School choice pays off in D.C.

Washington D.C’s federally funded school vouchers produced $2.62 in benefits for every dollar spent, concludes a study in Education Finance and Policy by Patrick Wolf and Michael Q. McShane.

More than 60 private schools in D.C. accept students with Opportunity Scholarships, which are awarded by lottery to low-income students. Students who won a scholarship were 12 percent more likely to graduate from high school compared to the control group of lottery losers, a U.S. Education Department study found. That increased graduation rate will generate large returns, Wolf and McShane write.

After the program’s five-year pilot run ended in 2009, Congress and President Obama cut funding and closed it to new students. President Obama agreed to reauthorize the scholarships as part of the 2011 budget compromise.

If Congress had “redirected money from the bloated and ineffectual DCPS for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, then the cost of the program would have been nothing, and the benefits substantial,” writes Matthew Ladner on Jay Greene’s Blog.

High school grad rate tops 78%

The on-time high school graduation rate hit 78.2 percent in 2010, the highest in a generation and up 2.7 points in a year.

“If you drop out of high school, how many good jobs are there out there for you? None,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told AP.

While 93.5 percent of Asian-American students and 83 percent of whites complete high school in four years, that drops to 71.4 percent for Hispanics and 66.1 percent for blacks.

State graduation rates ranged from 57.8 percent in Nevada to 91.4 percent in Vermont.

Comparing graduation rates to any year before 1992 is impossible, writes RiShawn Biddle. The data collection method changed significantly. Some states and districts are reporting very dodgy data. Connecticut reported a 98 percent graduation rate for the class of 2010, which NCES refused to accept. The District of Columbia claimed “only one percent of students officially drop out over a four-year period.”  The key word is “officially.”

On-time high school grad rate is 72%

Only 72 percent of students in the class of 2011 earned a diploma in four years, according to the U.S. Education Department.

Iowa had the highest graduation rate at 88 percent with Wisconsin and Vermont at 87 percent and Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas at 86 percent.

The District of Columbia’s four-year graduation rate was 59 percent, the lowest in the country, notes Dropout Nation. Only 60 percent of black, Latino, and Native American students graduated on time. In Nevada, the black on-time graduation rate was 43 percent, the worst in the nation. Montana and Texas are “the only states in which four out of every five black freshmen in their respective Classes of 20111 graduated on time.” Minnesota had the largest racial achievement gap with a 49 percent on-time graduation rate for blacks and 84 percent of whites

Nationwide, 79 percent of Asian-American students and 76 percent of non-Hispanic whites finished high school in four years.

If a student needs five years to earn a high school diploma — and really earns it — that’s OK by me. I worry that “portfolio review” and “credit recovery” scams will pump up graduation rates.

Bridging the skills gap

Some 21 percent of jobs require “middle” skills — more than a high school diploma, but less than a bachelor’s degree. Community colleges can help 1.5 million unemployed Americans bridge the skills gap, researchers say. But colleges will have to balance open access with the push for higher graduation rates.

It’s the learning, stupid

Orlando’s Valencia College graduates nearly thee times more students than the average at large urban community colleges. How do they do it?

College instructors need to design courses to meet the needs of “new traditional” students, adults who’ve been out of high school for years, writes a community college professor.

Schott: 52% of black males graduate in 4 years

Only 52 percent of black male and 58 percent of Latino male ninth-graders graduate from high school four years later, compared to 78 percent of white males, reports the Schott Foundation in The Urgency of Now. Black male graduation rates are improving, but not fast enough, according to the foundation, which calls for schools to focus on the neediest students.

Study: 2-year for-profit students earn more

Associate degree students at for-profit colleges raise their earnings as much as community college students — or more — concludes a new study. Students who choose the more costly for-profit option are nearly twice as likely to earn a degree as community college students, even though the for-profit students are more likely to be poor, black, single parents and GED holders.

Obama: Raise tuition and lose federal aid

College affordability was the theme of President Obama’s speech at the University of Michigan yesterday. He called for spending more on Perkins loans and work-study programs — going from $3 billion now to $10 billion  – but only at colleges and universities that provide “value.” Students at colleges that raise tuition could lose access to loans and work-study jobs.

In addition, the president’s plan (pdf) includes a $1 billion “Race to the Top for college affordability” and a $55 million “First in the World” competition to encourage productivity innovations, reports the Washington Post.

Higher education — including community colleges and lifelong learning for workers — is “an economic imperative,” Obama said. While he proposed increasing tuition tax credits and keeping interest rates low on student loans, he said that’s not enough. “Look, we can’t just keep on subsidizing skyrocketing tuition.”

So from now on, I’m telling Congress we should steer federal campus-based aid to those colleges that keep tuition affordable, provide good value, serve their students well.  (Applause.)  . . . If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down.

If “provide good value” and “serve their students well” means anything, it means the federal government will monitor graduation rates and employment outcomes, as well as tuition, for the entire higher education sector. Currently, “gainful employment” rules, which monitor former students’ earnings and ability to pay back loans, cover only for-profit colleges and community college vocational programs.

 Following the speech, Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, issued a statement saying there’s concern that the proposal would “move decision-making in higher education from college campuses to Washington, D.C.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former education secretary, said the autonomy of U.S. higher education is what makes it the best in the world, and he’s questioned whether Obama can enforce any plan that shifts federal aid away from colleges and universities without hurting students.

“It’s hard to do without hurting students, and it’s not appropriate to do,” Alexander said. “The federal government has no business doing this.”

President Obama also touted college “report cards” showing college costs and how well graduates do in the job market.

The U.S. Education Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are working on Know Before You Owe, a financial aid shopping sheet that will let future students estimate their debt, monthly payment and likely ability to repay loans. Parents and students also have requested a breakdown of college costs and information on repayment rates for graduates at each college.

Illinois: Fix K-12 math to boost college grad rate

To raise the community college graduation rate, require more math in high school and redesign remedial math instruction in college, concludes an Illinois report.

Colleges must focus on productivity and affordability to keep open the path to the American Dream.

College ready by 11th grade

Students who pass exams at the end of 10th grade could take college-level technical or academic classes under an ambitious pilot program called Excellence for All. High schools are having trouble preparing students for college by the end of 12th grade.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  As North Carolina high schools raised graduation rates, remediation rates rose at community colleges.