Affordable Online Community College Guide

August 21st, 2014

Affordable Colleges Online, created an expert-driven resource guidebook for students seeking advice and information about affordable programs from Community Colleges that offer flexible online learning classes.  Community colleges are a critical part of our education ecosystem and continue to offer a truly cost effective option for students to earn a 2 year degree or the credits needed to transfer to a 4-year college.  Over the last few years, community colleges have made many of these 2 year programs more flexible by offering fully online or hybrid options.  Three experts from academia contributed to guide elements, including:

- The basics of online learning at community colleges

- Distance learning myths and pros and cons of these programs

- Affordability & Accreditation information

- Student interviews

- Q&A and a student assessment questionnaire

Anyone can access the guide to Online Community Colleges at no-cost here:

Media Confuses Higher Education And Workforce Development

August 20th, 2014
. New America’s Mary Alice McCarthy points to a recent New York Times article to show how easily our education and training policies are confused for one another, as their programs are increasingly delivered by the same institutions. Read more at EdCentral.

Four Years Later: What Happens After College Graduation?

August 19th, 2014


By Watson Scott Swail, Ed.D. President and CEO, Educational Policy Institute

This morning I woke up to a New York Times article  about an unemployed graduate of a for-profit institution. We’ve read many of these types of articles. Although they are mostly anecdotal, the sheer number of these articles, along with our unemployment data, assign more credibility to these writings. We know that people are hurting, and not just those who did not go to college, but also to those who did. The story in question documents an adult student, Joe DeGrella, a former contractor who decided to attend a for-profit institution in Kentucky to retrain for cardiology technology. Two years later, the 57-year old DeGrella is jobless and $20,000 in debt. As the New York Times states, their extensive analysis found that “many graduates wind up significantly worse off than when they started—mired in unemployment and debt from training for positions that do not exist, and end up working elsewhere for minimum wage.”

So I thought I would look at the recent release from the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) 2007-08 Baccalaureate and Beyond (B&B) Report. This report, released in July, doesn’t focus on the type of institution that DeGrella attended, but I thought it of interest to see what happened to graduates from four-year institutions. The B&B report looks at graduates four years after graduation. Here are some of the interesting findings:

  • 69 percent of graduates were employed, 11 percent were employed and still enrolled, and 6 percent were going to school and not working. Of the remaining 15 percent, 7 percent were unemployed and the other 8 percent were considered out of the labor force.
  • Of those who were employed and not going to school (69 percent), 85 percent had a full-time job; 8 percent had a part-time job, and 8 percent had multiple jobs.
  • Graduates had an average of 2.1 jobs in the four years since graduation. Thirty-nine percent had only one job, 34 percent two, and 16 percent three jobs. Eleven percent had four or more jobs in that time period.
  • The median income for full-time employees was $46,000 in 2012 dollars. However, not surprising but nonetheless disconcerting, men earned 20 percent the median earnings than women ($51,100 vs. $42,500).
  • STEM majors earned considerably more than non-STEM majors: $60,000 vs. $44,000; and education graduates earned the least of all ($37,000).

These are the best data we have. It is collected about once every four years by the US Department of Education. Other studies, such as the Current Population Survey (CPS) by the US Census Bureau, have monthly and annual data, but the data are somewhat lacking due to self-reporting.

Which brings me to my point. Gainful employment.

The federal government is requiring vocational institutions to provide evidence of employment for their graduates. The discussion is well covered in the education press and I won’t digress here. Much of the focus on gainful employment is on for-profit education organizations that have traditionally high tuition, low-graduation rates, leaving students with large debts. This isn’t true for all for-profits, but it certainly describes many of them.

Unfortunately, the truth also holds for public and private, not-for-profit institutions. Many students attend these institutions, some graduate, many do not, and many have high debt ratios and mediocre jobs. As this B&B study shows, 70 percent of public four-year students were employed four-years after graduation. Of that group, 85 percent held a full-time job. Doing the math, that means that only 60 percent of graduating students at a four-year, public institution were fully-employed four years after graduation, leaving 40 percent who were either part-time employed, still in school, unemployed, or deemed “out of the workforce.”

