• March 3, 2015 06:09 PM Lessons For America: How German Higher Ed Controls Costs

    The next time you pull out your checkbook to pay that hefty tuition bill or pay down your student loan, consider this: there are countries where students pay nothing to attend university. Denmark, Sweden and Germany, all have tuition-free college.

    WGBH Radio’s On Campus team wondered how these countries do it, and if there are things the U.S. can learn from their model. Their search to understand how German universities keep costs down and quality up began in the Rhineland.

    It was a frigid evening on the banks of the Rhine in the medieval city of Cologne. Under the vaulted ceiling of an old gothic church, the 80-piece university orchestra was tuning up.

    In the land of Beethoven and Handel, it makes sense that a university would invest a lot in its orchestra. But that commitment extends far beyond the music program. In Germany, one of the world’s wealthiest countries, taxpayers fully subsidize the cost of public higher education. 

    While American students now graduate with an average of nearly $30,000 of debt, college in Germany has always been free.

    Over the course of a week, we interviewed dozens of German students. Since tuition is free here, we found they don’t really worry about student loan debt. Instead, they worry about their exams or learning a trade. Seventy percent of the students at the University of Cologne work part-time jobs.

    Students, parents, administrators and business leaders of all political stripes told us the same thing: higher education in Germany is seen as a public good.

    Controlling costs

    Students and bikes outside one of the University of Cologne’s newest buildings. (Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH).

    The University of Cologne is Germany’s largest university. There are 48,000 students, a medical school and a law school.

    “I have to be honest, I really like this university even though it’s not the most beautiful one, as you can see,” said our tour guide Valerija Schwarz, a Ph.D. student in German Literature.

    On the morning we visited, the university’s central square swarmed with bicycles. Many students bike to school or take public transportation, Schwartz explained. That’s why there’s no big parking garage.

    Students in Germany also tend to stay local, so there aren’t any dorms. There’s no active student clubs, or big football stadium. And every lecture hall we poked our heads in was huge.

    “Most of the time you don’t even know who is sitting next to you or who your professor is,” Schwarz said. “You just listen and then reproduce your knowledge during the exams.”

    Related: Is Student Loan Debt Really Dragging Down the Economy?

    All of this translates to savings: the average cost of an undergraduate degree in Germany is $32,000, paid for by the state. In the U.S., some schools charge that much for one year, and student loan debt has surpassed $1.2 trillion. 

    One hundred and sixty miles south of The University of Cologne, tucked in the heart of Heidelberg’s quaint but vibrant city center, the University of Heidelberg offers a full program of courses from ancient history to biochemistry. It is one of Germany’s oldest and most prestigious institutions.

    “A majority of German voters agree that a decent start in life includes the possibility of a free higher education,” said Frieder Wolf, a political science professor here.

    To limit spending, Wolf said, professors teach more and earn less than their American colleagues.

    “This is not to complain. I love my job and I have a lot of freedom but this is how we keep costs down - larger classrooms,” Wolf said. “We’ve got courses with 40 participants, 50 participants in the social sciences, where [American universities] might have tutorials of four or five students.”

    And unlike their American counterparts, German universities have very little administrative bloat.

    “Many administrative tasks for which you would have specialized personnel in the States is done by the teachers and professors here,” said Wolf.

    The Trade-Off

    But are German students getting the same quality learning experience? 

    Germany isn’t known for having top-tier colleges like Harvard, Yale and Princeton. But, said Professor Wolf, what it does have is “reliable quality.”

    “With all due respect, [America has] the best colleges but [it also has] some of the worst,” Wolf said. “There’s probably a new sort of class divide between people who get there and who don’t get there, where as in Germany basically most everybody who wants to go to an average college can go there and get a decent education.”

    In the U.S., the closest comparison to Germany’s no-frills, low-cost higher education is probably state and community colleges. President Obama has proposed making two years of community college tuition-free for students who keep their grades up, but Republican leaders have already said the plan will go nowhere in Congress.

    “It’s a very big commitment,” said Sandy Baum, a higher education economist with the Urban Institute. “People want it to be free but they don’t really mean they want to pay higher taxes to make it free.”

    Baum said Americans also don’t want to give up the residential college experience, with all its bells and whistles. But, she said, the U.S. needs more affordable choices.

    “In many European universities, you go and you listen to a lecture and that is what is involved in the university,” Baum said. “It’s a lot cheaper to do that than the many things that people are asking for on college campuses here. And people are voting with their feet and we need to have multiple options.”

    Baum said those options should include more online learning and apprenticeships.

    Willing to pay, despite free tuition

    Jane Park and two of her three children in their home in Essen, Germany. (Mallory Noe-Payne/WGBH). 

    Still, we found German families who, despite the promise of free college, are willing to pay for the elite American experience.

    Johannes Kim and Jane Park live in Essen, a neighboring city 50 miles north of Cologne. We visited their family on a weekday night. In the kitchen, as Park prepared dinner, their three small children were listening to an opera lesson on tape.

    Kim graduated from the University of Heidelberg and he thinks the opportunity to build relationships with professors is something you really can’t put a price tag on. He wants their kids to attend schools with strong brand recognition.

    “The American college experience is something that instills some sort of emotional bond to your university. That is something that is completely missing from the German system,” Kim said. “Although I went to the oldest university in Germany, there is not the feeling that I’m a proud alumni or graduate of that school.”

    Park, who is Korean American, finds Germany’s tuition-free model appealing, and she’s conflicted about the American system.

    “I like to think that I have a strong sense of social justice and great education is almost reserved for the elite despite scholarship opportunities and financial aid,” Park said. “That, I find disturbing and in some ways I am squaring, ‘OK, do I want to feed my children into that sort of system?’”

