Friday, November 22, 2013

New studies: performance based funding doesn't work

In his first budget, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker slashed the Wisconsin Technical College System's (WCTS) state funding by 30% or $70 million. This year he restored $5 million that will be allocated on "performance measures."
Performance based funding has become a national trend. Across the country Governors and legislatures are rushing to adopt systems that allocate funds to colleges based partly or heavily on performance indicators rather than enrollment, as has historically been the case.
But a new round of research on such programs suggests that these programs generally do not work.
According to Inside Higher Ed: 
Several papers presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education explored what Michael McLendon of Southern Methodist University called the performance-based funding "craze," which has become a widely embraced and copied strategy for governors and legislators trying to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their public higher education systems at a time when they lack either the money (or the will) to spend more on them....  
The session at which three papers were presented broadcast their overall findings in its title: "The Myth of Performance-Based Funding." One paper, by Tiffany Jones of the Southern Education Foundation, examined the extent to which historically black colleges are especially likely to be hurt by state policies that link funding to simple metrics (like graduation rates) that don't take into account the academic preparation of colleges' students and their levels of institutional funding.
Another, prepared by a group of scholars affiliated with the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College, examined the goals and policy approaches of performance-based funding systems and concluded that they are sometimes ill-defined and overly narrow, and that they too rarely anticipate (and try to guard against) unintended consequences that can result.
A third paper looked much more directly at what the performance-based programs are accomplishing. The authors, David Tandberg and Mohamed Barakat of Florida State University and Nicholas Hillman of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, examined performance-based systems in 19 states and found that while those programs were largely designed to increase the number of students completing associate degrees, it did so in only four of them. In six states completions actually declined, and in nine others, the patterns were inconclusive.
Another study by the same authors uncovered similar results for bachelor's degree productivity, with a positive impact in four states, a negative effect in four, and no effect whatsoever in 12 others.
"There is no meaningful evidence of effectiveness, but we see a rush toward adoption," said Tandberg, an assistant professor of higher education at Florida State. "It seems as though there is something other than evidence at work here."
What may be at play, said Kevin J. Dougherty, an associate professor of higher education at Teachers College, is that states may be feeling pressure to "jump on the bandwagon" so as not to appear to be "laggards in the competition for effective policy."
That is especially true, he and others said, given that outside groups like Complete College America and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems are aggressively advocating for performance funding, framing it as an "attractive policy that seems to fit this time of constrained finances."
"...if these authors have it all right, the weight of the evidence is against performance funding," McLendon said. At a time when policy makers are expressing a desire to make decisions based on data, and "increasingly asking researchers like those at ASHE to give them research that has real-world policy consequences, it will be an interesting collision of wills when research about the failure of performance funding meets the ideological commitment of states to move forward with it."

Read the entire Inside Higher Ed article here:
Inside Higher Ed 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Federal Trade Commission clamps down on for-profit colleges

By Paul Fain
Inside Higher Ed

The Federal Trade Commission is getting tougher with for-profit colleges, opening a new front in the latest Obama administration-led attempt to crack down on the sector.

The independent agency functions as the federal government's primary consumer cop. Last week it released stricter guidelines on deceptive marketing practices by for-profit colleges that feature vocational programs. The commission advised colleges against misrepresentations about their accreditation status, transferability of credits, job placements, graduation rates or salaries of graduates.
The new standards followed a tip sheet the commission put out last month to help veterans and members of the military better scrutinize for-profits before enrolling.
Both releases included strong language.
“Not every school has got your back. Some for-profit schools may care more about boosting their bottom line with your VA education benefits,” Carol Kando-Pineda, a lawyer with the commission, wrote in a blog entry. “Some may even stretch the truth to persuade you to enroll, either by pressuring you to sign up for courses that don’t suit your needs or to take out loans that will be a challenge to pay off."

The commission’s recent actions are the culmination of a process that began in 2009, with a request for public comments about its vocational school guidelines, which had not been updated in more than a decade. Several consumer groups responded by describing the fraudulent and deceptive marketing practices of some for-profit institutions.

Agency officials apparently heard the message, said Maura Dundon, senior policy counsel for the Center for Responsible Lending. She said the guidelines should serve as a warning to the entire industry.
“We’d really like to see the FTC actually go after some of these guys,” Dundon said. “The FTC has a much stronger enforcement capability than does the Education Department.”
Eight groups submitted comments to the commission. The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, which is the primary for-profit trade group, was the sole commenter to argue that the guidelines are unnecessary and create additional burdens for institutions.
A spokesman for the association declined to comment for this article.
The revised guidelines cite “problematic practices by a range of for-profit colleges,” and mention the scathing report on the sector that Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, released last year.
In addition, Kando-Pineda’s blog entry said 70 percent of the fraud investigations the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General is currently pursuing focus on for-profits.
The commission’s guidelines technically apply only to vocational programs at for-profits that do not offer degrees. That means mostly small, mom-and-pop institutions, like cosmetology schools.
However, the agency has a broad jurisdiction. It generally creates guidelines rather than legally binding rules, said Dundon. And those guidelines can be applied more broadly than the specific language suggests.
“Although the guides specifically address only for-profit institutions that provide vocational and distance education,” the commission said in its guidelines, “the commission believes that the guides can also provide useful guidance to any for-profit colleges that engage in similar practices.”
The commission said it has the authority to dial up law enforcement on deceptive or unfair practices, regardless of whether a college is covered under the language.
The guidelines are designed to address several specific forms of misrepresentations. Those broad categories include deception about licensing exams, availability of financial aid, transferability of credits and in the student recruiting process, such as with bogus depictions of graduation rates or job prospects.
For example, the commission said it is deceptive for a college to use any promotional materials that misrepresent the “availability of employment after graduation from a school or program of instruction.” That includes false descriptions of the type of employment available, graduates’ success in landing those jobs and their salary ranges.
Likewise, the commission spelled out eight questions for veterans and military students to ask about an academic program they may be considering at a for-profit. Those questions revolve around cost of attendance, average debt levels, accreditation status and transfer credits. The commission also provided links for students to find some of that information.  
David Hawkins is director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. His group submitted comments about the commission’s guidelines.
He said the revised language is a “substantial re-entry” for the commission in overseeing for-profits, and he hopes it will be a “positive force for compliance.”

