Student Records and Improvement to College Graduation Rates

This past week, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled against the Department of Education and its Secretary in a request that was filed asking the Court to amend the June 2012 judgment that set aside new rules associated with what is called Gainful Employment.  The Gainful Employment Rule from the Department was designed to motivate for-profit colleges and universities to reduce loan default rates among graduates by insisting on higher levels of post-graduation, successful employment.

The Court’s ruling may well have unintended, but positive consequences if it provides an avenue to improve college graduation rates.  This surprising potential outcome of the ruling comes from the possibility that Congress could use the ruling as a rationale to alter the Higher Education Act’s restrictions on data collection, the basis for the Court’s ruling against the Department of Education.  Those restrictions now limit the collection of student data that could be used to mitigate low graduation rates in our public institutions as well as for-profit ones.

A little background is essential.  The U.S. continues to lag many countries in the percentage of its population that receives a college degree, and low graduation rates impede our economic development.  With the best colleges and universities in the world in the U.S., this sad state of affairs seems inexplicable.  Confounding the problem of understanding and mitigating our low college graduation rates is the increasingly complex attendance patterns of college students.  Those patterns are marked by lower than desired persistence of freshmen students from their first year to second year of college, relatively high transfer rates between community colleges and four-year institutions, dual enrollments in community college and a university, and the inability to track students across those enrollment patterns.

In the middle of the past decade many of us had hoped for the data necessary to track those complex enrollment patterns so that we could analyze them and address the problem.  The assumption is that collecting data and analyzing them are essential to an understanding of the problem and the creation of interventions to mitigate the problem and improve college graduation rates.  Many of us had thought that a universal student unit record was the foundation for intervention that might address the problem.  This form of data could have come from requiring colleges and universities to report student data that would allow us to follow a student through the complex enrollment behavior that has become characteristic in the U.S..

The problem, however, with this solution was one that Americans understand in our commitment to protecting our privacy.  Universal practices of collection of student data represented a threat to the privacy of students.  Therefore, Congress imposed restrictions on the collection of student data that led to the end of hope for a universal student unit record and to the ruling of the Court against the Department of Education’s Gainful Employment Rule.  The basis of the Court’s ruling is embedded in the Higher Education Act which prohibits:

the development, implementation, or maintenance of a Federal database of personally identifiable information on individuals receiving assistance under this chapter’ unless that information ‘is necessary for the operation of programs authorized by’ Title IV.

What is needed now is a careful rewriting of the restriction quoted above and along with its being embedded in the Higher Education Act.  That rewriting should protect students’ privacy but it could also permit tracking of student enrollment patterns for purposes of improving graduation rates.  Whether we should use data to apply rules like the Department’s Gainful Employment Rule is quite another question that this blog has already addressed.

 

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Change to Higher Education – Possible with The President’s New College Scorecard

Last week, Penley on Education and Energy joined others in praising President Obama for the Department of Education’s (DoE) new College Scorecard.  Following the State of the Union address, the DoE made available a new information site about college costs, including tuition and student debt.  It plans to offer more information such as employment outcomes later.

Making American higher education more accessible and successful has been a common topic for this blog.   The concern for access with success comes from a concern about students’ readiness for higher education along with affordability of colleges and universities and the extent to which the resulting education lives up to its promise of knowledge and skills needed by the American labor force.  Already the scorecard addresses affordability, and plans include information on the extent to which colleges and universities deliver on employment.

A focus on employment is not inconsistent with valuing a liberal arts education at the undergraduate level.  Those of us who received our baccalaureate education from a liberal arts college appreciate what we found in the opportunity to hone analytic and cognitive skills.  We also hope that we are better citizens as a consequence of that education.  But many of us went onto to pursue professional education in areas like business, law, and medicine.

The US needs a well-educated workforce – with the analytical skills promised by a liberal education – and the knowledge and skills needed by employers.  Our economic prosperity depends upon it, and this is clear from economic growth theory that makes the quality of labor and technological advances central to improvements in economic prosperity.  The DoE’s College Scorecard offers hope that higher education will focus more directly upon cost, speed to degree, and employability.  Time to degree matters; shorter degree programs like three-year undergraduate degrees and one-year MBAs lower debt.

With the addition of information from the College Scorecard on employment, there will also be more motivation for colleges and universities to become far more market-driven rather than faculty-driven.  This information, when it is available, will lead colleges and universities to design their degree programs based on the knowledge and skills that matter upon graduation.  That employer-driven focus on the market will have a positive impact on the quality of our labor force.

