How student aid could ruin coding boot camps

Coding “boot camps” and “academies” have sprung up to get smart people into high-paying programming jobs quickly. Offering federal student aid to boot camp students could “suck most of the innovation out,” warns Alexander Holt, a New America policy analyst.

Participants take part in HTML500, a course which teaches computer coding skills, in Vancouver, B.C. Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 HE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Coding students in a Vancouver boot camp. Photo: Jonathan Hayward, Canadian Press

Bootcamps succeed because “their price must match labor market demands or outcomes,” writes Holt. App Academy students pay no tuition. They “pay a percentage of their first year’s income instead.”

However, federal financial is based on enrollment, not results, he writes. Instead of linking prices to student outcomes, schools will be able to raise prices regardless of their job placement rates.

There once was another highly innovative industry that federal aid ruined. For-profit companies using online distance learning tools were seen as a brand new way to educate students at lower costs (online education is still seen as the future by many, and it may be). What we failed to understand was that online programs were only innovative when they had to survive in a real market. In 2006, schools were no longer required to teach at least 50% of the program on campus, thus opening up the crazy online degrees we have now (that also exist at prestigious universities) with little or no evidence they lead to positive outcomes for students.

The Department of Education wants to help low-income students access high-quality, innovative programs, Holt writes. “But what starts as expanding access ends with bad actors taking advantage of federal dollars with no strings attached.”

Revamping the college admissions process

Over at Room for Debate (The New York Times), various commentators have offered ways to improve and revitalize the college admissions process.

The problems? The application process is so convoluted and complex (even with the Common Application) that students spend hours, weeks, months on applications that might get a quick read at most. Also, application numbers have soared at selective institutions, leaving students uncertain and anxious over their chances. Mixed messages abound. The admissions results often seem illogical or arbitrary, and financial aid awards (or lack thereof) can amount to acceptances and rejections in themselves.

Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, revives a suggestion he made a decade ago: Create a lottery system, where those students qualified for the college would be entered in a pool, and a given number would be chosen at random. This would eliminate the pretense that colleges select “the best.”

Alan T. Paynter, an assistant director of admissions and the coordinator of multicultural recruitment for Dickinson College, recommends that colleges give clearer information (not only in brochures but in conversations with applicants) about what they seek.

Alvin E. Roth, the McCaw Professor of Economics at Stanford University, recommends establishing a system whereby students indicate their two top choices. (The American Economic Association established a similar system for the job market.) This would cut down on the number of applications and allow colleges to admit interested students.

Ron Unz, a software developer and publisher of The Unz Review, recommends ending tuition altogether at elite colleges. The free tuition would draw a more diverse applicant pool and allow the colleges to enroll those who qualify, not just those who can pay.

There are more ideas, and most of them strike me as good. Yet I doubt that any one of them would work in isolation. A lottery system could easily lead students to apply to still more colleges. Clear communication is great, but what if colleges are communicating similar messages, even with the new clarity? Roth’s idea could leave many students without a college, and Unz’s would still leave the elite colleges with far more applicants than they could thoroughly consider.

A combination of reforms could work well. Limit the number of colleges to which a student may apply. Have students indicate their top two choices. Give priority to subject-matter tests over SATs. Simplify the financial aid application (and give students earlier information about their financial aid eligibility). Cut excessive administrative costs and increase financial aid. In short, make the process more straightforward and economical. Take the awe and hype out of it. That way, students can apply to colleges with reasonable confidence, and colleges can devote more of their attention to those likely to attend. On the other hand, the streamlining required for such an approach could create problems of its own.


Colleges go after aid-stealing ‘Pell runners”

Online classes make it easy for “Pell runners” to collect federal aid and vanish. Often scammers recruit fake students who share their Social Security numbers for a cut of the proceeds.

Too much information

College students get more consumer information than they can handle, say financial aid administrators. Streamlining regulations — and eliminating some requirements — would help students focus on what they really need to know.

Text ‘nudges’ boost persistence

Text-message reminders about applying for financial aid boosted second-year enrollment rates for community college students at a cost of $5 per student.

Advising doubles college grad rate

Providing structure, counseling and financial aid more doubled the graduation rate for New York City community college students.

How to make state colleges tuition free

All public colleges and universities could be tuition free, if the feds redirected the $69 billion spent on a “hodgepodge of financial aid programs.”

Solving “undermatching“– getting more low-income achievers to apply to elite colleges — is getting lots of attention. But it won’t help most disadvantaged students. 

Not really full time

Taking 12 units a semester is “full time” for financial aid purposes, even though students need to take — and pass — 15 units per semester to graduate on time. Only 29 percent of community college students and 50 percent of four-year college students are taking enough courses to graduate on time.  “Enrollment intensity” correlates closely with completion.

Advising Corps raises college aspirations

The National College Advising Corps sends recent college graduates to high schools to help low-income students understand their postsecondary options, get waivers for admissions test fees, write essays and apply for financial aid.

Obama college plan needs reality check

President Obama’s plan to link financial aid to college “value” will penalize lower-income students for attending colleges with low graduation rates and low earnings for graduates, argue two analysts, who call for a “reality check.”

Comparing college graduation rates is meaningless, unless students’ academic ability and other characteristics are taken into account.