    Their kids are young, so it will be awhile before they go to college. And by that time, there’s no guarantee that Germany will still be committed to the idea of free college education.

    German states are on a five-year deadline to balance their budgets, meaning states, and taxpayers, will be taking a close look at what they can afford.

    This is part one in our ongoing series that examines higher education in Germany, and compares it to the challenges we face here in the U.S. 

    To see the rest of the stories visit German Lessons: What the U.S. Can Learn About Education From Germany

  • March 3, 2015 04:58 PM How To Revamp No Child Left Behind for Dual Language Learners

    Republicans in the House of Representatives spent a chunk of the end of last week trying to pass the Student Success Act, their party’s rewrite of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal government’s core PreK–12 education law. But after hours of debate and a pile of amendments, well, things didn’t quite come together. At the last minute…

    (For what it’s worth, I more or less predicted this…in November.)

    Meanwhile, bipartisan NCLB negotiations continued in the Senate. Since we’re waiting on those—and have no idea how long the House will take—the education policy world is in a holding pattern. So why not use it to leave the tawdry, disappointing world of legislative politics behind—and talk substance?

    In keeping with Laura Bornfreund’s recent posts on how to improve NCLB’s early education provisions (here, here, and here), I’m going to share a list of ideas that could improve how the federal government supports dual language learners in a future NCLB rewrite. It’s clear that Congress could use the help—of the dozens of proposed amendments the House explored last week, only one was specifically related to DLLs—and it’s still awaiting a vote (No. 39, from California Democrat Julia Brownley, would establish a grants program to support states’ creation of seals of biliteracy). If that’s not dispiriting enough, recall that the Student Success Act considerably weakens existing federal programs that serve DLLs.

    So here are a few of our ideas for improving federal policy for DLLs. They’re listed in approximate order from most- to least-audacious.

    • Congress should: dramatically increase federal funding for programs that help DLLs learn English and develop academically. As I’ve written before, we currently spend less ($737 million this year) on language learners than the original NCLB authorized ($750 million), even though there are at least 300,000 more language learners in American schools in 2011-2012 than there were when NCLB passed in 2002. If we assume that the original authorization of $750 million for Title III was adequate (it wasn’t, of course, but bear with me), an increase commensurate with this growth would come out to $805 million. And again, that’s probably undershooting the need by quite a bit. We simply aren’t spending enough money to serve these students well, and the projected growth in the number of DLLs will only exacerbate the situation. But if we increase funding for DLLs, we should also make sure that those funds are being used in ways that actually support these students. So…
    • Congress should: tighten NCLB’s rules for how Title III funds can be used. When I travel out of D.C. to see how different schools are serving DLLs, educators, researchers, and advocates alike tell me that it’s far too easy for Title III funds to be used for expenses unrelated to DLLs’ linguistic and academic growth (e.g. see p. 8 here). As I put it in a previous post,

    [O]ne (federal) person’s “fostering innovation” is another (local) person’s “we don’t have to meaningfully change our practice for supporting DLLs.”

    What’s more, given the last decade of research on how schools and families can best support DLLs’ development, Congress should specifically rule out some of the least-effective versions of English-only language supports for DLLs (like Arizona’s English immersion program). But even a larger Title III budget might not be a big enough “carrot” to get districts to submit to tighter rules. So…

    • Congress could: scrap Title III entirely in favor of a different approach to federal language learner policy. The House Republicans’ NCLB rewrite actually does this: eliminates Title III entirely. The federal government’s role in supporting DLLs at school has varied considerably over the years—there’s no reason that NCLB’s specific standards and accountability approach should be the only one under consideration. So here at the Work Group, we’ve been considering other ways the federal government could support DLLs. Specifically, they might consider building Title III’s existing accountability mechanisms (for more on how these currently work, see this post) into Title I accountability. Since Title I is a much larger pot of money, these two systems could theoretically be harmonized to amplify DLLs’ importance in the eyes of the federal government—and the states and districts they’re holding accountable. But, let’s be honest, more and better accountability for how DLLs are served in U.S. schools won’t do much unless we also get working on improving educators’ capacity for supporting them, so…
    • Congress should: put some of the savings from harmonizing Title I and Title III accountability into a national effort to diversify the American teaching force. Just 11.2 percent of American teachers speak a non-English language at home—compared to nearly one-quarter of American children. This could take a number of forms, some of which the Work Group will explore in future writing. One favorite idea in our office is to fund a new alternative teacher certification program:
      • Year 1: Intensive language training from the State Department + practice as a tutor in a school setting;
      • Year 2: Placement as a (federally-funded) assistant teacher in schools with high percentages of DLLs + coursework focused on language development and practical teaching strategies; and
      • Year 3: Official certification and placement in classrooms with high percentages of DLLs.

    Of course, this sort of dramatic overhaul of the federal role in education simply isn’t coming anytime soon, so…

    • Congress should: fix NCLB’s data collection rules for DLLs, as New America discussed in our recent brief. Title III funds are currently allocated to states according to data from the American Community Survey. But those data don’t appear to be particularly accurate for this purpose. Congress could require that Title III funds be allocated according to states’ own data from their language proficiency assessments (screening and summative alike). But those assessments vary a great deal by state, so to make these data better…
    • Congress should: take up the efforts that began with recent federal assessment grant competitions requiring participating states to develop a “common definition of English Learner” and build it into NCLB. That is, Congress should require states to set more consistent rules for screening and reclassifying ELs. But even a small lift like that might be a lot to ask in our gridlocked political moment, so...
    • Congress should just: change the name of the Department of Education’s Office for English Language Acquisition to: the Office for Multilingual Students, or the Office for Multilingualism, or even just the Office for Language Acquisition. It would cost nothing, and would send a message about the importance of DLLs’ home languages. (Note: Congress should also change NCELA’s name while they’re at it.)

