Tuesday, May 24, 2016
The racket of colleges that accept poorly qualified students
It sounds noble but just leaves the students with loads of debt and either no qualifications at all or qualifications of little use. Tertiary education is NOT for everyone. Admissions standards have a point
IT’S ONE OF THE MOST enduring selling points for the value of higher education: The best route out of poverty is through the college quad. Spend four years in college, and all that book learning, mind opening, and network expanding will help even the lowest-income student jump up several rungs on the economic ladder. Nowhere is that message preached as often or with as much evident authority as in Massachusetts, the nation’s historic capital of private, nonprofit higher education, where the concentration of colleges in some areas is surpassed only by the number of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises.
But just how true is this truism about college lifting low-income students out of their circumstances, Horatio Alger style? In fact, like the actual story of author Horatio Alger, who was born into a well-established family and graduated from Harvard, there’s more myth than truth. That’s been especially so in recent years, as nonselective private colleges from around the region have increasingly filled their freshman classes with low-income students — often the first generation in their families to go to college — from Boston and other urban areas. Quite a few of these small schools are former junior colleges and women’s colleges with rich histories of opening doors to students traditionally shut out from higher education, an admirable pursuit that officials refer to as “access.” Many of the colleges are also in tough financial straits, struggling with rising costs, stunted endowments, and declining enrollments.
So whether they are actively recruiting these low-income students for reasons of open-the-door altruism or keep-the-lights-on capitalism — or, more likely, some combination of the two — there has been a huge, largely hidden byproduct of this dramatic increase in access: These students are often being loaded up with staggering debt that is completely out of whack with the earnings boost they’ll likely get from a degree at a nonselective or less selective college. Already, average student loan debt is higher in Boston than any other metro area in the country, 44 percent above the national average, according to Credit Karma. But more troubling, many of these low-income students — and, at some colleges, most of them — are not graduating. That means these non-completers are leaving campus saddled with lots of debt but none of the salary gains that traditionally come with a bachelor’s degree.
Dean College sits on a pretty, leafy campus in Franklin. A former two-year college, it began offering a selection of bachelor’s degrees only about a decade ago. It now accepts about 70 percent of the students who apply, the same rate as Fitchburg State University. Last year, Dean sent a financial aid award letter to an accepted student whose family, the federal government had determined, was so poor that the “expected family contribution” (EFC) to that student’s education was zero. The college awarded the student a Dean Presidential Grant of $17,000 and another nearly $13,000 in institutional, federal, and state grants, meaning that almost $30,000 of the bill was covered and never had to be paid back. Sounds great, right? Yes, until you look at the larger numbers on the award letter. The total cost of attendance — tuition, room, board, and fees — was $53,120. That meant the gap that this “zero-EFC” student had to cover through loans and other means in order to attend was more than $23,000. Per year. Over four years — and with only modest rises for inflation factored in — that total gap could be expected to climb to around $100,000, not counting future interest payments. That’s a ton of debt, particularly for a degree from a college whose median annual salary for alumni 10 years after enrolling is just $32,700.
To Dean’s credit, about half of its students who pursue a bachelor’s degree manage to graduate. Contrast that with Becker College in Worcester. On its website, Becker talks about being able to trace its roots back to two signers of the Declaration of Independence. It does not, however, mention what US Department of Education data from 2012-2013 show: namely, that just 16 percent of Becker’s students managed to graduate in four years, a number that inches up only to 24 percent when the time frame is extended to six years, the federal standard for completing a bachelor’s degree. In other words, 3 out every 4 students who enrolled as freshmen at Becker failed to graduate. Nor does the website mention that, after all grants and discounts are applied, a typical zero-EFC low-income student is required to come up with more than $25,000 every single year to cover the costs of attending Becker.
This seems to be the operating calculus at many small, private, nonselective or less selective colleges across the region, which routinely accept more than 60 percent of applicants. Consider the average annual “net” prices — after discounts and grants have been deducted — that these colleges are charging students coming from families whose total adjusted gross annual income is $30,000 or less. At a surprising number of colleges, this annual net price represents nearly all of that family’s total income for the year.
So the net price for one year at Wheelock College would consume 80 percent of a family’s $30,000 total income. Same at Becker. The figure is 81 percent at Endicott College, 82 percent at Emmanuel College and Mount Ida College, and 92 percent at Lesley University. At Fisher, a former junior college in Boston, it’s 94 percent, a cost that’s basically the same as the $28,200 median annual salary that Fisher alumni are making 10 years after enrolling.
