Is the Future of Higher Education a “Multi-Directional Swirl?”


September 22, 2016; Inside Higher Ed

It’s no surprise that as the economy goes through a profound shift, driven partly by new uses of technology, higher education has come to an inflection point. But an article in Inside Higher Ed adds information that reemphasizes that the picture that’s emerging needs to be understood as a whole system and understood in a values framework. This, in other words, is a wicked problem.

The article points out that 35 percent of first-time college students were part of what a new report refers to as the “multidirectional transfer swirl,” transferring from one institution to another throughout their college careers. As the number of students who fail to graduate and become unable to pay back their college loans continues to grow, perhaps it is time to explore whether college is the best investment for all.

Last week, the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, a program of the American Academy of Arts and Science, released a report titled, “A Primer on the College Student Journey.” The study, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York at a cost of $2.2 million, began with the author’s list of “Top Ten Takeaways” on the undergraduate experience. These included the continued troubling effect of a person’s race and class on their chances of graduating from college and the escalation in the number of students who enroll in remedial courses during their college experience.

In the report, the Commission explored the increased number of students attending college. Overall, 68 percent of millennial students enrolled in college months after graduation from high school and almost ninety percent began their college experience within eight years from graduation. While more are attending, a much smaller number are graduating. Only 40 percent of students entering a four-year institution actually graduated within four years. The figure only improved to 60 percent if the amount of time in school increased to six years. Of the students graduating, less than half (48 percent) attain their bachelor’s degree. Of the remaining graduating students, 26 percent earned their associates degree and 25 percent earned certificates.

The growth in both time attending and tuition has no doubt increased the amount of debt students carry upon graduation. While two-thirds of full-time students pay less than the full cost of tuition, the percentage of students with federal loans increased from around 50 percent to 60 percent between 2000 and 2012. The median loan balance of college graduates increased by almost 25 percent in that same period.

While students are graduating with higher amounts of debt, they are not the students with the greatest chance of defaulting on their loan obligations. Instead, students who fail to graduate and take on smaller amounts of debt are more likely to default. One-fifth of adults over 25 have attended college but did not attain a degree. Twenty-four percent of these students will eventually default on their loans.

Although 18- to 21-year-old dependent students working toward their bachelor’s degree are the stereotype, in 2013, almost a third of enrolled college students, or 5.5 million, were over the age of 25. (By 2014, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, that number had risen to 41 percent, or 8.2 million.) Fifty-five percent of these students were enrolled part-time. Overall, 37 percent of all students study part-time.

As the amount of state funding of public colleges and universities continues to decrease, it is not surprising schools continue to look toward foreign students, who typically pay the full tuition price tag, to balance their budgets. The number of foreign students in U.S. colleges and universities has increased 67 percent since 2000. University of Michigan researchers found a ten percent decrease in state funding corresponded with a 12 percent increase in foreign student enrollment in public universities. China, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea sent the most foreign students to American universities.

The Commission expects the number of students graduating high school and attending college to remain flat at 3.3 million per year over the next decade to remain flat at 3.3 million over the next decade. Next summer, it plans on releasing a supplementary report exploring the future state of higher education.—Gayle Nelson


A Degree, A Job…or a Refund?


August 24, 2016; Time, “Money”

As the school year begins and more than two million new students launch their college educations, a few question whether the time, effort, and expense will pay off. How should graduates and their families measure the value of their undergraduate education? What if, instead, there was a guarantee that they would complete their education in four years, or attain employment in their chosen field after graduation?

Many students and their families spend more money on annual college tuition than others make in a year. The average college tuition and fees for the 2015-6 school year was $32,405 at private colleges, $9,410 for state residents at public colleges, and $23,893 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. As tuition continues to rise, so doesaverage student debt, reaching $26,600 for students earning only their bachelor’s degree. Overall, students across the country hold $1.2 trillion in college loans, and 17 percent of them are behind in their payments. The NPQ nonprofit newswire reported recently on the student loan debt issue, noting that debt for recent graduates is often highest at institutions with relatively modest tuition costs.