Forty percent. That seems to be a large percentage that many years out.

Three-quarters of four-year students received some type of student aid and 61 percent took out a student loan averaging about $7,300 per year[1]. Over four years, that’s around $30,000.

Forty percent of graduates aren’t working full-time, four years after graduation, with an average of $30,000 in debt. Plus expenses.

So, back to Joe DeGrella, the 57-year old recent student, who completed a program and ended up with $20,000 in loans and no job. When do we start to look at the subsidized education we offer for students and make the connection with employment opportunities in the workforce? We keep selling young and older students that education is the answer. I believe it, but I believe it less sometimes after reviewing the trials and tribulations of those who have leveraged life savings and retirement funds to send their loved ones or themselves to school. The excitement of graduating exercises in early May become the reality of finding a waitressing job in August. And the data from NCES doesn’t suggest it gets much better for a large percentage of graduates.

We’ve hit a point where we need to look at this critically and decide how we want to educate our high school graduates, our young workers, and our adult workforce, employed and not employed. It does not serve any one well to say “go to school,” when we can’t guarantee decent employment, or are educating them in areas that have no jobs and won’t have any jobs in the near or distant future.

Perhaps it is time for job and education panels. Perhaps the decisions that are made about education and training need to be made very differently than how they are. The evidence suggests that the time is ripe for change. Simply put, too many people are hurting. And we are all complicit.



About Educational Policy Institute

The Educational Policy Institute is a Washington, DC-based research think tank on education and the social sciences. EPI conducts evaluation and policy studies on various educational issues from Pre-K to workforce outcomes in the United States, Canada, and beyond. Visit us at

MOOCs Results Better Than Early Reports Suggest

August 18th, 2014

Out of all the students who enroll in a MOOC, only about 5 percent complete the course and receive a certificate of accomplishment. This statistic is often cited as evidence that MOOCs are fatally flawed and offer little educational value to most students. Yet more than 80 percent of students who fill out a post-course survey say they met their primary objective. How do we reconcile these two facts? We’re used to focusing on completion rates in higher education, but they’re not the only—or even the most meaningful—indicator of engagement in open online courses. With no cost to enroll, no penalty for dropping out, and little reward for actually earning a certificate, MOOCs are fundamentally different from traditional classes— and students use them in fundamentally different ways. The article is in The Atlantic.

Strategies To Decrease College Drop Outs

August 14th, 2014

From ECS

More than 40 percent of full-time, four-year college students fail to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, and many never complete their education. A new study examines dropout patterns in an attempt to better support students as they make enrollment decisions. Findings suggest that while preparation in secondary schools needs to improve, it is also important to encourage students with weaker academic preparation to consider starting college at a two-year institution (about a third of four-year college dropouts would have a higher chance of bachelor’s degree completion, had they begun there.) Find out more  here. (New to the ECS Research Studies Database)

Poor Families Pay Half Their Income At Elite Colleges? A Different Perspective

August 13th, 2014

FM and IM—You Say Potato, I like Potahto: But We Can’t Call the Whole Thing Off

Posted by Educational Policy Institute

By Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute

A recent article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Are Poor Families Really Paying Half Their Income at Elite Colleges? ,” penned by Beckie Supiano and Soo Oh, reminded me of the old Gershwin tune, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” The graphic-based brief uses data from the University of Notre Dame to describe the challenges between federal government data collection from students via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Board PROFILE, which many private colleges require from students to help them determine the amount of institutional aid.

Before 1992, the PROFILE was used by just about every college in the country. It was the defacto federal financial aid form, primarily because the federal government didn’t have one. But the 1992 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act changed history by creating the FAFSA as a means to (a) take away the College Board’s monopoly on the data business, and even the methodology business, and (b) to make the process free for students. Prior to 1992, students had to pay a nominal-but-real fee to apply for financial aid. In retrospect, most of us would agree that students should not pay to apply for aid—it seems counterintuitive, which was what Congress thought. But the challenge is that the FAFSA has never collected the detailed financial information that the PROFILE collects, and as we continue to strive for simplification of the FAFSA, even less data are supplied.

