• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

Friday Fragments

Students in recovery; the loan crisis; a slogan we need.

January 11, 2018
 
 

On Thursday, Brookdale had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the KEYS recovery high school. It’s alternative high school for students in recovery from addiction, located on our campus.  It’s a response to the alarming damage done by the opiate addiction epidemic.

It’s a wonderful program, and I’m proud to be associated with it. But the ceremony was hard to get through.

I was fine when the local political leaders and philanthropists spoke. I even managed to make it through the speech by the mother of a student who would soon enroll, as she talked about her heartbreak watching her kid struggle to stay sober. It was hard to hear, but I got through it without tears.

Then a student spoke. She had the same first name as my daughter. They even have the same hair. She opened with “I’ve been clean for four months.”

I’m not made of stone, people.

Community colleges weren’t built to deal with opiate addiction. But the community needs the help it needs. DIverting addicted kids from returning to the environments where they got into trouble means giving them a better chance to get back on track. Hell, it gives them a better chance to stay alive into adulthood.

It wasn’t what I had in mind when I went into this profession. But I’m glad we’re doing it.

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Judith Scott-Clayton’s new report on student loan defaults is really impressive. I need a chance to digest the whole thing, but this part of the summary jumped off the screen for me:

“For-profit borrowers default at twice the rate of public two-year borrowers (52 versus 26 percent after 12 years), but because for-profit students are more likely to borrow, the rate of default among all for-profit entrants is nearly four times that of all two-year entrants (48 percent versus 13 percent).”

The Feds measure cohort default rates by looking only at the students who took out loans. But that presumes, incorrectly, that the percentage of students who take out loans is relatively even across colleges. It isn’t. If only ten percent of your students take out loans, a thirty percent default rate would encompass three percent of your total student body.  Small numbers can cause big swings in percentages.

If cohort default rates referred to percentages of the overall student body instead, we’d get a much more accurate picture.

More expensive places will have lower default rates, because their pool of borrowers will include more affluent people. Someone whose family makes $75,000 a year probably won’t have to borrow for community college, but would for a private university that charges $50,000 per year. That student will have a much easier time repaying later than one from a family living on $20,000 per year, all else being equal, because she’ll have a family cushion. And, of course, all else is never entirely equal.

That’s part of why lower balances tend to correlate to higher default rates. (The other major reason is that lower balances also correlate to dropouts.  Degree completion matters.  Intriguingly, Scott-Clayon’s data suggests that certificate completion on its own really doesn’t.)  

If you only look at default rates of borrowers, you’d think -- incorrectly -- that less expensive colleges are less affordable.  Kudos to Scott-Clayton for digging deeper.  And I’m nerdy enough to not mind admitting that now I know what I’ll be reading this weekend.

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“Practice makes progress!” -- Colleague’s three-year-old daughter.

That’s so good, I want to put it on t-shirts.  Practice makes progress.  Yes, it does.

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