At many schools, students struggle to enroll in the classes required for graduation, leading to only 19 percent graduating from public, four-year universities on time. Students who complete their degree in four years naturally borrow less than those graduating in five years or more. Additionally, students who obtain meaningful employment are less likely to fall behind than those who do not.

Whether and where to receive a college education is a complex, costly, and risky decision, similar to the decision to purchase an expensive product or service. Consumers are often protected by “lemon laws” if a product does not live up to expectations, but students who seek college degrees must pay back their loans whether they graduate or not. What if students had guaranteed access to these courses? What if employment in a student’s chosen field was guaranteed upon graduation?

A growing number of public, nonprofit, and for-profit colleges are offering students on-time graduation guarantees. For example, four years ago, the State University of New York at Buffalo developed “Finish in 4.” Incoming freshmen sign a pledge to complete a full load of classes each semester, meet with an advisor annually, and declare a major by their junior year. If they live up to their commitments but still fail to complete their studies within four years, tuition after the fourth year is free until they graduate.

Other colleges are offering employment guarantees for graduating students. Adrian College, a Methodist-related private college in Michigan, created AdrianPlus, a guarantee that students will earn an annual income of a minimum of $37,000 after graduation. If students do not attain such employment, the college will reimburse all or part of students’ loan payments.

Udacity, a for-profit online “nanodegree” program in computer coding, offers a slightly different approach. The school guarantees students employment within six months of graduation or a complete refund of their tuition. Davenport University, another private nonprofit institution in Michigan, offers a similar guarantee of full-time employment in a student’s chosen field. Students unable to attain employment receive three semesters of additional coursework to supplement their degrees at no additional tuition charge.

In the past, colleges and universities have fought the connection between degrees and employment, saying they were not trade schools. It is exciting to see that fallacy begin to dissipate.—Gayle Nelson


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Ohio Manufacturers Put Individuals with Criminal Records to Work


According to the latest report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 637,000 people were released from U.S. prisons in 2012. Sadly, two-thirds will reoffend within three years, and three-quarters within five years from release. Finding employment expands an individual’s connections, thereby increasing his or her chances of successfully reentering society. As the economy continues to rebound and the unemployment rate decreases, more employers are hiring workers with a criminal record, creating true second chances for these individuals and their families.

The country’s unemployment rate dropped in August to 5.1 percent, slightly more than half of the rate at the height of the Great Recession. The labor market in the state of Ohio continues to outpace that of the nation. In Central Ohio, the unemployment rate in August was 4.2 percent, and the Columbus area saw the state’s lowest unemployment rate, 3.8 percent.

One of the issues many employers in the region face is finding skilled workers. The executive director of OH! Manufacturing, John Watson, clearly sees the effects of the tight labor market. “When it comes to [the size of the] workforce, it is an area of concern for the entire country,” Watson said. “This is a conversation I have with plant managers and owners all over central Ohio. It has gone from challenging to where it is now stunting growth.”

OH! Manufacturing supports manufacturers throughout central Ohio by providing technical assistance that “enhance[s] product development and commercialization, and improve[s] manufacturing efficiency and effectiveness.” The organization’s expertise stems from their connections throughout the community and to their own staff. The latest blog post from OH! offers suggestions for expanding employers’ reach, such as reaching out to younger workers via social media and providing incentives for current employees to refer their friends and colleagues. They also suggest that employers explore creating a work environment that is more open to restored or returning citizens, women, and veterans.

Oh! Manufacturing is partnering with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Corrections to develop the Training, Assessment, and Placement Project (TAPP). TAPP provides employment training for individuals convicted of nonviolent offenses as they finish their sentences. Once an individual is released, he or she is connected to employers looking for workers with their skills. The program was introduced in August and has already attracted interested employers.

TAPP is a collaboration between OH! Manufacturing and Vickie Miller, a program director for VM Consulting. She developed the training and other resources to successfully incorporate reentering individuals with their new opportunities. Since Miller has previous experience as a teacher in a corrections system, she understands the challenges individuals with criminal records face.

Before the labor market tightened, many employers immediately disqualified a worker once the employer became aware of the past criminal history. To encourage employers to give returning citizens a second chance, eighteen states and many cities have “banned the box,” requiring employers to remove questions regarding criminal histories from employment applications and other initial employment screening stages. In 2013, Ohio took an additional step, passing a law allowing some returning citizens to seal their records.

Through her work, Miller has identified lawyers, engineers, computer programmers, and others with essential skills in prison. But, many states disqualify individuals with criminal records from holding many licenses or practicing certain occupations, regardless of the circumstances or the type of crimes committed. Additionally, Ohio requires a criminal background check for any resident applying for insurance. These checks and limitations on professional licenses are often justified in the name of protecting public safety. In cases of teachers and others who work in schools, these limitations may be justified, but it is unclear how this justification applies to barber or cosmetology licenses, for example.

OH! Manufacturing also encourages manufacturers to recruit more women and veterans. The organization cites the trend of manufacturing moving away from jobs requiring physical strength to positions using education and intelligence. This new environment creates an opportunity for more women to excel. Women currently account for less than one quarter of the manufacturing labor force compared to half overall. (According to a recent study by the Manufacturing Institute, 65 percent of 600 women in the manufacturing industry state that the company they work for does not actively recruit women, 73 percent believe women are underrepresented in the leadership team, and 77 percent believe women are held to higher performance standards than their male counterparts.) Veterans’ service provides them with skills and a work ethic that are particularly valuable to employers. To succeed in the military, many learn to adapt to difficult situations. These experiences are particularly useful in the private-employer work environment, as well.

As these programs continue to provide resources to employers, more skilled and loyal workers will reenter the workforce, increasing efficiencies and industrial competiveness, leading to continued economic growth.

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NLRB Decisions Add Momentum to “Fight for $15” Minimum Wage


August 27, 2015; New York Times

The Fight for $15 movement began in 2012, as airport workers with wages of $20 an hour plus benefits tried to form a union. Instead, their jobs were reconfigured into minimum wage opportunities literally overnight. Since that time, the national minimum wage has remained at $7.25, and union membership has continued to decline, reaching 11.1 percent of workers in 2014. But on the local level, Fight for $15 has successfully advocated for minimum wage increases in twenty-nine states plus many large municipalities. Additionally, in the last two weeks, two court decisions were published expanding workers right to organize and increasing the jurisdiction of a regulation designed to require employers to pay workers more of a living wage.

Last week, The National Labor Relations Board announced a ruling in favor of unions negotiating on behalf of low-wage workers. The much-anticipated decision will allow workers at franchises (such as McDonald’s) or employed at subcontractors connected to larger employers to negotiate together with workers of other franchises or directly with the large employer. By creating an opportunity for low-wage workers to bargain collectively, the worker gains power and unions can coalesce.

The ruling stems from a dispute between a garbage disposal and recycling company, California-based Browning-Ferris, and its subcontractor, which employed workers to staff the recycling center. Browning-Ferris maintained the right to set criteria for hiring and firing as well as dictating the amount workers would be compensated. At the time of the dispute, workers were voting on whether to unionize. The NLRB panel ruled that since Browning-Ferris “maintained control of the workplace,” the workers were joint employees of the subcontractor and Browning-Ferris. Therefore, Browning-Ferris could not insulate itself from the legal responsibilities it had to the workers by creating a subcontractor employer. By acknowledging this relationship, the Board allows workers to sue the corporation, which has more resources, rather than a subcontractor that often has less.

Through this decision, the Board modified the employer-employee relationship developed in the Reagan era of the 1980s. In the past, a company had a relationship with a worker only if it had “direct and immediate” control over the working environment. Now, the parent company has a responsibility to the worker even it if only requires the subcontractor to use certain software that limits the number of hours or length of a workers’ shift, or maintains the right to control such workplace conditions but does not exercise them. An appeal is expected, but although a win might only apply to a particular franchisee or division, it would increase the leverage of workers at other locations.

