Dallas Delivers: Insights from the Trenches

My recent visit to El Centro College (part of the Dallas County Community College District) stood in sharp contrast to the sweltering 113-degree temperature reflected on my rental car thermometer.  The El Centro visit – which included a campus tour and a College Affordability Summit – reinforced three key themes within the President and the Department of Education’s post-secondary educational agenda: (1) college affordability; (2) career readiness and educational opportunity linked to employability; and (3) vulnerable student success, including America’s returning Veterans who pursue further education.

Paul McCarthy, El Centro College’s president since 2008, took me on a campus tour before the actual Summit launched. I walked through the College’s newly renovated building dedicated to the health professions that included state-of-the-art simulation laboratories.  I saw a group of students learning to be highly employable invasive cardiovascular technologists. I observed the Food and Hospitality Institute where students learn to design and cook meals and bake; they also run a small restaurant on campus that can be frequented at low cost by the campus and wider Dallas community.  This tour punctuated the College’s effort – similar to that on a growing number of campuses — to provide a meaningful set of engaged educational opportunities for their growing student population through degrees and certificates that can lead to employment.

A Dart train

El Centro helps its students get to and from school by providing DART passes.

One key initiative at the College is a program to facilitate travel to and from the College. With a diverse population of low-income students and no College provided parking on the main campus, the College provides each student registered for at least six credits with a free DART card that enables that student to use the Dallas area rapid transportation system to get to/from campus.  Students can also use the card to get to and from work and for personal travel including evenings and weekends.  While the College pays for these cards (at discounted rates from the city transportation authority), the benefits to students vastly outweigh the costs, and this program helps students who might otherwise not be able to pursue or continue their education to progress to and through college affordably.  A similar benefit is offered, with positive results, in the ASAP initiative within the CUNY system.

One other topic explored in depth at the Summit was the College’s effort to provide educational opportunities that will meet the needs of their growing Veteran population.  The conversation demonstrated how the Senior Leaders are deeply aware of the challenges Veterans face when they return to civilian life; the College is engaged in efforts to provide added support systems and faculty and staff training opportunities to foster Veteran success at El Centro. Two of the College’s leaders will be participating in the upcoming August 1st convening to be held at the Department of Education on best practices for Veteran students on America’s campuses, based on the lessons learned from the Department’s Veteran Center of Excellence FIPSE grantees.

In short, the Dallas June day’s soaring heat was well matched by soaring efforts in support of the President’s 2020 goal of getting more and more Americans to progress to and through post-secondary education.

Karen Gross is a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

The University and the Economy

America’s colleges and universities often make a significant difference in the lives of their communities. This was apparent at the University of Northern Colorado where President Kay Norton, faculty and staff have taken bold steps to keep Greeley and the university inextricably linked through the thick and thin of the region’s economic recovery. With 6,700 postsecondary institutions across our nation, I think it’s critical for government to learn from what I call examples of excellence so we can provide the incentives that will spread positive change more broadly.

Arriving on campus for a summit on College Affordability and Completion that took place on Feb. 23, I was given a report on a University District initiative that contained a map of the region dotted with blue marks. President Norton explained that the blue dots marked the locations of the residences of thousands of Greeley students, alums and employees with deep roots in the community.

Kanter and Norton

University of Northern Colorado President Kay Norton and U.S. Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter in front of "Front Range Rainstorm" by Artist and Professor Emeritus Fredric L. Myers

In fact, one of every seven residents has a connection to UNC. At the meetings with business, government and academic leaders of the region, the interdependencies created between Greeley and UNC stood out. Company leaders were expanding their investments in Greeley. These business leaders clearly regard the university as their partner. As President Norton drove me around the region, she pointed out several areas ripe for redevelopment in which the university, government and business are working together to plan, design and construct a University District that exemplifies “An America Built to Last,” a central tenet of the Obama Administration’s Education Blueprint released on January 24.

