Friday, May 20, 2011

I don't think this online college degree stuff is going away

If you think online degrees will remain just a niche, consider the time when Borders and E.F. Hutton were touting their superior in-person experiences.
I noticed this writer first began to think about the higher education bubble when he started looking at colleges with his high school junior son.  Yup, I know the feeling.
There's a market-disrupting force at play in higher education that isn't so prevalent in housing: information technology. Specifically, readily available, much-lower-cost, Web-based alternatives to the standard fare. The Web's potential to let customers bypass the bricks-and-mortar status quo applies just as much to higher education as it does to book selling or stock trading.

Yes, a big part of the college value proposition is the on-campus experience -- the social as well as academic engagement, frat parties as well as chemistry labs. But for those who just want the knowledge, skills, and diploma, it's only a matter of time before online and other unconventional learning tracks become the norm rather than the exception. If you think online degrees and courses will remain just a niche or are a passing fancy, consider the time when Borders and E.F. Hutton were touting their superior in-person experiences. College courses and degree programs delivered mostly online are cheaper, more convenient, and often more specialized than traditional programs, even if they don't (yet) bestow the same prestige.

Established universities are starting to step up. For example, a colleague of mine is now earning a master's degree in media management through the prestigious University of Missouri-Columbia school of journalism. The coursework, which spans about 36 semester hours, includes a discussion component analogous to class participation. Students do have to take a professional seminar on campus for three days, and they must defend their thesis in person, typically requiring a half-day on campus. Otherwise, it's all online. And she's doing it while holding down a full-time job.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Voters approved 'tightly controlled spending' in this year's school budgets School districts are crediting their strong communication efforts, detailed budget breakdowns and, above all else, tightly controlled spending for Tuesday's many one-sided votes for school budgets....
Overall, voters approved 48 out of 53 budget proposals in Westchester , Rockland and Putnam counties — the same number as last year. Budgets were defeated in Mahopac, North Rockland, Greenburgh Central 7 and, by overwhelming numbers, in Mount Vernon and East Ramapo.
Many spending plans for 2012-13 were approved by better than 2-to-1, signaling strong voter satisfaction with most districts' efforts to minimize tax increases during tough economic times.
Local districts proposed an average spending increase of 1.97 percent for next year and an average tax-levy increase of 2.6 percent....
Many districts have tried to make clear at what points spending cuts will require larger class sizes and compromise the quality of education that people have come to expect....
Jeff Diamond, who was elected Tuesday to the Blind Brook school board after offering detailed criticisms of school spending, said voters have little incentive to vote against budgets with small spending increases because school boards can adopt contingency budgets that are not much different.
"Voters need to recognize that the greatest impact they can have on budgets is to elect school board members who will do a good job," he said. 
I generally agree, although I'd like to see stronger communication efforts and more detailed budget breakdowns, as well as more advocacy for fundamental changes.

Paying for college is top priority for parents

In the eyes of parents, being able to pay for their children’s college education is just as important as being able to own a home or live comfortably in retirement. And it’s more important than being able to leave an inheritance to their children....
A parent’s own educational background does not have a significant impact on the importance they place on being able to provide for their children’s educational needs. Parents who never attended college are just as likely as those who earned a four-year college degree to say being able to pay for their children’s college education is extremely important.
The vast majority of parents expect that their children will pursue a college education. Among those with one or more children under age 18, 94% expect at least one of their children will go to college. There are no significant differences across racial or ethnic groups—white, black and Hispanic parents are equally likely to think their children will go to college. In addition, there is very little variance across income groups. While 99% of parents with annual household incomes of $75,000 or higher think their children will go to college, 93% of those with incomes between $30,000 and $74,999 say the same, as do 91% of those making less than $30,000 a year. Again, parents’ own educational experience does not seem to influence the aspirations they have for their children. Parents who did not graduate from college (93%) are just as likely as college graduates (97%) to say their children will go to college.
The most surprising part of these results was that parents across the board have high expectations that their children will attend college.  However, these expectations are unrealistic according to the ACT study that found only 24% of high school graduates are prepared to do college-level work.  Colleges are adjusting, with 36% of first-year students taking at least one remedial class.  Meanwhile, high student loan default rates and graduation rates of under 50% suggest going to college is not the right path for everyone.

In a future post I'll address the issue of how many parents have actually started saving for college. 

(Cross posted at Kitchen Table Math )

Should taxpayers only fund college loans to academically proficient students?

