Seven Out of Ten College Grads Carried Some Form of Student Debt in 2013!

Student Debt States 2013

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Dear Commons Community,

For the class of 2013, seven out of 10 college students nationwide carried some form of education debt when they graduated, according to the ninth annual Project on Student Debt report from the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), a nonprofit organization. The average graduate was $28,400 in the red, the report says. In six states, students graduated with an average of more than $30,000 in education debt, and only New Mexico grads came in below the $20K mark, with an average of $18,656 in school debt. As reported in The Huffington Post:

New Hampshire, Delaware and Pennsylvania had the highest average student debt loads at $32,795, $32,571 and $32,528, respectively. Pennsylvania and New Hampshire also have the most expensive public colleges in the country, according to Department of Education figures.

California had the second-lowest average student debt behind New Mexico, with the average Golden State grad owing $20,340, according to Thursday’s report.

“As more students borrow, and borrow more,” the report states, “concerns about the effects of student loan debt — for individuals and the broader economy — have risen.”

“High student loan debt, risky private loans, and even low debt when paired with low earnings, can hold borrowers back from starting a family, buying a home, saving for retirement, starting a business, or saving for their own children’s education,” the report continues.

For-profit colleges were not included in the analysis because out of the 595 proprietary, four-year degree institutions queried for the study, only eight agreed to report debt figures for their 2013 graduates. The report says that of the public and nonprofit private bachelor’s degree-granting colleges the researchers contacted, 57 percent agreed to provide data for the analysis.

Private student loans currently account for about $150 billion of the outstanding $1.2 trillion in student loan debt nationwide, or about 12 percent of overall education debt. However, nearly 20 percent of the class of 2013 had private student loans, the Project on Student Debt found — suggesting that the prevalence of such loans could be on the rise.

The private student debt load is important to look at, the report says, because those loans often have higher interest rates and offer little if any recourse for borrowers who struggle with high payments. Unlike government loans, private student loans come with no options for income-based repayment or loan forgiveness.”


LaGuardia Community College and the Struggle for Donors at Two-Year Institutions!

Community Colleges Financials

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Dear Commons Community,

Using LaGuardia Community College as a case study, the New York Times has a featured article on the difficulties community colleges have in attracting private giving. The chart above says it all. Community colleges, a critical sector in American higher education generally rely extensively on public funding and student tuition. They attract very little private giving yet serve students with the greatest needs. As the article mentions:

“The chief impediments to fund-raising at community colleges are the most obvious ones: There is no base of well-off alumni from which to draw, and no accompanying reserve of pride that might be exploited. Community colleges are places of departure rather than arrival. A gilded education begets more privilege, and privilege itself has had a long tradition of expression in munificent reciprocal giving. At community colleges, there exists not a legacy culture but whatever might be considered its opposite, given that the ambition of anyone who makes it through the system successfully is to send a child somewhere far beyond it. When students from a community college ascend to the affluent classes, they tend to feel a stronger affinity to the institutions that eventually graduate them than to the places where, often, they had no option but to begin.

The larger and more profound challenge is the marketing of the mission itself — the entirely worthy but unglamorous cause of moving poor young adults, many of whom have been inadequately educated, up to the ranks of middle-income earners. How to sell this vision to the broader world?

The plight of community colleges has not captured the interest of the wealthy donor class, where the narrative of the young child plucked from poverty and channeled through a system that will get him to Princeton and repackage him in the image of his benefactors has proved to be so mythically compelling. In 2012, more than twice as much money — $297 million — was awarded to charter schools from the country’s largest foundations as was given to community colleges, even though two-year colleges educate nearly four times as many students.”

Community colleges are jewels of American higher education and have the most difficult missions of any of our postsecondary institutions. They should be celebrated and deserve the attention of America’s donors and foundations.

Great article!




Former President Bill Clinton: Democrats Lacked a National Message in the Recent Midterm Elections!

Dear Commons Community,

Former President Bill Clinton said yesterday that Democrats lacked a “national advertising campaign” in the recent midterm elections. Speaking during an interview with Politico: Clinton said:

“Republicans were helped by a larger bloc of voters who felt more strongly about the elections than members of his party. Democrats could have benefited from a national message that reinforced the party’s positions on refinancing student loans and promoting equal pay for women, he said.