President Norton told me that UNC’s partnership with the community dates back to the institution’s beginning, when residents lobbied the Legislature to establish a state school for training teachers in Greeley and then funded much of the start-up cost. Then, like now, residents recognized the role of higher education in building both economic and social value. She went on to say that UNC is one of the region’s largest employers and pointed out several other major employers, including North Colorado Medical Center, State Farm, the local school district and the City of Greeley, which are growing the local workforce as they work closely with the university to ensure that their employees have the requisite knowledge and skills when they earn degrees and certificates from UNC.

Those efforts matter. On average, college graduates are twice as likely to be employed as those with only a high school diploma. And the difference in earnings is growing.  Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that high school graduates in 1979 earned about 72 cents for every dollar that bachelor’s degree holders did; today they earn just 55 cents. In fact, the disparity today between weekly earnings for bachelor’s degree holders and high school graduates is greater than both the gender and racial pay gaps in our nation.

The challenge before us is great. Estimates from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce project that, unless we do dramatically better, we’ll produce three million fewer college graduates than are needed by our economy within the next decade.

That’s a gap that could make it hard for American employers to fill high-skill positions. Worse yet, this gap will hamper innovations and advancements that could open up new industries and sources of future jobs. But we can change these predictions, if we act now as UNC is doing. According to the Center, by adding an additional 20 million postsecondary-educated workers over the next 15 years, our national level of educational attainment would be comparable to the best-educated nations, help us meet the economy’s need for innovation, and reverse the growth of income inequality.

It was difficult but necessary for me to note that in just one year (FY11-FY12), Colorado reduced its state fiscal support for higher education by 15.4%, ranking 46 of our 50 states. President Norton said that UNC is becoming an “enterprise institution of higher education” as the institution’s leaders have worked to cut costs significantly over the past few years while also maintaining UNC’s commitment to access and quality as it serves the growing number of students coming to UNC.

As we returned to the campus and drove by residence halls, playing fields and the Campus Recreation Center, President Norton pointed out that “not one penny of federal or state government support was spent to build these facilities.” Reductions in state taxpayer support ultimately put pressure on students as universities rely more on tuition and fees to provide a high-quality educational experience.

President Obama has made a series of bold proposals for FY13 that includes a Race to the Top for College Affordability and Completion, a new partnership between states, higher education and the federal government to help states put reasonable financial plans for education in place and give higher priority to colleges and universities who are providing good value, serving high need students well, and keeping college affordable for the middle class.

As we look ahead, UNC’s partnership with Greeley is a model for the way 21st century communities can grow and thrive as we think of creative ways to invest in education and the economy for a nation “built to last.”

Martha Kanter is the Under Secretary of Education

Students Find Success in Metro Academy Programs

After watching Camille Jackson blossom in the Metro Academy program at City College of San Francisco, her mother was inspired to go back to school and continue her own education. This is just one instance of how this innovative program is producing positive ripple effects throughout communities. Jackson and other students shared their stories earlier this month during a Metro Academy briefing sponsored by Rep. Lynn Woolsley (D-Calif.), at the U.S. Capitol, explaining how the successful partnership between San Francisco State University (SFSU) and City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is helping them work their way to fulfilling the American dream.

Panel at the Capitol

SF State Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Sue Rosser, from left, Metro Academies Program Director Mary Beth Love and Metro Academies Curriculum and Faculty Affairs Director Savita Malik participate in a Capitol Hill briefing on Metro Academies in Washington, D.C. Photos by Rishi Malik, courtesy of San Francisco State University.

Metro Academy is a structured two-year program, supported in part with a Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) grant from ED’s Office of Postsecondary Education, that helps lead students directly to an associate’s degree and then into a bachelor’s degree program. The Academy programs cover all the general education requirements of the bachelor’s and are designed around career themes.

The problem-based curriculum keeps students engaged, and the lockstep sequence of courses shortens completion time and raises completion rates. So far, the SFSU-CCSF partnership has Academy programs in health and early childhood education, with another program focused on STEM careers starting in the fall.

