Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 17, 2020

Google’s professional certificate in IT automation with Python became available this week for enrollment. The company launched a previous certificate in IT support in 2018.

The new certificate appears to be a similar structure but different subject matter. “Python is now the most in-demand programming language, and more than 530,000 U.S. jobs, including 75,000 entry-level jobs, require Python proficiency,” the company said in a news release. “With this new certificate, you can learn Python, Git and IT automation within six months.”

The first IT certificate the company released, which participants could achieve by completing five online courses hosted on Coursera, was meant to prepare students for jobs in information technology. It currently costs $49 per month, and the company estimates it takes about six to eight months. Over 100,000 people, the company said, have enrolled in the courses, and 84 percent of completers report a career impact.

The online courses for that certificate are being offered at numerous community colleges, aided by grant money from Jobs for the Future, a workforce nonprofit. The company plans to expand the number of community colleges offering the courses to 100 by the end of 2020. Google is one of a growing number big corporate players to introduce their own credentials into the postsecondary education and training ecosystem.

January 17, 2020

The U.S. higher education outlook is negative, with more potential disruptions to credit than favorable opportunities, S&P Global Ratings said Thursday.

Top-tier institutions are thriving, with strong investment markets supporting endowment spending and fundraising, according to the ratings agency. State funding is also increasing. But many regional colleges and universities are staring at continuing challenges as they try to meet revenue and enrollment goals.

Risks include a shrinking pool of high school students, downward international enrollment trends, operating pressures, rising pension costs and economic growth forecast at less than 2 percent. Opportunities exist as fundraising and research remain strong, as institutions seek partnerships and as a low-interest-rate environment provides easy access to capital, however.

“We believe that schools' sustained enrollment and revenue pressures will continue to stress the lower end of the rating spectrum in 2020,” S&P said in a report on the outlook. “Our outlook for the sector remains negative for the third consecutive year, given the sector's challenging operating environment and our expectation that negative rating actions will outpace positive rating actions again this year.”

S&P’s negative outlook comes about a month after two rival ratings agencies, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings, issued differing outlooks for higher education. Moody’s issued a stable outlook, while Fitch kept its outlook negative.

January 17, 2020

Slow repayments have become the most important contributor to rising student loan balances, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report released Thursday.

In the past, rising tuition and climbing college enrollments were the largest contributors to increasing student loan balances, according to the ratings agency. But the drivers shifted to slow repayment, which is likely to combine with continued elevated levels of borrowing to increase outstanding debt into the future.

Loan originations slowed somewhat following a dozen years of rapid growth ending in 2012, according to the report, an in-depth look at student lending. That’s because the number of students enrolled in higher education has declined and the cost of attending college has stabilized in comparison to family incomes.

Nonetheless, Moody’s singled out social and credit implications for increasing student debt burdens. Student debt growth has affected credit quality in sectors like higher education institutions and student loan asset-backed securities. Student debt is “weighing on household finances and the broader economy,” according to Moody’s.

Students who attended for-profit institutions and public two-year institutions struggled the most to make a dent in loan balances, Moody’s found after examining five-year repayment rates for two different student cohorts. But the ratings agency still said students who attended all types of institution were contributing to slow repayment.

“Even in the category with the highest repayment rate in the 2010-12 cohort -- graduates of private nonprofit institutions -- 20 percent of borrowers had not paid down balances,” the report said. “A sizable proportion of all former students at private nonprofit four-year (33 percent) and public four-year (35 percent) schools who entered repayment in 2010-12 also had not paid down any of their debts after five years, underscoring the wide array of sources of borrowers with slow repayments.”

Just 51 percent of all federal borrowers with repayment obligations beginning in 2010-12 had made progress cutting outstanding balances five years later. Expansion of income-driven repayment plans and borrowers choosing long repayment terms helped to contribute to the slow pace.

January 17, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Amanda Miller, associate professor of sociology at the University of Indianapolis, discusses how communication is key to marriage. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 16, 2020

The governing board of Ohio's Eastern Gateway Community College on Wednesday fired Jimmie Bruce, who had been president of the college since 2015, reported the Herald-Star and other local news outlets.

