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In an effort to give more students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree and enter the workforce early, the legislature passed SB 5442, “Requiring the development of three-year baccalaureate degree programs.” The bill, which was delivered to the Governor for approval on April 12th, requires institutions of higher education to provide degree programs that enable academically qualified students to graduate in three years. The bill does not explicitly define “academically qualified students,” thereby leaving it up to the higher education institutions to make their own rules. According to the bill, qualified students must not be required to enroll in summer school or take a more than full-time credit load in any term in order to graduate early. They must also be able to take classes in their major starting in their first term. The legislature hopes this will have a positive effect on graduation rates, as well as lower the cost of a baccalaureate degree for both the state and the student.
Of course, the idea of three-year degree programs is not new. In fact, students coming into the UW with 45 credits or more can already, with attentive advising and careful planning, earn a bachelor’s degree in three years. However, the degree must still meet the same university requirements as those earned in four years. While legislators want to make it easier to apply existing credits to students’ degrees, those students must still earn at least 180 credits total and meet all distribution requirements. With more and more students coming into the UW with AP and IB credit, this option has become increasingly attractive to students eager to graduate and enter the work force. However, others have actually found that the push to graduate in three (or fewer) years is detrimental to their college experience. This prompted the ASUW Senate to pass a resolution giving students the right to waive excess AP and IB credits if they so choose. Either way, students’ options for shaping their educational experience, be it three years or four, are likely increasing.
This is the first in a series of blog posts that presents a Washington State Legislative bill that we are tracking and provides more information about what the bill does and why it is relevant to the UW.
As the demand for higher education increases, especially among students who are place-bound or have outside commitments that prohibit them from pursuing a traditional college education, online learning has become more and more popular. While some universities use limited online classes to ease overfilled classrooms or offer introductory classes more cheaply, some students study exclusively online.
House Bill 1822, “Establishing the first nonprofit online university,” seeks to partner the state with Western Governor’s University (WGU), a non-profit, online university, creating WGU-Washington. The bill has passed out of the House, was passed by the Higher Education and Workforce Development committee in the Senate, and has been passed to the Rules committee for second reading.
The new WGU-Washington would not receive any state funds, nor would its students be eligible for state financial aid like the State Need Grant; however, supporters of the bill purport that projected increases in the demand for postsecondary education combined with future labor force requirements are such that increased degree production in the state is crucial. Proponents see a partnership with WGU as a resource for Washington citizens and employers that does not require a large investment of state funds. The bill also seeks to make it easier for students to transfer credits between WGU and the “traditional” state institutions of higher education.
While some questioned the necessity of the bill at the Senate hearing, pointing to the fact that Washington students can already enroll at WGU independently, and that the state’s community colleges may be better options for such students, others maintained that Washington’s existing institutions are overenrolled and that WGU offered a low-cost alternative to private for-profit online universities. Other critics pointed to the lack of data available on WGU programs, processes and outcomes as an indication that a WGU education may not meet the standards of the other institutions in the state.
WGU was chartered in 1996, and endorsed by the 19 Governors of the “Member States,” including former Governor Locke. It offers bachelor’s and master’s programs in the fields of education, information technology, health professions, and business. Basic tuition for a six-month terms is $2,890, though some program fees lead to a higher total cost. The institution currently enrolls 23,000 students all over the United States. Instead of a traditional classroom where a faculty member who is a subject matter expert teaches the material, WGU students are led through a competency-based curriculum that is developed by faculty mentors (who generally hold terminal degrees) and facilitated by student mentors and course mentors, most of whom have earned a graduate degree (although WGU does not provide an exhaustive list of faculty mentors or of student and/or course mentors). WGU asserts that the vast majority of alumni and their subsequent employers are pleased with their university experience, and feel they are competitive in the workforce.
The results of a Stanford University/AP education poll conducted in September were released yesterday. The representative group of respondents confirmed earlier data on the same topic, mainly that Americans believe strongly that higher education is a vital economic engine and that more Americans should participate in it, but that they are not very willing to pay higher taxes to increase public support for institutions.
Some of the most compelling findings included:
88% believe that higher education has a very large or large impact on the overall prosperity of the country.
79% believe that the US economy would improve if all Americans had at least a two-year degree.
74% believe that the quality of education provided by four year public institutions in their state is excellent or good.
Survey respondents primarily blame students and parents for graduation rates, whether high or low.
Only 42% favor or somewhat favor raising taxes to increase support for higher education, while 46% oppose raising taxes.
Having weighed tens of thousands of public comments, the US Department of Education released today a final set of regulations governing various aspects of higher education. While primarily aimed at what are widely seen as abuses within the for-profit higher education system, the regulations apply to all institutions and are driven by the federal government’s interest in protecting the integrity of the federal government’s $170+ billion annual investment in higher education via student aid programs (governed by Title IV of the US Higher Education Act).