For small, non-elite colleges to crack the top 10 in a U.S. News ranking would normally be cause for celebration. The problem is, this particular U.S. News ranking was titled: “10 Colleges That Leave Graduates With the Most Student Loan Debt.” Mount Ida in Newton ranked No. 7. Anna Maria College, a similarly small school in the Central Massachusetts town of Paxton, clocked in at No. 3. Average debt at Anna Maria is 76 percent above the roughly $28,000 national average. About half the students at both schools are low-income.
Keep in mind that those debt figures, like the college-loan-crisis statistics that Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren regularly toss around before crowds of aggrieved millennials, are for students who graduate. At Mount Ida, for instance, federal data show that only 1 out of every 3 low-income students manages to graduate. In the universal campaign to propel more disadvantaged students into college, few education officials seem willing to broach this sad, painful reality: If you come from a family of very limited resources and you’re not going to be able to finish college, you’d be better off never going at all.
To be clear, there’s no evidence to suggest that these small private colleges are engaging in the kind of corrupt practices that made so many for-profit colleges notorious. The worst of those for-profit diploma mills used returning veterans and single mothers as mules to convey federal dollars into their coffers, with little institutional investment in the students’ well-being. In contrast, at every one of these nonprofit private colleges, you can find some impressive student success stories as well as dedicated faculty, staff, and administrators who continue to believe deeply in the mission of higher education to make disadvantaged students’ futures better than their pasts.
But are those good intentions now largely misplaced? Is there a better way for struggling colleges to remain afloat than by sinking poor students further into debt? If not, that means college, long accepted as society’s Great Equalizer, will actually be widening the country’s yawning economic divide rather than helping close it.
It’s probably not surprising that many college officials avoid these types of uncomfortable, existential questions. Still, a few have come to see the urgency of grappling with them.
Noting the poor completion rates for low-income students around the country, Lesley University president Joe Moore says, “If we’re getting them here to generate our numbers and having them be the transmitters of federal financial aid, that’s just not right.” At Mount Ida, after nearly 50 percent of the freshman class that entered in 2012 had dropped out by the following fall, the administration began confronting the need for radical change. “If you’re seeing half the students disappear after the first year, you’ve got to ask yourself what business you’re in,” provost Ron Akie concedes. “Because it isn’t education.”
Jennifer Roberts, a consultant and former senior financial aid official at several local colleges, is even more pointed. Having grown up in a Southie triple-decker as the youngest of six children to a single mother, she can’t help but see herself in the low-income students who are now mortgaging their futures for college. “I think students are being duped by being told this is the American Dream,” she says. “The American Dream cannot be to live in debt for the rest of your life.”
UK: The university that’s gone Health and Safety mad: Campus that banned students from throwing mortarboards at graduation also forbade sugar, rugby and SOMBREROS
A university campus that recently asked students to mime mortarboard throwing in graduation photos because throwing hats could cause injuries also banned sugar, rugby, coffee and sombreros.
The University of East Anglia is building a reputation as one of the maddest around.
And its student union recently came bottom of Spiked's free speech ranking after its support for an academic boycott of Israel.
In recent years Bags of Tate and Lyle sugar were removed from the school shop and Starbucks was boycotted due to the two companies' tax affairs.
Six Nations Rugby matches were banned from the bar because its sponsor RBS funded fossil fuel extraction, and Nestle products were avoided because students felt its baby milk powder could reduce breastfeeding in developing countries.
Sombreros were forbidden from the freshers' fair due to fears of cultural appropriation, and the 'hierarchical' post of student union president was replaced by five equal officers.
The union even targeted Ukip arguing its presence on campus would make students feel unsafe, reports The Times.
Hamish Pearson, who studied Accounting and Finance at UEA and graduated in 2015, criticised the 'left-wing' student union.
He told MailOnline: 'Most of these changes are illogical and silly - the sombrero rule was particularly bizarre.
'The University is ruled by the minority. The majority of people don't vote in student union elections so it allows people who do not represent them to hold high-ranking positions and bring in random changes.
'Some of these changes have been really unpopular and many just make no sense.'
Students have been told they can mime throwing their mortarboards for a picture and a computer whiz will Photoshop the flying cap in - all for the pricey sum of £8.
