Mitch Perry Report – 12.2.14

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A new report says that two-year and four-year degrees are “little more than modern myths” considering how few students actually finish their degrees in that amount of time.

The study from Complete College America says that in American higher education, it’s become the accepted standard to measure graduation rates at four-year colleges on a six-year time frame, and evaluations of two-year community colleges are now based on three-year graduation rates.

Is that terribly horrible? What about the quality of the education that the kids get these days? The Complete College America report doesn’t delve into that too deeply.

I guess my immediate thoughts are informed from my own collegiate background. One of the few but very significant regrets in my life was the fact that even though I attended a well respected private Catholic high school in San Francisco in the 1980s, I dawdled when it came to planning my future, and ended up attending a junior college — right across the street from that high school, to begin my higher education experience. After three years at City College of San Francisco (which in part took too long because I jumped from major to major and took a limited number of units for several semesters because I had to work), I then attended San Francisco State, which took me another three years to graduate.

Ideally it wouldn’t have taken so long, but it makes me think — is it a crisis that it takes six years to enter the job market with a degree in hand?

The answer is yes, because college tuition rates have exploded over the past few decades. The report says that taking three years to get out of a community college and six out of a four-year institution have real-life consequences.

“Metrics like these are unacceptable, especially when we consider that students and their families are trying desperately to control the skyrocketing costs of higher education,” the report reads. “As lifetime savings are depleted and financial aid packages run out, the extra time on campus means even more debt, and for far too many students, additional semesters do not result in a degree or credential.”

And then there are those unfortunate grads (like my youngest niece) who are having a tough time getting a job that pays sufficiently. Maybe having a sociology degree and trying to work at a nonprofit in the SF Bay Area is a particularly tough situation to be in, but my niece recently had to return back to live with her mother, something that we know a lot of college grads have had to do as our economic recovery takes its time to trickle down.

In retrospect, my generation had it better than the current one when it comes to going to college, because tuition has certainly gotten out of control at some of our most prestigious universities. California back in the day was considered the premier state when it came to affordable higher education, and the in-state tuition rates for the California State System still aren’t out of control (roughly $6,450 for residents, and $17,610 for out of state students).

But spending an extra year or two in school can significantly increase the financial burden on students and their families these days. The authors of the report estimate an additional year at a two-year college for a student would come with a price tag of $15,933 in cost of attendance (tuition and fees, room and board, books, transportation and other costs), and amount to $22,826 at a four-year college. Students also would lose out on wages they could have earned if they graduated on time: about $35,000 for associate degree students and $45,327 for bachelor’s degree students.

Part of the problem, the report says, is that many colleges don’t have a clear enough pathway for students to earn their degrees on time and without accumulating unnecessary course credits that also cost time and money. Providing a more structured pathway to graduation by ensuring students take at least 15 credits per semester, better aligning majors to certain courses and tracking students within those majors could help improve graduation rates, the report says. Complete College America refers to such a model as Guided Pathways to Success, or GPS, and cite Florida State University, which began using degree maps in 2004, and has increased its on-time graduation rate by 17 percentage points, from 44 percent to 61 percent.

In other news…

Bob Buckhorn is fired up to win big in his bid for re-election next year, but will the impact be dulled if he doesn’t even have an opponent?

You gotta give it to her for not being swayed by popular opinion, as Tallahassee Democratic state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasalinda once again files legislation that would repeal the death penalty.

As the HART board met as a group for the last time in 2015, several members are now expressing disdain for a referendum on transit in 2016.

And as the House Judiciary Committee debates (or decides) whether President Obama’s executive order on immigration last week is unconstitutional, a few constitutional attorneys who won’t be asked to speak today say the president’s in the clear on his actions.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.