As reported by Savita Malik, the Metro Academies’ curriculum and faculty affairs director, the program adopts many of the best practices in higher education, such as the learning outcomes recommended by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, and high-impact educational practices such as learning communities, writing-intensive courses, integrated student support services, and others.

The results have been remarkable: higher persistence rates, higher GPAs, and faster progress to degree. And best of all, these practices are cost-effective. While they require a small additional investment per student, it actually lowers the cost per completed degree, as Jane Wellman—a higher education cost expert—informed the briefing attendees.

Like Camille Jackson, Alexander Leyva-Estrada is another student who credits his success to Metro Academy, from which he graduated in 2010. Leyva-Estrada, a first-generation college student, is now a junior majoring in health education at San Francisco State, and thoroughly enjoying the new world of learning and opportunities that is unfolding before him. Both Camille and Alexander gave moving personal testimonials about their experience during our briefing, demonstrating that success for all our students is possible and within our reach.

Eduardo Ochoa is Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education

Win $1,500 in ED’s College Net Price Calculator Student Video Challenge

Are you, or do you know, a high school or college student with great video skills? Help the Department of Education broaden public awareness of college net price calculators, and you could win $1,500. A university or college’s net price calculator gives families a better sense of how much they would actually pay to attend a particular institution.

The College Net Price Calculator Student Video Challenge asks high school and college students to produce short videos highlighting why the calculators are a valuable resource.  A panel of higher education stakeholders will judge the entries, and the top three contestants will each win a $1,500 cash prize. Video submissions are due Jan. 31, and the winner will be announced this spring.

Net price calculators allow prospective students to enter their financial information to find out what students with similar financial needs paid to attend the institution in the previous year. The calculator includes all grants and scholarship aid that might be available to the student. While the calculator won’t be able to tell an individual student exactly how much he or she will have to pay to attend that school, it will give students a realistic estimate of how financial aid might lower the net cost of enrolling in that institution.

You can find a college or university’s net price calculator on their website, or use ED’s College Navigator to find a link to a school’s calculator.

To learn more or submit an entry, visit http://netpricecalc.challenge.gov/.

ED and ONDCP Ask Universities to Join Efforts to Reduce Illegal Drug Use

[On Friday,] Director Kerlikowske and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reached out to higher education institutions highlighting President Obama’s 2011 National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy). The 2011 Strategy supports two of President Obama’s goals for our Nation – reducing illegal drug use by ten percent within five years, and having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.  The detrimental consequences of substance use on academic performance are significant.  That is why the 2011 Strategy emphasizes the importance of responding to illegal drug use and high-risk drinking on college campuses, and the Department of Education’s continued efforts to incorporate alcohol and other drug abuse prevention into higher education.

Given these goals, Director Kerlikowske and Secretary Duncan invite college and university leaders to join them along with other Federal agency partners to work collaboratively to prevent illegal drug use, and high-risk drinking in our Nation’s college and university communities by ensuring the most effective prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery services are available to all students.

The release of the Strategy reaffirms the commitment by ONDCP, Department of Education and other Federal agencies to address substance use in the college population today, and to collaboratively work together to achieve the President’s goals.

Read the letter.

David K. Mineta is Deputy Director of the Office of Demand Reduction

Cross-posted from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

ED Official Visits China, Calls for More American Students to Study Abroad

Eduardo Ochoa is interviewed in ChinaHave you or someone you know considered studying abroad during college? How about somewhere with a rich history, a fascinating culture, and a country that is quickly emerging as an important player on the world stage? Then you should consider China. This is according to Eduardo Ochoa, ED’s assistant secretary for postsecondary education, who recently made an official visit to China and spoke about the need for more American students to spend time studying in China.

“Given the increasingly important role that China will play in the world in the years to come, it makes sense that if we want our students to be well-educated so as to be globally competitive, they need to understand Chinese society better and acquire language skills as well,” said Ochoa in an interview with the Xinhuanet News Agency during his trip.

