‘Free’ plan will boost unselective colleges

Hillary Clinton’s plan to eliminate public college tuition for families with incomes up to $125,000 would raise enrollment by 9 to 22 percent at community colleges and unselective state universities while reducing private-college enrollment by 15 percent, predicts a Georgetown study.

The Tennessee Promise program, which made public community and technical colleges free in the state, “resulted in enrollment increases of about 20-25 percent in the first year,” noted Georgetown.

Graduation rates are low at unselective colleges and universities. If the plan encourages those who could qualify for a more selective private college to choose a “free” public option, it could lower the odds of college success.

The U.S. Education Department’s College Scorecard has been updated with information on college completion rates, debt statistics, and post-college earnings of alumni.

 Colleges with the highest graduation rates include Golf Academy of America, Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

They go to college, but do they graduate?

Most school districts brag about sending graduates to college, but don’t know how they do once they get there, writes Lauren Camera in U.S. News. How many earn a degree? How many give up in their first year? District of Columbia Public Schools and some other urban districts have started tracking graduates to see how many complete college.

DCPS learned that 19 of 20 2014 graduates who enrolled at an area college didn’t make it to sophomore year; the 20th dropped out later. This year, thanks to well-informed counselors, nobody’s going there.

College counselors are given four- and six-year completion rates for D.C. students at every college and university at which they’ve enrolled. They can steer students away from schools where D.C. graduates have done poorly and toward better bets.

D.C. does the most to analyze its students’ college careers, writes Camera, but Baltimore and New York City schools also analyze data on their graduates. The University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research studies the success (or failure) of Chicago Public Schools from ninth grade to their mid-20s.

Many of the college-prep charter networks are analyzing how their graduates do in college — not as well as expected — and using the data to improve academic programs and counseling. I think that will have more of a payoff than assuming than steering poorly prepared students to slightly more effective colleges.

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.

How to get first-gen students to a degree

Only 11 percent of low-income first-generation college students earn a four-year degree within six years. Academic preparation isn’t the only issue, writes Mikhail Zinshteyn in The Atlantic. Better counseling is helping first-generation students master the “hidden curriculum.”

Reina Olivas, a straight A student in high school, had to improve her study skills to succeed at the University of Texas at Austin. Now, as a Dell Scholars mentor, she advises other first-generation students. When a first-year student said she “was having a hard time with the cultural experience, the college experience,” Olivas asked, “Have you gone to office hours?”

“Well, how do you do that?” Olivas recalls the student asking. “It took me back to the place where I was my first semester—what are office hours, and why do I need to go?”

About a third of college students are the first in their families to try higher education. Most come from lower-income families and many work more than 20 hours a week.

Mentors helped Reina Olivas adjust to the University of Texas, where she's now a mentor for others.

Mentors helped Reina Olivas adjust to the University of Texas, where she’s now a mentor for other first-generation students.

“Simple nudges and regular check-ins from mentors can go a long way toward making such students feel confident that they can navigate the strange waters of college academics,” writes Zinshteyn.

California State University Dominguez Hills, which enrolls many first-gen students, has lifted its graduation rate by offering a two-month summer program for new students with weak math and English scores. In addition, students learn “college knowledge,” such as how to find help, and “forge important relationships with peers and mentors,’ writes Zinshteyn.

The university created “a data tracker that monitors student performance and allows advisers to recommend more relevant coursework and support.”

In 2008, before mentoring and academic changes, the university lost 53 percent of students who’d started two years earlier. Retention rates are rising.

51% of Pell recipients earn degree

Fifty-one percent of Pell Grant recipients earn a college degree, compared to 65 percent for non-Pell students, according to the Education Trust’s new report.

However, the average graduation gap at each college is only 5.7 percent. That’s because many Pell recipients, who come from low- and moderate-income families, enroll at schools with below-average graduation rates.

The U.S. Education Department handed out $31.5 billion in Pell Grants in 2013-14, but doesn’t track graduation rates, notes Diverse.

The Obama administration’s new College Scorecard includes Pell graduation rates, “but the data are limited and may miss students.”

Education Trust found “similar institutions had significantly different outcomes,” reports Diverse.

Two schools in the State University of New York system, for example—SUNY College at Oswego and SUNY College at Brockport—both have similar enrollments, median SAT scores and Pell recipient enrollment rates. But Pell students at Oswego had a graduation rate of 66 percent, compared to 48 percent at Brockport.

While 22 percent of institutions had no gap between Pell and non-Pell students, 20 percent had a gap of at least 12 percentage points.

Pell costs billions, but most don’t graduate

Billions of dollars in Pell grants are going to students who never earn degrees, reports Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz.

“Since 2000, taxpayers have spent $300 billion on Pell grants . . . with no way of knowing how many of the recipients ever actually earned degrees,” she writes.

The federal college-aid program is designed for low- and moderate-income students. Most come from families earning less than $40,000 a year.

A Hechinger analysis found Pell graduation rates for the largest private and public universities.

Graduation rates were higher at colleges and universities with fewer Pell-eligible students. For example, 97 percent of Harvard’s Pell recipients earn a degree, no lower than the rate for all Harvard students. But only 15 percent receive Pell aid.