    Will anything happen? Short version: no. Longer version: Given that the GOP majority is struggling to hold its right wing together and find enough votes to pass its own bill, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they’re able to pass an as-yet hypothetical bipartisan Senate measure. Any bipartisan Senate offering will cost the House leadership more defections from conservatives, and even if they’re willing to break the famous “Hastert Rule” and reauthorize the bill by securing a large number of Democratic votes, it’s hardly clear that they could get enough of those to finish the job. All of which means that even the most innocuous of these Title III reform ideas will likely have to wait for the next round of NCLB haggling.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • March 3, 2015 10:29 AM The 101 Ways Black Fathers Can Teach All Men to Stay Engaged with Their Children

    What behaviors make for an ideal father when the nuclear family has been blown up like the Cosby Show?

    Fathering as a practice has never been tethered to a household or marriage, especially for the sons of slavery and Jim Crow. Most black children - 72 percent - are born out of wedlock. And although approximately 54 percent of black children live with only their mothers, rising rates of cohabitation and mixed-status families among all races are increasingly reflecting the black family experience, which has always represented the modern family.

    Shelton Haynes, 33, center, looks on with wife Tiisha, right, as son Jamir, 2, plays ping pong on a visit to Haynes’ parents home Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011 in Duluth, Ga.

    Black fathers who live apart from their children can teach all men how to stay engaged with their children.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, shows that black fathers who live with their children have the same if not higher rates of involvement as other racial groups. A Pew Research Center study found that among fathers who don’t live with their child, blacks (67 percent) are most likely to see their children monthly or more (59 percent of white, 32 percent of Hispanic).

    The crisis of the absent black father is fraught with stereotypes. However, let’s be clear. Children born out of wedlock face more problems than their peers born to married couples.

    I asked several men who have children and are in a “modern” family to give concrete ways they stay engaged in their child’s education. What emerged is a list of practices that all fathers can use to bond with their children and extended families. I placed these responses in categories that form essential practices of being a father.

    An engaged father provides educational enrichment: a solid intellectual and academic foundation.

    1. Read to your children. (My personal favorite book that I’ve read to my four year-old since birth is Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin.)
    2. Group reading (great for step children bonding as well as for family members who read at different levels).
    3. Create picture books with photos.
    4. Co-write a short story.
    5. Co-write a letter to the editor.
    6. Make homemade slime.
    7. Build vinegar and baking soda volcanoes.
    8. Build homemade rockets - with baking soda and vinegar.
    9. Curate an art show showcasing your child’s art. The show should be replete with invitations, guests and hors d’oeuvre.
    10. Go on weekend field trips to museum and historic sites.

    Engaged fathers create spaces in which learning, bonding and conversations can occur.

    Related: Can the hundreds of education experts who flocked to Mississippi improve life for the state’s black boys?

    11. Establish no-headphone zones in the house and car.
    12. Create a chore list together that hangs on the refrigerator.
    13. Draft a weekend schedule with your child.
    14. Establish common house cleanup times.
    15. Chalk the sidewalk with educational themes.
    16. Create small signs that name plants in the yard.
    17. Set family reading/home work times.
    18. Don’t spank.
    19. Establish yelling fines. When someone yells antagonistically towards another family member, a coin goes into a jar or money/time taken.
    20. Paint the child’s room with your child every four years.

    It’s stereotypical, but being a father has something to do with transmitting the value of sport and competition.

    21. Play one-on-one basketball.
    22. Play H.O.R.S.E.
    23. Hold WWE style wrestling matches in the living room.
    24. Bowling night.
    25. Attending professional sport competitions.
    26. Bike riding.
    27. Sleighing.
    28. Train for a 5K running race.

    Our black dads did not ascribe to traditional notion of the distant, stoic, emotionally inaccessible dad. Good fathering means teaching communication skills.

    29. Say “I love you” when you see your child after long stretches and before you depart.
    30. Play charades.
    31. Perform skits on particular topics (bullying, asking someone out on a date, inappropriate sexual advancements).
    32. Make sock puppets.
    33. Create a puppet show (scripted and improvised).
    34. Have children present proposals for weekend trips, vacations.
    35. Create homemade Valentine’s Day cards to family and friends (including the mother).

    We all have something to teach. Good fathers feel the need to pass down professional and/or personal skills.

    36. Teach child how to play an instrument.
    37. Form a family band.
    38. Hold weekly art classes (1 hour).
    39. Job shadowing.
    40. Include your child in work activities.
    41. Have child co-present a project at work.
    42. Play doctor (role play your profession).
    43. Build robots using Lego Mindstorm robotics kit.
    44. Look over blueprints of the house or apartment.
    45. Have child assist in making repairs to the house.

    Men who live apart from their children are fully cognizant their marital status and relationship with the mother of their child influence the child’s behaviors. Consequently, re-establishing relationships is a critical skill that fathers want to teach their children.

    Related: “I told you your dreams would come true”

    46. Celebrate Grandfather’s Day (twice a year) to relink the relationship with your father.
    47. Help child create homemade birthday presents for the mother.
    48. Creating an entire family photo album in the house (include all members of the family - biological and adopted).
    49. Attend family counseling.

    Father engagement teaching good grooming habits and taking care of your child’s appearance.

    50. Take regular trips to the barber shop.
    51. Doing daughter’s (natural) hair.
    52. Teach child how to tie a tie.
    53. Help child prepare for the first date.
    54. Decorate old tennis shoes.
    55. Cologne shopping.
    56. Suit and tie shopping.
    57. Non-judgmental clothes shopping (child gets to pick out anything he/she wants).
    58. Have your child pick you out an outfit.