In the interview, Ochoa referenced President Obama’s “100,000 Strong” initiative that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched in May 2010. The initiative is a national effort to increase the number of American students studying in China, preparing the next generation of American experts on China. Currently there are ten times more Chinese students studying in the U.S. than American students studying in China.

Also during his trip, Ochoa addressed the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference on Cross-Border Education, visited East China Normal University and joined a roundtable with representatives from American universities in Shanghai, and made an official visit with Vice Minister of Education Hao Ping and other representatives of the Chinese Ministry of Education.

Watch a video of Ochoa’s Xinhuanet interview, and read more about President Obama’s “100,000 Strong” initiative.

Finding an Affordable College Just Got Easier

Summer is here, and many recent high school graduates may still be weighing which college or university to attend during the upcoming fall semester. ED’s recently-launched College Affordability and Transparency Center is making that decision much easier by providing students and their families with an easy-to-use website that identifies the most reasonably-priced universities, as well as the institutions whose prices rise at the highest rates.

The Affordability and Transparency Center not only allows college applicants and their families to compare tuition rates at colleges and universities, but students can pinpoint their search on a variety of criteria, including whether the college is a two- or four-year program, public or private, or a for-profit or not-for-profit college. The site also allows comparisons of the cost of a year at college based on its listed tuition and fees or its “net price” (tuition and fees minus grant and scholarship aid). To find the cost of a specific vocational program, there is a search feature to compare the costs of similar career programs—such as nursing or computer science—across different schools. Finally, to keep students and families prepared for the future, the Affordability and Transparency Center lets you see which colleges have the highest annual tuition or net cost increases.

Higher education is a strong investment, and it is crucial that families and students are able to make informed decisions. Through the College Affordability and Transparency Center, ED is providing valuable data on which colleges are the most cost-effective. Students shouldn’t rule out college because they can’t find one that suits their budget—the Center will help students and families find the right school with the right program at the right price.

Get started by visiting ED’s College Affordability and Transparency Center.

Ben Firke is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the Department of Education

Bringing Transparency to College Costs

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

More and more, Americans understand the critical role that earning a college degree plays in their lives, with prospects for higher earnings and further advancements that extend throughout their careers. However, one of the greatest challenges Americans face is the rising cost of higher education.

To help students make informed decisions about their choice for higher education, today the Department of Education launched an online College Affordability and Transparency Center on the Department of Education’s College Navigator website. As part of this Center, the Department posted lists that highlight institutions with the highest tuition prices, highest net prices, and institutions whose prices are rising at the fastest rates. Institutions whose prices are rising the fastest will report why costs have gone up and how the institution will address rising prices. The Department will summarize these reports and make them publicly available to parents and students.

The President has been committed to making higher education more affordable, and today’s announcement complements our ongoing efforts. Since taking office, we have worked to expand student aid, improve options to repay student loans, and give more students access to higher education. We have also enhanced consumer information on the FAFSA and on the College Navigator portal, a resource that can provide information on thousands of institutions of higher education across the nation. These existing tools will complement the informative resources newly available today.

But colleges also have a role to play as we work to ease the financial burden of higher education. In his State of the Union address last year, the President called on colleges to do a better job of keeping costs down. Additionally, state budget constraints present increasing challenges for affordability. Too often the answer has been to cut aid to public colleges and increase tuition, pushing the financial burden on families already struggling to make ends meet.

Ultimately, better information alone will not cure the problem of college affordability. However, it will enhance the choices and decisions made by families as they pursue higher education. The new College Transparency and Affordability Center is just a first step in helping students better understand their path in postsecondary education; the Administration will continue to promote transparency in educational costs that will help all current and prospective students of higher education make a smart investment in their postsecondary studies.

Melody Barnes is the President’s Domestic Policy Adviser and the Director of the Domestic Policy Council