Some colleges get break on default penalties

Fourteen historically black colleges were at risk of losing access to federal student aid because of high default rates on student loans. At the last minute, the U.S. Education Department changed the method used to calculate default rates: 20 for-profit colleges and one public adult education program remain on the list of colleges facing sanctions.

Rachel Jeantel: ‘I have a 3.0’

“I am educated. Trust me, I have a 3.0,” Trayvon Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel told a Miami TV station.

Jeantel has been offered multiple scholarship opportunities, including one from morning radio talk show host Tom Joyner, who has offered her a tutor to help her graduate and to prep for the SAT and four years of tuition to any Historically Black College or University.

This doesn’t make Miami schools look good, but I suspect it’s inaccurate. If Jeantel really were a B student, she wouldn’t be a 19-year-old about to start 12th grade.

Admissions edge cuts chances

Going to the toughest college you can get into isn’t necessarily the best strategy, writes Gail Heriot, a University of San Diego law professor and a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. According to a report by the commission, “accepting an affirmative action leg-up probably hurts a student’s chances of becoming a doctor, scientist or engineer.” Students are more likely to achieve their goals if they attend a school at which their academic credentials are roughly average.

College-bound African-Americans are just as likely as whites to plan science and engineering majors, but much more likely to switch to easier majors along the way, Heriot writes. While black students earn lower science-related standardized test scores than Asians or whites, that’s not the whole explanation.

As three independent scholarly studies show, part of the problem appears to be relative. A student who attends a college at which his entering credentials put him near the bottom of the class — which is where a student who needed an affirmative action preference will be — is less likely to persevere in science or engineering than an otherwise identical student attending a school at which those same credentials put him in the middle of the class or higher.

. . . A good student can get in over his head and end up learning little or nothing if he is placed in a classroom with students whose level of academic preparation is much higher than his own, even though he is fully capable of mastering the material when presented at a more moderate pace. Discouraged, he may even give up — even though he would have persevered and ultimately succeeded in a somewhat less competitive environment.

Frederick Smyth, a University of Virginia psychology professor,  and John McArdle, a University of Southern California psychology professor, estimate that 45 percent more minority women and 35 percent more minority men would have persisted in science and engineering if they had attended schools where their academic credentials matched their peers.

With only 20 percent of total African-American enrollment, historically black colleges and universities produce 40 percent of the African-Americans graduating with a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, Heriot writes.

If default rates are the problem . . .

The same day the Obama administration hit for-profit colleges for high default rates on federal loans, President Obama was lauding historically black colleges and universities, whose students have an even higher default rate, writes Cato’s Neal McCluskey.

Both the black colleges and the for-profit sector disproportionately serve first-to-college, low-income and minority students who are less likely to earn a degree, get a good job and be able to pay back loans. If lowering default rates is the priority, the feds will have to stop loaning money to high-risk students.