Posts published in July, 2012

Colleges Must Show Growth in Learning And Employment To Receive Government Aid

Guest blogger: Marty Nemko

Dr. Nemko’s 7th and latest book is What’s the Big Idea? 39 Reinventions for a Better America . His published articles are archived on

What one change would you make in our system of college financial aid?

I was expecting most of  comments to call for more aid, but, disproportionately, they called for less aid. You argued that because tuition is heavily subsidized, students don’t have enough skin in the game. As a result, too many students are cavalier in choosing a college and a major. And colleges can raise tuition with impunity knowing it’ll be largely paid for by that taxpayer-funded aid.

These are all valid arguments. But I believe more potent and fair would be for government to dispense taxpayer-funded financial aid only to colleges that demonstrate growth in student learning and employability. Currently, too few colleges do. As I said in the tee-off piece:

Rigorous studies have revealed that college students learn shockingly little. For example, in Academically Adrift, it was reported that 36% of graduating seniors nationwide grew not at all in problem solving, critical thinking, and analytical reasoning since entering college as freshmen!

And our sending the highest percentage of students to college in history (now 70%) has created an oversupply of college graduates. That helps explains why, according to a Pew fiscal analysis, 35 percent of the unemployed with college or graduate degrees have been unemployed for more than a year, the same rate as unemployed high school dropouts!

The government would never allow a drug to be sold, let alone subsidize it, without the drug’s manufacturer demonstrating its efficacy. Colleges receive enormous sums of taxpayer dollars. They should be required to demonstrate freshman-to-senior growth in learning and employability that even minimally justifies the four to eight years, enormous cost, and risk of not graduating. Nationwide, fewer than 40% of first-time freshmen graduate within four years. Fewer than two-thirds graduate even if given six years!

Putting a little flesh on that skeleton, I believe that, to receive taxpayer-funded financial-aid dollars, all colleges be required to demonstrate:

1) At least modest average-student growth in critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and problem solving as measured by a standardized exam selected by a national blue-ribbon panel of psychometricians, higher educators, and employers. Well-validated such instruments exist, for example, the Collegiate Learning Assessment.

One of education’s clearest phenomena is that the pool of low-achieving students often make less growth than the pool of high-achieving students, even in programs in which much more money per child is spent on the low achievers. It is unrealistic to expect a college that has, for example, a student body that on average enters reading on a 9th grade level to make as much growth as a student body entering reading on a 12th grade level.  Therefore, the amount of growth required would depend on the student body’s average high school record. For example:

<3.0*/50 percentile on SAT — 2 years growth.
3.25/65 percentile SAT — 2.5 years growth
3.50/80 percentile SAT — 3 years growth
3.75/ 90 percentile SAT — 4 years growth.

2) At least modestly improved employability of the institution’s graduates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has long categorized jobs in terms of how much education is typically required. Colleges should show that they are capable of delivering a certain standard of outcomes for students with a certain level of achievement. For example:

<3.0*/50 percentile on SAT: 25% of graduates are employed in a position requiring more than a high school diploma within one year of graduation, or are in graduate school

3.25/65 percentile SAT: 40% of graduates are employed requiring more than a high school diploma within one year of graduation, or are in graduate school

3.50/80 percentile SAT: 55% of graduates are employed requiring more than a high school diploma within one year of graduation or are in graduate school

3.75/ 90 percentile SAT: 70% of graduates are employed in a position requiring more than a high school diploma within one year of graduation, or are in graduate school.

Most experts (and President Obama) contend that a better-educated citizenry is key to a better America. To date, we have given higher education a free pass and mammoth access to our tax dollars while requiring less accountability than we do for a tire. That must screech to a halt.

This commentary was published in the Atlantic Magazine.


75% Of Prospective College Students Send Financial Information to Only One College

Are Students Shopping Enough?
“As the Obama administration has talked more in recent months about tuition pricing and the value of a college education, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has seized on one statistic: that 75 percent of students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, Duncan says, have their results sent only to one college. And that, the secretary says, is a problem. Among the thousands of colleges and universities in the country, students should be applying to more than one to find their best fit, he said at several meetings and on conference calls with reporters in recent weeks — both doing more comparison shopping before applying and comparing financial aid packages from different institutions. One problem: They already are. An annual study of first-time, full-time freshmen — the most likely group to go through a traditional admissions process — finds that the vast majority apply to more than one college, and more than half apply to at least five different colleges.”

What We Know About Student Learning From Their Liberal Arts Education

By Ashley Finley

This new report provides an up-to-date overview of national data from a variety of studies of student learning, including the NSSE, Wabash National Study, CIRP, PSRI, and others. It presents comparative data on achievement over time across an array of liberal education outcomes—such as critical thinking, writing, civic engagement, global competence, and social responsibility.