This idea is attractive, although I can see where many would consider it heartless and unfair.  It's clear that many universities will not impose standards requiring their students to be college-ready, so perhaps the federal government could help by placing restrictions on the money it lends.  It could potentially raise academic standards and save some people from themselves.  The student loan rate is up to 40% among some two-year colleges, and student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
What the Department of Education does now is to give loans to every college student who demonstrates financial need without examining evidence of academic ability and other criteria of credit-worthiness.
Our current situation reminds me of the problems associated with the federal loan home loan programs that contributed to the housing crisis, where credit standards were lowered so that loans could be given to people who otherwise could not afford home ownership.

In Minding the Campus, Jackson Toby asks us to consider this proposal. 
Insert a risk-assessment component into all future student loans that includes past academic performance in order to maximize the likelihood of loan repayment and minimize defaults that add to the national debt.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A few ideas on how colleges must change

Chronicle of Higher EducationAnd unless they rethink the way they do business, education experts say, some colleges will be forced to shutter.
"We're staring fundamental change in the face," said Stephen R. Portch, a former chancellor of the University System of Georgia. "Our system is bankrupt, and we've got to have a new model."...
To meet both the academic and financial challenges, colleges will have to rethink how they do business, Mr. Smith and others said. Among the ideas discussed: three-year degrees, year-round classes, online courses, adopting learning outcomes tied to real-world standards, and changing federal financial-aid policy to meet nontraditional students' needs.
What the conversation can't be about, said Nasser H. Paydar, chancellor of Indiana University East, is more money. "Universities just aren't going to get much more of it," says Mr. Paydar, who overhauled the budgeting process at his state university, putting spending decisions in the hands of deans and giving them incentives to be more entrepreneurial in seeking new sources of funds. 
Three-year degrees and more online courses seem to be very realistic changes that we'll see soon.

School budgets overwhelming approved in Westchester County

I think voters sent a message that they support the public schools and were pleased with this year's attempts to rein in costs.  Mount Vernon is one sad exception, a district with serious problems that transcend one budget being voted down.

Source:  The Journal News

'Public anxiety over college costs is at an all-time high.'

The Chronicle of Higher Education Public anxiety over college costs is at an all-time high. And low-income college graduates or those burdened by student-loan debt are questioning the value of their degrees, or saying the cost of college has delayed other life decisions....

Indeed, the general public is fairly shouting its concern about college costs in a companion survey of 2,142 Americans, ages 18 and older, by the Pew Research Center. Three-quarters of those polled said college was out of reach for most people. Twenty-five years ago, six in 10 Americans felt that way, according to a survey by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
The squeeze is real. College costs have been on the rise, increasing 50 percent over the last decade, Mr. Shi said. By contrast, family incomes actually fell between 2000 and 2009. Ask young adults why they're not enrolled in college or don't have a bachelor's degree, and the overwhelming response in the Pew survey: money....
The belief that college has become prohibitively expensive is shared across class and race lines, among Americans of all income levels, by those who went to college and those who didn't—by everyone, it seems, except college presidents.
Forty-two percent of university leaders, in fact, say most Americans are able to pay for a college degree, according to the Pew Research Center/Chronicle survey.
Why is there such a divergence of opinion between presidents and the public? For one, there's a certain amount of variance among college leaders, with those who typically serve low-income students more concerned about sticker shock. Nearly two-thirds of community-college presidents, for instance, called tuition unmanageable.
Some educators blame the gap on the failure of college officials to make the case about the whys of higher-education pricing. Students and parents, they argue, have a poor understanding of such practices as tuition discounting and don't fully appreciate the costs that go into a college degree, expenses that include faculty salaries and health insurance, remedial-writing labs, even climbing walls. "If they want to buy a Mercedes-Benz," said Stephen J. Trachtenberg, a former president of George Washington University, "we need to say why it costs more than a cheaper vehicle."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

For some, a college degree is a 'bad bargain'

Some people are looking at the ROI (Return on Investment) of a college degree, and questioning its value.
Among the warning signs, a quarter of college graduates who earn less than $50,000 a year now say their degree was a bad bargain. A number of presidents say they have begun to see a trend of "trading down," of price-sensitive students and parents opting for more affordable institutions, such as community colleges or local public universities. They worry: Could some of those students opt out of higher education altogether?
Many jobs require college degrees simply because employers have decided a degree serves as a useful marker for a certain level of discipline and intelligence.  With the widespread belief that college academic standards have declined and with the price of college becoming increasingly unaffordable, will that change?
But whether ponying up for a degree leads to a fat paycheck seems to be a little unclear, at least to the average American. While a plurality of those surveyed maintained that the main purpose of college is to learn specific skills and knowledge for the workplace, a third of college graduates said their current job doesn't require a degree. Asked what it takes to succeed in the work world, respondents ranked a college education below a good work ethic, getting along with others, and skills acquired on the job.

