The upward trajectory of college completion rates is slowing down, according to the latest national college completion report. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found in its latest annual data report on college completion that, while completion rates have been on the rise for each cohort year beginning with the group who entered college in 2009, the growth is slowing. While that’s troubling, higher education advocates say the general message is positive.
Going to college in-state would become more attractive, as in less expensive, to more New Jersey students under a proposed reinvigoration of a popular merit-based scholarship program that is moving through the Legislature. Several of the bills considered at Thursday’s Assembly Higher Education Committee dealt with the high cost of college in New Jersey. The most significant measure approved (A-2769) seeks to repurpose, expand and sweeten the current New Jersey Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship (NJ STARS) into the New Jersey HonorScholars program. New Jersey is the largest net exporter of students to colleges in other states in the U.S., and on its inception in 2004, NJ STARS was seen as one way to entice talented high school graduates to attend college in-state.
In a brief spotlighting housing, the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) found that Black and Hispanic students are disproportionately affected by housing insecurity. Students identified housing as one of the biggest obstacles to success in college, according to the press release. Compiled from the 2018-19 Student Expenses and Resources Survey, the spotlight brief examines responses by segments, race and ethnicity, housing insecurity problems and whether students live with their parents or on campus. “The findings really illuminate what we already know — we know students are having a hard time with expenses and housing, and it is really amplified in the Bay Area,” said CSAC spokesperson Bryan Sapp. “Latinos and African Americans experience housing insecurities even more, and it affects what they get out of school.”
The push for free college is a recognition that the most well-traveled economic path to good jobs and the middle class requires at least some college for the vast majority of young Americans. It is also a response to the reality that many students and their families are taking on large amounts of debt to finance increasingly pricey postsecondary educations. In the past decade, tuition and fees have increased 35 percent at public four-year institutions and 23 percent at public two-year institutions. More than 43 million borrowers in the United States hold almost $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. Forty years ago, a student could work a minimum wage job during the year and earn enough to pay for the next year’s tuition and fees at a public postsecondary institution.
The Completing College report series examines the various education pathways first-time beginning undergraduate students traversed toward a degree or certificate completion, as well as the completion outcomes within six years of enrolling for the different groups of students who followed each pathway. The completion rates account for all students who enter postsecondary education for the first time each year, enrolling full-time or part-time at two-year or four-year institutions, and completing at any U.S. degree-granting institution. The results include those who complete after transfer, not just completions at the starting institution. Thus, the report more fully captures today’s students’ diverse pathways to success, that increasingly involve mobility across institutions and across state lines, re-entry after stop-out, and changes in enrollment intensities.
The The Department of Education recently released a new, more user-friendly version of its College Scorecard website, which is an important consumer resource that provides key information about college costs and student outcomes. Alongside improvements to the website’s user interface, including features that let students more easily compare different institutions, federally collected, program-level earnings data are widely available for the first time. The Department also finalized the program-level student debt data released provisionally earlier this year. The release of these data, and their integration on the consumer website, marks a milestone in over six years of work across two administrations to provide students with more granular information about college outcomes, most recently as directed in the President’s March 2019 Executive Order. And while the data come with some noteworthy limitations, their availability is an important step forward in allowing practitioners, researchers, and policymakers to examine federal student debt and earnings for individual programs and credential levels.