Posts published in May, 2010

Federal Data Omits Major Components Of College Completion Issue

Currently, most of the data that government agencies and higher education institutions use to report progress on college access and success omit large numbers of students.  Transfer students and part-time students, for example, aren’t included in the success rates reported in the major national database on postsecondary education, nor does the database flag low-income students in a way that enables the public to track their progress (see Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, commonly known as IPEDS). This US Education department survey only covers first-time fulltime freshman. The missing and invisible students constitute two-thirds of the students in many broad access colleges. Students who are not counted will be  ignored in college accountability sytems.

However, 22statewide 4 year college systems are compiling their own data to overcome IPEDS shortcomings, and provide a more accurate overview of college completion. Se

Promising New Institute To Connect Policies and Practice Between K-12 and Postsecondary

The Education Trust and Achieve are launching the nonprofit U.S. Education Delivery Institute (EDI) with the support of McKinsey & Company under the leadership of Sir Michael Barber, founder and former head of Prime Minister Blair’s Delivery Unit. EDI is dedicated to building the capacity in state public education systems to implement school reform effectively. EDI will help K-12 and higher education systems connect the dots between state policies and the schools and teachers that must implement them to ensure that they have their intended benefit and dramatically improve student outcomes. EDI will focus on providing states poised to make bold changes with the tools to translate intent at the state level into results at the student level. This work is already underway in Louisiana and Tennessee. In addition, nine public higher education systems are working with EDI to support efforts to halve the college-going and college-completion gaps for their low-income and minority students by 2015.

Federal Government Will Spend 250 Million On State Data Systems That Will Have k-16 Links

Pennsylvania is in the midst of developing a sophisticated data system that will track students from preschool to elementary and secondary education to postsecondary education to the work force. The U.S. Department of Education announced it will contribute $14.3 million to help pay for the design and implementation in Pennsylvania of a statewide longitudinal data system. Pennsylvania is among 20 states sharing $250 million in economic stimulus money for statewide longitudinal data systems. Source;ECS

Texas Overhauls College Remedial Education After Dismal Results

Developmental education is a $200 million-a-year problem in Texas. But relatively few students who need remedial classes go on to earn a degree, raising questions about whether money spent on developmental education is a wise investment. The legislature has agreed to change the way it pays for the courses, encouraging colleges to break away from traditional 16-week semesters and tailor learning to students’ needs. And beginning in 2011, community college graduation rates will be posted alongside state appropriations for each school. See ECS’ Getting Past Go project on remedial education.

Girls Exceed Boys In College Attainment : The Search For Why

 Last year girls were 58% of college grads and the gap is growing . The new book reviewed below is stimulating, but lacks the data to answer why the graduation gap is so large-particularly among Hispanics and African Americans. It is still worth reading for thinking about this crucial but ignored issue in college completion. Many more boys drop out after beginning college.

  From the Fordham Foundation Gadfly:

By Amber Winkler

Why Boys Fail
Richard Whitmire
AMACOM Publishing

Most current commentary focuses on two disturbing achievement gaps in American education: between our socioeconomic classes, and between the United States and its international peers. This book makes a considerable case for a third: between the sexes. It’s a cause on which the author has focused intensely in recent years—especially through his blog,, now at Ed Week—and this book is a lively and important culmination of years of research. The statistics speak for themselves: Even in white, affluent suburbs, boys are far more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems, to do poorly in school, and to drop out of high school and college. But stats are more alarming for poor and minority communities. Only 48 percent of black boys ever get a high school diploma, compared to 59 percent of black girls. An astounding 60 percent of black male high school dropouts spend time in prison by their mid-thirties. And it’s nearly impossible to find a public high school where black male students perform equally as well as their female peers. Perhaps the most important exception is (surprise, surprise) KIPP, about which Whitmire writes, “when you refuse to let even a single student slide by, you end up helping boys the most because boys are the big sliders.” He also finds hope in Australia, where the federal government has declared the gender gap a major problem and is implementing a targeted program to counteract it. In the process, he hints that the U.S. Department of Education would be wise to do the same. Above all, he says, it’s the intense reading demands of the modern curriculum that hold boys back, and doing more to help boys learn to read early would go a long way to narrowing the gap. Purchase the book here.

