Monday, August 27, 2012

College officials’ excuses costing students and taxpayers

Finishing college shouldn’t be so hard. Completing challenging classes and mastering advanced material plus working to pay for increasingly expensive degrees is tough enough. But some institutions make it even harder for undergraduates because of their own shoddy administration.

Sacramento State undergraduate Starlight Trotter is starting her fifth year and shared her travails in a recent Sacramento Bee article.

“The 23-year-old psychology major thought she would be a counselor or therapist by now. Instead, she’s still in college and a student assistant in the theater arts department,” according to the Bee.  “I just want to get out of here,” said Trotter, but students struggle to get into the over-packed classes they need to graduate on time.

“Just 8 percent of first-time, degree-seeking Sacramento State students who started classes in 2007 graduated in 2011, the lowest four-year graduation rate in a decade, according to data from the college,” the Bee reported.

The tragedy is that Trotter did everything she was supposed to do. She worked hard in high school and earned several scholarships, which have now run out because she’s had to stay in school so long. Trotter also works and uses financial aid to pay for her degree. But here’s the catch: unable to get into the classes she needs to graduate, she instead attends classes she doesn’t need to just keep her financial aid.

In a separate editorial, the Sacramento Bee (rightly) called Sacramento State’s graduation rate “abysmal and unacceptable.” Sacramento State officials have responded in the past by blaming students for not being academically prepared, having to work, and enrolling in the wrong classes. They also blame the legislature for cutting funding.

Hooey. It was Sac State’s choice to admit unprepared students. In response to the down economy, institutions that depend on public subsidies need to tighten their belts—just like the taxpayers who fund those subsidies are doing.

It’s was also Sac State’s choice to continue offering degree programs they couldn’t fill but continued paying for by pulling funds from other programs (called cross-subsidization). And, it was Sac State’s choice not to cut those programs at the expense of over-enrolled programs such as Trotter’s.

According to data reported to the U.S. Department of Education, Sac State’s core revenue in 2010 exceeded $350 million: $113 from tuition and fees; $128 from state appropriations; $72 million from government grants and contracts; nearly $1 million in private gifts, grants, and contracts; almost $2 million in investment income; and another $41 million in other core revenue.

All that money works out to more than $15,000 per full-time student. If Sac State, or any other public institution for that matter, cannot fulfill their obligation to provide undergraduates with the courses they need for their degrees, then they should return funds to students and taxpayers.

It is also worth noting that if Sac State were a for profit institution, the legislature, state and departments would be demanding investigations for such mismanagement.

To avoid such mismanagement in the future, the California legislature should enact some common-sense reforms. Put an end to lump-sum state appropriations. Instead award appropriations to students directly in the form of grants that students could take to any California postsecondary institution, public or private, of their choice—about $5,500 based on Sac State’s appropriation levels.

If institutions wanted their share of state appropriations, then they’d have to improve their graduation and management track-records to attract and keep students—along with their state appropriation funding.

Another related reform is instituting outcomes-based appropriations. Rather than throwing good money after bad at mismanaged institutions, which leaves less funding for well managed ones, a certain percentage of funds should be awarded based on the number of students who successfully graduate on time.

Ohio adopted an outcomes-based funding system that was enacted in 2009. Today, 5 percent of community college funding and 10 percent of four-year university funding is based on outcomes, including degree and course completion plus incentives for course completion in STEM subjects and for at-risk students.

Tennessee has been using outcomes-based funding the longest, since the 1970s. There is a 40 percent weight on Pell-eligible students (so each counts for 1.4 students) if they graduate to help promote student success without restricting access.

Louisiana and Indiana also have outcomes-based funding systems for both four- and two-year institutions.

All postsecondary institutions must fulfill their obligation to undergraduates and taxpayers to use public funds responsibly and graduate students on time. Stronger accountability from the legislature in the form of better funding incentives, and more freedom for students to take their public education dollars to institutions that will get the job done are sensible first steps.


British Universities minister defends plans to 'name and shame' useless degrees

David Willetts, the universities minister, has defended plans to “name and shame” degrees with poor job prospects under a new ranking system.

The measure is part of the most radical shake-up of the higher education system in decades, under which institutions will be ranked by graduate employment rates and salaries.

Mr Willetts said the Government was looking for a "transformation" in the amount of information students receive in proposals outlined in the long-awaited White Paper on higher education.

In an interview with BBC Breakfast, he said: "There are some courses that are far better at preparing young people for the world of work than others. At the moment, the student finds it very hard to get that information.

"In future, they are going to be able to see “if I do biological sciences at one university, I have got a much better chance of a job in a pharmaceutical company than if I do biological sciences at a different university”.”

The White Paper being published on Tuesday will outline plans to force all institutions in England to publish data on 16 different areas to give students greater choice between courses.