“The people who were against us felt more strongly than the people who were for us. The people who were for us just in all the din couldn’t hear what was actually a fairly coherent economic message coming out,” Clinton told the publication during an event surrounding the 10th anniversary of his presidential center.

It was Clinton’s first extensive comments on Democrats’ sweeping losses in the November elections. Republicans gained control of the Senate majority, strengthened its hold on the House and won governor’s offices in several Democratic-leaning states. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has not yet publicly discussed the recent elections, but her advisers are closely studying the results ahead of a potential presidential campaign in 2016.

The former president noted that in 2014 there was a “collapse” in the youth vote and Democrats saw a slight drop in the Hispanic vote. He suggested it may have been attributed to President Barack Obama’s decision not to issue an executive order on immigration, which he called a “tough call.”

He also urged Obama to avoid becoming a “lame duck” in his final two years in office “by continuing to have an agenda and using the budget process to make deals with Republicans.”

Good analysis!


University of Phoenix to Offer Free Courses to Students at Historically Black Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

The University of Phoenix announced on Thursday that it had formed a partnership to offer some of its online courses free to students at historically black colleges. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The university has not yet made any arrangements with individual colleges, according to a spokesman, but has agreed to work with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, one of the three major fund-raising and membership organizations that support black colleges.

The deal is meant to help students at historically black colleges complete their degrees on time, as well as to give the colleges access to technology and online courses that they may not be able to offer on their own, said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and chief executive of the Thurgood Marshall fund.

After the University of Phoenix reaches an articulation agreement with an individual college, students at that institution will be able to take some required courses through Phoenix at no additional cost. The deal will be available to students at any of the nation’s 104 historically black colleges, not just the 47 public institutions that are members of the Thurgood Marshall fund.

For every student who signs up for one of the courses, Phoenix will make a donation to the Thurgood Marshall fund for future scholarships. The university has not specified the amount of those donations.

Phoenix is also pledging to introduce its online teaching methods to faculty members at black colleges and to “share insights into how technology can create effective modes and means of expanding access to learning resources and collaboration,” according to a news release.

Mr. Taylor said that the initial question he has heard about the deal is why a black college would agree to work with a competitor. The University of Phoenix already enrolls more black students than any historically black college, he said, and graduates the most black students every year.

“The main reason is, we have got to figure out how to enable online learning,” he said. The costs are so significant that even the largest black colleges have not been able to pursue it, he said.”h

This appears to be a strategic public relations move on the part of the University of Phoenix. The for-profit college sector has been rocked over the past four years by competition from MOOC providers and government investigations calling out these institutions for their predatory financial aid practices. The University of Phoenix last year eliminated about half of its 227 campuses and learning centers, and 800 jobs, in addition to the 700 positions it cut two years earlier.



National Council on Teacher Quality Recent Report Gets an “F”!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this week, the National Council on Teacher Quality issued a report slamming schools of education for admitting too many less than qualified students into their programs and awarding too many “easy A”s.  Donald E. Heller, dean of the College of Education and a professor in the department of educational administration at Michigan State University, refutes the Council’s findings in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Here is an excerpt:

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based think tank, has issued a number of reports in recent years on teacher preparation around the country. Its flagship effort since 2013, the Teacher Prep Review, is an annual report released in June that rates programs on how well they are preparing new teachers. In order to keep its name in front of the media between those major annual releases, the council has issued a series of studies on other aspects of teacher preparation. The latest one, “Easy A’s and What’s Behind Them,” came out this week. As with the organization’s other studies, this one has fatal flaws that undermine most of the conclusions articulated in it.

The study purports to rate whether teacher-preparation programs are lax in grading standards by examining the proportion of students in those programs achieving academic honors (e.g., high honors, or cum laude status) as compared to all undergraduates in the university.”

Heller goes on to mention several flaws in the report’s methodology. For instance:

“The report states that, “Our evaluation of institutions on this standard measures the rigor of their preparation as indicated by the grade point average (GPA) differential between graduating teacher candidates and all other graduating students.” In fact, the report does no such thing, because the council did not have access to students’ GPA’s. All it could determine was whether they earned honors or not.”