Student loan default rates increase dramatically after first two years of payment period

The Chronicle of Education on student loan default rates:
 [T]he government's official "cohort-default rate," which measures the percentage of borrowers who default in the first two years of repayment and is used to penalize colleges with high rates, downplays the long-term cost of defaults, capturing only a sliver of the loans that eventually lapse.
...default rates continue to climb years after borrowers have left college, particularly among students who attended two-year and for-profit colleges.
This comes from an article almost a year old, but the issue of accurately measuring student loan default rates  is still timely.  In addition to the general public interest in knowing this information, new DOE rules effective next year will make colleges ineligible for federal student aid if their default rate is 30 percent or greater for three consecutive years (currently 25 percent or greater for two years) or 40 percent in a single year.  There have been indications that colleges are "managing" their default rates to mask problems.

Extending the time frame from two to three years caused default rates to increase significantly.

Increases in Cohort Default Rates (2-year vs 3-year window)
2-Year Rate
3-Year Rate
Increase in Default Rates
FY 2004
FY 2005
FY 2006
FY 2007

The default rate almost doubles at the 15-year period.

Increase in Cohort Default Rates (2-year vs 15-year window)
FY1995 2-Year Rate
FY1995 15-Year Rate
Increase in Default Rates

Default rates for different types of schools:

15-Year Lifetime Default Rates for FY1995
College Type
15-Year Default Rate
Percent of Defaulted Loans
Percent of Loans in Repayment
Foreign 2-Year
Foreign 4-Year
Non-Profit 2-Year
Non-Profit 4-Year
For-Profit 2-Year
For-Profit 4-Year
Public 2-Year
Public 4-Year
Unknown 4-Year
Consolidation Loans

Default rate data is from FinAid.
FY = fiscal year in which loan repayment began

Monday, May 16, 2011

John King named new education commissioner in New York State

New state Education Commissioner John King is described as a close partner to Steiner, charter school supporter and proponent of more rigorous curriculum and assessment.  Sounds promising.
Gotham Schools:  King, the deputy state education commissioner, replaces David Steiner, who announced he was planning to leave at the end of the academic year in April. The announcement was a surprise, but concerns that Steiner might leave the state in the lurch were tampered by the expectation that King, his close partner, would likely succeed Steiner as commissioner....
King previously served as a managing director at Uncommon Schools, a network of charter schools, and founded the high-performing Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston. He is widely respected inside the community of education activists who support charter schools, but he has a calmer style than hard-charging reformers like Joel Klein, the former city schools chancellor.
From a 2010 interview with Capitol Confidential:
What are your top priorities in dealing with prekindergarten-to-12th grade schools?
One of the things we want to improve is our assessment system. One of things we’re doing this spring is making the state math exams less predictable. Historically, this test looked at a narrow band of indicators. This year we are increasing the number of performance indicators that are assessed. Then in the spring of 2011 we’ll actually make the assessments longer, so we get a more comprehensive picture of student performance.
Also this spring, we’re adding an audit function of the exams to compare the assessment of New York students with students in other places to make sure our standards for performance are rigorous enough.

What’s involved in starting and maintaining a high-performing school?
Rigorous curriculum. Excellent teachers. A longer school day and a longer school year. A real focus on data, in which teachers are constantly looking at how students are doing. And a real focus on professional development.

'Read less, know more'

What is Newser?
 Face it: there's too much news. At Newser, we choose the most thought-provoking and entertaining stories from hundreds of US and international sources and reduce them to a headline, picture, and two paragraphs. And we do it 24/7—you can come back morning, noon, night (and in between) for something new that matters. Read less, know more. 
I think they're on to something - a headline, picture and two paragraphs.  But should it be read less, know less?

Reminds me of CliffNotes .

Sunday, May 15, 2011

33% of New York suburban residents plan to move out of state within 5 years

A sizeable proportion of New Yorkers, including more than one-third of those under age 30, may soon be sending out change of address notifications, but those new homes will not be in New York State.  According to this NY1/YNN-Marist Poll, 26% of adults in New York State plan to move someplace else in the next five years while 67% say they will stay.  Just 6% are unsure.  Similar proportions of registered voters statewide share this view....
Regionally, about one-third — 33% — of those in the suburbs of New York City, 26% of those upstate, and 24% of New York City residents report they will make their exit....
Of residents who expect to leave New York, more than six in ten — 62% — cite economic reasons like jobs, the cost of living, or taxes.  38%, however, report non-economic reasons such as the proximity to family, overcrowding, quality of life, schools, or retirement as the catalyst.
When I read these statistics I become worried about the prospect of selling my house in the suburbs.  Who will buy my house when I'm ready to sell?

It doesn't surprise me that 74% of suburban registered voters support Governor Cuomo's proposed  2% property tax cap.