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Bucks Blog The Institute for College Access & Success' president Lauren Asher was a week-long guest columnist for the New York Times "Bucks" blog, answering questions from Times readers about student debt and loan repayment.

Answers About Student Loans: Part 1

Answers About Student Loans: Part 2

Answers About Student Loans: Part 3

Answers About Student Loans: Part 4

Answers About Student Loans: Part 5

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In College, Inc., correspondent Martin Smith investigates the promise and explosive growth of the for-profit higher education industry. Through interviews with school executives, government officials, admissions counselors, former students and industry observers, this film explores the tension between the industry --which says it's helping an underserved student population obtain a quality education and marketable job skills -- and critics who charge the for-profits with churning out worthless degrees that leave students with a mountain of debt.

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A recently released report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) presents the most up-to-date data from the U.S. Department of Education on student financial aid, graduation rates, enrollment, and finances at postsecondary institutions.

We at the Project on Student Debt will continue to analyze these data in detail in the coming months, but one fact from the NCES report jumped out at me - graduation rates for first-time full-time students at for-profit four-year schools fell by 35% while the graduation rates at other four-year schools stayed level.1 Only 22% of bachelor’s or equivalent degree-seekers who entered for-profit four-year schools in 2002 obtained their degree within 6 years (150% of normal time), compared to 34% of bachelor’s degree seekers entering for-profit four-year schools in 2000. The for-profit school graduation rate was already dramatically lower than the public and private non-profit graduation rates, but now it is less than half the rate at either of the other types of four-year colleges. See the table below for detailed figures:


CCC Graph

1. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Graduation Rates component, Spring 2009. Tables 6 and 7 in “Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2008; Graduation Rates, 2002 and 2005 Cohorts; and Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2008.” Note that these graduation rates do not include transfers-out. This table has been updated to reflect NCES revisions to Table 7. Diane Cheng Research Associate

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Today we released a new analysis of federal financial aid application rates and receipt at the California community colleges (CCCs), where we found that many students who are likely eligible for federal aid are not applying for it. As a result, CCC students are leaving behind as much as half a billion dollars in federal Pell Grant awards that could help pay for many education-related expenses.

There are several theories as to why community college students in California are applying for federal financial aid at low rates. Some say it’s because CCC students are more likely to attend part-time, and that part-time students everywhere are less likely to apply for aid than full-time students. Some say that Californians have higher incomes, and aren’t eligible for as much aid as students elsewhere. Yet, when looking at a variety of subgroups of community college students in California and other states – including full-time students and those who are likely eligible for Pell Grants – CCC students are still less likely to apply for federal aid than comparable students in the rest of the country.

Reasonable people can disagree about what causes this problem and how to solve it, but the bottom line is that California needs more college graduates and a stronger economy – and can’t afford to pass up hundreds of millions of dollars that could go towards supporting both.

CCC Graph

 

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We recently attended the U.S. Department of Education’s negotiated rulemaking on “program integrity,” which is supposed to put some teeth back into the regulations that determine which colleges can – and can’t -- participate in federal student aid programs. Only students at participating colleges and in eligible programs can get federal grants and loans. Some of these regulations apply mainly to for-profit schools, which have the highest student debt and default levels and get most of their revenue from taxpayer-financed student aid.

Since the last rulemaking session, the topic of ‘gainful employment’ has gotten a lot of attention. Put simply, it’s the idea that college programs designed to prepare students for specific kinds of jobs (e.g., auto mechanics, chefs) actually do, and that the majority of students who attend those programs aren’t left high and dry at the end of the day with only a lot of debt and a worthless credential to show for it.

Some people are calling the Department's proposals a form of “price control”, saying that they would effectively cap the amount students could borrow, which would in turn cap the tuition colleges could charge for these programs. Putting aside the question of the Department’s specific proposal for now, since when did merely questioning the return on investment – both the student’s and taxpayer’s – become an attack on the free market? For more on just why we need better rules in this area, check out this new item from Higher Ed Watch: Students vs. Shareholders at Publicly Traded Career Colleges.

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The California Community College System and for-profit Kaplan University recently announced an agreement allowing community college students to enroll in online Kaplan courses for $215 per credit. Although this price is 42 percent less than the normal Kaplan sticker price, it is still more than $1,000 per class (a Kaplan class is typically five or six credits), or more than 10 times what it costs at a community college (a typical-four credit course at a community college costs just over $100). A few thoughts and questions come to mind:

1. If the legislature raised community college fees from $26 per credit to Kaplan’s discounted cost, it would bring in eight times more tuition revenue, or almost $3 billion more in 2008-09. With that kind of money, I imagine the community colleges could afford to educate their own students. (Just to be clear, we’re not advocating this approach.)

2. Students who take advantage of this agreement can then transfer into one of Kaplan University’s bachelor degree programs. How about the students – about 64,000 in 2008-09 – who transfer to the California State University or University of California? What assurances do they have that their Kaplan credits will count towards transfer to CSU or UC? With Kaplan’s tuition topping UC’s by 64 percent and CSU’s by 222 percent, does taking advantage of this agreement with Kaplan lock students into higher priced education beyond community college as well?

The state promises affordable college access and then points students to pricy for-profit colleges to get community college credits. Did someone somehow get two of the Governor’s 2010 goals – privatizing prisons and protecting higher education – mixed up?  

Click here to read the California Community College and Kaplan University Press Release

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CIS Screenshot For the third year in a row, Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting a key component of the Cal Grant program. This is a cut that students and our state cannot afford. Just two days ago the governor said in his ‘State of the State’ speech, ‘We can no longer afford to cut higher education.’ Yet he now proposes to cut a critical source of higher education funding for high achieving, low-income students already struggling to keep college within reach.

The Governor would suspend all new competitive Cal Grants, which go to students who apply after the March 2 deadline, and/or graduated from high school more than a year before applying for a grant. There are already a limited number of these grants available, and demand for them jumped 42 percent in 2009-10, when 245,400 qualified applicants vied for just 22,500 competitive Cal Grants.

The San Jose Mercury News covered this issue in their weekend edition.

Read the article here.

Read the Institute's statement here.

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