By law, students must complete the FAFSA to determine their financial aid package. This is determined through use of a formula called the Federal Methodology, or FM, a to determine aid distribution. Students attending private, elite colleges also must use the FAFSA for federal aid determination, but over 350 of these schools  require students to complete the College Board PROFILE to help determine the proper use of institutional aid. For these institutions, the FAFSA never has provided them with the level of detail about a family’s fiscal resources, whereas the PROFILE does. Institutions, like Notre Dame, want a much clearer picture of assets to better distribute valuable and limited institutional aid.

As the Chronicle piece correctly illustrates, institutions that use the PROFILE generally find that some students defined as low income by the FAFSA actually have more assets and are slightly more affluent. Slightly. Conversely, the PROFILE also moves people from middle income to lower-income levels. In essence, the different methodology, called the IM (Institutional Methodology) and created by financial aid officers through the College Board, moves people around the income bands. For low-income students, this generally provides them with more institutional aid, providing them with a lower cost of attendance than what students would get only using the federal methodology. In the Notre Dame example, students who would have had to provide $11,626 of a $60,000/year bill out of pocket through FM would now only provide $4,472 through IM. That’s still real money for families that earn less than $30,000/year. Other income levels changed marginally. The big difference is what is offered to lower-income students.

On one hand this is good news for college access advocates. Low-income students, or Pell-eligible students, can get more funds from elite schools, if they can clear the admissions hurdle. The reality is that most low-income students do not apply to Notre Dame and other elite schools because they either do not think they can qualify for admissions or they think they cannot afford it. Thus, these students are not subject to the PROFILE.

The Chronicle uses this example to showcase the problems that the federal government is going to face in their attempt to provide accurate consumer information about the true cost of college. It all depends, and that doesn’t help consumers very much.

But this is just more proof that our system is rife with issues and complexities that make college somewhere between Pandora’s box and a black hole for students and their families. Finding out the true cost of education is a completely imperfect science due to the nature of funding higher education and the two different methodologies of determining aid, the FM and IM.

There are a few solutions, but none of them are politically viable, which is our problem. The simplest way out, of course, is not to charge tuition and fees at all to students. Then there are no issues with methodologies. Economists, however, are quick to note that this type of fiscal policy is regressive, meaning that it favors more affluent families and students that can afford to pay the going price of college. And second, these policies aren’t refundable, meaning that if a low-income family actually qualified for more funds, the government wouldn’t be cutting them a check. Regardless, no one with any political will or pulpit in the US or Canada is going to support free tuition. In the end, those systems don’t work very well, either. Ask Ireland, a country that would love to get rid of free fees.

A second option is to have an income contingent system. We have one, but it is very limited and still requires students to be awarded a package of federal, state, and institutional grants and loans. Only the federal loans are made contingent on one’s income, of which borrowers pay a percentage of their current income until either their loan is paid off or they reach a 25-year make, at which time the loan is written off (a new law reduces the term to 20 years for new loans as of July 1, 2014). The challenge for students is that these loans are compounding due to interest charges. So, unless borrowers can pay enough to significantly reduce the principle of a small mortgage, it remains a dicey fiscal challenge.

A third option would be to simplify the funding system so that we did not have 4,000+ public and private not-for-profit institutions with variable tuition rates and fees. That just doesn’t work in any respect, but worth the mention. That, in essence, would be a form of price fixing. Either the payer is paying too much, or someone (e.g., the taxpayer) is subsidizing too much.

This doesn’t further our quest to find an answer, but the Chronicle illustrated a very important distinction between the elite colleges and everyone else due to use of IM and the PROFILE.