    A family that games together stays together. This doesn’t only include video games. Fathering means making family fun.

    59. Playing chess, checkers.
    60. Card games: tonk, spades, UNO, Go Fish.
    61. Other board games: Monopoly, Scrabble, Pictionary.
    62. Team video game playing.
    63. Old school vs. new school dance contest.

    Building bridges to the larger community is an essential part of being a father. Connect with children by making them aware of local, state and national issues through community service.

    64. Volunteer at a homeless shelter.
    65. Pass out water at a 5K.
    66. Participate in protest together (#blacklivesmatter).

    Some moments leave an indelible imprint on children through your presence or absence. Be there for milestones.

    67. Teach your child how to swim and/or ride a bike.
    68. Teach child how to shave.
    69. Buckle up and teach your kid to drive.
    70. First day of school attendance (and graduation).

    Men feel they should construct, which serves as a metaphor for life. Construction projects, taking the time to successfully put something together, bonds participants and teaches life long lessons.

    71. Build sand castles/snowmen.
    72. Build a sandbox.
    73. Build/ race go-carts.
    74. Transform a cardboard box into a car/bus.
    75. Build/fly paper planes.
    76. Build a website dedicated to a shared hobby.

    Try these general activities fathers deem germane to the role of father.

    77. Attend religious services with child.
    78. Participate in local traditions, i.e. second line parades.
    79. Visit the zoo and aquarium.
    80. Host a sleep over.
    81. Climb trees.
    82. Plant and tend to a garden.
    83. Take care of an aquarium.
    84. Perform a lip-sync routine in front of family.
    85. Hike.
    86. Start a stamp collection of black heroes.
    87. Design a T-shirt.
    88. Change the oil in your car with your child.
    89. Visit a fire station to view the trucks.
    90. Visit a train station to view trains.
    91. Ride a train to another city.
    92. Take make a photo album comprised of pictures of particular themes.
    93. Play with matches to teach the child how to properly use fire.
    94. Costume on days other than Halloween.
    95. Pretend to be Batman and Robin or the superhero of your choice.
    96. Bake a cake for a friend or family member.
    97. Have your child teach you the latest dance.
    98. Attend a father-daughter dance.
    99. Create and debate a top 10 rapper list between your child.
    100. Camping in the backyard.
    101. Pick up child from school on specific days.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • March 2, 2015 12:23 PM New Advocacy Group Pushes for Multilingualism in D.C. Schools

    This Friday, Netflix’s smash hit series, House of Cards, kicks off its third season. It’s the sort of event that that sparks a special level of buzz within the Beltways’ borders. It’s a bit like being in New York City for Fashion Week: the show reflects something of D.C.’s self-image back upon residents in ways both flattering and discomfiting. It’s validating to see our world depicted dramatically—House of Cards finds ways to make the denseness of D.C. political jockeying interesting and meaningful. But it’s also unsettling to recognize the grains of truth lurking in the show’s dark portrayal of how pettiness plagues the political process.

    But there’s another D.C., one that rarely makes an appearance in shows centered on “Official Washington.” It’s home to “Go-Go” music. To half-smokes. To hundreds of thousands of American voters who pay taxes and are eligible for the draft—but have no congressional representation. To the nation’s most universal pre-K program. And to a community whose racial, ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity is truly global.

    D.C.’s dynamism as a local community was on full display earlier this week at a panel event hosted by the DC Language Immersion Project. The discussion, titled “Economic and Workforce Development Impacts of Language Immersion,” was the second in a series of local events designed to build a groundswell of support for multilingualism in D.C.’s public schools. National leaders, like Director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) Libia Gil, joined state leaders, like Lynn Fulton-Archer, one of the specialists coordinating Delaware’s statewide World Language Immersion program, to discuss promising policies for making American education more linguistically diverse.

    For example, Gil opened the evening explaining how OELA uses its $42 million grants budget to “focus on top-quality research” and improve professional pathways that diversify the linguistic backgrounds of American teachers. Like many other panelists, she explained that dual-immersion programs are uniquely powerful because they generally bring native English speakers together with students who speak another language at home in order to build on each group’s linguistic assets.

    In addition, voices from the business community, like Marriott’s Sonia Zamborsky and Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Languages and International Studies Executive Director Bill Rivers, explored various ways of gauging the value of multilingualism in the United States. Rivers cited recent data showing that 11 percent of American companies are actively looking for multilingual job candidates. DC’s unique position in the global economy could make multilingualism even more important in the local job market.

    Panelist after panelist echoed this point in a variety of ways. Specifically, they noted that domestic and global workforce demands are changing rapidly—most jobs being created now in the United States depend in some way on foreign trade. Zamborsky was blunt: “Language skills are typically seen as nice, fluffy, pat-you-on-the-head, aren’t you a good global citizen…but they also make you a better employee.”

    After the event, DC Language Immersion Project co-founder Vanessa Bertelli explained that the group formed in response to access gaps when it comes to D.C.’s existing public dual-immersion programs. “These programs are currently concentrated in Northwest D.C.,” she said, “And therefore are not a viable option for people East of the [Anacostia] River.” That is, most of these programs are currently flourishing in places that are most easily accessible to D.C.’s wealthier families, which means that folks from D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods can only attend if they “have the resources or the time to travel across the District four times a day.”