Friday, November 8, 2013

For-profit colleges hire former critic

Michael Stratford
November 8, 2013
Inside Higher Ed

The former head of Student Veterans of America, who previously criticized some for-profit colleges, is now working for the trade association that represents those institutions -- a move that has riled some veterans’ advocates and illustrates the high-stakes battle the industry is facing when it comes to veterans' education.

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the main group that lobbies in Washington on behalf of for-profit institutions, announced this week that it had hired Michael Dakduk as its vice president for military and veterans affairs, a newly created position. Dakduk previously served as the executive director of Student Veterans of America, a nonprofit organization with more than 900 chapter affiliates.

Under his leadership over the past several years, SVA tangled with the for-profit industry on several occasions. For instance, the national organization in 2012 suspended 40 of its chapters at for-profit colleges for improperly promoting the universities and not being sufficiently student-run.

Dakduk's move to APSCU comes as veterans' issues at for-profit colleges are once again heating up on Capitol Hill. And just in his first week, Dakduk found himself in the position of lobbying against policies he promoted in his previous capacity at the veterans' advocacy group.

On Wednesday, for example, a handful of Democratic senators who have been vocal critics of for-profit colleges reintroduced legislation that would tighten the so-called “90/10 rule” that applies to for-profit institutions. That law caps colleges’ receipt of federal student aid money at 90 percent of their total revenue.

But federal educational benefits for veterans and active-duty service members don’t count toward the limit.

Dakduk, in 2012, referred to that exception in the 90/10 law as a “loophole” that needed to be closed.

“By not counting military tuition assistance and GI Bill benefits in the equation, some for-profit institutions are using the loophole to aggressively and deceptively recruit veterans,” he said in a statement, echoing the language that critics of for-profit colleges have used in describing the rule. Those critics argue that the current 90/10 law leaves a perverse incentive for for-profit schools to aggressively recruit veterans, since every dollar in veterans' benefits that a school receives effectively raises, by nine dollars, its ability to accept other forms of federal student aid, such as Pell grants or government loans.

Testifying before Congress in 2012, Dakduk also pushed for legislation that would tighten the 90/10 rule.
“Quite frankly any business that complains about having to compete for 10 percent of their customers should not be in business,” he said in written testimony to the House veterans' committee.

This week, though, Dakduk said in a statement released by APSCU that the renewed effort to tighten the 90/10 rule would “harm postsecondary access and opportunity” for veterans and active duty service members.

“The 90/10 rule is not a measure of institutional quality,” he said. “It is a measure of the socioeconomic position of the student population served.”

For APSCU, the hiring of Dakduk gives the organization a boost on veterans' issues at its institutions, which are increasingly under scrutiny from lawmakers, state attorneys general, and some veterans and consumer advocacy groups. At stake for the industry is a huge market of veterans and active-duty service members, who are turning to higher education as they return home from two wars.

The industry group has taken steps in recent months to be more aggressive about self-regulation and to focus on best practices among its institutions. APSCU, for instance, convened a blue ribbon taskforce -- on which Dakduk served as a special adviser -- to develop recommendations on how to best serve veterans at for-profit colleges.

Dakduk said in an email that he chose to join APSCU because he believes its members “play a critical role in the transition of service members into postsecondary education and ultimately onto career pathways.”

“I found in my previous career that it is too easy for people to be critics,” he added. “Anybody can talk about problems; what I am focused on is rolling up my sleeves and working with people on the frontlines of education to address the challenges our service members and veterans may face.”

Still, news of Dakduk’s departure to APSCU was greeted with disappointment by some in the veterans advocacy community, according to Ted Daywalt, the president of VetJobs, another advocacy groups. The leaders of several other groups expressed similar feelings but declined to speak publicly.

“I know that his decision is very disappointing to many people in the veteran community," Daywalt said. "Because some people see the organization he is joining as not having had the concern they should for the way the predatory for-profits have been taking advantage of and ripping off veterans."

“However," he continued, "I hope he will use his new position coupled with his understanding of the problems that veterans and their families have had with predatory for-profit schools, to educate the predatory for-profit schools to change their ways.”

Dakduk's successor at Students Veterans of America, D. Wayne Robinson, said in an interview Thursday that the organization would continue pushing for stricter rules on for-profit colleges, such as tightening the 90/10 law. But he said he also wanted the group to take a balanced approach to the issue.
“We’re very hesitant to paint the entire industry with a broad stroke," he said. "But I certainly want to use our voice and advocacy on behalf of veterans that have been preyed upon.”

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed