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by Agnes Jasinski

For some students entering their fifth, sixth, maybe even seventh years of college in the fall, administrators in the California State University system have a message for you: Graduate. Please.

You may remember reading about the trouble California colleges and universities in general have had over the last year. Budget problems have forced schools to significantly limit enrollments, placing students on wait lists for the first time in many of the schools’ histories. “Super seniors” are now viewed as part of the problem, taking up valuable space on the state’s campuses while would-be freshmen look elsewhere for available slots.

The California State University system has begun introducing initiatives targeting those students who take longer than four years to graduate. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes the state system’s dilemma describes these initiatives as expanding advising services, limiting financial aid, and getting department heads more involved in making sure students graduate in a more timely fashion. Administrators say this doesn’t mean students will be prohibited from switching majors if they find themselves flailing in a potential degree they were pushed toward by their parents, for example.

In fact, students who take longer to graduate but aren’t amassing a large number of credits (perhaps because they are attending school part-time, for example) aren’t even the target of the initiatives. The school is after the “Van Wilder” types. The Chronicle describes one 50-year-old student who had more than 250 credit hours under his belt, which came out to about eight years of full-time college schooling. He had enough credits for degrees in both health sciences and theater, but wanted to start over to get a degree in marketing. According to The Chronicle, the school handed him his degrees and told him to look elsewhere for that new degree: "At 50 years old, you should know what you want, and you're stopping two other young people from coming to this university,” Cynthia Z. Rawitch, associate vice president for undergraduate studies at California State University, said in the article.

The California State University system hopes to raise its six-year graduation rate up to about 54 percent by 2016, according to The Chronicle. Studies over the years from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics have shown that less than 40 percent of students graduate within four years, so this may be something other states should look into doing to increase freshman class sizes as well. There may be a number of reasons for students’ graduation delays, however: transferring schools, balancing work and school, indecision about choosing a major or switching majors well into a college career, or a number of other potential factors. What do you think? Should students be held more accountable for how long it takes them to graduate?


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by Agnes Jasinski

As colleges prepare for another academic year of tightened budgets, some schools have found ways to rein in costs more creatively than using wait lists for incoming freshmen, recouping revenue through increases in tuition, or introducing new student fees.

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education recently took at look at several of these colleges’ efforts to cut costs creatively, focusing a majority of the article on Middlebury College, where students make their own granola. The executive chef at the school decided several years ago that the rising cost of granola was a waste of money. Rather than cut granola out of students’ diets, he decided to get those students already working in the college bakery to help hand-mix and bake the oats for their own brand of granola made on site. The school ended up saving $27,000 in their food budget, which has already seen several budget cuts and could use the additional revenue.

Colleges elsewhere are looking for ways to pinch pennies as well. According to the article, a recent office-supply swap at Marquette University saved the school $10,000 over the last year, as departments used the school’s website in the same way one might use Craig’s List, to furnish and equip their offices and classrooms. At Miami University, a program called “Leveraging Efficiencies and Aligning Needs” allows focus groups to convene and look for potential savings on the Ohio school’s campus. They’ve come up with $16,000 in savings by no longer offering bottled water in campus hotel rooms and $66,000 in savings by asking students to switch their steam heaters off over winter breaks, according to The Chronicle.

Have you noticed your college cutting costs creatively, rather than going the traditional route of increasing tuition and fees? If you find yourself struggling with those rising college costs, know that there are options out there that have nothing to do with helping the college bakery cook up granola. Take a look at the resources we’ve come up with to help you manage college costs. We have tips on everything from saving money on books and supplies to preparing for those hidden student fees you may not have factored in when budgeting for your first year on campus.


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by Agnes Jasinski

It’s coming to the end of final exams at California State University in Los Angeles, but you won’t see students there studying at the library well into the night. You’ll see them in the make-shift “People’s Library,” an open air study spot outside the school’s main library set up by students looking for an answer to shortened library hours.

The “People’s Library” opened on June 1 as a response from students dealing with state budget cuts that have forced the college to cut library hours. The school’s library now closes at 8 p.m. each night, while the students’ version operates through midnight. According to an article today in the Los Angeles Times, the students have been using donated tables and chairs, and the campus’ lighting and electrical equipment. Free coffee is brewed to fuel the study sessions, and students have access to the Internet, a copier and a printer. According to the article, the students’ “library” has the support of administrators, despite initial resistance and concerns. (Administrators helped the students set up their electrical hook-ups safely.)