At Davenport University in Michigan, 47 percent of students receive a Pell grant. Only 26 percent earn a degree.

According to an Education Department report, which included 70 percent of Pell recipients, 39 percent earned a bachelor’s degree in six years. (Congress ordered the report.)

There are many reasons students who receive Pell grants never finish. At many universities and colleges, the money doesn’t cover the full cost of tuition, fees, and other expenses, and some students don’t have the resources to pay the rest. Others arrive from low-performing public high schools less well prepared than their higher-income classmates.

The National Center for Education Statistics reviewed Pell graduation rates by institution in 2006, but didn’t distribute the results, according to Mark Schneider, who was the commissioner of NCES at the time.

Now a vice president at the American Institutes for Research, Schneider said that publishing Pell graduation rates will cause a backlash. “We’re going to be really, really sorry we have them because they’re going to be so bad.”

College grad rate mirrors high school completion rise 

The rise in college completion rates mirrors the rise in high school completion in the 20th century, writes Chad Aldeman.

A U.S. adult today is as likely to be a college graduate (32 percent) as an adult in the 1940s was to be a high school graduate (34.5 percent), he notes.

But will the trend continue?

chad college-hs completion

Congratulations! Now, it’s going to get hard

Fourteen percent of students from the least-educated, lowest-income families will earn a college degree by their late 20s, reports the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked 10th graders for 12 years.

Only 41 percent of low-income students with high test scores earned a bachelor’s degree, wrote Susan Dynarski in the New York Times. “A poor teenager with top scores and a rich teenager with mediocre scores are equally likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

Democracy Prep's class of 2019 celebrates commencement.

Democracy Prep’s class of 2019 celebrates commencement.

Getting low-income “first generation” kids into college is hard,” writes Robert Pondiscio in U.S. News. “Getting them to graduate from college is harder.

As a teacher at New York City’s Democracy Prep Charter High School, he’s proud to see the school’s 61 graduates head off to colleges that include Dartmouth, Yale, Princeton, Brown and Emory. All are Latino or African-American.

Democracy Prep calls them the “class of 2019” to stress that their goal is a bachelor’s degree. But how many will make it?

For years, pioneering charter school networks like KIPP, YES Prep, and others won legions of admirers by ensuring that nearly every student they graduated went to college, usually the first in their families to do so. A 2011 report from KIPP itself, however, found that only 33 percent of their earliest cohorts of students had actually earned a college degree. On the one hand, that’s roughly four times higher than the rate for disadvantaged students as a whole. But it was far below KIPP’s own internal goals and a wake-up call for a reform movement that had long championed college as an essential path to upward mobility.

Since then, KIPP and others have become increasingly focused on “college match.” This typically means identifying colleges with high graduation rates both overall and for low-income students, generous financial aid, and other factors from high-touch academic advising to a diverse social environment, all of which make it more likely for “first generation” kids to persist, succeed, and earn a degree.

KIPP Through College helps graduates choose courses, keep up their grades and deal with financial aid issues.

Democracy Prep, which has two small graduating classes in college, also stays in touch with alumni. So far, nearly nine out of 10 Democracy Prep students remain enrolled.

In a story on D.C. charters, Debra Bruno describes how Thurgood Marshall Academy has boosted its college-graduation rate. 

Where college dreams come true

College dreams are coming true for minority students in Orlando, reports Saundra Amrhein on Politico.

Orlando’s University of Central Florida is working with four nearby state (formerly community) colleges to ensure two-year graduates transfer seamlessly with all their credits intact.

University of Central Florida graduates celebrated in May.

University of Central Florida graduates celebrated in May.

Thanks to DirectConnect to UCF, Latino bachelor degree graduates increased by 134 percent from 2010 to 2014; the number of black graduates nearly doubled.

Graduation rates at DirectConnect’s two-year colleges have climbed. Once at UCF, 71 percent of the program’s students go on to earn a bachelor’s degree.“

Forty-one percent of people who earn associate degrees go on to complete a bachelor’s degree in six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. The median completion time is 2.8 years.

One in four certificates are the first step to a four-year degree.

Low-income achievers face graduation gap

College dreams usually don’t come true for the children of lower-income, less-educated parents, according to the federal Education Longitudinal Study. That’s true even for those with strong test scores, concludes a new report.

Tenth graders were divided into quartiles based on their parents’ education, income and occupation and followed for 13 years.

Only 14 percent of bottom-quartile students completed a bachelor’s degree, one fourth of those who’d hoped to do so, notes Susan Dynarski, a University of Michigan education professor, in the New York Times.

Sixty percent of top-quartile students had earned a bachelor’s, two-thirds of those who’d aspired to a degree.

Over all, more than 70 percent of sophomores planned to earn a bachelor’s degree or more. That ranged from 87 percent in the top quartile to 58 percent in the lowest quartile.

Of students who scored in the top 25 percent in math, 74 percent of affluent students — but only 41 percent of lower-income students — completed a four-year degree by their late 20s.

That’s no better than the graduation rate for “a rich teenager with mediocre scores,” reports the Times.

Twenty-one percent of “affluent students with the lowest scores . . . managed to receive a bachelor’s degree compared with just 5 percent of the poorest students.”