Heller goes on to discuss the fact that in his institution, many education students take the bulk of their courses in departments outside of education.  In addition as is common in many schools of education,  students specializing in secondary education have to major in disciplines of their specialization (i.e., science, English, foreign languages, etc.).

All in all, Heller concludes that the report is deeply flawed. I would add that the National Council on Teacher Quality is a deeply flawed organization with its own biased agenda.  Its advisory board includes representatives from the right-wing American Enterprise Institute,  vested interests such as Pearson Education, and Joel Klein from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, who as Chancellor of the New York City Schools, vilified teachers throughout his tenure.



Tuition and Student Financial Aid Debt Might be Leveling Off!

Dear Commons Community,

After years of steady increases in college tuition and student debt, the costs of college and student borrowing may be leveling off, according to several recent studies.  As reported by the New York Times:

“At four-year state colleges, declining state aid contributed to tuition doubling between 2001 and 2013, to an average approaching $9,000 for in-state students. But those schools have come under tremendous political pressure to limit price increases, leading to tuition freezes in places like the University of California and the University of Texas, and states have restored some of the support they cut during the severe recession that began at the end of 2008.

As a result, public colleges’ average published prices rose just 1 percent, after inflation, in each of the last two years, according to a report from the College Board based on surveys of colleges. Those “sticker prices” tend to dominate perceptions and the debate over college costs, but they do not reflect factors like the discounts colleges give, in the form of financial aid.

Average net prices — what people really pay, after accounting for grants from colleges and the government — at four-year public colleges actually dropped in 2013-14, the College Board found, and are expected to rise slightly this year. The report projects net tuition and fees of about $3,000 this year, down about 4 percent, after inflation, from two years ago; with room and board, the average net price is expected to top $12,800, up just 1 percent from two years ago.

Community college net prices have been dropping for several years. At private nonprofit colleges, despite fast-rising sticker prices, average net prices, adjusted for inflation, have held relatively steady for a dozen years. This year, they are projected at more than $12,000 for tuition and fees, and more than $23,000 with room and board.

“It’s significant that for a couple of years now, we’re more or less flat, but we should not breathe too big a sigh of relief,” said Sandy Baum, a co-author of the report, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and a research professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Human Development. “The next time the economy crashes, we may see another decline in state support for public institutions, and rising net prices.”

The picture on student debt is less clear because of gaps in the available information, but after climbing sharply over a decade, both the percentage of students borrowing to pay for college, and the amount they borrowed, seem to have reached a plateau, according to two new studies, from the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit advocacy group, and the College Board. Both groups analyzed a survey of colleges, and the institute, known as Ticas, combined that with the results of a separate survey of graduates; they reached similar conclusions about students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2013.

The institute reported that 69 percent of those graduates had student debt, compared with 68 percent the year before, while the College Board reported that the figure was static, at 60 percent. The institute put the average debt for those borrowers at $28,400, all but unchanged after inflation, and the College Board estimated it at $27,300, up about 1 percent, inflation-adjusted.

The estimates give an incomplete picture, because for-profit colleges, where students borrow more, often do not participate in the surveys, and the figures exclude dropouts. “There’s a lot we don’t know about what’s driving it, and we really need better data,” said Lauren Asher, president of Ticas. “It may be that families have more resources than they did a couple of years ago, so some of them are borrowing less,” adding, “Affordability is no less a concern now than it was last year or the year before.”

Analyzing data from lenders, primarily the federal government, the College Board reported that the amount borrowed each year by the average student had dropped slightly since 2011. Total undergraduate borrowing, the board concluded, was $71.4 billion last year, down 14 percent, after inflation, over three years. The decline was driven partly by falling enrollment, especially at for-profit colleges.”

This is good news and hopefully a trend that will continue.


European Space Agency Lands Probe on a Comet!

Rosetta Stone

The comet Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as seen in a photo taken by the Rosetta spacecraft as Philae Probe Approaches

Dear Commons Community

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft became the first to rendezvous with a comet and will follow it on the journey around the sun. As reported by UPI:

“Hundreds of millions of miles from Earth, a European spacecraft made history Wednesday by successfully landing on the icy, dusty surface of a speeding comet – an audacious cosmic first designed to answer big questions about the origin of the universe.