The state university system’s library budget was cut 20 percent overall this fiscal year. At Cal State L.A., student library assistant positions were cut from 19 to 11, and subscriptions to more than 400 print journals and 10 databases were canceled, potentially hampering students’ research capabilities. Although library attendance has decreased across the board, perhaps due to advances in technology and increases in access to the Internet thanks to wireless networks, it remains both a communal space and option for those who don’t have access to online tools at home or in the dorm, or who want a quiet place to study. According to the article, administrators will reconsider the main library’s operating hours for next year, although budget shortfalls will continue to dramatically affect the state’s university system.

Across California, institutions of higher education have been looking for ways to cope with millions of dollars in cuts in the state budget. At the University of California, a wait list was used for the first time in the school system’s history to allow the school to be more flexible in the number of students it enrolls for fall 2010. There and elsewhere, major school decisions are dependent upon what happens with the state budget.


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by Agnes Jasinski

As if you didn’t already have a number of reasons why you should go to college, a report being released today projects that the United States will face a shortage of college-educated workers by 2018.

The report comes from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, and describes a shift since the 1970s on the kind of training required to land jobs in sectors that will continue to see rapid growth as the economy improves. An article on the report in Inside Higher Ed today analyzes the specifics of the report:

  • By 2018, the economy will face a shortage of 3 million workers with associate’s degrees or higher and a shortage of 4.7 million workers with postsecondary certificates. (By that time, there will be 22 million jobs for new workers with college degrees.)
  • In 1973, 28 percent of jobs required post-secondary education, compared to 63 percent projected by 2018.
  • In 1970, 26 percent of the middle class had some post-secondary education, compared to 61 percent today.
  • In 1970, 44 percent of the upper class had some postsecondary education, compared to 81 percent today.

While the data certainly suggests going to college is a good game plan for those worried about their job prospects, it may also mean a shift for colleges to offer more programs in the fields that will see much of the projected growth. According to the report, those industries include health-care, government, private and public education, and the business and financial services. Jobs in the technology sector may taper off, as technological advancements make it more possible for companies to do the work required with fewer employees.

Inside Higher Ed suggests that the data could have an impact on high school students who do not have a clear vision of what they’d like their future careers to be. Some may opt for a more career-oriented program at a two-year college if there is a promise of employment on the horizon. Some schools already offer students incentive programs if they enter into certain majors. At Lansing Community College, students are guaranteed jobs after they complete a program at the school that focuses on training in high-demand fields.


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by Agnes Jasinski

Open access may become a thing of the past at community colleges if they cannot find a way to accommodate a marked increase in applicants using their limited budgets.

A recent article in The New York Times described the tough spot community colleges were in. On the one hand, President Obama has expressed his desire to see an increase in five million community college graduates by 2020 via his American Graduation Initiative. On the other, an increase in visibility for the two-year schools has led to the colleges being stretched to their limits enrollment- and budget-wise.

The article opens with a student who was shut out of winter-term classes because he was assigned a late registration slot. By the time he was able to sign up for his next round of college classes, the ones he needed were full. Being unable to register for classes has led some students to delay completion of their programs. The article gives another example of a student at Mt. San Antonio College who has taken a dance class three times so far because she has been unable to register for any required courses that would get her on the path to transferring to a four-year university.

The problem is greater elsewhere; some schools have had to turn students away as classrooms are already packed with as many first-year students as they can hold. In California, a state that has had to introduce wait lists in its public university system, about 21,000 fewer students were admitted to community colleges there for the upcoming school year. According to the Times article, some districts had to reject half of those applicants interested in enrolling at the community colleges. The City University of New York and its six community colleges have also had to limit their enrollment numbers for the fall. The schools have introduced wait lists, but hundreds of students will probably not be allowed admittance into the state system.

Unfortunately, the situation won’t improve until community colleges return to the levels of funding they need to accommodate the influx of students. In states like California, both community colleges and four-year institutions have been struggling with cutting classes and consolidating programs to save some money in their budgets. Schools across the country hope to see more generous budgets come the next enrollment cycle.


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by Agnes Jasinski

A report released today details where colleges were spending their money in the years leading up to nationwide budget crises in higher education.

