Pell isn’t for the poor any more

Designed to help low-income students go to college, Pell Grants increasingly are going to middle-class students, an analyst writes.

What’s a degree worth in job market?  Virginia’s new data base answers that question — at least for graduates who work in the state.

The early bird gets the degree

Bachelor-degree-seeking students who start at community colleges to save money need to be aggressive to get into the classes they’ll need. Many community colleges are crowded with would-be transfer students and laid-off adults looking for new job skills.

Most new jobs don’t require a degree

Most new jobs don’t require a college degree.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

Epic fail: No degree or transfer for 70%

On Community College Spotlight:  Only 30 percent of California’s degree-seeking community college students earn a credential or degree — or transfer to four-year universities — within six years, concludes a study, Divided We Fail. Only 40 percent of students earn at least 30 college credits, “the minimum needed to provide an economic boost in jobs that require some college experience.”

Ninety percent of community college students say they have “the commitment it takes to succeed” and 84 percent think they’re academically prepared, said Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at a nationwide Summit on Completion. Yet, after three weeks of class, 40 percent of new community college students have skipped class, and 30 percent have turned in an assignment late or not at all.

Six years of credits, no degree

After earning six years of college credits, Sharon Miller hasn’t finished a four-year degree. Kevin Carey, who met Miller when she interned at Education Sector, tells the story.

Sharon didn’t expect to be at Kent State long — she had three semesters at Cedarville under her belt, plus the (two-year) degree from Akron. That seemed awfully close to four years.

But the process of transferring those credits to Kent State quickly turned into a maze. In theory there were advisers to help. But Sharon had a full-time job, and the advising office was open only during the day. She tried to go on her lunch hour, but they were closed for lunch. She sent e-mail messages and left voice mails but most were never returned.

Miller had taken several classes at Cedarville, a Baptist university, with “Christian” or “Bible” in the course name. None of those were accepted. Kent State also rejected “the vast majority” of University of Akron credits.

In total, she had earned 70 college credits — over two years’ worth — that had disappeared as if they had never been.

The reluctance to grant credit vanished once Miller was paying Kent State for the privilege, Carey writes. Miller was given three upper-division “Writing Seminar” credits for writing press releases for a church camp and promised 15 upper-division credits for a summer internship at Ed Sector.

Kent State appears to have no problem letting Sharon write tuition checks for credit when the experience in question involves little or no cost or work on the part of Kent State.

Miller dropped Spanish II when her advisor and her panish teacher told her she could test out of the foreign-language requirement. The testing center said no.

Now Sharon has to take Spanish II, III, and IV, consecutively, over the next three semesters. Because the job market doesn’t pay much for people without college credentials, Sharon has to take out student loans. But you can’t take out a government loan for one course per semester. So Sharon will pick up a minor in political science, and earn another 22 credits above the 175 she already has. It will cost her thousands of dollars and delay graduation by a year, all so she can learn enough Spanish to order dinner or read a middle-school textbook in Guadalajara, neither of which she wants to do.

“Our postsecondary system is phenomenally wasteful, inflexible, and inefficient in the way it awards and exchanges higher-education currency (credits) and turns that currency into assets (degrees),” Carey writes. We need “public-minded organizations that have the credibility and financial incentives to award credit based on rigorous standards of evidence.”

College grad rates vary widely

Some colleges graduate most students within six years; some graduate only a few. Students should know their odds, write Frederick Hess, Andrew Kelly an dMark Schneider in Forbes. Their American Enterprise Institute report on graduation rates looked at colleges enrolling first-time, full-time students with similar qualifications.

. . . the “competitive” category . . .  contains institutions that take students with average scores of 500 to 572 on each of the SAT’s three sections (math, critical reading and writing) and GPAs that range from C to B-; they tend to accept 75% to 85% of their applicants. When we ranked the 660 schools in this category by their graduation rate, the average for the bottom 10 places was shockingly low–only 20%. In contrast, the average graduation rate for the top 10 schools in the category was about 75%. The schools ranked near the bottom of the competitive category include Chicago State University in Illinois (16% six-year graduation rate), Coppin State University in Maryland (19%), and Long Island University-Brooklyn Campus in New York (21%).Schools in the top include Merrimack College in Massachusetts (78%), Westminster College in Pennsylvania (76%) and Moravian College in Ohio (75%).

Overall, about half of high school graduates who go to four-year colleges earn a degree in six years.

Help wanted: BA not required

Jobseekers shouldn’t need a bachelor’s degree, writes Charles Murray in the New York Times.

Here’s a suggested battle cry, to be repeated in every speech on the subject: “It’s what you can do that should count when you apply for a job, not where you learned to do it.”

Murray wants to see tests of vocational skills replace years in college.

The residential college leading to a bachelor’s degree at the end of four years works fine for the children of parents who have plenty of money. It works fine for top students from all backgrounds who are drawn toward academics. But most 18-year-olds are not from families with plenty of money, not top students, and not drawn toward academics. They want to learn how to get a satisfying job that also pays well. That almost always means education beyond high school, but it need not mean four years on a campus, nor cost a small fortune. It need not mean getting a bachelor’s degree.

Students should be encouraged to seek a liberal education for its own sake, not as a job qualification, he writes.

Of course, Murray thinks that most people aren’t smart enough to earn a meaningful bachelor’s degree. I think it’s more a question of preparation than brainpower.  But it’s certainly true that years of schooling — lower or higher — are a very imperfect indicator of competence. Years ago, I worked with a smart, literate woman who turned out to be a high school drop-out. (She listed her high school on her resume, but never claimed to have earned a diploma.) She read books.