Community College Students Fail To Apply For Student Aid

Millions of dollars in federal financial aid go unclaimed each year by eligible low-income students at community colleges, according to a College Board report. The study notes that community college students are less likely than their four-year counterparts to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. During 2007-08, 57.8% of Pell Grant-eligible community college students applied for federal financial aid, while 76.8% of eligible students at public four-year institutions did so. The failure to fill out a FAFSA and therefore to qualify for financial aid can negatively affect students’ ability to complete college

New Report Demonstrates Creative Use Of Technology By Colleges

College tuitions are rising. Seat space—especially in community colleges—is often scarce. University endowments are shrinking. State institutions are facing enormous cuts in state funding.

While colleges have fewer resources, they are admitting students who present greater challenges. Increasing numbers of students arrive on campus without the preparation to do college-level work. An estimated 42 percent of students at public two-year institutions and 28 percent of all students nationally take at least one remedial class.

Yet at too many universities, classes are taught in much the same way as they were 50—or even 500—years ago. Students crowd into lecture halls to hear long uninterrupted lectures. Later, they discuss the course material in smaller sections taught by faculty or graduate assistants.

Some institutions, however, are finding new ways to teach students. A new Education Sector report, The Course of Innovation: Using Technology to Transform Higher Education, highlights the ways that colleges and universities are using technology to simultaneously improve student learning and reduce skyrocketing higher education costs.

Policy Analyst Ben Miller notes that many of the most successful innovations are the result of efforts by the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT). Since it was established in 1999, NCAT “has amassed a growing and increasingly complex portfolio of transformation-related projects,” Miller says.

These include:

  • The University of Idaho, where the Polya Mathematics Center allows students to work on individualized learning modules to supplement their in-class instruction. Today, more students pass introductory math classes, and the university has saved more than $1 million over the last eight years.
  • Austin Peay State University, which set a goal of eliminating remedial classes. Through the use of technology and additional academic support, two-thirds of the “remedial” students passed the same for-credit classes they previously would not have been allowed to take.
  • Tallahassee Community College, which moved some of the content from its freshman composition classes—grammar and reading comprehension—online. The result is more class time for analysis and critique of student writing.

Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recently called improving or reducing remediation the best way to improve completion rates at community colleges, which hover at around 25 percent. “If you start a remedial class, the odds are that you will never finish a credit-bearing course in that subject,” she said. The foundation has made a substantial commitment to improving the effectiveness of remedial programs.

Clearly, conditions are right for reform. Yet Miller finds that “colleges have yet to decide, en masse, that adopting a proven method to produce better student learning outcomes for less money is the kind of thing they should naturally do on their own.” He notes a number of barriers hindering innovation. Many department chairs are reluctant to support innovations that might lead to reduced staffing levels (and thus, a reduction in perceived power). Decentralized governance systems mean there is almost no way to enforce compliance, even with instructional formats that will raise student achievement and reduce costs.

The Course of Innovation: Using Technology to Transform Higher Education highlights promising instructional models that can reduce costs, while maintaining or increasing student achievement. The report outlines examples of success and creates a road map of policy recommendations that will encourage and support colleges and universities seeking to transform learning for students.

Read The Course of Innovation: Using Technology to Transform Higher Education.

Selective College Wait Lists Grow Much Larger

by Daniel de Vise
The Washington Post

This spring, some colleges in the Washington region have assembled waiting lists that rival the size of their incoming freshman classes, a measure of their uncertainty at a volatile time in higher education.

The University of Virginia has offered admission to 6,900 students and wait-listed 3,750, a group large enough to fill the 3,240 spots for the Class of 2014. The College of William and Mary placed 1,415 students on a wait list for a freshman class of about 1,400. Most of the other top national universities in the area, including Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland and Virginia Tech, are tending deep wait lists of their own.

The swelling of wait lists in the past two years reflects the lingering economic downturn and an increasingly cautious approach by admissions offices. The recession has made it more difficult for admissions officers to discern which admitted students are likely to attend and has sapped endowments, leaving colleges less inclined to risk tuition dollars by failing to fill their freshman classes. Competitive colleges are processing record numbers of applications, further complicating the task of predicting who will enroll.

“Last year, wait lists at most places were much more active than normal, because people had no idea what was going to happen,” said Charles Deacon, dean of admissions at Georgetown. This year, colleges “are mostly not in any better shape than they were last year,” he said. “But they’ve had more time to prepare.”