A recent Wall Street Journal article on student debt is evidence that the Scorecard will have an impact.  Quoting one parent, the Journal reported her saying, “ . . . it would have been ‘absolutely wonderful’ to have such information when her family was picking colleges.”  In other words, the Scorecard will drive parents and students toward some schools and away from others.  That will, indeed, drive change toward increased access – lower tuition and faster time to degree – and greater success – the knowledge and skills needed for employment.   This is good news.

The President on Education – Choice and Vouchers

In his State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized the role of education in our economic recovery.  It is education that gives the middle class opportunity for participation in our economy.  The President is right.  Education’s potential for producing that outcome depends, however, upon two fundamental elements that underlie his thesis.  The first is market-based choice in education and the second is the money necessary for the children of working class parents.

A local friend of mine produces annually a map of high- and low-scoring school districts from his company, Maps & Facts, Unlimited.  The map is one of my favorites; it uses red for high scoring districts and blue for those that yield low or failing scores on standardized tests.  There is little surprise in the location of the red and blue on the map.  The top-scoring school districts are those with the highest per capita income where the best-educated parents live.

America’s promise of opportunity is belied by the increasingly differential opportunity that our children have based on their parents’ education and income.  If America is to make good on its promise – and sustain its economic prowess – change is essential.  Like their wealthier counterparts, poor children must have access to quality education. The President is right.

What is essential, however, is the means to educational access.  Already the President is making clear that parents deserve choice.  He did so via the Department of Education’s new College Scorecard that reveals important data about costs of higher education.  But that same commitment to giving students and their parents a choice should be extended to K-12 education as well.  Allowing more charter schools and providing students with vouchers makes available to working class parents what wealthier parents and their children already have – choice and the means to pay for it.

All of America’s citizens deserve educational opportunity.  Education drives economic growth along with market-based technological innovation.  Making education available to all, however, is the challenge.

For too long we have been reticent to let the market and market information drive educational choice.  The Department of Education’s website is a step in the right direction.  For too long we have assumed that poor children must accept only their local school.  And that local school may not be the best choice for some children from less wealthy households anymore than it is for some children from the wealthiest.  Vouchers give to the poor what the wealthy have long had – the means to that choice.  Let’s look for more action from Washington that encourages states and local school districts to act in favor of open enrollment opportunity and the money to make choice real for all.

Meeting the Challenges of Young Americans for the 21st Century

Just released this week by the Harvard Graduate School of Education is its Pathways to Prosperity.  The report focuses on the need to supplement our traditional colleges with meaningful career education if we expect to substantially increase the competiveness of the labor force.  Referencing the goal of the President for higher education participation and lamenting the forecasts for a drop in educational attainment in the U. S., the report stated, “Given these dismal attainment numbers, a narrowly defined ‘college for all’ goal—one that does not include a much stronger focus on career-oriented programs that lead to occupational credentials—seems doomed to fail.”

Access With Success has repeatedly pointed to the very critical role that career-oriented colleges play in our capacity to increase the quality of the labor force and global competitiveness of the U. S.  Many career colleges, like Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts that recently announced its closure in Pittsburgh, play a very critical role in increasing the employability and quality of life of the community.  The Department of Education’s imposition of unnecessary regulations has an especially significant and negative impact on at-risk students who are disproportionately African Americans and Hispanics.   For-profit colleges enroll very substantial numbers of at-risk students, the very students for which college success was lamented by the Harvard report.

If we expect to address the challenges of the Harvard report, we will need to increase substantially the diversity of the avenues to education beyond high school.  For-profit colleges and universities have the potential to play a very significant role in avoiding the “failure” that the Harvard report foresees.

Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review – Executive Order: Part 2

 

 

On Friday, I posted the first part of a two-part series on Obama’s recent executive order regarding regulation. This second part will introduce a new focus of my blog – energy. As president of Colorado State University, I was committed to improving the energy efficiency of our campus and have previously served on the advisory board of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. I hope you enjoy my thoughts on current issues in energy.

On the same day as President Obama issued the executive order – – Improving Regulation and Regulatory Overview he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, explaining the rationale for his action and his responsibility to “strike the right balance” between the costs and benefits of regulation.  He used as a major example of regulation gone awry the EPA’s continued treatment of the artificial sweetener, saccharin, as a dangerous chemical despite the FDA’s long-term consideration of saccharin as safe.

President Obama’s focus on the role of environmental regulation struck me as particularly apt and of considerable importance to many of us who have led large higher education institutions.  Many university presidents, include myself, have sought to address the challenges associated with the environment, particularly, the role that energy production and utilization plays in producing greenhouse gases.  When I was president of Colorado State University, I took several such actions –  promoting a research focus in renewable energy, creating a School of Global Environmental Sustainability to support students’ education and job potential, and introducing a variety of initiatives to address the risings costs of the University’s energy consumption and the carbon footprint of the institution.