The report, “Trends in College Spending,” comes from the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, and includes a database open to the public on exactly what institutions were spending their money on, and where their funding was coming from. As the data available includes spending information through 2008, when many colleges had not yet been feeling the worst of the recession, education analysts suggests it paints a fairly accurate picture of where administrators’ priorities lie when it comes to spending.

An article in Inside Higher Ed on the report today details the bad habits of institutions of higher education that may have contributed to current budget woes. Among those missteps:

  • Colleges spend too much money on administration, including administrative positions and outside accounting and legal positions. Harvard University was the biggest offender, where administrative costs rose by nearly 14 percent from 2007 to 2008.
  • Compared to funds allocated to administrators, colleges spend too little on instruction. While funding support grew by 20 percent for administrative support, funding for instruction grew by only 10 percent. According to the report, even in those years when revenues improved, the share of funding going toward instruction did not increase on levels comparable to that of funding set aside for administrative, non-academic costs.
  • Spending per student varies dramatically by school. Public research colleges spend about $35,000 per student, compared to about $10,000 per student per year at community colleges, which have seen rapid growth over the last few years. That suggests students at those public colleges are disproportionately subsidized, despite the fact that they typically come from more affluent households than those attending community colleges.
  • Colleges rely too much on cost-shifting. Rather than cutting spending in years when budgets were tight, schools raised tuition instead, a move that may not be sustainable in the long run.

As it was around 2008 when colleges began adapting to the worst of new pressures on their budgets, it’s important to consider that the data in this study considers only those years prior to those funding constraints. The following decade will probably look quite different, and priorities may have shifted since. There’s no question that the recession has had a toll on higher education, especially on schools that depend on state funding.

A recent report from the National Conference of State Legislatures described that declining state support for institutions of higher education. Many states have begun to rely on federal stimulus funds to address or prevent major budget cuts across the board, with California hit particularly hard. The report also showed more of a reliance on tuition to cover costs, as state support and school endowments have decreased. Tuition, which increased by about 2 percent between 2008 and 2009, now accounts for about 37 percent of total education revenue. In comparison, about 25 percent of education revenue came from students’ tuition payments in 1984.


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by Agnes Jasinski

If you thought the worst was over in terms of budget cuts and rising tuition and fees at colleges and universities across the country, think again. The latest projections from Moody’s Investors Service show that most institutions of higher education shouldn’t assume recoveries and relief from their states until at least 2013 and probably later.

In those states that have suffered the worst cuts, recovery may be even slower to kick in, as those are the same states that have had to cut spending in other areas as well. According to an article yesterday in The Chronicle of Higher Education, those states may first decide to increase spending in pensions, health care, and other services considered more essential than higher education. Only North Dakota, Texas and Alaska were listed by Moody’s as states where employment figures, a good projection of economic recovery, will return to stable levels before 2012.

Colleges may then be on their own for the next few years, leading to more cuts and creative cost cutting. (You may remember that students at Middlebury College make their own granola in the school’s bakery.) The economic picture is especially bleak for those states that have relief on federal stimulus funds to keep from making even deeper cuts. According to the Chronicle and Moody’s data, in 20 states, stimulus funds made up at least 5 percent of state support for public colleges in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years. Three states have been particular reliant on stimulus funds – Colorado at 18 percent, Massachusetts at 12 percent and Arizona at 10 percent.

So what do these figures mean? For one, colleges need to figure out how to remain financially solvent with less state support. The Moody’s report also criticizes colleges for not doing more to make sure they won’t need to make deep cuts to their programs and faculties or, worse yet, close their doors. The latest school to do so is Wesley College, a small Mississippi college owned by the Congregational Methodist Church that was unable to find a way to cover about $2.7 million in debt. Southern Catholic College closed mid-semester due to a lack of funding, and may not raise those funds in time for fall. Nebraska’s Dana College will also close after the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools refused a buy-out of the college by a for-profit entity.


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Senate Approves Bill to Protect Against Lending Abuses

President Obama Expected to Sign off On Overhaul Legislation

July 16, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

The financial overhaul bill approved last night by the U.S. Senate won’t only increase government oversight to prevent another economic collapse. Students who use debit and credit cards or who have taken out or plan to take out private student loans will also benefit.