College Mentoring Programs May Not Help Student Retention

August 12th, 2014

Buffy Smith, an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of St. Thomas, in Minnesota, says many institutions see mentoring programs as cheap, quick ways to boost recruitment and retention of at-risk students. But for mentoring programs to succeed, they need money and clear objectives, she warns. The article is in Inside Higher Ed via Carnegie Foundation

Presidencies Derailed: Why University Leaders Fail And How To Prevent It

August 11th, 2014

reviewed by D. Bruce Johnstone — July 31, 2014 in Teachers College Record (this is an excerpt)

coverTitle: Presidencies Derailed: Why University Leaders Fail and How to Prevent It
Author(s): Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, Gerald B. Kauvar, & E. Grady Bogue
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
ISBN: 1421410249, Pages: 184, Year: 2

Presidencies Derailed is a compact, provocative, mostly beautifully written accounting of causes for, and lessons to be learned from, presidencies that fail before the end of their initial contracts (or expected terms). The authors focus on first term derailments because, while there are always causes, and while most (although not all) causes reflect some kind of lapse (or worse) on the part of the presidents who resigned prematurely or were abruptly fired, these unfortunate and costly experiences also generally represent failures in the governing board’s processes to search, select, launch, and nurture their new campus leaders. Derailments are enormously costly, whether measured in the lost time and morale of the governing board members and other stakeholders involved in the failed search, a fracturing of what traditions of shared governance may have existed, a similar fracturing of governing board cohesiveness (although such pre-existing fractures may have had a major hand in the derailment), in the monetary cost of a new search, in the loss of important constituencies and donors, and in disrupted campus plans.

Presidential derailments are not uncommon: the authors cite some 50 college, university, and system heads who resigned, retired prematurely, or were overtly fired in 2009 and 2010. While drawing on personal experiences, the extensive literature on college and university governance, and on the literature of leadership styles and transitions in the corporate world, much of the meat of the analysis relies on 16 extensive case studies of presidential derailments: four studies each of failed presidencies in private liberal arts colleges, public masters-level institutions, public research universities, and public community colleges.

The causes for presidential derailments are usually multiple, complex, and contested. They are generally given great play in the media (both print and social) while shrouded in official secrecy and exacerbated by extensive rumors and diverse personal agendas. As the case studies were real and necessarily involved real or perceived ethical lapses, damaged careers, humiliation, and sometimes lawsuits, the authors have disguised the names of the persons and institutions studied. The cases and the generalizations drawn from them are recounted with great sensitivity and deference to the complexities and multiple perceptions involved with such experiences. At the same time, they do not shy away from identifying the widespread perceptions of moral and ethical lapses, political corruption, and dysfunctional behavior that so frequently derail campus heads.

The sixteen very diverse case studies are cleverly woven together with the six derailment themes, all of which were found in some of the cases, and most cases revealing several. Four of the themes were taken from the literature of failures in business leadership, all of which seem equally applicable to college and university presidential derailments. These were: (a) failure to meet institutional objectives and needs; (b) problems with interpersonal relationships (whether with board members, faculty, executive staff, or community leaders); (c) inability to lead key constituencies, including inability to build and develop a strong executive staff, delegate appropriately, and be generally accepted as a leader who has listened widely and acted with sensitivity and integrity for the good of the institution; and (d) difficulty adapting, including difficulty or unwillingness to comprehend the institutional history and culture when making the decisions for the long term good of the institution. To these four generic leadership failures, and drawn from the case studies as well as their own leadership experiences, the authors add two that they believe to be more peculiar to institutions of higher education (whether public or private, large or small, or elite research campuses or less selective teaching institutions): (e) ethical lapses and (f) board shortcomings.


Administrators Ate My Tuition ? And More

August 7th, 2014

The headline is last entry in this update from the Delta Cost Project at AIR

College Subsidies Hit Decade Low as Students Pay at Least Half of Their Education Cost for

the First Time
Subsidies for public higher education institutions have hit a 10-year low, according to the latest Delta Cost Project report by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). This comes at a time when students now pay on average half or more of their education’s cost. The report also shows that community colleges are posting the lowest level of spending per student in a decade.

“Students are paying an ever-larger share of the costs colleges and universities incur to provide an education—particularly students at public institutions,” said Donna Desrochers, the report’s lead author and an AIR principal researcher. “Research universities are still feeling the recession’s aftermath, with academic spending per student declining for two years straight, while spending at other four-year institutions rose.”

The report used 2001–11 data compiled by the Delta Cost Project from information institutions reported to the U.S. Department of Education. Read the summary and key findings for Trends in College Spending: 2001–2011.