    Before starting the group, Bertelli had been part of earlier efforts to convince her neighborhood school’s leaders to include Spanish immersion as part of their public pre-K program. They “surveyed current and prospective parents, came up with implementation plans, engaged with all levels of school administration, and testified at public hearings, but it was not sufficient…[We] realized that unless there is a strategic, systemic plan for expanding immersion across the District, D.C. is not going to be able to seize this opportunity.” Specifically, she says, D.C. stakeholders should think of “immersion as one of the elements in a comprehensive, long-term plan to positioning themselves economically as global competitors.”

    Of course, vision-setting is just the first step. The devil is in the implementation. As Rivers put it on Tuesday night, “I don’t want [immersion] to sound like a magic bullet, because it’s not; it’s very hard to do.” In her presentation, Delaware’s Fulton-Archer noted that the state’s new World Language program involved thoughtful collaboration between at least 10 governmental agencies, non-governmental stakeholders, philanthropic efforts, and more. (For more on the challenges of taking program design all the way through to implementation, see these slides from Veronica Alvarez’s presentation at the convening that launched New America’s Dual Language Learners National Work Group.) She also highlighted a human capital problem challenging her state’s efforts: at present, the pipeline for training high-quality dual-immersion instructors is simply inadequate to demand.

    So: what are the DC Language Immersion Project’s prospects? Well, even though D.C.’s local government has its own past as a punchline provider for comedians and cynics alike, the District’s education leadership has proven more effective in recent years. There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic that those leaders are ready to heed calls for more multilingualism in D.C. schools. Because as House of Cards makes clear, dysfunction here has more to do with Congress than Washington itself.

    (Update: Click here to watch the DC Language Immersion Project panel discussion!)


    **Disclosure: my son is enrolled in Washington, D.C.’s public pre-K program (and my daughter will be soon). They are dual language learners (Welsh-English).

    Note: This post is part of New America’s Dual Language Learner National Work Group. Click here for more information on this team’s work.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • March 2, 2015 12:10 PM Gaming the Numbers? Conflicting College Admissions Messages Confound Parents and Kids

    NEW YORK — A friend snapped photos of the colorful college brochures cramming his high school son’s mailbox and posted the pile on Facebook with a message that all but gushed, “Look which schools want us!”

    Colleges send out realms of encouraging mail to potential applicants every year in stepped-up-recruiting campaigns. Photo: Rob Urban

    As a higher-education journalist and the parent of a college applicant, I had a more cynical reaction: aren’t they being gamed?

    Why are colleges extending application deadlines, dropping once-required essays and sending reams of snail mail and social media encouragement to students they may have no intention of admitting? Why are many of these same colleges then boasting about the number of kids they are turning down?

    The Hechinger Report and other skeptical journalists are documenting this aggressive approach, known as “recruit to deny,” which colleges hope will lead to more applications and in turn boost their rankings by helping their institutions appear more selective.

    Related: Colleges ratchet up recruiting of applicants just to turn them down

    Yet consider these facts: An annual found many colleges are having difficulty filling their classes with qualified applicants — a fact few disclose. Analysts say higher education is beset with financial woes and headed for a shakeout as declining enrollments mean fewer college students in the years to come. Nearly 30 percent of public and 20 percent of private universities will suffer declines in revenue in 2015.

    Then there are parents and kids, worrying about how they can afford college, repay loans and get decent jobs in an uncertain economy: last year’s college graduates were the most indebted in history, with an average debt load of $33,000.

    You might conclude from this worrisome picture and the amped-up recruiting tactics that colleges are starting to look desperate. Their relentlessly upbeat press releases and announcements proclaim a different narrative.

    Public and private four-year colleges maintain they are shattering application records (take note, U.S. News & World Report!), with many once again claiming this year’s applicant pool as their “most competitive” ever.

    Related: Can we please change the conversation about college admissions?

    UCLA reports freshmen applications are up 7.2 percent. UNC-Chapel Hill reports a 37 percent increase over the number five years ago. And private colleges with annual price tags upward of $60,000 are reporting even more dramatic increases. Bucknell University in Pennsylvania says applications rose nearly 39 percent over last year; Swarthmore dropped a required essay and claimed a 42 percent jump.

    The Holy Grail of Harvard saw a 9 percent jump in applications: 37,305 for a class of about 2,000. Harvard attributes the rise to heightened recruiting on social media and a new financial aid gift that will defray costs for some.

    Union College in upstate New York reported a 10 percent surge for a record number of applications. It credited “new facilities” and “an ambitious marketing plan designed to elevate its reputation,” and added that “the competition to get into a top-tier school like Union remains fierce.”

    Related: U.S. university enrollment continues to slide

    Can you blame students — and their parents — for being confused?

    I decided to ask Ted Fiske, founder and editor of the popular Fiske Guide to Colleges, for some insight.

    “The whole thing is a crap shoot,” Fiske told me. “It’s a chaotic marketplace … nobody really understands how the whole thing is working anymore. Colleges aren’t in control of the process — there are too many things making it complicated for them.”

    One of those factors includes a hunger for the prestige that comes with looking increasingly selective, which elevates rankings. Yet the perception of increasing competition causes students and parents to hedge their bets by applying to dozens of colleges, which is easy to do with the Common Application.

    That practice leaves colleges confused about the intentions of applicants, Drake University President David Maxwell told me. In turn, colleges feel the need to step up recruiting.

    “You don’t know if they [the applicants] are serious,” Maxwell said. “What you really want is a big enough applicant pool with diversity, both geographic and socioeconomic. You want the tuba players and the scuba divers — and you hope they will be learning a great deal from each other.”

    Tom Delahunt, vice president for admission and student financial planning at Drake, believes colleges are judged by the wrong data, including “how many kids we deny. What they should be concerned about is how our graduates do. I am in complete agreement that this race to increase more applicants just to deny more students is a big part of the problem.”

