Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Latest on Regulating For Profits

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has put back into action a state board the oversees for-profit colleges, according to a report today in Insider Higher Ed. Called the Bureau for Private Post-Secondary Education, it represents the latest incarnation of an on-again, off-again government program to protect consumers. For-profit colleges with regional accreditation are exempt from the bureau's oversight. Some consumer groups have complained that the new bureau fails to provide adequate enforcement and protection for students, but proponents say it effectively weeds out "degree mills" while reducing paperwork and lawsuit threats for legitimate for-profit providers.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Higher Education Research Focus to Compare For-Profits and Public Schools

An excellent "fly on the wall" overview of the University of Phoenix's courtship of big-money foundations and higher education researchers appears in Inside Higher Ed. The ultimate goal: A new research institute for the study of the post-secondary education options and success rates for low-income students, key clients of the for-profits.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Systems for Tracking Community College Outcomes: Process Measures Needed

Community college system administrators are testing data-based accountability systems that track how successfully students are graduating, transferring to 4-year schools, and obtaining workforce certificates. These systems represent an attempt to track outcomes, which is needed because the proportion of Americans obtaining college degrees has fallen from first to 13th place in the world. About 45% of U.S. post-secondary students attend community college, but past research indicates that only one in 10 actually complete their degree within 3 years. To change this picture, many states (e.g., Ohio) have experimented with aligning their traditional funding approach away from enrollment to program completion. To support these efforts, states have databases tracking outcomes. There is interest in improving early warning signs so community colleges can intervene to improve outcomes. For example, Oregon tracks graduation and program completion rates, but leaders also say they need process data that tracks early indicators of the proportion of students on target for program completion. Oregon's system outline can be found here. In reviewing the process data, the focus remains on courses that students take or do not take, and not so much on learning indicators. Another approach receiving much study is to reward students for making progress toward degree completion and maintaining a 2.5 to 3.0 GPA. See the MDRC reports here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Workforce Training: Community College Bond Funding Crowds Out For-Profits?

According to Inside Higher Ed, an economist has just published a study that tests the hypothesis that local bond measures improve public awareness about community colleges' workforce education options and shift students away from for-profit vocational schools. Published in a new academic journal edited by U.C. Berkeley economist Alan Auerbach, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, the article examined the relation between California bond measures and enrollment patterns at the state's 109 community colleges and the for-profit vocational schools in their vicinity. The author, Stephanie Riegg Cellini, a recent UCLA doctoral graduate, wrote in her article that a policy implication of her findings might be, for example, to have legislators consider the fate of both community college and for-profit institutions. One idea, she wrote, was for legislators to emphasize "transfer only" in community colleges and cede the "workforce training market" to the for-profit schools to increase economic efficiency, which focuses on improving market forces to ensure the greatest number of buyers and sellers can be matched. She makes the case that offering workforce courses in community colleges may be diluting their capacity to support transfer, as only 4% of students do transfer to 4-year colleges each year. Increasing transfer can lower costs for higher education at the public level since it is substantially cheaper to support students in the community college than the 4-year college. In California, a community college charges one of the lowest tuition rates for education in the nation, about $330 per year even though the actual per-student cost for education is about $4,419. It costs about $10,078 a year to support a student in the California State University system. By contrast, the for-profit institutions charge between $3,000 and $10,000 for tuition, and have much smaller campuses. Students going to for-profit institutions can obtain support for their studies from federal grant and school loan programs. Financial support for the study came from the UCLA Center on Education Policy and Evaluation and the ASHE/Lumina Foundation for Education Dissertation Fellowship.

Monday, October 5, 2009


California's community college educators are late to embrace the system of Student Learning Outcomes, or "SLOs," as a means of tracking program effectiveness, but pressure from regional accreditation bodies has spurred a shotgun marriage. Here's the way it works: Colleges establish a small set of high level SLOs around a handful of "big themes," such as communication skills, critical thinking, and citizenship. Then every college department creates its own collection of SLOs, which are supposed to be aligned with the "big themes," but that go into a bit more detail for each discipline. Finally, instructors create their own specific SLOs for each course. I will collect resources that I find relating to SLOs in this blog from time to time, beginning with this Web site from Sacramento City College. After setting the SLOs, instructors and department heads need to develop an assessment system for tracking progress in achieving the outcomes. These assessments range from student self-report surveys on how proficient they feel in some core skills to faculty ratings of selected student work at the beginning and end of each course using a rubric with several core skills.