In an email sent to all third and fourth year law students set to graduate on July 21, those behind the photos have requested that no caps are thrown skywards to prevent the pointed sides from hurting anyone as they fall back down to earth.
An attachment in the original email - from the company Penguin Photograph - gave instructions for how the 'fun' picture should go.
It requested that students: '...mime the throwing of their hats in the air and we will then Photoshop them in above the group before printing'.
The paragraph continued: 'As well as being safer, this will have the added advantage that even more of the students' faces will be seen in this photograph.'
The ruling has since been mocked by those set to graduate, forcing organisers to defend the controversial move.
Speaking to student newspaper The Tab, Norwich's Law Society President Louisa Baldwin said: 'If I've paid £45 to hire a bit of cloth and card for the day I should be able to chuck my hat in the air.
'It's nothing worse than the weekly ritual of dodging VKs as they're lobbed across the LCR dance floor.'
Mr Pearson added: 'I threw my hat when I graduated and the photographer specifically asked us to throw our hats, look up, and then cover our heads so it was safe.
'People who deem throwing unacceptable should just leave the photo rather than ban it.'
A University spokesperson said: 'UEA has not introduced a policy banning the throwing of mortarboards - we have simply asked our photography supplier not to encourage it during formal group sessions.
'We have taken this step because in each of the last two years graduating students have suffered facial injuries. Last year a student needed treatment in A&E.
'If students want to throw their mortarboards on graduation day that's their choice, they are free to do so, but we don't think doing it in the organised group photo is advisable.;
Teenagers to be asked: Is your teacher racist? Pupils will also be quizzed over whether they like unfamiliar food
Pupils will be quizzed on whether they think their teachers are racist under new global education assessments.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development aims to analyse pupils’ attitudes towards ‘cultural diversity’ for the first time.
Fifteen-year-olds will be asked about their understanding of global issues such as migration alongside separate tests in reading, maths and science.
Pupils will also fill in additional questionnaires to measure their ‘openness towards people from other cultures’ and the attitudes of staff at their schools.
The ‘global competence’ assessments are proposed for the 2018 round of PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment), which is run by the OECD.
Children from about 80 countries including England are expected to participate.
The OECD insists the move is necessary because schools need to prepare young people for a world ‘where they will live and work with people from different backgrounds and cultures’.
Pupils completing the PISA questionnaires will be asked about topics such as immigration and whether they enjoy unfamiliar food.
Under the plans, they will be asked whether their teachers ‘talk in a respectful way’ and are ‘open to personal contact’ with people from ‘all cultural or ethnic groups’.
Other potential questions focus on whether staff ‘have lower academic expectations’ for students from some ethnic groups and ‘apply the same criteria’ to grading and disciplining children ‘irrespective of their cultural origin or ethnic group’.
Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the OECD, said it was vital to measure pupils’ perceptions of their teachers’ attitudes to different cultures and ethnicities. He told the Times Educational Supplement: ‘We are looking at what students perceive to be teachers’ attitudes.
‘We believe that perception will shape and will frame the way in which students learn about global competencies.
‘For example, if you have a teacher who says: “The textbook says I have to teach you about the diversity of cultures, but I think it’s complete nonsense” – in an environment like this a student is not going to engage themselves. But imagine a teacher who confronts them with the difficulties refugees face in England in getting integrated, and then I think you would probably get a very different stance from pupils.’
I would be very cautious about young people making judgements about their teachers’ attitudes.’
Malcolm Trobe, Association of School and College Leaders
Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, yesterday attacked the proposals as ‘political correctness’ and ‘a step in the wrong direction’.
He said: ‘What we’re seeing here is a distraction from what the OECD should be focusing on. They should be focusing on literacy, numeracy and science because you can’t really evaluate the social therapy side of education.’
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned that a questionnaire was a ‘crude and potentially unreliable’ way to explore the influence of teachers’ attitudes on students.
Mr Trobe added: ‘It is important that we draw on students’ attitudes on these global issues. But I would be very cautious about young people making judgements about their teachers’ attitudes.’
But responding to criticism yesterday, Mr Schleicher said: ‘I don’t think the capacity of people to collaborate, compete and connect effectively with people from different cultural contexts has much to do with political correctness. It is what employers expect their workers to be ready for.
Posted by jonjayray at 12:43 AM