TCS Is New and Improved!
The Trends in College Spending (TCS) online database had a facelift! The redesigned site is not only better looking, but more user-friendly. TCS now includes data from 2011, the latest data available on college spending. The new site houses a redesigned “Institutional Snapshot” service, allowing users to access an in-depth spending report on a single college or university.

But the site has not changed in any important ways. As always, TCS Online is an interactive Web-based data system that provides education stakeholders easy access to information on finance, performance, and enrollments for individual institutions, groups of institutions, or the nation as a whole.

Visit our new and improved site.

“Think Again: Administrators Ate My Tuition! Really?”
In a recent commentary, Delta Cost Managing Researcher Rita Kirshstein refutes the idea that highly paid administrators are sucking down tuition dollars. Read the full story.

Visit us at or follow us on Twitter @deltacostproject.

The College Core Curriculum: Enlightenment Or Gate Keeper?

August 6th, 2014

By Watson Scott Swail, Ed.D. President and CEO, Educational Policy Institute

According to the Community College Research Center[1] at Teachers College, approximately 60 percent of incoming community college students are referred to at least one developmental course, and less than a quarter of students who enroll in those courses complete a degree within eight years.

Many of the students who take developmental courses do so because of a requirement for a select set of “core” courses, sometimes referred to as general education, to earn their diploma, certificate, or degree. The purpose of core courses is generally to ensure that students have a broad experiential education and gain critical thinking skills to aid them in their other course

Typical core courses include mathematics, science, history, English, literature, and choices of certain social sciences courses (e.g., philosophy; psychology). The challenge for many students is that some or many of these courses end up being gatekeepers to their ability to progress to degree, especially those courses and requirements unrelated to their major course of study.

For instance, at Columbia College within Columbia University in New York, the core includes contemporary civilization course with readings such as The Republic (Plato), The Hebrew Bible, The Discourses (Machiavelli), and the Second Treatise of Government by John Locke. In addition, Columbia requires three science courses, and a foreign language component. Columbia perhaps is not a typical institution, but this gives you a quick idea of requirements for students at that institution. At Tidewater Community College in Norfolk/Virginia Beach, course requirements in diagnostic medical sonography include anatomy and physiology, mathematics, physics, English Composition, a social science elective, a humanities elective, and basic computer literacy. At Columbia, you get the core being literature; at TCC, you understand the focus on anatomy and related technical courses. But the question remains why is it necessary to require non-related courses for graduation that, for many students, may become gatekeepers to completion?

Institutions, and Departments, to be fair, vary greatly in how they deal with core courses, but most typically require courses from outside their academic program. The challenge becomes when certain courses become gatekeepers to further progress for students. Certainly, if a student requires remedial course work related to their field of study, that makes sense. However, if the remedial course is non-related, then I think we have to challenge the basis of that requirement.

Mathematics is often the best example because of the nature of mathematics, itself, but I’m not sure why it is important for a student to take more mathematics after a decade-plus of mathematics when their major study is unrelated to mathematics. The same can be said for foreign language requirements, which are nice to have but completely unnecessary for programs outside of language study. It can be argued that some English study is useful, but those two required English courses, for those who are not English majors, should be more related to technical writing or something relative to their major study.

We often advise institutions with graduation rate issues to look at their courses with the highest DFW levels (D, F, or Withdrawal). There needs to be significant review of why students are failing or leaving these courses, and also an internal review of whether these courses are necessary for those students. A simple change of requirements can reduce attrition greatly for many students.

In the end, this is part of the philosophical tug-of-war between vocational pragmatism and the theoretical canon of higher education. We have a general education core in our curriculum because our instructors and educational leaders believe in the importance of having all of their students share in a unique and important lesson that they will use in their studies and life. They are not incorrect in this belief. The challenge is that just because we’ve done things the same way for so long doesn’t offer an excuse for not changing with the times.

I’m not suggesting we don’t have a general core. I am suggesting we think very carefully about what the core is and what the benefit is to the student as well as the institution. It must make sense, especially for the more vocationally-minded studies. In the end, we’re talking about opportunity cost for all stakeholders.

[1] Bailey, Thomas, and Cho, Sung-Woo (2010, October). Developmental Education in Community Colleges. An issue brief of the Community College Research Center. New York, NY: CCRC.