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Aiming High: The Keeping College Affordable Initiative

By Watson Scott Swail, President & CEO, Educational Policy Institute/EPI International

This morning, President Obama used the setting of staff and students at the University of Michigan to unveil his Keeping College Affordable initiative. Based on his State of the Union speech a few nights ago, we knew this was coming and we knew mostly what it was about, and as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said earlier this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the initiative would involve both carrots and sticks.

There are several components of the initiative, but the most salient feature is a $1 billion incentive* fund to entice institutions to keep costs down (the carrot). This program is patterned after the K-12 Race to the Top program, which has provided incentive funding to states. The “stick” is the President’s warning to institutions that if they don’t bring tuition fees within reason, Congress will act. “You can't assume that you'll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can't stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down.”

It is easy to be cynical about these changes. Because the US higher education system is so large and complex, attempting to make a real and positive change in this system is inordinately difficult; perhaps impossible. Understand that this “system” has over 2,000 public institutions alone, another 2,000 private, non-profits, and thousands of other proprietary institutions. The public institutions run under the auspices of 50 state governments who have the final say on what happens. But the federal government has some leverage through Title IV (student aid) and research funds. Already, Title IV aid is used as a lever to get institutions to complete IPEDs surveys each year (if institutions don’t complete, they don’t get federal student aid funds, including Pell, Direct Loans, and Work Study).

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STATISTIC OF THE WEEK

In 2007–08, about 4.3 million undergraduate students, or 20 percent of all undergraduates, took at least one distance education course. About 0.8 million, or 4 percent of all undergraduates, took their entire program through distance education. The percentage of undergraduates who took any distance education courses rose from 16 percent in 2003–04 to 20 percent in 2007–08; over the same period, however, the percentage who took their entire program through distance education decreased from 5 to 4 percent. In addition to these undergraduate students, about 0.8 million, or 22 percent, of all postbaccalaureate students took distance education courses in 2007–08. The percentage of postbaccalaureate students who took their entire program through distance education (9 percent) was higher than the percentage at the undergraduate level.

Source: NCES: How many how many students take distance learning courses at the postsecondary level ?

 

THE NEWS

ACADEMIC PREPARATION
Study Shares Newcomer Schools' Best Practices
By Lesli A. Maxwell, Education Week
When adolescent immigrants enroll in American public schools, time is not on their side. Within as few as four years, they must learn English, master academic content, and adapt to American culture. Some, lacking formal schooling, may not be literate in their native languages. But a small number of programs around the United States offer promising practices for teaching such students for other school districts to emulate, according to a new national research study from the Center for Applied Linguistics. Practical guidance on working with this vulnerable group is crucial: "Newcomer" students make up one slice of the nation's more than 5.3 million English-language learners, the fastest-growing population of students in public schools. Increasingly, these newcomers are moving to communities where educators have little or no experience working with students having such academic and social needs.

Study lauds role of early ed
By Jane Stancill, News Observer
Poor children who get high-quality day care as early as infancy reap long-lasting benefits, including a better chance at a college degree and steady employment, according to a UNC-Chapel Hill study that followed participants from birth to age 30. The latest findings, published this week in the online journal Developmental Psychology, are from one of the longest-running child care studies in the United States. Conducted by the Frank Porter Graham Development Institute at UNC, the research is widely cited in a body of evidence that early childhood education can change the trajectory of young lives. The findings may be cited in a court battle looming over state-funded pre-kindergarten for low-income children. For months, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue and Republican leaders in the legislature have been at odds over funding for preschool for 4-year-olds.

Obama Wants Lower College Costs, Higher Dropout Age
By Alyson Klein, Education Week
President Obama gave college affordability a prominent place in his domestic agenda during his annual State of the Union address, calling directly on universities to hold down costs in order to make higher education more accessible to the middle class. He outlined a set of proposals that include threatening universities with a loss of federal money if they are unable to tamp down tuition. "Let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down," Obama said in his hour-long address. He didn't offer specifics, however, and the blueprint document the White House sent out to accompany the speech didn't get specific either. But advocates expect him to lay out more concrete details in the coming days. In a speech that emphasized four pillars—manufacturing, energy, worker training, and American values—he advocated for one concrete K-12 policy: He urged states to raise the dropout age to 18.

 

POSTSECONDARY ACCESS SUCCESS
Highest Paying 2-Year Degree Jobs in the US
Jessica Bosari, Forbes
We all know that most high-paying jobs are impossible to get without a college degree. Most of us assume those jobs only come when you have a 4-year degree, but don’t discount the 2-year degree. Many high-paying careers offer a good living after putting in just two years of school at a technical or community college. Medical Careers: Interested in a career in medicine but don’t want to go to school for 8 years or rack up $150,000 in debt? Registered Nurses typically have 2-year degrees but can earn an average salary of $55,000. Physical Therapy Assistants can earn $46,000 annually and Radiologic and X-ray technicians earn on average $52,000. Not bad, considering a 2-year degree costs less than $9,000 on average. Computers and Technology: Maybe you’re into computers and technology. Well, computer support specialists can make between $46,000 and $60,000 a year, depending on their specialization.

Public College, Private Dorm
By Ronda Kaysen, The New York Times
With state budgets tight and demand for a college education at a high point, public universities across the country are increasingly turning to the private sector to build and finance on-campus dormitories. Even before the recession, states found that companies that specialize in student housing could build residence halls more rapidly and cheaply than universities could. They can ease the burden of being a landlord. And perhaps most important, these partnerships free capital for facilities like classrooms and laboratories. But as bad economic times make these arrangements even more appealing, the new efforts raise questions about how private ownership of dorms will affect student life and costs in years to come.

Improving graduation rates at Ohio's public universities a priority for Gov. John Kasich, Chancellor Jim Petro
By Karen Farkas, Cleveland.com
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Ohio's public four-year colleges don't have a problem attracting students, but keeping them enrolled long enough to get a degree continues to pose a challenge. About 56 percent of students who enrolled full time as freshmen in 2004 had earned degrees six years later, according to the Ohio Board of Regents. That's just about the national average. Retaining and graduating more students is a top priority for Gov. John Kasich and Chancellor Jim Petro, the head of the state's higher-education system. Petro told the Ohio Board of Regents last week that he plans to implement several innovative programs this year -- even if university officials oppose them. "Clearly there has to be a motivational weakness that causes a student to start college and not finish," Petro said. "The notion is to give recognition at every stage of the program."

 

INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Higher education in 2012: a global perspective
Molly Corbett Broad, the guardian
Economic and political pressures as well as international competition will force US higher education to keep adapting, but at what cost to quality? In addressing what the future holds for US higher education, we must acknowledge that the recession has brought about a series of transformative trends that will endure long past the current economic moment and fundamentally change our industry. Further, I believe the pace of change will only continue to accelerate, due to political and economic pressures as well as disruptive technological innovations. The New Year brings enormous challenges for US higher education. But in every challenge are the seeds of opportunity, and I know leaders at our colleges and universities will have the vision to see beyond our immediate problems and show the courage to embrace new ideas and new ways of doing business. To me, the outlook for 2012 is unpredictable, but also full of promise.

Ka‘ana Mana‘o: College using technology to engage more students
By Clyde Sakamoto, The Maui News
It's no surprise that students are using technology more than ever. But what might be surprising is how that technology is improving their overall educational experience while saving the college tens of thousands of dollars each year. The virtual classroom is one such example. Did you know that not only can students take classes in our facilities, but they can also watch or record many lectures on MCTV (cable Channel 55), or participate in classes through video conferencing? As the digital landscape moves toward high definition, Maui College is too. This summer, our media team upgraded our Hawaiian Interactive Television Service to high definition, giving the college 12 distance-learning classrooms and video conference rooms outfitted with high-definition equipment. In the fall of 2011, the college broadcast 69 classes per week and produced 22 classes per week in high definition.

Xinjiang children return to uncertain future
By Shanghai Daily
MORE than 1,330 vagrant children have been brought back home to northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region as a result of a campaign launched last year, but their care remains a problem for the local government. The region began a nationwide search for vagrant Xinjiang children in April 2011, promising to bring them home and send them to school. The move was aimed at helping the children resume normal lives and restoring Xinjiang's reputation after the region had gained notoriety as a source of "young robbers and thieves" in many Chinese cities. To date, 1,332 children have been brought home with the help of police and civil affairs authorities across the country, Xinjiang's regional government said yesterday. It said some of the children, who were in good health and could still remember their homes, had been sent back to their hometowns for government-sponsored vocational training.

 

REPORTS WORTH READING
Committing to Quality: Guidelines for Assessment and Accountability in Higher Education
The U.S. government has made a commitment to lead the world in postsecondary degree attainment. This is a necessary and laudable goal that is critical to economic competitiveness, equal opportunity, and a healthy democracy. Success in the 21st-century knowledge economy will require greater levels of formal education. Employer surveys indicate increased emphasis on hiring individuals with  postsecondary degrees and higher levels of skills and knowledge. College graduates entering the workforce will increasingly be asked to apply a broader range of skills, think critically, solve problems, utilize existing knowledge, and learn on the job. By at least one estimate, the United States by 2018 will have several million fewer degree recipients than the economy needs.

Movin’ It and Improvin’ It! Using Both Education Strategies to Increase Teaching Effectiveness
Fueled in part by the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program, a massive effort to overhaul teacher evaluation is underway in states and districts across the country. The aim is to ensure that evaluations provide a better indication of “teaching effectiveness,” or the extent to which teachers can and do contribute to students’ learning, and then to act on that information to enhance teaching and learning. In October the National Council on Teacher Quality reported that nearly two-thirds of the states made changes to teacher-evaluation policies over the past three years, a stunning amount of policy activity in an area that had remained nearly stagnant for decades. Today 25 states require an annual evaluation of teachers—up from 15 two years ago—and 23 states now require evaluations to at least consider“objective evidence of student learning in the form of student growth and/or value-added test data.”

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