    After reading a recent story in which Bucknell’s admissions dean readily acknowledged that he used a “bag of tricks” to ratchet up applications, I sought out Lloyd Thacker, whose sensible book, College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy, is filled with essays about hype and hypocrisy. Thacker decries the emphasis he believes colleges place on marketing over teaching and learning.

    “Colleges are confusing what is good for business with what is good for education,” Thacker said. “They are competing for rank, status and prestige — not educational quality. This increasing competition to be selective has worsened or exacerbated widening inequalities in education.”

    Such inequalities are exactly why recruiting and then rejecting students seems contrary to President Barack Obama’s push to get more Americans through college. Just 39.4 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 have either a two- or four-year college degree. Only one in three students from the bottom half of the income distribution in the U.S. attends a college with a six-year graduation rate of at least 70 percent. Isn’t this the population needing attention?

    Unfortunately, it isn’t working that way. At The Hechinger Report, we’ve reported that America’s colleges and universities are quietly shifting the burden of big tuition increases onto lower-income students. That could leave four-year college degrees beyond their economic reach, even as Obama pushes to make college more affordable — and attainable.

    Related: How Tuition Tracker helps kids compare colleges and other tips for overwhelmed parents

    All this brings me back to the anxiety-fueled world of college admissions, to the anxiety of my son and his friends and their parents as they wait to hear from many colleges that initially made them feel wanted. In these weeks before the hoped-for thick (acceptance) letters arrive alongside the feared but inevitable thin (rejection) letters, we agonize:

    Did we include enough safety schools? How much, if any, financial aid will be offered? Will the admissions offices overlook a C in physics or chemistry, a missing math or foreign language sequence, or any other perceived weakness? Will our kids get caught up in or dismayed by the incessant bragging over who got in where?

    Hopefully they’ll thrive wherever they end up. But what if they end up feeling used and dejected in a cynical game to juice the numbers?

    “I’ve watched too many kids say this [admissions process] really screws them up,” Thacker told me, adding that he’ll continue pushing colleges to think of their entering classes not as clients or customers — but as students who want to learn.

    Imagine that.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • March 2, 2015 12:03 PM Location, Location, Location: Are Top Universities Too Far Away From Low-Income High School Graduates?

    This graphic from “Optimal Spatial Distribution of Colleges,” shows that Illinois would produce more college educated adults if four-year institutions (the green circles) moved closer to where high school students live.

    Almost 80 percent of high school graduates go to college nowadays.  Almost half of them, mostly low-income students, start at a community college. And 80 percent of those say they hope to get a four-year bachelor’s degree. But in the end, less than a third of community college graduates transfer to a four-year college, and still fewer of them — only about 15 percent — succeed in getting that undergraduate degree.

    For some, the problem might be one of real estate. According to a new research study, community college students are particularly resistant to traveling long distances or moving to a new town for school. Yet the best affordable colleges tend to be the state flagship universities, which are often located far from the cities where large numbers of community college students live. Instead of transferring to the best four-year college that they can get into, community college graduates tend to enroll in the four-year college that is closest to home – often one where the chances of graduating are lower and the professional prospects are dimmer. And if there isn’t a four-year college nearby, many simply end their college career altogether.

    In a working paper,”Who Transfers and Where Do They Go? Community College Students in Florida,” Ben Backes, a researcher at the American Institutes for Research, and his co-author Erin Dunlop Velez, looked at every student who graduated from high school in Florida between 2002 and 2004 and tracked the students for 10 years. The researchers examined high school transcripts, test scores, community college grades and other administrative data to see which factors were most important in the decision to go to community college and then transfer to a four-year school afterward.  Their results were presented on Feb. 20, 2015, at a conference of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), a consortium of Backes’s research institute and six universities.

    The authors found that three-quarters of the 80,000 students they tracked who went to a community college never transferred to a four-year school. Distance to the nearest four-year institution appeared to be almost as important a factor in their decision as the student’s community college grades. In other words, if the nearest four-year college was 30 miles away from the student’s community college, that translated to a 30 percent decrease in the likelihood of transferring. That’s almost the same decrease in transfer rates between a B and a C student. That means there are strong, “A” students who aren’t continuing their education because a four-year school is too far away. For 10 percent of community college students in Florida, there isn’t a four-year institution within a 55-mile radius.

    Among the quarter of community college students who did transfer, Backes found a curious pattern: they mostly flocked from one community college to the same four-year institution. For example, 80 percent of the transfer students from Miami-Dade College, a two-year community college, went 14 miles away to Florida International University. Only 4 percent transferred to the state flagship university, the University of Florida in Gainesville, 336 miles away. Tuition wasn’t a driving factor; the University of Florida charges about the same tuition as other Florida public colleges.

    “We were surprised that no one really goes beyond the nearest four-year institution,” said Backes. “Absolutely, many of them would have been admitted to the University of Florida,” judging by their test scores and grades.

    Backes said this decision can be a crucial one. The flagship school is much better funded. It offers more courses to help students meet their requirements and get their degrees quickly. Graduation rates are much higher; students of similar educational and demographic backgrounds are far more likely to complete their bachelor’s degrees if they attend the flagship university. And finally, students who go to the flagship school have better professional prospects and earn more money after graduation, on average.

    Backes looked at only Florida, but he suspects that his findings would be true in many states, and especially places like California and Texas, where the best four-year public colleges are sometimes far from urban population centers.