The European Space Agency celebrated the cosmic achievement after sweating through a tense seven-hour countdown that began when the Philae lander dropped from the agency’s Rosetta space probe toward the comet as both hurtled through space at 41,000 mph (66,000 kph).

The agency then received a signal at 1603 GMT (11:03 a.m. EST) from the 100-kilogram (220-pound) Philae lander after it touched down on the icy surface of the comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Philae had drifted down to the comet and latched on using harpoons and ice screws.

“We definitely confirm that the lander is on the surface,” said flight director Andrea Accomazzo.

While further checks are needed to ascertain the state of the lander, the fact that it is resting on the surface of the speeding comet is already a huge success. It marks the highlight of the decade-long Rosetta mission to study comets and learn more about the origins of these celestial bodies.

The head of the European Space Agency underlined Europe’s pride in having achieved a unique first…

“We are the first to have done that, and that will stay forever,” said ESA director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain.

Scientists have likened the trillion or so comets in our solar system to time capsules that are virtually unchanged since the earliest moments of the universe.

“By studying one in enormous detail, we can hope to unlock the puzzle of all of the others,” said Mark McCaughrean, a senior scientific adviser to the mission.

Rosetta and Philae now plan to accompany the comet as it races past the sun and becomes increasingly active in the rising temperatures. Using 21 different instruments, the twin spacecraft will collect data that scientists hope will help explain the origins and evolution of celestial bodies, and maybe even life on Earth.

“The science starts the minute we get down to the ground,” McCaughrean said.

The landing Wednesday capped a 6.4 billion-kilometer (4 billion-mile) journey begun a decade ago.”

Congratulations to ESA!


Lowest Voter Turnout since 1942!

Dear Commons Community,

It was generally known that the turnout in last week’s mid-term elections was low. However, the New York Times editorial today with assistance from the University of Florida’s United States Election Project, indicates that it was the lowest turnout since 1942.   Over all, the national turnout was 36.3 percent; only the 1942 federal election had a lower participation rate at 33.9 percent. The reasons are apathy, anger and frustration at the relentlessly negative tone of the campaigns. It is an embarrassment for one of the world’s leading democracies that there is so little interest in participation. Showing up at the polls is the best way to counter the oversized influence of wealthy special interests, who dominate politics as never before. But to encourage participation, politicians need to stop suppressing the vote, make the process of voting as easy as possible, and run campaigns that stand for something. Below is the entire editorial.



New York Times Editorial

The Worst Voter Turnout in 72 Years

November 11, 2015

The abysmally low turnout in last week’s midterm elections — the lowest in more than seven decades — was bad for Democrats, but it was even worse for democracy. In 43 states, less than half the eligible population bothered to vote, and no state broke 60 percent.

In the three largest states — California, Texas and New York — less than a third of the eligible population voted. New York’s turnout was a shameful 28.8 percent, the fourth-lowest in the country, despite three statewide races (including the governor) and 27 House races.

Over all, the national turnout was 36.3 percent; only the 1942 federal election had a lower participation rate at 33.9 percent. The reasons are apathy, anger and frustration at the relentlessly negative tone of the campaigns.

Republicans ran a single-theme campaign of pure opposition to President Obama, and Democrats were too afraid of the backlash to put forward plans to revive the economy or to point out significant achievements of the last six years. Neither party gave voters an affirmative reason to show up at the polls.

The states with the biggest turnouts tended to have well-publicized and competitive races, but even competition was no guarantee that voters would show up. Georgia and North Carolina, which had two highly contested Senate races, did only slightly better than the national average for turnout. Some of that is because of regional differences; northern states generally have higher turnout than southern states, as they did this year, because voting tends to correlate with education and income levels.

In northern states, there was a lack of interest, too. The overall vote total dropped by 42 percent compared with 2012, and the decline was particularly acute among younger voters, who made up 13 percent of this year’s electorate compared with 19 percent two years ago. The turnout among young and minority voters was slightly higher than it was in the 2010 midterms, perhaps reflecting new organizing efforts, but the number remained far too low. (Republicans have continued their effort to suppress the turnout of young, poor and minority voters, although it was hard to make a definitive link between those laws and Democratic losses this year.)