For the first time, all universities will be forced to release detailed figures setting out how many students leave with well-paid jobs as well as average graduate starting salaries.

Other data is expected to cover criteria such as teaching hours, lecture sizes, accommodation costs and standards of student facilities.

Under plans, the information will be fed into new price comparison-style websites that shame the worst-performing universities and allow students to apply to the best institutions.

The move is being seen as a trade off for allowing universities to impose far higher tuition fees – ensuring students gain maximum value for their additional investment.

It follows claims that some students are currently being misled by vague promises made in glossy prospectuses handed out as teenagers apply to different universities.

The changes will be outlined as part of a long-awaited White Paper designed to map out the future direction of higher education to coincide with a decision to almost triple the cap on student fees to £9,000 from next year.

It will propose creating a market-based system in higher education and promoting more competition between institutions.

The document – originally promised in the New Year – will also:

*Toughen up the Office for Fair Access in a move that could see universities hit with new fines for failing to admit enough students from poor backgrounds;

*Give students more powers to trigger an official inspection by the Quality Assurance Agency – the standards watchdog – if teaching is not good enough;

*Force universities to reveal the A-levels needed to secure entry onto different courses, ensure students pick tough courses in the sixth-form instead of “soft” options that are often rejected by selective institutions;

*Remove barriers for private universities to provide degree courses by ensuring more students can take out the same Government-backed loans to study at them;

*Create a new “kitemark” system in which top companies can accredit courses producing the most skilled graduates.

In a key change, the White Paper will also relax the existing strict quotas controlling the number of students each university can recruit.

Under the reforms being announced by Mr Willetts, up to one-in-10 undergraduate places will be placed into an “auction”, allowing universities to bid for extra students.

It suggests that institutions with the cheapest tuition fees will be allowed to expand to keep the student loans bill down.

Universities will also be allowed to compete against each other to recruit the 55,000 students currently leaving school with top A-level grades – two As and a B.

Each university will be able to admit as many of these students as they wish. The change is unlikely to cost the taxpayer any more money as almost all of these sixth-formers already go on to university, but it will create a “new elite” as the best institutions take more top students at the expense of competitors.

A Whitehall source said: “The reforms are all about ensuring that students get their money’s worth. We’re asking graduates to contribute more once they are earning so it is only right that universities deliver for students.

"Universities will become more accountable to students and they will have to be far more transparent about what they are offering.”

But John Denham, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said: “It is clear that this White Paper, already months late, will be another example of the Tory-led Government making it up as they go along.

“The White Paper will sacrifice quality in an attempt to tackle the fees crisis caused by Government incompetence.”


Britain's  'A-grade' children can't even manage a paper round

By Peter Hitchens

How we used to jeer at the Soviet Union for claiming record tractor production, record wheat production and record economic growth.  These fatuous lies were obvious falsehoods, in a country where the fields were full of weeds, the factories rusty museums of incompetence and waste, and life a series of queues for rare, wonky consumer goods and unfresh food.

But our own official figures are now just as laughably false. The worst of all are the annual claims that our schools are producing a new generation of brilliant wonder-children.

A Tory MP called Graham Stuart, who as chairman of the House of Commons Education Committee ought to know better, actually said on the radio on Thursday: ‘The standard of performance is better than it’s ever been, the teaching’s better and the children are cleverer than ever before.’

Presumably that’s why my local newsagents now employ pensioners to deliver papers, and most of the hard-graft jobs for young people in this country are done by migrants from Eastern Europe. Our own children are just too clever to do paper rounds, or work on a building site.

If Mr Stuart is typical of our lawmakers, it strikes me that they too could all be profitably replaced by pensioners or Poles.

Does he really believe what he says?

For more than a decade, people like me have been abused and denounced because we dared to point out that British school standards were falling, and that our benchmark examinations were being watered down.

There was good evidence for this. The Engineering Council noted 12 years ago that maths standards at A-level had fallen by objective measures. They blamed a softer syllabus.

Durham University, by equally objective methods, found a similar rise in grades – unmatched by a rise in standards – in other subjects.

Now our case is absolutely proved, by the sudden halt in ever-improving grades. This was caused by a simple warning from the government, requiring the exam boards to show that any more ‘improvement’ was justified by better-quality work.

And yet the lies continue.

The BBC, which in my view rightly doubts George Osborne’s pitiful economic policies, has never questioned the absurd Stalinist claims of our education industry, or our equally ridiculous crime figures, apparently compiled in Toytown by Noddy and Mr Plod.

That is because the causes of our wretched education standards, and of our ever-increasing disorder, lie in the failed Left-wing policies of the Sixties.

The BBC passionately supports these policies, and the Tory Party has adopted them just as their utter failure has become evident to anyone with a spark of intelligence.


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