Data from the College Scorecard reveal many more surprising details of post-college outcomes for students and families about that all-important first year after graduation. This report finds that first-year earnings for the same degree in the same major can vary by $80,000 at different colleges and universities. It also reveals that workers with less education can often make more than workers with more education and that higher levels of education do not always result in higher student loan payments.
Higher education is not the root of all equity gaps. But it can be a vehicle to lessen those gaps. Historically, it has not been. Equity gaps between students based on their race, ethnicity and income persist and thrive at most institutions. For Black students, simply accessing higher education remains difficult, particularly at four-year colleges. At some institutions, including public flagship and research universities, access has worsened for Black students in recent years. Until real progress is made on this issue, among others, higher ed leaders’ calls for diversity and inclusion, public statements on societal racism, and decisions to change building names or remove statues with racist legacies will continue to ring hollow.
It’s been nearly seven months since Congress passed the only major coronavirus aid legislation yet, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Since then, lawmakers have introduced several proposals, but none have found bipartisan agreement. The deadlock has left postsecondary institutions floundering as their budgets take a hit from the combination of decreased enrollment, lost auxiliary revenue and state budget cuts. That’s not to say the CARES Act was perfect. The U.S. Department of Education complicated its implementation with guidance industry officials deemed vague and perplexing. In particular, the agency restricted emergency CARES grants to those who were eligible for federal financial aid, excluding international and other noncitizen students.
Community college enrollments have dropped by an alarming average of 7.5 percent so far this fall, far more than the 2.5 percent national average decrease for undergraduates at all higher education institutions, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center. These data, if they hold for all community colleges, suggest that approximately 500,000 fewer students are enrolled in community college this fall, said Kent Phillippe, associate vice president of research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges.
As it resurges across the country, the coronavirus is forcing universities large and small to make deep and possibly lasting cuts to close widening budget shortfalls. By one estimate, the pandemic has cost colleges at least $120 billion, with even Harvard University, despite its $41.9 billion endowment, reporting a $10 million deficit that has prompted belt tightening. Though many colleges imposed stopgap measures such as hiring freezes and early retirements to save money in the spring, the persistence of the economic downturn is taking a devastating financial toll, pushing many to lay off or furlough employees, delay graduate admissions and even cut or consolidate core programs like liberal arts departments.
A new study funded by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) found a correlation between public community college promise programs and an increase in enrollment among female and underrepresented students. The research study, “Promise for Whom? ‘Free-College’ Programs and Enrollments by Race and Gender Classifications at Public, 2-Year Colleges,” analyzed the impact of 33 promise programs at 32 community colleges during the academic years of 2000-2001 and 2014-2015. The findings were published in the Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis Journal.
Judith Moore, a mathematics professor at the College of Southern Maryland, was overseeing a test last term in the way it’s done these days. She kept an eye on the images of her students on her screen as the cameras on their computers showed them taking the tests from kitchen tables and bedrooms of wherever they happened to be. But she noticed one woman who appeared to be in distress. “She kept putting her face in her hands,” said Moore. “She had this look of intense frustration, like she was trying not to cry.” So Moore messaged her to ask what was wrong. What the student messaged back was indicative of the challenges often faced by students of color.
An educational assistance platform is allowing higher ed institutions to better retain their students and help them succeed. Aviso Retention – founded in 2012 – describes itself as a “student retention solution that helps colleges and universities solve one of the biggest challenges in higher education: keeping students engaged, optimizing the chances of student success, and avoiding attrition.” The digital platform does this by analyzing data from participating colleges and universities to identify factors for student success and risk.
The last, best chance for colleges and universities to avoid making deep cuts to programs and staff seems to be slipping away. Congress is not expected to agree on another relief bill until after election results are confirmed, at the earliest. Higher education groups, meanwhile, have continued to press lawmakers for more money for the sector, with their latest ask at $120 billion or more. The stalled negotiations in Washington are significant, experts say, because, unlike in previous economic downturns, colleges and universities have few other places to turn.
Given the environment surrounding higher education and the workforce, it seems like this should be transfer’s moment. Transferring from one college to another has historically been harder than it should be, with impediments at many points along the way. The incentives for institutions and students to smooth out the process right now are greater than ever before, given the current and pending declines in traditional college-age students, the likelihood that COVID-19 will scramble students’ college-going patterns, and the societal push for racial equity that is increasing pressure on colleges to diversify their student bodies.
Many plans, memos, letters and campaigns from colleges and universities about COVID-19 have often included six words: “until a vaccine becomes widely available.” Although an available vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, appears closer on the horizon now than it did last spring, medical and public health experts say it may not be an easy fix for the problems facing colleges and universities. Additionally, whether colleges and universities will be able to inoculate their student bodies themselves is still unclear. Last week, the drug company Pfizer released promising data about a vaccine candidate it had co-developed with German company BioNTech, revealing that preliminary results suggest the vaccine is 90 percent effective.
The University of California System cannot review applicants’ SAT or ACT scores for admission for at least the next academic year, a state appeals court said this week. The ruling comes after UC, which enrolled more than 226,000 undergraduates this fall, voted in May to phase out the entrance exams over the next five years. Many institutions abandoned SAT and ACT requirements for fall 2021 because of the coronavirus, but the court’s decision likely signals a more permanent rejection of the tests.
To successfully provide on-campus instruction during the pandemic, colleges needed to prepare for several milestones. The first was bringing students back to campus safely and without increasing coronavirus case counts on campus and in surrounding towns and cities. In the following months, the primary goal was to keep case counts low. Now, colleges face another crux as students prepare to migrate home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Some colleges altered their schedules to end in-person instruction at the Thanksgiving holiday and finish the semester online, while others will continue with in-person instruction afterward. But all face the challenge of figuring out how to navigate a holiday that revolves around travel and family gatherings when their students could be asymptomatic carriers who don’t know they have the coronavirus.
While many incoming community college students and broad-access four-year college students are referred to remedial programs in math or English based solely on scores they earn on standardized placement tests, large numbers of colleges have begun to use additional measures to assess the academic preparedness of entering students. Concomitant with major reform efforts in the structure of remedial (or developmental) education coursework, this trend toward the use of multiple measures assessment is informed by two strands of research: one suggests that many students traditionally assigned to prerequisite remediation would fare better by enrolling directly in college-level courses, and the other suggests that different measures of student skills and performance, and in particular the high school grade point average (GPA), may be useful in assessing college readiness.
The reason the post-pandemic era will be so destructive and creative is that never have more people had access to so many cheap tools of innovation, never have more people had access to high-powered, inexpensive computing, never have more people had access to such cheap credit — virtually free money — to invent new products and services, all as so many big health, social, environmental and economic problems need solving.
Between April and July 2020, ACE surveyed college and university presidents in order to better understand how they and their institutions were responding to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. With the 2020–21 academic year now underway, ACE will survey presidents twice this fall and twice in the spring in order to capture how they are responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19, as well as to better understand both the immediate and long-term effects of the pandemic on higher education more broadly. In this first survey of the new fall term, which was developed in partnership with our colleagues at the TIAA Institute, nearly 300 presidents identified their most pressing concerns, reported on their fall reopening plans, and offered an assessment of the impact the pandemic has had on their institution’s fall enrollment and financial health.
The COVID-19 crisis is exposing the racial and socioeconomic inequities that underlie higher education in Illinois. Illinois would be more prosperous if it had a better educated, racially representative workforce. To work toward equity, Illinois should follow the lead of K-12 and differentiate state resources by institution according to student need and institutions’ capacity to raise revenue through tuition and fees.