Road to College: Summer Tips for Rising Seniors

college arne quoteYes, soon-to-be high school seniors- your time has come! As you bask in the excitement of the upcoming year, set aside time this summer to lay the groundwork for a smooth college process. Trust me, you will be thankful you did later!

With all the information available for seniors, it’s essential for students and their families to take advantage of the tools that can help best inform you on taking the right path for secondary education.

Here are tips & tools from ED to get a head start this summer:

Tip: Search for the type of college that will best suit you. Narrow down the program, size, type, location, and tuition cost of colleges, this will help you zero in on a concise list of institutions to apply to come fall.

  • College ScorecardIncludes information about a particular college’s cost, its graduation rates and the average amount its students borrow. It is designed to help you compare colleges and choose one that is well-suited to your individual needs.

Tip: Research the tuition and fees of the institutions that top your college list. This will help give you and your family a clearer view of the potential cost of each institution right from the start of the college process.

  • College Affordability and Transparency Center: ED has compiled lists of institutions based on the tuition and fees and net prices (the price of attendance after considering all grant and scholarship aid) charged to students.

Tip: It is never too early to look for scholarships! Some deadlines are as early as a year before college starts, so take time this summer to research and begin applying for scholarships.

  • Federal Student Aid: There are thousands of scholarships, from all kinds of organizations; Federal Student Aid provides tips and resources to help you find scholarships you may be eligible for.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

Steps Forward to Improving Quality and Strengthening Accreditation

Every student who wants the opportunity deserves a high-quality postsecondary education. For what? For lifelong success, not only in his or her educational pursuits, but for long-term success in the workforce, in civic life and – ultimately – for the personal and professional rewards that come from living a life of accomplishment, contribution, and satisfaction! At the U.S. Department of Education, we are keenly focused on how to use the various federal levers for change and improvement at our disposal to encourage successful student outcomes and improved educational performance, institutional, state-level and national. As the president has said, we all share responsibility to provide educational opportunity and value. The accreditation community is an important partner in this work and plays a key role both in assuring a basic level of quality and in improving quality.univeristy photo

While the United States has some of the world’s best postsecondary institutions, we also have too many that are of poor quality, with track records that give their students little chance of attaining the postsecondary credentials and preparation that they intended to earn—and that are so vital in today’s society and economy.  The College Scorecard that we introduced earlier this year highlights the differences among different institutions related to net price, degree completion and student debt repayment all too starkly. Making performance transparent is a lever we are using to highlight success and fix the most pressing of our problems.

But these indicators are only indicative of a part of educational performance.  We also need to know whether students are successfully achieving the level of learning they need for lifelong success in work, civic participation, and life.  And we need to ensure that high-quality learning is affordable.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan are strongly committed to strengthening collaboration for results with the nation’s diverse accreditation stakeholders to clarify, simplify and improve accreditation processes, with a more targeted, rigorous focus on value and affordability. When President Obama announced his proposals for the FY2014 budget, he called on the accreditation community to work with the Administration to:

“…consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.”

Responding to recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), last week our Department announced its intention to strengthen and better focus the accrediting agency recognition process.  Eight regional and 47 national accrediting organizations seeking renewal of their recognition from the federal government will benefit from a streamlined review process, which will focus in more depth on about 25 of up to 93 criteria that are most relevant to assessing institutional quality and the quality of student learning. This will result in a better, more targeted process that is simpler and less burdensome for accrediting agencies, NACIQI and the federal government. It is our hope and expectation that these improvements will also enable the postsecondary institutions they accredit to focus additional time and effort on quality enhancement and value.

With the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act commencing next year, the Department is also eager to engage in broader conversations with the postsecondary education community and its stakeholders (e.g., students, families, businesses, non-profits, states, philanthropies, etc.) about proposals to improve the accreditation processes to increase quality—with particular attention to value and affordability.

If we define value as high quality at an affordable cost, how can we help to ensure that we achieve it?  We are looking to the accreditation community and stakeholders to help us understand and measure such concepts as “quality,” “affordability” and “value” in ways that honor and preserve the diversity of our postsecondary landscape, yet hold all of us accountable for learning and completion outcomes and their improvement. We need far more attention to qualitative and quantitative methods that can strengthen institutional quality and student learning outcomes.