I took these actions for a variety of reasons, including the body of science associated with climate change, documented in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Climate Change 2007.  But I also took these actions for two other reasons.  Students deserve to have access to knowledge on energy and the environment based on sound science, not merely opinion.  Finally, universities face growing, projected costs of energy, and a president has responsibility to assure the campus’s future energy supply at reasonable costs.

Those of us presidents who have addressed the challenges associated with energy on a college campus understand the complexities of the challenge, including the responsibility that we have – like the President – to “strike the right balance.”  While research and the technology that comes from it are increasing the potential of sustainable energy to replace fossil fuels, we understand the limitations of new technologies at this time and the costs associated with them.  Our on-going dependency on fossil fuels requires a pragmatic acceptance of the lack of a near-term, adequate substitute for them.  Thus, we find ourselves, like President Obama, measuring costs against benefits.  With the growing, global appetite for energy, we must insist on pragmatism, balancing the benefits of replacement of fossil fuels with the costs of their renewable substitutes.  That is the reason why regulation must be imposed only with great care.

Essentially, energy is another issue where access and success are intertwined with one another.  Customers, including universities, need access to energy, and universities, especially, have a responsibility for the long-term success of our energy industry: education of its employees, the development of new technology, including the capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, and managing the costs of energy.  Thus, President Obama’s determination to “strike the right balance” in regulation is welcome.  I join him in supporting regulation that does so, and from time to time, I will comment on energy from the perspective of an educator and manager who has responsibility for assuring access to a reasonably priced supply of energy.

Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review – Executive Order: Part 1

 

 

This past week, President Obama issued the executive order – Improving Regulation and Regulatory Overview.  The actions by President Obama are a very positive sign, especially in light of the newly introduced regulations of the Department of Education this past year.  Those regulations in the areas of “new programs” and “gainful employment” have the potential to be very costly to higher education, and many of us have believed that they did not strike the right balance between protecting consumers of education with assuring consumers access to education.  President Obama had called for an approach that would “strike the right balance” in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, explaining the rationale for his action

The Department of Education’s gainful employment rule and its approval process for new programs have the potential to impact negatively both higher education and the broader economic recovery.  They can do so by slowing the growth of new programs with a “chilling effect” on new programs that comes from the additional, imposed processes associated with adding new programs.  They can also slow growth in higher education by imposing additional risk to the potential yield from new educational programs due to threats from the gainful employment rule.  Their impact may well limit innovation and growth in new jobs in this very large sector of our economy.

But perhaps the more significant potential impact of regulations like the ones the Department of Education chose to implement is on the slowed growth in human capital that comes from limiting job-related training and education for industry sectors where the value of human capital is increasingly critical.  U. S. productivity matters, and one way we increase our productivity is through education that improves the quality of our labor supply.

I applaud the direction that President Obama has announced, and I look forward to its effect throughout government, including the Department of Education.

Be sure to check back on Monday, as I will post Part 2 of this blog on an exciting new issue that I hope to blog about more in the future.

Updated Carnegie Classifications Reveals the Transformation to Higher Education

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has released its Updated Carnegie Classifications, and the news confirms what many of us have suspected in the dramatically altering landscape of higher education.  Said Chun-Mei Zhao, who directs Carnegie’s Classifications, “This suggests that the higher education landscape is shifting further away from the traditional model of the liberal arts college.”

The Updated Classifications indicate far more than just the shift away from the traditional liberal arts college that still dominates the way many of us think of colleges and universities.  The private, for-profit sector represented 77% of the new institutions since the last time the Classifications were released in 2005.  Moreover the shift is particularly noticeable in the increase in the number of schools with a professional focus; those schools with a “Professional Focus” or a “Professional Focus plus arts & sciences” now award 60% of the bachelor’s degrees in professional fields.

While the transforming character of higher education is evident in these numbers, the change in enrollments in only five years is particularly telling.  Between 2005 and 2010, traditional public institutions’ enrollments grew by 13.9%, and traditional private institutions’ enrollments grew by 9.3%.  By contrast, the enrollments in private, for-profit colleges and universities more than doubled, growing by 110%.

The shifting industry was also revealed in what is occurring at the community college level.  Those schools classified as traditional associate’s colleges increased dramatically the extent to which they are awarding not just associates’ degrees but bachelors’ degrees as well.  In 2005, 109 traditional associates’ colleges awarded bachelor’s degrees; in 2010, the number was 162, a 49% increase.