The ruling follows a decision by the Washington State Supreme Court the week beforein favor of workers at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, located in the small community of SeaTac. In 2013, unions and nonprofits fought successfully for Proposition #1, making SeaTac the first city in America to require employers to pay workers a minimum of $15 an hour. Airlines and their contractors argued the proposition does not apply to the international airport, since it is under the jurisdiction of the Port of Seattle rather than the city. The Court majority ruled that the Port of Seattle only maintains control of airport operation, and as long as Proposition #1 does not “interfere” with operations, it is enforceable.

The Fight for $15 began during the Great Recession and quickly expanded through a series of strikes by fast-food workers frustrated by the growth in low-wage employment and the increase in the cost of living in many cities. Many outside of the movement often incorrectly stereotype the minimum wage worker. Currently, 56 percent of workers earning the minimum wage are women and 53 percent are white. Additionally, 53 percent of these workers have their high school diploma and only 33 percent are under the age of 25. With the latest court decisions, union membership may grow, further expanding the movement’s power.

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Outcomes Evidence Proves Case for Youth Employment


Youth employment is recognized as a solution to decreasing the summer spike in crime, but is it worth the cost, and does it have impact beyond the summer months? A new study of Chicago youth living in thirteen high violent school areas documented a 43 percent drop in violent crime during employment plus the thirteen months afterwards.

The study explored the effect of part-time employment on 1,634 youth from thirteen high-violence areas of Chicago. Students participating in the program were almost entirely minority and more than 90 percent were enrolled in free or reduced lunch during the school year. About one-fifth of the students had been previously arrested and about a fifth had been a victim of a crime.

Students participating in the study (ages 14-21) were randomly separated into three groups. One group was employed for 25 hours a week for eight weeks at minimum wage ($8.25 per hour). A second group was employed for 15 hours a week, along with participating in ten hours of social-emotional learning classes intended to educate participants on understanding and managing aspects of their behavior that might interfere with successful employment. In addition, both groups of students were matched with an adult job mentor to assist them in managing employment barriers. The third control group was not offered employment through the program.

The objective of the study was to answer the question, does summer employment have lasting impact on youth? It was overseen by University of Pennsylvania criminologist Sara Heller. The 2012 study was a collaboration between the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, the University of Chicago Crime Lab, and One Summer Chicago, a local and county government partnership created in 2011. The program, named One Summer Plus, employed students in diverse positions, including as camp counselors, community garden workers, and assistants in city aldermen’s offices.

The study documented a lasting impact on youth behavior. Administrators worked with the Chicago Police Department to identify results both during employment as well as thirteen months after employment. The study found that students in the first and second groups were arrested for violent crimes 43 percent less than the control group. Students were slightly more likely to be involved in property and drug-related crimes, but the amount was statistically insignificant. The study did not document any differences in behavior between students in the two employed groups.

The 2012 study results were even more significant given the high rate of unemployment among youth. The 2010 employment rate for low-income black teens in Illinois, nine percent, was less than one-fourth that of higher-income white teens, at 39 percent. During that summer, youth employment was at a 60-year low, particularly for low-income minority teens. Additionally, in 2013, One Summer Chicago received 67,000 applications for 20,000 employment opportunities.

Often, leaders measure impact of these types of programs in monetary terms alone, leading to drastic undervaluation. In the 2012 program, each employed student cost $3,000, including $1,400 in wages plus $1,600 in administrative costs. Societal benefits of reduced crime are estimated at $1,700 per student. But youth living in areas of low employment and high criminal activity experience other benefits, including learning the importance of work as well as good habits they can use throughout their lives.

With the recession ending, employment is rising, but youth are often the last to find employment. Currently, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall youth unemployment rate is 14 percent, down only two percent from a year before. This means there are an estimated 5.6 million youth between the ages of 16 and 24 that are neither enrolled in school nor employed.

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