Chron of Higher education

January 15, 2014
What They'll Be Talking About: The Skinny on Some White House Proposals

By Andy Thomason
When dozens of college presidents visit the White House on Thursday to discuss improving college access for low-income students, they will be armed with success stories and lessons from projects on their own campuses. But just in case they lack ideas, the Obama administration has circulated an agenda of its own.
Calling on the attending presidents to make one new commitment in the spirit of improving access, the administration sent out a list of 20 proposed commitments in November. In an email accompanying the list, James R. Kvaal, deputy director of the White House's Domestic Policy Council, wrote that it was "certainly not comprehensive."
But the choice of items may shed some light on the administration's priorities in higher education, as education-policy analysts and college and university leaders continue to debate the White House's higher-education plan, including its controversial ratings system.
Some of the proposed commitments are familiar ways to increase access that have been tried nationwide, while others are less prominent.
'Specific Targets for Low-Income Enrollment'
This commitment proposes, as an example, "setting a specific goal around increasing the share of Pell-eligible students." It is rare for colleges to publicly set a target for an exact percentage of low-income enrollment. Instead, colleges have largely opted to increase recruitment and to make financial-aid programs more generous.

But a 2011 analysis of Department of Education statistics found that, among the nation's most selective colleges and universities, those steps had generally failed to increase the share of low-income students. The data showed that, in 2008-9, 15 percent of students at the 50 wealthiest colleges received Pell Grants, relatively unchanged from 2004-5. At public nonprofit four-year colleges, the comparable figure was 26 percent.
Some higher-education officials pointed out that, instead of resolving to recruit more aggressively from the same small pool of high-achieving, low-income students who apply for college, universities should try to expand that pool by combating the notion that the most selective colleges and universities are financially out of reach. That idea is echoed in the first commitment identified by the White House, which recommends expanding recruiting of low-income students.
'Using Cohort-Based Models'
This commitment proposes that colleges create programs, or expand existing ones, that "use 'cohort-based' models that identify, recruit, and enroll groups of low-income students together." The idea of enrolling students as groups might be most visibly modeled by the Posse Foundation.
The 25-year-old Posse Foundation recruits low-income students and sends them in "posses" to prestigious colleges across the country that admit them. Supporters of the program extol the value of the cohort in keeping participating students enrolled. The organization has offices in nine cities, a multimillion-dollar endowment, and 48 partner colleges and universities.
The City University of New York's Accelerated Study in Associate Programsenrolls cohorts—while also granting free tuition, textbooks, and extensive career advising—in an effort to improve completion rates at the system's community colleges. The results, which include much-improved graduation rates, have been widely celebrated as a success story worth duplicating.
'Improving the Transition of Low-Income Students to Campus'
This proposed commitment stresses the importance of preventing "summer melt," which occurs when low-income students who have been admitted to a college do not end up enrolling. Such melt can be averted through "summer bridge" programs, which are common nationwide, but the University of Nebraska has taken the concept one step further with first-generation students.
The university's Lincoln and Kearney campuses have teamed up with local high schools to accept high-achieving students early and to provide extensive college preparation after they have been accepted. For some students, this begins as early as ninth grade. Such early action is echoed in another commitment proposed by the White House—intervening with prospective students in low-income areas years before enrollment.
'Improving STEM Outcomes for Low-Income Students'
President Obama has set a goal of increasing the number of graduates in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—by one million in the next decade. This commitment suggests also setting goals for increases in the number of low-income STEM graduates at an institution, or exposing low-income students to STEM research as freshmen.
The idea that the United States needs more STEM graduates to maintain global economic competitiveness is popular, finding voice in many a Congressional hearing and at universities far and wide. But some dispute the notion that there is a STEM crisis. They point out that wages in the STEM fields have remained flat, indicating no shortage of workers.
'Early Intervention Efforts'
Colleges and universities in states that have effectively ended affirmative action in the college-admissions process have been particularly eager toexpand the pool of low-income and first-generation college students. And the issue has moved further to the forefront following the Supreme Court's ruling last year in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which may herald more limits on affirmative action in the future.
For instance, the University of California at Berkeley offers advising for prospective transfer students at 30 community colleges across the state. The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor sends groups of students and faculty and staff members to speak at low-income high schools throughout the state.
'Investing in Remediation'
The White House list provides five commitments that involve increasing the success rate for remedial students seeking college credit. Among them: better aligning remediation to programs of study, providing more remediation support, and offering more accurate assessment of the need for remediation.
The suggestions, taken together, differ from a national trend—embraced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—that calls for remedial courses to be streamlined or eliminated. The foundation helped create Complete College America, a nonprofit group that has lobbied states across the country to overhaul remedial education by replacing such courses with credit-bearing ones, among other steps.
Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee, and other states have, in some cases at the urging of Complete College America, passed laws that directed more students away from remedial education and toward credit-bearing courses.


anuary 16, 2014
White House Highlights How Groups Have Pledged to Improve Access

By Kelly Field
The more than 100 "commitments" that colleges, nonprofit groups, and foundations will make at a White House higher-education summit on Thursday will help hundreds of thousands of low-income students obtain a college degree, a top adviser to President Obama said on Wednesday.
In a call with reporters to preview Thursday's event, Gene B. Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, highlighted a few of the pledges the groups are prepared to make, including a promise by the Posse Foundation to provide an additional 250 scholarships to students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, and a commitment by the National College Advising Corps to provide an additional 80,000 students with college counseling.
In conjunction with the call, the White House released a documentdetailing all of the commitments that the 100 colleges and 40 organizations attending the event will announce. They include pledges in four broad areas:

Connecting more low-income students to the college that is right for them and ensuring that more students graduate (80 colleges and 15 organizations).
Increasing the pool of students preparing for college through early intervention efforts (30 colleges and 12 organizations).
Leveling the playing field in college advising and test preparation (20 colleges and 16 organizations).
Seeking breakthroughs in remedial education (20 colleges, 23 states, and 10 organizations).

The Education Department will also announce several steps it will take to support low-income students, including encouraging colleges to place work-study students into college-counseling and college-mentoring jobs; focusing the Gear Up college-prep program on improving college fit and college readiness; developing and testing a new professional-development program for Upward Bound staff members; and sharing data with states and school districts on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, so they can better identify which students have completed the form and focus efforts to increase completion.
Mr. Sperling told reporters that the summit—part of "the president and the first lady's call to action on college opportunity"—was a reflection of "how critical this issue is to the cause of increasing economic mobility in our country."
Mr. Sperling said Thursday's gathering would "not be the destination" but "the launch," with plans for a series of smaller convenings, a report, and a follow-up summit in the works.
"We're a country that believes that the outcomes of your life should not be determined by the accident of your birth," he said. "To make good on that, we have to do much more as a country to help young people succeed in college."
Thursday's summit will begin with opening remarks by Mr. Sperling; Valerie Jarrett, a White House senior adviser; and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Panel discussions and remarks by the president and first lady will follow. In the afternoon, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will speak, and another panel discussion will occur. The event will be streamed live on the White House's website.

Norman Stahl
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