This effort to strengthen the accreditation process is just one example of how the Department is working to improve quality, while also increasing access, affordability, and completion. We will also continue to address value by encouraging innovation, whether through new developments in competency-based education, new validation models that can demonstrate what students know and can do, new attention to the faculty role in high quality learning, and/or alternative accreditation systems designed to produce high quality student outcomes at an affordable price. Experimentation, innovation and reliable evidence must drive the effort to achieve better student outcomes, both in terms of completion and in terms of demonstrated achievement; thus the great need for more and better postsecondary R&D.

In the months ahead, we look forward to engaging in an ongoing and robust national dialogue with our partners and stakeholders about accreditation and other ways we can improve quality in America’s postsecondary education, with a far clearer understanding of, and focus on, value and affordability.

Martha J. Kanter is the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and David Soo is a Policy Advisor for the Office of the Under Secretary.

Driving Productivity in Postsecondary Education Through Innovation

Innovation Symposium

Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton discussed discuss technological innovations to improve higher education. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

The Department of Education (ED) seeks to encourage innovation in higher education teaching and learning to drive productivity, quality, and equity. To contribute to the national conversation in this arena, ED, in collaboration with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, convened 175 people at Georgetown University this week to discuss technological innovations that can be instrumental in transforming teaching and learning.

The group was intentionally diverse: college and university leaders; innovators in the education technology space; foundation officials; associations and accreditors; researchers and policy analysts as well as state and federal officials. Participants were encouraged to talk across sectors and blur any real or perceived boundaries.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan kicked off the symposium by challenging the participants to continue to be innovative and to push ED to support innovation.  “We need to catalyze innovative changes that can be sustained and have the potential to dramatically increase completion while enhancing quality and gaining productivity,” he said.

The need to discuss innovation in teaching and learning for higher education has never been more pressing, with at least three dynamics converging at this moment in time. First, we know more than ever before about the learning sciences. Second, there is a proliferation of innovative resources that aim to transform teaching and learning, many of which take advantage of rapidly changing technology. And third, it is a time when colleges and universities are being asked to do more with less, in a climate of increased attention to affordability.

While participants reported leaving with new energy and armed with new information and tools, the symposium was not just a series of conversations. Its success is measured by the commitments made and actions taken after the event.  Near the end of the day, participants had the opportunity to gather with one another to discuss collaborations, partnerships, and commitments.  ED collected these written commitments and will follow-up with the participants to ensure that this symposium is a catalyst toward creating new momentum and broader action around innovation to drive productivity, quality and equity.

Tweets from the day:

Rosemarie Nassif is a special advisor to the Assistant Secretary in the Office of Postsecondary Education, and David Soo is policy adviser to 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

Busting Silos

Earlier this year the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) held a summit that brought together a group of education stakeholders who don’t typically engage with each other on a regular basis.  During the summit, researchers, practitioners, policy makers and government officials were talking together about how to help vulnerable students succeed.

KeyboardIt’s important for all four of these groups to learn and think about new initiatives as well as discuss and share current and future research and policy practices.  But, what was most striking for me about this event was the overt effort to silo-bust.

We all tend to work in silos, and with growing specialization within the disciplines inside the academy, the silos have proliferated.  Everyone’s expertise is so narrow that we tend to stay with those like us. And academia is not alone.  We have been “siloed” in business and in government, and this administration is working to silo-bust, through programs like Promise Neighborhoods, ED’s labor-management conference and International Summit on the Teaching Profession, as well as through collaborations like the “Learning Registry,” which partners with the Department of Defense.

People know the value of moving across silos – engaging with others in different disciplines and departments enriches one’s thinking; it enables cross-disciplinary/departmental/organizational problem solving; it prevents duplication of work. It permits wider buy-in, consensus and wisdom.

But, when time is short, it is much easier to remain in one’s silo, keep one’s head down and get the work done.

OPE’s summit sent a message to all of us working on student success both in and out of government: if we are going to find solutions, we are more likely to do it together than apart.

Now, the hard part is to carry that message forward after the conference has ended. What might motivate that continuity, at least for me, is the powerful impact our collaborative efforts could have on vulnerable students’ success.

Have you had success in breaking down silos? Tell us your story in the comments below.

Karen Gross is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary