Posts published in May, 2013

How Much Is A College Education Worth?

As tuition goes up, the long-unquestioned value of a college degree is being questioned. Factors to consider include education’s cost and  returns on investment, which vary widely by college and  major. Authors look at new ways to measure tuition cost against other variables using College Scoreboard, state databases, U.S. News, and College Reality Check, for example, and call for the postsecondary system to give better information on the value of a college education. (Education Sector)

College Readiness Assessments In High School Spread to 29 States

Concern over high school graduates being unprepared for college has educators and policymakers looking for ways to identify learning gaps earlier. A review by the Community College Research Center finds some form of early-college-readiness assessments are offered in 38 states, and 29 states have interventions to help reduce the need for remedial coursework for incoming college freshman

College Counseling In Middle School Is Essential

Early college counseling—as early as middle school—is essential to students’ aspirations for attending college, according to new study from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). The study, “Preparing Students for College: What High Schools Are Doing and How Their Actions Influence Ninth-Graders’ College Attitudes, Aspirations and Plans,” found that instilling positive attitudes about postsecondary education is critical to increasing college and career readiness at the high school level.

“With an increasingly diverse student population, it’s more important than ever to start early with good counseling about post-secondary options,” said Jim Rawlins, NACAC president and executive director of admissions at Colorado State University.  “College admission counseling can give students and their families the knowledge and confidence they need to make the best choices about postsecondary education.”

The report finds that among ninth graders whose parents have not earned a bachelor’s degree:

• The amount of time counselors spent on college readiness activities was positively related to students’ belief that their families could afford college.
• A family member’s talking to a counselor about college was positively related to students’ plans to enroll in college.
• A student’s talking to a counselor about college was positively related to students’ plans to enroll in college and take an admission exam, such as the ACT or SAT.

The report was written for NACAC by Alexandria Walton Radford and Nicole Ifill of RTI International.  Walton noted that, despite the benefits of early contact, only 18 percent of all ninth-grade students have spoken with a school counselor about college. Forty-eight percent of high school counselors indicated that the first priority for their counseling program, while 13 percent indicated that they felt some counselors at their school had “given up on some students.” Eight percent of high schools required that students develop a college or career plan.

As the Obama administration and Congress work to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), or “No Child Left Behind” Act, school improvement data increasingly indicate the importance of college and career readiness at the high school level.

“Counselors play a significant role in supporting students as they navigate the college selection process,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Deb Delisle. “The middle school years are vital in shaping students’ attitudes toward learning and higher education, and this report highlights the importance of providing systemic advocacy and support networks well before a student’s senior year. Achievement gaps can only be closed if we provide opportunities for all our children to be successful, and we hope more counselors will connect with students to build a system that will support them as they transition into college and beyond.”

Research reveals many barriers to success, particularly for low-income students and students who are the first in their families to consider attending college. Addressing those barriers to achievement, as well as instilling positive attitudes about postsecondary education, is a critical role of the school counselor.  

“This report adds to the growing body of research that underscores the importance of school counselors in assisting students and families with educational and career planning,” noted Richard Wong, Executive Director of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). “Schools that enable their school counselors to coordinate and provide direct post-secondary planning assistance to students early, as suggested by the ASCA National Model for school counseling programs, stand to recognize a wide range of outcome improvements as a result.”

The report suggests that the transition between middle and high school can be an important time to reinforce positive attitudes and planning, particularly among low-income families and those segments of the population that will be essential if the United States is to reach President Obama’s ambitious goal to raise the nation’s college completion rate to 60 percent by the year 2020, adding at least 8 million college graduates.

Link to report:  

Hispanics Exceed Whites In Initial College Enrollment

A new analysis from the Pew Research Hispanic Center of U.S. Census Bureau data finds a record 69 percent of Hispanic high school graduates in the class of 2012 enrolled in college last fall, two points higher than the rate among white counterparts. This increase in Hispanic college matriculation accelerated with the recession in 2008, while it declined among whites at the same time. The most recent data also show that in 2011, only 14 percent of Hispanic 16-to-24-year-olds were high school dropouts, versus 28 percent in 2000. The dropout rate among whites also declined during that period, but by less. However, Hispanics continue to lag in several key higher-education measures: Hispanic students are less likely than white counterparts to enroll in a four-year college (56 versus 72 percent), less likely to attend a selective college, less likely to enroll in college full-time, and less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree. The brief posits the rise in high school completion and college enrollment by Latino youth may be driven in part by declining fortunes in the job market. Since 2007, unemployment among Latinos ages 16 to 24 has risen seven percentage points. Another factor, however, could be the growing importance that Latino families place on a college education. More

Are College Presidents Overpaid?

How to tell if college presidents are overpaid

Richard Vedder | Bloomberg

University presidents aren’t corporate executives. If higher education wishes to maintain its privileged position in American society, it needs to contain its spending. A good place to start is at the top.


Boutique Interventions Do Not Improve Community Colleges, But Here Is What Does

Innovative colleges and state higher education systems are testing new approaches to improving persistence and degree attainment—particularly for low-income and underprepared students. The emerging consensus is that boutique programs don’t make a large-scale difference, but focusing on improving student placement; building structured, accelerated pathways to completion; and rewarding colleges for student success can, according to JFF’s Richard Kazis and Lara Couturier. In The Boston Foundation’s Stepping Up for Community Colleges, they examine how applying these lessons and proven student success models can help colleges across Massachusetts—and the nation—produce the graduates employers and communities need. Read more . . .

Neediest Students Pay More Than Their Families Earnings

Higher Ed Watch 

Today the New America Foundation is releasing

Undermining Pell: How Colleges Compete for Wealthy Students and Leave the Low-Income Behind, a report that presents a new analysis of little-examined U.S. Department of Education data showing the “net price”  for low-income students at thousands of individual colleges. The analysis shows that hundreds of public and private non-profit colleges expect the neediest students to pay an amount that is equal to or even more than their families’ yearly earnings. [Full Article]

More Support For Rethinking Algebra 2 As Community College Requirement

By Watson Scott Swail, President and CEO of Educational Policy Institute and EPI International

The National Council on Education & the Economy, the organization led by Marc Tucker, released a series of new reports on Tuesday called What Does it Really Mean to be College and Career Ready? The reports, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and focusing on mathematics and English, explore what is necessary to align secondary and postsecondary education in the United States.

A common theme in the deliberations of today’s event is the use, and perhaps misuse, of Algebra I and II as filters for college entrance and success. In fact, Marc Tucker declared that most students in middle and high school have no need for Algebra II. The reality that today and tomorrow’s workers need to use ratios, statistics, and other basic Algebra does not fit with our demand for higher-level mathematics.

But is this true? Absolutely.

Back in 1996, I was hired by The College Board in a program called EQUITY 2000, a district-wide school reform program supported by $27 million in grants from The Ford Foundation, DeWitt-Wallace Foundation (now just the Wallace Foundation), The Kellogg Foundation, and several other organizations. The premise of EQUITY 2000 was based on a 1990 publication by Sol Pelavin called Changing the Odds: Factors Increasing Access to College. Pelavin most recently retired as president of the American Institute of Research (AIR). The report pointed to the importance of attaining high–level mathematics, specifically Algebra I and II, in determining college access and success.


Many Community College Students Do Not Need Algebra 2 To Succeed, Reading Expectations Too Low

 WASHINGTON, DC—Students are failing to learn the basic math and English skills and concepts needed for success in community colleges, according to a new report from the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) entitled, What Does It Really Mean to Be College and Work Ready: The English and Mathematics Required by First Year Community College Students.

That’s the surprising – and discouraging – central conclusion of a groundbreaking two-year study, which examined the skills and knowledge in mathematics and English literacy that high school graduates need to succeed in the first year of their community college programs.

“We were surprised how little math is used in first-year community college courses, and what is used is mostly middle school math,” said Phil Daro, co-chair of the study’s Mathematics Panel and co-director in the development of the Common Core State Standards for mathematics. “Our system makes no sense for these students: even though so many students have a shaky understanding of the middle school mathematics they really need, high school courses spend most of these students’ time on topics not needed for their college programs.”