    It’s unclear exactly why Florida’s community college students are especially sensitive to distance, and what can be done about it. One hypothesis is that many low-income students from immigrant families might be gravitating toward what is familiar. They might not be aware that their prospects would be much brighter if they moved to Gainesville for a couple years. They might not know that they can get financial aid to cover their living expenses. Perhaps information sessions, where top community college students are presented with information on graduation rates and post-college salaries from different four-year institutions, might prompt them to make a better choice.

    But it’s also likely that many of these students have already started families or are supporting parents. They cannot uproot their lives or quit their part-time or full-time jobs to move away to finish college.

    Perhaps universities should move closer to where the students are?

    Exactly that was suggested in a University of Washington study, presented on Feb. 26, 2015, at the Association for Education Finance and Policy Conference. In “Optimal Spatial Distribution of Colleges,” Mark Long calculated that the United States could optimize the college education of the nation, as measured by credits completed, if four-year colleges moved closer to urban population centers and two-year colleges moved farther away from them.

    Of course, Long doesn’t really expect the University of California at Riverside to move to Los Angeles. But as the population grows and state universities consider expansion plans, he suggests, for example, that the University of Illinois campus in Chicago should be targeted instead of the one in Champaign.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • February 28, 2015 08:00 PM Is it Time for a Student Debt Revolt?

    The escalating problem of American education debt has concerned pundits in this country for many years. Politicians make minor policy changes periodically to avoid calamity but the long-term trends remain the same.

    College costs more every year, students and families borrow more and more every year, and graduate (or drop out) starting their working lives saddled with ever higher debt burdens.

    Some students are pushing back, by just refusing to pay their loans. According to an article in the New Yorker:

    On Monday, [Mallory] Heiney and fourteen other people who took out loans to attend [the for-profit] Corinthian [Colleges] announced that they are going on a “debt strike,” and will stop repaying their loans. They believe that they have both ethical and legal grounds for what appears to be an unprecedented collective action against the debt charged to students who attended Corinthian schools, and they are also making a broader statement about the trillion dollars of student debt owed throughout the country.

    Readers of this publication may remember Corinthian, the company profiled here back in 2009 because,

    Graduates of [large-scale] proprietary colleges often struggle to find jobs in their fields. This is because, in many cases, they don’t get the skills they need to compete. …It’s far easier and less expensive for schools to boost enrollment numbers through aggressive advertising and recruitment than to expend the resources to build quality schools. Corinthian and Career Education… have faced the most damning allegations when it comes to educational quality and steering students into shady private loans.

    In general education debtors can’t just not pay their loans; the federal government can garnish wages and even social security in order to college on student loans. It’s virtually impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. But this time it might be different. According to the New Yorker piece:

    In December, a group of Democrats in the Senate, led by Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, wrote to the Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, calling on the Department of Education to “immediately discharge” the federal loans of at least some students who attended Corinthian. This wasn’t a toothless press stunt. The department, the senators noted, has the power to cancel federal loans for students who attended institutions that violated their rights. In fact, they pointed out, the department’s federal-loan agreements with students go as far as to spell this out, if in fine print: “In some cases, you may assert, as a defense against collection of your loan, that the school did something wrong or failed to do something that it should have done.” Earlier this month, the attorney general of Massachusetts made a request similar to that of the senators.

    Is this the beginning of a trend? Maybe. This doesn’t mean a whole lot of students with high debt are likely to be able to avoid payment anytime soon, but this is setting a new standard here.

    Armed by a group of lawyers connected to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Corinthian victims are making a compelling argument that their education actually constituted fraud, and they therefor don’t have to pay the loans back.

    But if Corinthian is fraud, is the University of Phoenix too? Is Northeastern? Who knows how far this argument can go.

  • February 27, 2015 05:52 PM Arizona State Univeristy: More Troubles in White Students Learning About Whiteness

    Yet again we have an example of the disaster that can develop when colleges attempt to teach white people about being white. Back in 2013 a professor at a Minnesota community college faced sanctions for her “actions in [targeting] select students based on their race and gender,” that occurred when she taught a class about structural racism.

    Now, according to this piece over at Talking Points Memo:

    Officials at Arizona State University probably weren’t expecting the full Stormfront treatment when its English department advertised a spring semester class exploring the “problem of whiteness.”
    But that’s exactly what the university got. The floodgates opened in late January after an ASU journalism student complained on Fox News that the class singled out white people as “the root cause of social injustices for this country.” Neo-Nazi types and white supremacists then reportedly threatened the white professor who was teaching the course, Lee Bebout. They publicly shared his personal contact information and flooded message boards with menacing rants against him.

    It’s not really clear what the objective problem with this English course, the full of title which is “Studies in Amer Lit/Culture: U.S. Race Theory & the Problem of Whiteness,” is supposed to be. It is, however, always hard to talk to white people, especially “neo-Nazi types and white supremacists” how race works.

    The course, the full syllabus of which is irritatingly not available online, apparently covers “major critical schools of recent decades-postcolonialist, psychoanalytic, deconstructionist, feminist, new historicist.” Texts include The Possessive Investment in Whiteness, Critical Race Theory, Everyday Language of White Racism, Playing in the Dark, and The Alchemy of Race and Rights.

    A portion of the course syllabus appears to be accessible here, however. The (unverified) description explains the class like this:

    Course Description: A disclaimer, a warning, an invitation. This class is a challenge both intellectually and (sometimes) emotionally. …The texts that we read ask us to consider thorny questions circulating around how power—in the forms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and nationality—functions to open and foreclose meaning in the world in which we live.
    What is Critical Race Theory (CRT)? Undoubtedly, the US Civil Rights movements saw many significant gains. However, in the 1980s scholars questioned why racial inequality persisted even after formal, explicit discriminatory practices were ended. The result of this query is the field of CRT, which originated at the intersection of legal studies, literary analysis, and critical theory. Today, CRT is a vibrant current of thought in the humanities and social sciences as these fields work to identify and undo inequality. What is “the problem of whiteness?” The answer to this may be legion. A field connected to CRT, Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS) is concerned with dismantling white supremacy in part by understanding how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced. This course is setup to introduce participants to concepts and intellectual threads from both fields. This is not the average literature class. This is a theory class where we will hone our skills in applying concepts from CRT and CWS to literary and cultural texts….

    So it’s basically standard books about race in America. And that issue, how “in the 1980s scholars questioned why racial inequality persisted even after formal, explicit discriminatory practices were ended” might be a very interesting for conservative white people, right?

    No one criticizing the course appears to be enrolled, but as one ASU student complained:

    “I think it shows the significant double standard of higher education institutions,” [said] James Malone, a junior economics major…”They would never allow a class talking about the problem of ‘blackness.’ And if they did, there would be an uproar about it. But you can certainly harass people for their apparent whiteness.”

    Actually the “problem of blackness” is a fairly common discussion point in racial studies.

    No students taking the course have criticized the professor about “harassment” so far.

  • February 26, 2015 02:36 PM Why ASAP Could Harm Some Students

    The City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) has gotten a great deal of positive attention in the last few years, and for good reason. The program provides much-needed additional economic, advising, and social supports to community college students from low-income families, and a new evaluation of a randomized trial from MDRC found that ASAP increased three-year associate’s degree completion rates from 22% in the control group to 40% in the treatment group. I’m glad to see that the program will be expanded to three community colleges in Ohio, as this will help address concerns about the feasibility of scaling up the program to cover more students.

    But it is important to recognize that ASAP, as currently constituted, is limited to students who are able and willing to attend college full-time. Full-time students are the minority at community colleges, and full-time students tend to be more economically and socially advantaged than their part-time peers. As currently constructed, ASAP would direct a higher percentage of resources to full-time students, even though part-time students likely need support more than full-time students. (However, it’s worth noting that although part-time students count in some states’ performance-based funding systems, they are currently not counted in federal graduation rate metrics.)

    Students in ASAP also get priority registration privileges, which can certainly contribute to on-time degree completion. But it is not uncommon for classes (at least at desirable times) to have waiting lists, meaning that ASAP students get access to courses while other students do not. If a part-time student cannot get access to a course that he or she needs, it could mean that the student is forced to stop out of college for a semester—a substantial risk factor for degree completion.

    ASAP has many promising aspects, but further study is needed to see if the degree completion gains for full-time students are coming at the expense of part-time students. Some of the ASAP services should be extended to all students, and priority registration should be reconsidered to benefit students who are truly in need to getting into a course instead of those who are able to attend full-time.

    [Cross-posted at Kelchen on Education]

  • February 25, 2015 12:19 AM How Twitter is Shaping the #CommonCore Debate

    The online fight over Common Core - fired off in 140-character bursts - is allowing a new kind of activist to gain political influence.

    While Louis C.K.’s Common Core Twitter rant might be the most famous, he is far from alone in taking to the social media platform to join the Internet war over the new controversial math and English standards most American schools have adopted.

    Parents and teachers, policy wonks and politicians, teachers unions and libertarian groups are among the 53,000 tweeters who sent 190,000 tweets using the #CommonCore hash tag during the six month period following September 1, 2013, which was around the time the debate began spilling over into the mainstream.

    Many weren’t educators and most were against Common Core - not good news for supporters.

    Three researchers - Jonathan Supovitz of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, Alan J. Daly at the University of California at San Diego, and Miguel del Fresno of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia in Spain - used data from these tweets to document how Twitter has given rise to an influential group of social media-savvy activists who aspire to influence the future of American education.

    “The Common Core Twitter debate is really not a debate about the standards,” said Supovitz. “But instead a debate about the role of for-profits or the federal government, or about data privacy issues. It’s a proxy for the other enduring disagreements in education.”

    Related: How one Ohio mother is trying to take down the Common Core 

    Supovitz says that ordinary citizens and grassroots groups have used Twitter to gain the type of influence - both with politicians and the mainstream media - that has traditionally been enjoyed by more established groups.

    “Money talks but social media squawks,” said Supovitz. “Policymakers are acutely aware that this conversation is going on and they feel it. While they are usually not participants [in the Twitter debate], they know they have to keep track of it.”

    Supovitz says that they found that while supporters of the Common Core are more likely to use “rational policy speak,” opponents are more likely to use “political language that appeals to readers’ raw emotions.”

    “Social media is allowing people to connect in altogether new ways,” said Supovitz. “There is no money, there is no organization. This is voluntary work driven by people’s passion and desire to raise the profiles of these issues.”

    Of the people tweeting the most using the hash tag, 40 percent did not work in education, and more often than not these heavy tweeters were opposed to the standards.

    The researchers also looked at which Twitter profiles were mentioned most in #CommonCore tweets and who was retweeted the most. Again about 40 percent of these people didn’t formally work in education and most opposed the Common Core.

    The data, which have been displayed in a variety of ways, can be found at

    The site also includes interviews with some of the most influential #CommonCore tweeters, including Katie Lapham, an English as a Second Language elementary school teacher in New York City.

    Lapham, who joined Twitter in 2013 to get out her message about how Common Core was hurting her students who were learning English, points to U.S. News & World Report using one of her tweets in a story as a victory.

    Related: Can the Common Core raise graduation rate for English learners?

    The researchers are in the process of analyzing tweets from March to November 2014. In their preliminary analysis, they have found that the number of people using #CommonCore has grown and that, as elections across the country heated up, more established voices were playing a larger role in the debate.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

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