Bruce and another administrator at the two-year college were placed on leave earlier this month. The board cited "dereliction of duty and inappropriate management practices" behind its unanimous decision to terminate Bruce this week. James Gasior, the board's chair, said college administrators had complained that Bruce in recent months had ignored them, skipped cabinet meetings and failed to fill key positions at the college, according to WKBN 27.

Eastern Gateway last year faced scrutiny from state lawmakers over the rapid growth of its online college program. Through an arrangement with a national labor union and online program management company, thousands of out-of-state students had enrolled in online programs with the college, which received state subsidies for those students.

Lawmakers recently changed the funding formula to phase out those subsidies, WFMJ 21 reported.

January 16, 2020

New legislation in New Jersey lets incarcerated people use state aid to pay for college.

Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, last week signed a law that will let incarcerated people use grant and scholarship money if they were New Jersey residents for at least a year prior to incarceration, according to NJ.com.

Those who take advantage of the new law, which was passed largely along party lines by Democrats, will have to go through the same process as anyone else who applies for state aid.

About 550 incarcerated people in New Jersey take college courses, and 300 more could be eligible under the new law, according to NJ.com. They will need to get approval from the state Department of Corrections to enroll in a college. The options include the College of New Jersey, Princeton University, Rutgers University and Raritan Valley Community College.

January 16, 2020

Race-conscious policies are the best answer for addressing equity issues in higher education, according to a report from the Education Trust.

The report examined history, current inequalities and the effect of using "proxies" for race on outcomes to make its case.

Historically, higher education policies have been racist and exclusive, the report states. Race-conscious policies like affirmative action can fix this issue. Ed Trust found that, in the short period of time when affirmative action was put into place and not challenged, the focus on race worked and lifted up that generation of black students.

However, since there have been legal battles that put affirmative action into question and bans on the policy in certain states, more recent generations of black students have fallen behind, according to the report.

Ed Trust also found that using proxies for race, such as income, don't work. While a black family may have the same income as a white family, that doesn't mean they have the same level of wealth that comes with things like inheritances and property ownership.

The organization proposed several strategies to implement race-conscious policies, including using data that is disaggregated by race and ethnicity, creating race-conscious attainment goals, and requiring accreditors to examine colleges' racial climate.

January 16, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Jeff Leips, professor of biological sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, looks into our genes to find out if we have to age. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 15, 2020

Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who is vying for her party's presidential nomination, last year rolled out a $1.25 trillion student loan debt cancellation plan. Her proposal would offer up to $50,000 in loan forgiveness to borrowers with annual household incomes of up to $100,000. For borrowers with higher incomes, the cancellation amount would decrease, topping out for those earning $250,000 or more.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who also is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said he would cancel all student debt.

Warren's campaign on Tuesday said that as president, she would bypass the U.S. Congress to enact her debt cancellation proposal.

"I will start to use existing laws on day one of my presidency to implement my student loan debt cancellation plan that offers relief to 42 million Americans -- in addition to using all available tools to address racial disparities in higher education, crack down on for-profit institutions and eliminate predatory lending," she said in a written statement.

Warren would be within her legal authority as president to unilaterally cancel student debt, according to an analysis by experts with the Project on Predatory Student Lending at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.

January 15, 2020

The median annual earnings for bachelor's degree holders (with no advanced degree) who worked full-time in 2018 was $24,900 more than wages of their peers who held only high school credentials.

Those were among the findings of a report from the College Board, the nonprofit testing giant, which every three years examines earning and employment patterns among adults in the U.S. The report includes variations by characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity, occupation, college major and sector.

The unemployment rate for people age 25 and older who hold at least a bachelor’s degree has consistently been about half the unemployment rate for high school graduates, according to the College Board.

"The typical four-year college graduate who enrolls at age 18 and graduates in four years can expect to earn enough relative to a high school graduate by age 33 to compensate for being out of the labor force for four years and for borrowing the full tuition and fees and books and supplies without any grant aid," the report found.

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