There was one useful lesson: When voting is made easier, more people vote. Colorado switched to a mail ballot system this year, and it had the fourth-highest turnout in the nation, substantially larger than in 2010. (It had a highly competitive Senate race, but did much better than many states with equally hot races.) Oregon, which also votes by mail, had the fifth-highest turnout, and Washington State, with a similar system, did better than the national average, though it had no major statewide races.

Early voting — which tends to be more popular among Democratic voters than mail balloting — also did well this year, despite Republican efforts to curb it. In North Carolina, early voting increased by 35 percent from 2010, even though Republican legislators cut the number of early-voting days to 10 from 17.

Showing up at the polls is the best way to counter the oversized influence of wealthy special interests, who dominate politics as never before. But to encourage participation, politicians need to stop suppressing the vote, make the process of voting as easy as possible, and run campaigns that stand for something.


President Obama: Low Income Students Deserve Best Teachers!

Dear Commons Community,

President Obama yeserday took a step to ensure that schools serving low-income areas get their fair share of the nation’s best teachers.

New guidelines tell states how to equitably distribute teaching talent between affluent and low-income schools, expanding the Obama administration’s Excellent Educators for All initiative. The program, announced in July, called on states to develop plans that would give low-income students the same access to excellent teachers as wealthier schools. Monday’s guidance gives more detail on what these plans should look like and allows states until June 2015 to finish — two additional months. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education shows that teachers in wealthy districts are more likely to have received a master’s degree or higher than in districts where a majority of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Teachers in high-minority school districts also are less likely to be certified in the subjects they teach. The question of how to separate good teachers from bad teachers has long plagued policymakers and riled teachers’ unions. The administration avoided this controversy with the new guidance. It tells states to define “excellent educators” as they see fit, although it encourages them to use teacher evaluation effectiveness ratings. Many of these ratings include measures that are based at least in part on students’ standardized test scores.

The government sent each state an educator equity profile, outlining the distribution of experienced teachers. Education Department officials said on a call with reporters that these profiles would not be made public until December. The new guidance allows states to identify root causes of inequity in teacher distribution, then develop plans for remedies. In that way, each state may develop measures best for local conditions.”

The President is providing essentially moral support. Teacher placement is a complex issue given the problems with defining “best teachers”, collective bargaining contracts, and the inequity of school district funding.


President Obama Calls for Net Neutrality!

Dear Commons Community,

In his most direct effort to influence the debate about the Internet’s future, President Obama said on Monday that a free and open Internet was as critical to Americans’ lives as electricity and telephone service and should be regulated like those utilities to protect consumers. As reported in the New York Times:

“The Federal Communications Commission, Mr. Obama said, needs to adopt the strictest rules possible to prevent broadband companies from blocking or intentionally slowing down legal content and from allowing content providers to pay for a fast lane to reach consumers. That approach, he said, demands thinking about both wired and wireless broadband service as a public utility.

“For almost a century, our law has recognized that companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access into and out of your home or business,” Mr. Obama, who is traveling in Asia, said in a statement and a video on the White House website. “It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information — whether a phone call or a packet of data.”

The president’s move was widely interpreted as giving political support to Tom Wheeler, the F.C.C. chairman. Mr. Wheeler is close to settling on a plan to protect an open Internet, often known as net neutrality, and Mr. Obama’s statement could push him to adopt a more aggressive approach. Any set of rules needs three votes from the five-member commission, which now has three Democrats and two Republicans.

The debate may hinge on whether Internet access is considered a necessity, like electricity, or more of an often-costly option, like cable TV.

The proposal was hailed by Internet content companies like Netflix, Democrats in Congress and consumer advocacy groups. But the leading providers of Internet access, increasingly dependent on revenue from broadband subscriptions, quickly denounced the proposal. Republicans and some investment groups also spoke out against the plan, saying the regulation was heavy-handed and would kill online investment and innovation.

The F.C.C.’s previous rules for net neutrality wee struck down in January by a federal appeals court, leaving the commission in search of new rules. In May, the commission released a proposal that would maintain a light regulatory touch, which Mr. Obama said was not strong enough.”

This is a critical issue that calls for strong action on the part of President Obama. We cannot have one Internet for the rich and moneyed interests and one for everyone else.