn low-cost credentials that lead to jobs, writes Kevin Carey in the New York Times. Carey is the author of The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere

. . .  traditional college degrees are deeply embedded in government regulation and standard human resources practice. It doesn’t matter how good a teacher you are — if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, it’s illegal for a public school to hire you. Private-sector employers often use college degrees as a cheap and easy way to select for certain basic attributes, mostly the discipline and wherewithal necessary to earn 120 college credits.

However, Carey believes alternative credentials such as badges will break colleges’ “near-monopoly” on job qualifications. And most students go to college to get a better job, he writes.

Not so fast, responds economist Bryan Caplan.

Degrees signal an array of traits: not just intelligence, but work ethic, conformity, and more.  “Harvard dropout” tells the job market, “This person was promising enough to get into Harvard, but so lazy and/or non-conformist that he wasted this golden opportunity.”

Conformity to social norms is a valued job attribute, adds Caplan. “Employers focus at least as much on workers’ general competence and people skills” as they do on specific skill sets.

He’d love to believe Carey is right, but he concludes “the status quo has a massive built-in advantage” because of the importance of “conformity signaling.” Furthermore, “governments at all levels annually cement the status quo’s advantage with hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies.”