Top colleges for value, mobility

University of California at Riverside tops the Washington Monthly’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.

 

Ed Dept drags feet on competency pilots

Two years ago, President Obama touted competency-based education (CBE) as a key to college affordability and quality.

President Obama lauded competency-based education in a speech at SUNY-Buffalo two years ago.

President Obama lauded competency-based education in a speech at SUNY-Buffalo two years ago.

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.”

Obama plans college aid for prisoners

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.

President Barack Obama tours a cell block at the Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Okla., on July 16. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

President Obama tours a federal prison in Oklahoma on July 16. Photo: Saul Loeb, Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

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.”

Few graduate at ‘cafeteria colleges’

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.”

Hillary: Want a good school? Move

Hillary Clinton’s campaign announcement video features multi-ethnic, straight and gay Americans starting new things. “My daughter is starting kindergarten next year, and so we’re moving, just so she can belong to a better school,” says a woman.

Hamlet and Olesia Garcia were charged with education fraud for enrolling their daughter in a neighboring district.

Hamlet and Olesia Garcia were convicted of education fraud for enrolling their daughter in a neighboring district near Philadelphia.

It’s nice she and her mate can afford to buy a house in a good school district, but what about all the ordinary Americans stuck with a so-so neighborhood school? Dropout Nation’s Rishawn Biddle calls this “zip code education.” Good public schools are free for those who can make a big enough mortgage payment.

Is the video a calculated nod to charter-hating teachers’ unions, a sign Clinton will reverse Obama’s education reform agenda? Or, as Jonathan Chait suspects, is moving for a better school a middle-class reality that Clinton’s advisors never thought to question?

It’s odd to see neighborhood-based education defined as liberal writes Chait in New York magazine.

Hoping to push Clinton to the left, the Nation posed 15 questions it wants the candidate to answer, notes Chait. Anti-reformer Diane Ravitch asked: “Secretary Clinton, would you please state where you stand on the expansion of privately managed charter schools, which drain funding from public schools that accept all children.”

Charters have to accept all applicants, holding a lottery if too many apply, writes Chait. Traditional public schools “accept all children whose parents can afford the property fee.”

In my city, like many cities, the most desirable neighborhood schools are located in expensive neighborhoods. . . One of the things you pay for when you buy an expensive home is the right to live in a school district where most of the children will come from highly educated two-parent families. Schools that are tied to residential property patterns will inevitably reflect the racially and socioeconomically segregated pattern of American housing.

Turning “public education into an adjunct of private property rights” is “a very strange value system for the left to embrace,” concludes Chait.

Another liberal, Kevin Chavous of American Federation for Children wants Clinton to support school choice.

Obama: You don’t need a degree

After years of encouraging young Americans to earn college degrees, President Obama is telling them they just need technical skills, not a degree. The $100 million TechHire initiative will try to persuade employers to hire technical workers with alternative credentials.

“It turns out it doesn’t matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are at writing code,” Obama said in a speech to the National League of Cities conference. “If you can do the job, you should get the job.”

Dev Bootcamp promises to turn novices into web developers in 19 intensive weeks

Dev Bootcamp promises to turn novices into web developers in 19 intensive weeks

High-tech employers see “non-traditional training as a viable alternative,” writes Issie Lapowsky on Wired. “Training startups like Codecademy and General Assembly, as well as online course companies like Coursera, have been pushing” the idea for years.

TechHire will try to develop “standards for alternative education” and “a guide for employers on how to recruit tech workers from less traditional places,” reports Lapowsky. A company called Knack will “make a standard tech aptitude test free to employers and training organizations.”

The president says employers are losing money by leaving technical jobs unfilled. So, don’t they have an incentive to figure out how to test technical aptitude?

The $100 million would fund programs that help women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities qualify for tech jobs. More than 300 employers have agreed to consider hiring graduates of these programs.

A principal who matters

Vidal Chastenet

Vidal Chastanet on Humans of New York

Asked about the most influential person in his life by the Humans of New York photo blog, eighth-grader Vidal Chastanet named Nadia Lopez, his middle-school principal. “When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us,” he said. “She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.” The post went viral.

Lopez, who’d founded Mott Hall Bridges Academy in 2010, had been thinking about quitting, reports The Atlantic in Why Principals Matter. She worried her work wasn’t making a difference. Then came the wave of publicity, $1.2 million in donations and a visit with President Obama for the principal and her student.

Lopez told The Atlantic how she’s made Mott Hall a safe haven in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the city’s poorest neighborhood. “In this building, my kids are going to feel like they’re successful,” she said.

‘Free’ college could hurt students

President Obama’s “free” community college proposal could hurt disadvantaged students, I write on U.S. News.

Most lower-income students already pay no tuition. The “college is free” message could encourage more to enroll — but what happens when they get there? These students need remediation and counseling to have any chance of success. Community colleges don’t have the funding to provide strong support services.

The promise of free tuition could make the problem worse by drawing more students to already crowded community college campuses, said Michele Siqueiros, president of The Campaign for College Opportunity.

“If states don’t spend more to increase capacity,” community colleges will end up with long waiting lists, Siqueiros said. Affordability doesn’t help if a student can’t get into the right class or find help figuring out what classes to take, she said.

California’s community colleges are free to about half the students and very low cost to the rest. But students have trouble getting the classes they need. Success rates are very low.

Tennessee is making community college free for recent high school graduates by paying whatever they owe after federal and state aid. Ninety percent of 12th graders have expressed interest. Attracting more middle-class students to community college could create more diverse campuses with better-prepared students.

However, the plan is a subsidy to middle-class parents — not a funding increase for community colleges.

Eduardo Porter writes on The Promise and Failure of Community Colleges in the New York Times. Key quote: “Community colleges have the students with the greatest problems — yet they get the least resources,” said Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “It’s unrealistic to think we can have a better outcome without investing more money.”

‘College Promise’ isn’t likely

From Whiteboard Advisors, Education Insiders predict the future:

‘Free’ college won’t raise graduation rates

College is too late, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni in response to President Obama’s call for free community college in the State of the Union speech. Subsidizing tuition won’t help if students aren’t ready to do college-level work.

It’s easy to get students to enroll in community college, writes his colleague, David Brooks. Helping students graduate is hard.

Spending $60 billion over 10 years to make community college free won’t change sky-high dropout rates, Brooks writes.

. . . community college is already free for most poor and working-class students who qualify for Pell grants and other aid. In 2012, 38 percent of community-college students had their tuition covered entirely by grant aid and an additional 33 percent had fees of less than $1,000.

The Obama plan would largely be a subsidy for the middle- and upper-middle-class students who are now paying tuition and who could afford to pay it in the years ahead.

To increase graduation rates, spend some of that $60 billion to subsidize books, transportation, child care and housing, Brooks argues. That way students could work fewer hours and spend more time on their studies.

Community colleges also need funding for guidance counselors to help first-generation students develop a study plan and choose courses that get them quickly to their vocational or academic goal.

And they need to fix remediation, writes Brooks.

Actually, community colleges are trying all sort of remedial ed reforms, but it all goes back to Bruni’s point. If K-12 doesn’t work, then college won’t work.