The report couples evidence drawn from what students think they have learned with evidence of what they can actually do, including as revealed in emerging best practices such as the use of rubrics and e-portfolios. It also reflects the growing evidence that how we construct the learning environment, such as through high-impact practices, is every bit as important as how we assess it. Making Progress highlights new approaches to advancing meaningful assessment with effective pathways for learning and student success.

Learn more about this publication online.


Competency Based Education Has Challenges And Opportunities

Students, educators, employers, and policymakers alike are beginning to embrace competency-based education models that measure what students know and not just credit completion. Competency can come from work experience, and not  from  course based credits.  Competency-based education has the potential to transform standards of higher education, keeping students competitive in the global workforce. On June 7 policy experts and leaders from institutions pioneering competency-based education participated in a CAP event exploring the opportunities and challenges of this educational model.

New Book Can Help College Students Succed

Title: How to Succeed in College (While Really Trying): A Professor’s Inside Advice
Author(s): Jon B. Gould
Publisher: University of Chicago Press, Chicago
ISBN: 0226304663, Pages: 160, Year: 2012

College Placement Tests Place Too Many Students In Remedial Courses

Today, many students who apply to a community college to earn their associate’s degree must first take a placement test. This exam is designed to gauge how college ready students are and whether they must take remedial courses. However, as some individuals simply lack adequate test-taking skills, various colleges and organizations feel too many students are being placed into remedial courses they do not need based solely on poor placement test scores. The article is in U.S. News University Connection.

Source: Carnegie Foundation

College And K-12 Leaders Struggle To Define College Readiness

The meaning of “college readiness” was recently debated by K-12 and collegiate leaders from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of two federally funded state-assessment consortia, over what definition would delineate performance levels on its tests in 2014-15, writes Catherine Gewertz in Education Week. Three hours of discussion couldn’t produce consensus for a draft approval statement, which would deem “college-ready” students scoring at “Level 4” or above on a five-level test. Level 4 would be pegged to “proficient” on the NAEP, and be set so that 75 percent of students reaching that level would earn Cs in entry-level, credit-bearing courses in English composition and literature, or college algebra and introductory statistics. Debate also revolved around proposed language to describe level of mastery. Some questioned the description of high-scoring high school students as “very likely to succeed,” since many factors come into play for college success that won’t be gauged by the PARCC assessment, such as persistence and motivation. Despite the disagreements and further revisions needed, leaders around the table agreed the conversation is important. “How powerful to have higher ed. and K-12 sitting together on this,” said Mitchell Chester, commissioner of education in Massachusetts and the chairman of PARCC’s governing board. “That is huge.”
Read more:  Source: PEN Newsblast

New Classification Of For-Profit Postsecondary Education

The Institute for Higher Education Policy has devised a new classification system to measure the performance and characteristics of for-profit colleges and universities. The framework is an attempt to look at for-profits in a less monolithic way, said Michelle Asha Cooper, the institute’s president, and also to be “more outcomes-specific” when tracking the sector. One key measure is a look at markets where for-profits have expanded their operations, and the relative affluence of those markets. Parts of California, for example, have seen rapid growth, according to the system’s accompanying report.

The target audience for the framework is lawmakers, Cooper said, adding that it could be used to help inform state-level policies. However, Cooper said findings gleaned from the system are likely to be complex and difficult to generalize. “It doesn’t put institutions in neat little buckets,” she said.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed

What Tests Cannot Measure For College Readiness

A new report from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research summarizes research on five categories of non-cognitive factors related to academic performance: academic behaviors, academic perseverance, academic mindsets, learning strategies, and social skills. It then proposes a framework for thinking about how these factors interact to affect academic performance, and about the relationship between non-cognitive factors and classroom/school context, as well as larger sociocultural context. It evaluates evidence that non-cognitive factors matter for students’ long-term success, clarifying how and why these factors matter, determining if these factors are malleable and responsive to context, if they play a role in persistent racial/ethnic or gender gaps in academic achievement, and how educators might best support the development of non-cognitive factors within their schools and classrooms. The report concludes that if teachers want students to be successful — both within their current courses and in future endeavors — then they must attend to student engagement in class material and coursework performance, not just tested performance. To make this shift, educators must understand how best to help adolescents develop as learners. This should not be framed as an additional task for teachers, though for many it may mean teaching in new ways. By helping students develop the non-cognitive skills, strategies, attitudes, and behaviors that are the hallmarks of effective learners, teachers can improve student learning and course performance while also increasing the likelihood that students will be successful in college.
See the report:  Source:PEN Newsblast