Colleges create the wait list as a sort of reserve fund, available for use if the school comes up short of students at the end of the regular admission cycle. No college wants to end up under-enrolled.

Nationwide, roughly one college in three employs a wait list. Its use is far more common among the most selective colleges, according to a definitive national survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Roughly 30 percent of wait-listed students ultimately are admitted, although the percentage is much smaller at top colleges.

For their part, the colleges wait-list many more students than they actually plan to enroll, knowing that a good share will tire of the wait and commit to another school. Still, academic officials acknowledge that some wait lists are needlessly long.

“Sometimes, frankly, it’s just hard to say no to so many great kids,” said Greg Roberts, dean of admission at U-Va.

“I’ll agree there’s no scenario where we’d exhaust the wait list and still not have the class we want,” said Henry Broaddus, dean of admission at William and Mary. “I think there’s an appropriate national conversation to have about ‘are these wait lists too big?’ ”

May is wait list month, when colleges tally deposits from students who have committed by the May 1 deadline and tabulate how many more students, if any, they will need to complete their freshman classes. By the start of June, most wait-listed students will have received a polite letter of rejection or, for a lucky few, a surprise telephone call offering admission.

Urja Mittal, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, accepted an offer of admission from the University of Pennsylvania. She’s on a waiting list at Columbia University, which she initially favored over Penn.

Mittal, 18, is in a pickle. Since committing to Penn, she has learned a lot more about the school and its programs and has tried to convince herself “that Penn is the best.” She has friends “who are getting attached to their school, and the mascot. I’m trying to do the same.”

And yet, she said, “my attraction to Columbia still exists.” In the unlikely event that she gets in, “I think it would be a real toss-up,” she said.

Local deans say this year’s admission cycle, while tricky, was somewhat easier to predict than last year’s, a time of plummeting endowments and plunging stock prices. Colleges may empanel a wait list by a rough mathematical formula — say, one wait-listed student for every two admits. They don’t usually have a set number in mind.

Georgetown put 1,177 students on its wait list this year to plug holes in a class of 1,580. U-Md., which usually gets by without a wait list, revived it last year. This year’s list holds nearly 1,000 students. Virginia Tech has 1,350 students wait-listed.

William and Mary’s list is longer than last year’s by 142 students. Wait lists at U-Va. and Virginia Tech are shorter. At Georgetown and U-Md., they are about the same length.

Admission officers counsel the wait-listed to consider the long odds and mull over other options, even as they encourage them to submit additional grade reports and letters of recommendation, just in case.

“There’s no intent to peddle false hope here,” Broaddus said.

Community Colleges Need To Do More With Less Concerning Student Completion

President Obama, foundation leaders and the heads of advocacy groups all agree that community colleges need to focus on more than access and drastically improve their generally low completion rates. By and large, these leaders believe that these institutions know, whether by research or common sense, just what to do – such as providing better academic advising, outreach to struggling students, financial aid to encourage full-time enrollment, smaller class sizes and so forth. So what’s the holdup? Community college presidents across the country argue there is a great disparity between what is being asked of their institutions as far as the “completion agenda” and their ability to actually accomplish its goals – mostly because of dwindling state and local resources.

Last month, at the annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges, six of the sector’s leading education and policy organizations signed what they deemed “a call to action” – a commitment to improve student completion rates by 50 percent over the next decade. The pledge appealed to the sense of responsibility that officials at these open-access institutions often feel toward their community: “With the ‘completion agenda’ as a national imperative, community colleges have an obligation to meet the challenge while holding firmly to traditional values of access, opportunity, and quality.

Source: Carnegie Foundation

Should Public Colleges Be Held To Same Gainful Employment Standard As For-Profit Colleges?

   The Obama administration proposes to regulate for profit colleges by using a gainful employment standard that that shows students will make enough money with their degrees to pay back their loans. Profit colleges have been accused of encouraging low income students to take large loans, and then provides the students with degrees that are low quality and not adeqaute to get a job. These charges have been verified in some cases.

 But many public and non profit colleges have very low graduation rates, encouage large loans, and  provide dubious credentials in career/tech programs. Why should the gainful employment standard not apply to all colleges, and just not for -profit colleges?  Some BA degrees may not meet the federal standard for lucrative employment,but is this what all BA degrees try to attain?  Where should this gainful employment policy begin and end? So far Obama has not made this clear.