Notably, final regulations regarding the controversial gainful employment rule were not published today. Having received over 90,000 public comments and facing an intense for-profit sector lobbying effort, the Department has indicated a need for more time before it is able to finalize gainful employment regulations. The Department will host public meetings on the rule on November 4th and 5th.
Inside Higher Ed has a good overview of the regulations released today, which will take effect in July 2011, as well as links to the rules and a list of the revisions made since the initial rules were proposed. Major changes include:
Eliminates loopholes allowing institutions to provide incentive pay for admissions and financial aid employees. The rules now explicitly state that incentive payments for employees can not “in any part” be based on enrollment or financial aid metrics.
Revises the definition of a credit hour for the purpose of awarding federal student aid.
Clarifies the timeline for returning federal student aid when a student is no longer enrolled.
Requires for-profit institutions to provide easily accessed graduation and job placement statistics, as well has college cost calculators.
Requires institutions to notify DOE of new non-degree certificate programs, some of which DOE may determine require a formal application for federal approval (note that this is an area where feedback/lobbying had a significant impact as the original rule required DOE approval for all such programs).
These rules represent a large step for the federal government in regulating higher education in the US.
The recently announced National Governor’s Association initiative ‘Complete to Compete’ outlines a promising plan to create a national set of performance metrics to enhance accountability and shape funding strategies. The NGA, under the leadership of incoming Chair West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III, convened a Work Group on Common College Completion Metrics to make recommendations on the common higher education measures that states should collect and report publicly. The goal is to improve college completion rates and overall productivity in a new era of fiscal constraints coupled with unprecedented demand for higher education. Reliable, comparable data within the sector will be key to achieving these goals as NGA and others attempt to identify which policies and practices are tied to successful outcomes.
The initiative has gained supporters across the country, including among the Higher Education Funding Task Force created by Governor Gregoire in Washington this past summer. Below is a summary of the proposed Complete to Compete metrics.
They use the following definitions:
Completion rate: The percentage of individuals who complete a certificate or degree (e.g., associate and bachelor’s).
Attainment rate: The percentage of a population that has obtained a certificate or degree.
Productivity: Awarding more higher education certificates and degrees within the same resources, while maintaining quality.
They recommend the following metrics:
Degrees awarded: annual number and percentage of certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees awarded;
Graduation rates: number and percentage of certificate- or degree-seeking students who graduate within normal program time (two years for associate’s degrees; four years for bachelor’s degrees) or extended time (three years for associate’s degrees; six years for bachelor’s degrees);
Transfer rates: annual number and percentage of students who transfer from a two-year to four-year institution; and
Time and credits to degree: average length of time in years and average number of credits that graduating students took to earn a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree.
Enrollment in remedial education: number and percentage of entering first-time undergraduate students who place into and enroll in remedial math, English, or both;
Success beyond remedial education: number and percentage of first-time undergraduate students who complete a remedial education course in math, English or both and complete a college-level course in the same subject;
Success in first-year college courses: annual number and percentage of entering first-time undergraduate students who complete entry college-level math and English courses within the first two consecutive academic years; and
Credit accumulation: number and percentage of first-time undergraduate students completing 24 credit hours (for full-time students) or 12 credit hours (for part-time students) within their first academic year;
Retention rates: number and percentage of entering undergraduate students who enroll consecutively from fall-to-spring and fall-to-fall at an institution of higher education;
Course completion: percentage of credit hours completed out of those attempted during an academic year.
In order to track whether access to higher education is sacrificed in the name of completion, NGA also recommends the following ‘context’ metrics:
Enrollment: total first-time undergraduate students enrolled in an institution of higher education;
Completion ratio: annual ratio of certificates and degrees awarded per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate students; and
Market penetration: annual ratio of certificates and degrees awarded relative to the state’s population with a high school diploma.
The UW has worked with the State for years in efforts to create a robust performance agreement. As those efforts continue, the influence of a national initiative such as Complete to Compete will be interesting to note.
The Lumina Foundation has just released a report that presents a case for national and state efforts to increase the percent of Americans with a two or four year degree from 37.9% to 60% by 2025. The report, A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education, makes a case based on future economic growth and international competitiveness, and provides a state level analysis that presents degree attainment levels by ethnicity and by county.
They determine that to reach a degree attainment rate of 60 percent by 2025, Washington State will have to increase degree production by 5,421 (5.9%) each year.
As reported by the New York Times, the Lumina Foundation’s focus on college attainment mirrors similar concerns voiced by President Obama, the College Board, the Gates Foundation, and the National Governor’s Association.