“The reading skills of our high school graduates are so low that most community college instructors do not expect their students to be able to read at the level of their textbooks,” said Catherine Snow, co-chair of the study’s English Panel and Patricia Albjerg Graham Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Their writing skills are so low that instructors rarely ask their students to write very much outside of their English composition classes, and, when they do, the writing they are asked to do is not very demanding.”

These are just a few of the key findings from the first study ever done that actually examines the level of mathematics and English literacy needed to succeed in the first year of study at our nation’s community colleges.

Roughly 45 percent of our nation’s undergraduates are attending community colleges, according to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). About half of those students are training to go directly into the workforce and enter popular fields such as nursing, law- enforcement, auto-mechanics or education, while others are working to complete the first two-years of a four-year degree program. The report concludes that students who cannot succeed in the first year of a community college program are surely not ready for success in college or the workplace.

Most studies of course requirements in our colleges simply ask instructors what students need to know to be successful in their institutions, but that method is notoriously unreliable, because instructors typically respond to such surveys by telling the interviewer what they would like students to know, not what they actually need to know.  This study was conducted by NCEE in collaboration with a team of leading scholars and community college leaders.  It analyzed the textbooks, papers and projects students are assigned; the tests they are given; and the grades they get on both. These materials were gathered from a set of nine popular and diverse career-oriented programs in randomly selected community colleges across seven diverse states.

AACC urged educators at the secondary and post-secondary levels to read carefully the specific findings of the report and reevaluate their courses and materials to ensure they are meeting students’ needs at every stage of their educational paths.  “This study emphasizes the critical importance of better aligning the entire P-20 pipeline to ensure all students are adequately prepared for college and careers in the 21st century,” said Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of AACC.

Achieve President Michael Cohen pointed out that this report’s findings constitute a powerful argument for implementing the new Common Core State Standards for literacy in mathematics and English.  “This very important report underscores the urgent need for states to implement the Common Core State Standards. If the CCSS were properly implemented, students would have the kind of mastery of middle school mathematics skills identified in this report as the most important math skills needed in the first year of community college.  Similarly, the report makes it crystal clear why the CCSS English literacy standards stressed the need for great improvements in students’ ability to do non-fiction reading and writing. ”

The reports’ authors concentrate their recommendations on the steps schools must take to enable more of their graduates to succeed in our community colleges, but also touch on what community colleges can do. Among the recommendations are the following:

  • Make Algebra II a key course on just one of several mathematics paths to a high school diploma, eliminating the mandatory status it has in some states.
  • Have most students spend more time on middle school mathematics rather than rushing toward Algebra I.
  • Reconceive community college placement tests to align them with the mathematics students actually need to succeed in their first credit-bearing, programmatic courses.
  • Increase writing assignments across all high school courses, especially those that require the presentation of a logical argument and evidence to support claims.
  • Have high school students read texts of greater complexity.

Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy said, “This report shows that our community colleges have shockingly low expectations of the students entering their institutions, because many—perhaps most—of our future nurses, EMT’s and auto mechanics haven’t mastered middle school mathematics and cannot read much of the material in their first year college textbooks—even though they are only written at the 11th and 12th grade levels—and a large fraction of our future four-year college students have a very hard time writing a simple report that requires students to make an argument and support it with facts.  If the United States does not fix this fast, its citizens will face a bleak economic future.”
To see video of the release event, read the executive summary or download full report, visit:


Shootout At The MOOC Corral

by Watson Scott Swail, President and CEO of Educational Policy Institute and EPI International

This morning, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, titled Why Professors at San Jose State Won’t Use a Harvard Professor’s MOOC, illustrates an upcoming shootout at the MOOC Corral. San Jose State University professors are rejecting a Harvard MOOC course that is being forced upon them by the administration. In a letter to the administration, the professors see this push as a process to “replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities.” They state that it is better to have students taught by a live professor rather than by a video version of a Harvard professor. And, of course, they are right and they are wrong. This is the proverbial rock and a hard place.

I’ve written before about many of the challenges facing higher education. At the foremost is the increasing “cost” of higher education. That is, the cost drivers which result in higher prices for taxpayers and users (e.g., students; parents; corporations). Higher education is enormously expensive and continually rises above inflation due to the high cost of human resources, which take up approximately 80-85 percent of institution budgets. In the future, we must find a way of recasting the cost structure of higher education. READ MORE