The bill includes the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent entity that will exist within the Federal Reserve to protect borrowers. What does this mean for students? The bureau will be there to protect students from abusive lending, and gives students a point of resolution if they feel they have issues with their private lenders, according to an article on the measure in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The bill also requires that debit and credit card companies lower the fees that colleges must pay when students use the cards. Currently, companies are charging “swipe fees” of 1 to 2 percent of transaction amounts, according to The Chronicle, putting quite a bit of pressure on struggling college bookstores. The legislation next goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign off on it. Also in the bill, the government will get more power to shut down companies that pose a threat to the country’s financial system. As the troubled economy has led to marked changes in higher education, including increases in tuition and fees, the introduction of wait lists at colleges that had never used them before, and, in worst-case scenarios, the shuttering of colleges, the bill could even give struggling schools some sense of hope.

Pell Grants could also see a boost if a spending bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee yesterday continues to move through Congress. According to another article in The Chronicle, the bill would raise spending on Pell Grants by $5.7 billion for the 2011 fiscal year, keeping the federal grants at the maximum levels of $5,550 per eligible student. The Federal Pell Grant, which is available to those students with the highest unmet financial need, has increased significantly over the years; students were able to receive $4,050 in the 2006-2007 academic year. The panel also approved an additional $1 billion for the National Institute of Health. According to The Chronicle, legislators hope that funding could go toward “translating basic research results into practical and available cures and treatments.”


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by Agnes Jasinski

You’ve read all about how colleges have been coping with budget cuts over the last year or so. Wait lists. Hiring freezes and holds on infrastructure improvements. Short weeks.

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill they hope will allow administrators at those institutions of higher education to breathe a little easier. The $26 billion they approved will go toward those same state budgets that have suffered in the economic crisis; while the funding isn’t specifically earmarked for state colleges, any funding the states receive at this point will allow those schools to avoid further cuts in an already-hurting higher education system. About $16 billion of that total will go toward Medicaid assistance.

According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, more than half of the country’s state lawmakers have been counting on varying amounts of emergency federal aid from Congress. While the expected totals aren’t as much as many had hoped—Maine had budgeted for $100 million, but will receive $77 million; Pennsylvania had budgeted for $850 million, but will receive about $600 million—the funding will help public university systems avoid further cuts. In Maine, administrators were preparing for cuts in the $8.4 million range, according to The Chronicle. While they had already reduced their budgets by $8 million over the previous year, the new funding will allow the state’s colleges to remain steady in the coming fiscal year.

Some states had already been preparing for massive cuts had the funding not come through. In Massachusetts, funding for public colleges there was already cut by 12 percent, a move lawmakers there must analyze now that some additional funding has come through. In Texas, a higher-education panel recently recommended that students take more of their learning off campus to save public institutions some money. According to another article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the proposal suggested students should complete at least 10 percent of their degrees via online courses and remote programming. The plan would affect undergraduates at all of the state’s public colleges. While this is still just a proposal, a push toward online learning isn’t a new idea. In Minnesota, higher education officials hope to have students earn 25 percent of all credits earned through the public college system through online coursework by 2015.


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An Important Piece of the Economic Puzzle

Obama Reveals Community Colleges Integral to Recovery

October 6, 2010

An Important Piece of the Economic Puzzle

by Alexis Mattera

Yesterday was a big day for community college students and faculty everywhere and rightly so: Not only did a recent poll reveal four-year colleges may not be the right educational choice for all students but President Obama himself stated that two-year colleges are instrumental to our country’s economic recovery.

Yesterday’s summit was attended by more than 100 community college decision makers and was the first of its kind at the national level, thanks to Second Lady and longtime educator Jill Biden. Two-year colleges were heralded as a bridge to jobs and four-year universities – state and private – alike and a key factor to enrolling more students and boosting completion rates. The summit comes on the heels of Obama’s announcement of the Skills for America’s Future program, which will connect businesses with community colleges to help better match workers with jobs now and into the future. Obama also brought to light a Republican plan proposing to cut education spending by about 20 percent – exactly the opposite of what this country needs if it wants to become the nation with the highest college graduation rate. “We are in a fight for our future,” he added, and community colleges are crucial to boosting degrees and competing with countries that are leading in higher-education attainment.

Community colleges have gotten a bad rap over the years but in truth, they are responsible for a number of outstanding individuals, like this 20-year-old who’s concurrently attending the University of Wisconsin-Barron County and serving as his town’s mayor. Pretty impressive!


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