President Obama has told his 17-year-old daughter, Malia, “not to stress too much about having to get into one particular college,” he said last month. “Just because it’s not some name-brand, famous, fancy school doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get a great education there.”
Malia Obama, a senior at the elite Sidwell Friends School, may be “the nation’s most eligible 2016 college applicant,” notes the New York Times.
So far, she’s “toured six of the eight Ivies — Brown, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale — as well as Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. She has also visited New York University, Tufts, Barnard and Wesleyan.”
They’re all “name-brand, famous, fancy” schools. But she doesn’t really need a safety school.
The Obama administration’s new “education equity initiative” is more likely to produce “a blizzard of paperwork than to improve the education of minority children,” writes R. Shep Melnick, a Boston College professor, in Education Next.
In a 37-page “Dear Colleague” letter, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) demands “that each school district provide a detailed accounting of resources available to schools with varying racial demographics,” writes Melnick.
Cited in the DCL’s 63 footnotes are studies indicating that targeting large sums to high-quality programs can help disadvantaged children. But the letter virtually ignores a key question: what constitutes a high-quality program?
School leaders face a choice, he writes.
. . . they can devote abundant time and money to collecting the information that OCR demands, massaging the data to make themselves look good, and shifting money around here and there to show they are making “progress.” (For instance, the quickest way to appease OCR will be to increase the number of AP courses available to minority students, regardless of whether this is the school’s most pressing need.)
On the other hand, schools can call OCR’s bluff. They can say, “We . . . prefer to spend money on teachers than on accountants.”
Districts that lose federal funds for non-compliance can go to federal court, where they’re very likely to win, writes Melnick. They could overturn this “Dear Colleague” letter and earlier letters on sexual harassment, programs for English language learners and school discipline.
President Obama criticized political correctness on college campuses at a Des Moines town hall on college affordability, reports Vox.
“I don’t agree that (students) . . . have to be coddled and protected from different points of view,” said the president, who’s apparently read The Coddling of the American Mind in The Atlantic.
I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either.
. . . anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, “You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.” That’s not the way we learn either.
“If Obama is actually opposed to the new scourge of political correctness on college campuses, he could prove his dedication to the cause by directing the Education Department to relax its relentless Title IX inquisition,” writes Robby Soave on Reason‘s Hit & Run. Federal “guidance” obliges universities to censor, he writes.
President Obama has called for guaranteeing two years of tuition-free higher education to all Americans. That will raise enrollment, writes Adela Soliz, a Brookings researcher. But free college won’t lead to more degrees unless it’s linked to performance, she predicts.
Soliz suggests using “financial aid dollars to reward students for earning a particular GPA, completing a certain number of credits, or demonstrating other behaviors that may increase student persistence and completion, such as meeting regularly with an advisor.”
Community college already is affordable, writes Jack Soloway on Reason‘s Hit & Run. Subsidizing tuition will incentivize colleges to raise tuition; quality-control measures will require more compliance staffers.
University of California at Riverside tops the Washington Monthly’s college rankings, which give top honors to schools that enroll and graduate “students of modest means” while “charging them a reasonable price,” write the editors.
The rankings also give credit for research — are these schools “creating the new technologies and ideas that will drive economic growth and advance human knowledge?” — and whether they encourage students to join the military or the Peace Corps or perform community service.
You’ll see it doesn’t intersect very much with U.S. News‘ college rankings.
Two years ago, President Obama pledged to rate every college and university in America by “who’s offering the best value,” note the Monthly‘s editors.
The higher ed lobby mobilized to kill the ratings plan. In June, it was canceled.
The Monthly also ranks the best bang-for-the-buck colleges.
Two years ago, President Obama touted competency-based education (CBE) as a key to college affordability and quality.
Giving “course credit based on how well students master the material, not just on how many hours they spend in the classroom” will help students finish a degree faster and for less money, the president said.
But no CBE experiments have been launched, writes Amy Laitinen on EdCentral. Colleges are eager to launch competency programs, she writes, “but the Department of Education has been dragging its feet.”
Some prison inmates will receive federal college aid, despite a 1994 law that cut off Pell Grants to prisoners. The Education Department says Pell for prisoners is legal under a waiver provision for experimental programs.
Before 1994, prisoners could use Pell Grants to cover tuitions, books and other education-related expenses. Online learning should make it easier and cheaper to provide coursework to inmates.
Under the Obama administration’s plan, grants of up to $5,775 a year would go directly to colleges and universities that provide courses to prisoners.
Of 700,000 prisoners released each year, more than 40 percent will be back behind bars within three years, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who announced the program at a Maryland prison on Friday.
“For every dollar invested in prison education programs, this saves taxpayers on average $5,” said Lois Davis, who authored a RAND study. Inmates who take college classes are 16 percent less likely to return to prison, she estimated.
Congress provided nearly $300 million last year to fund job training and re-entry programs for prisoners, said Republican Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, in a statement.
Pell aid might be a “worthwhile idea for some prisoners,” but the administration has no authority to ignore the law, Alexander said. “Congress can address changes to Pell grants as part of the Senate education committee’s work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this fall.”
Easy come, easy go is the reality at community colleges, writes Meredith Kolodner in the Hechinger Report. Only 39 percent of degree-seeking students earn a credential within six years. A quarter of fall enrollees are gone by spring.
The “cafeteria college” — take whatever courses you fancy — isn’t serving students’ needs, argues Tom Bailey, who runs the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia.
Without college-educated parents to guide them — and good luck getting time with a college counselor — many community college students pick courses that won’t help them reach their goals. They get frustrated and drop out. Or they transfer and learn that their credits won’t be counted.
In Redesigning America’s Community Colleges, Bailey and colleagues Shanna Smith Jaggers and Davis Jenkins argue for creating pathways to a degree.
The “defined pathway” that we’re talking about would create a default program, which would lay out semester by semester the courses a student needs to complete a degree.
It provides an easier way to understand sequence of courses. If you want to take other courses you can, but then you have to talk to somebody about that. It has to be part of a plan.
Some colleges offer “nine or 10 meta majors,” says Bailey. “You might not know you want to be a nurse, but you’re interested in the medical field. Or business. There are some basic courses in those fields that everybody takes. They don’t need to specialize that much.”
President Obama’s plan to make community college free won’t raise the graduation rate unless it’s combined with other reforms, says Bailey. “Financial burdens do prevent students from continuing, but I think the evidence about whether that alone will do it is much weaker.”