Category Archives: Applying to US Universities

A Plan for Deregulating Higher Ed

A Plan for Deregulating Higher Ed

February 13, 2015


To the delight of many colleges and universities, Senator Lamar Alexander plans to approach the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act as a gardening activity.

The Tennessee Republican, who chairs the Senate's education committee, has said his top priority is to weed out burdensome regulations and requirements in the law, which governs federal financial aid.

On Thursday, a group of 16 college presidents and higher education leaders handed Alexander a blueprint to do just that. And their sweeping recommendations are more like clearing a forest than thinning a flower bed.

The report calls for the elimination of dozens of federal rules and requirements and the simplification of dozens more.

The task force was created in November 2013 by Senator Alexander and North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, also a Republican, and two Democrats, Senators Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Michael Bennet of Colorado. The group was led by Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos and University of Maryland System Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan. It received assistance from the American Council on Education, the umbrella lobbying organization for higher education in Washington, D.C.

The report makes the case, long argued by many college administrators, that higher education is drowning in voluminous regulations that are both confusing and costly.

The 144-page document criticizes the sheer volume of federal rules and guidelines, and it says that the U.S. Department of Education produces, on average, more than one new directive or clarification every working day of the year.

The report takes aim at Congressional mandates slipped into the Higher Education Act at various times from lawmakers in both parties. But the task force also criticizes the Education Department's rule making and blasts key parts of the Obama administration's regulatory agenda as overreaching and unnecessary.

The higher education law has morphed, the task force suggests, into a vehicle for accomplishing varied public policy goals that are unrelated to education. The report recommends, for instance, that Congress ditch the requirement that colleges must celebrate Constitution Day, provide students with voter registration paperwork and develop detailed strategies for cracking down on illegal file sharing.

It also calls on Congress to stop requiring that colleges report the foreign gifts they receive and disclose their policies on vaccinations. Any of those individual requirements in isolation might seem benign, the task force wrote, but they add up to a “jungle of red tape.”

The labyrinth of rules governing how colleges must calculate and distribute students’ federal grant and loan money has become overly complex, the task force says. In addition, it called out the department’s financial responsibility scores as outdated and not meaningful.

The report also slams the Obama administration’s “regulatory zeal” in recent years, saying the department has been too aggressive in creating complicated rules without regard to the burden they impose or whether they are supported by the text of the law. It singled out White House efforts to createnew rules for for-profit colleges, to push states to more tightly regulate online programs and to issue guidance for how colleges must respond to sexual assault cases.

In addition, the report criticizes the Education Department for moving too slowly and with too heavy a hand in enforcing its regulations. It cites cases where department investigations of relatively minor infractions of financial aid rules dragged on for more than a decade.

Denise Horn, a department spokeswoman, said in a statement that the agency is interested in finding ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of regulations and reporting requirements.

“We are reviewing the report’s recommendations and look forward to working with Congress on behalf of the best interests of students and taxpayers,” she said.

The report also echoed a complaint from Alexander that the department has not followed a Congressional directive from 2008 to produce a master calendar of all of the regulations that colleges face.

Horn said that department was working on the compliance calendar and would publish it “in the near future.”

Campus Crime Rules

Some campus safety reporting rules also were a target for the task force.

The report said Congress should narrow the geographic areas for which colleges are responsible for tallying crime statistics. The current rules, according to the report, require colleges to gather crime data for hotels or other places where students stay on institution-sponsored trips anywhere in the world.

The task force said colleges should be given more deference in deciding when to issue a “timely warning” about an ongoing campus crime or other threat to safety.

Campus safety advocates said they agreed that Congress could make some of those reporting requirements more streamlined. But they worried about maintaining some of the teeth of the current rules.

“We don’t want to take away protections, but I do agree that regulations could be smarter and more effective,” said Laura Dunn, executive director of SurvJustice, a victims' advocacy group.

S. Daniel Carter, director of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation's 32 National Campus Safety Initiative, said there is “a lot of room for campus crime reports to be more consumer friendly.”

“Simplification is called for,” he added. “It’s just a question of making sure the important provision are not weakened.”

Wednesday’s report won quick praise from higher education groups. Both the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Association of American Universities issued statements supporting the findings.

Alexander, the chair of the Senate education committee, said in a statement that the report would guide his deregulatory efforts to “allow colleges to spend more of their time and money educating students, instead of filling out mountains of paperwork.”

He has scheduled a hearing on Feb. 24 to discuss the report’s findings.

The New Bachelor’s Payoff

The New Bachelor's Payoff

February 11, 2015

Doubts about the labor-market returns of bachelor’s degrees, while never serious, can be put to rest.

Last month’s federal jobs report showed a rock-bottom unemployment rate of 2.8 percent for workers who hold at least a four-year degree. The overall unemployment rate is 5.7 percent.

But even that welcome economic news comes with wrinkles. A prominent financial analyst last week signaled an alarm that employers soon may face a shortage of job-seeking college graduates. And the employment report was a reminder ofcontinuing worries about “upcredentialing” by employers, who are imposing new degree requirements on jobs.

“Presumably, these educated workers are the most productive in our information economy,” wrote Guy LeBas, a financial analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott, in a report Bloomberg Business and other media outlets cited. “At some point in the coming year, we’re going to risk running out of new, productive people to employ.”

Anthony P. Carnevale concurred with LeBas. As director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and a top expert on the labor-market returns of degrees, Carnevale has long railed against dubious argumentsabout the payoff from college being overrated.

“We’re headed for full employment” of bachelor’s-degree-holding workers, he said.

It’s a challenge decades in the making. Carnevale cites research that has found colleges lagging badly in producing talent. Since 1983, the job market has outpaced higher education with a cumulative total of 11 million positions for workers with “usable knowledge,” which he defines as “degrees with labor-market value.”

These days, demand for positions in the knowledge economy grows by 3 percent each year, Carnevale said, while higher education meets only 1 percent of that growth.

That’s where employers step in. Carnevale’s center last weekreleased a report that broke down the $1.1 trillion colleges, government agencies and employers spend each year on higher education and job training in the United States. Employers chip in the most, the report found, spending $590 billion annually to train workers.

Of that amount, $413 billion paid for informal, on-the-job training. Colleges spent $407 billion on formal training, while employers spent $177 billion. However, the academy’s rate of spending has outpaced that of employers, increasing by 82 percent since 1994 compared to 26 percent.Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

The report, dubbed “College Is Just the Beginning,” also found that four-year-college graduates receive the most of the formal, employer-sponsored job training. Bachelor’s degree holders account for 58 percent of employers’ annual spending on formal training.

That fact, while somewhat counterintuitive, is because four-year-college graduates tend to get jobs that are specialized, complex and change over time, Carnevale said, particularly in STEM fields.

“Wherever the earnings are the strongest, that’s where the training occurs,” he said. “The more educated the workforce, the more training in the job.”

Workers with an associate degree or some college credit but no degree received 25 percent of formal employer training. Those with a high school credential or less received 17 percent.

'Credential Creep'

The report’s findings strongly suggest that a bachelor’s degree often is required as a starting point for a job that requires more training -- and one that pays well. So dropping out to go work for a tech company isn’t a safe bet for most students.

“Formal employer-provided training typically complements, rather than substitutes for, a traditional college education,” the report said.

The new federal jobs report in some ways bolsters the findings from a study released last fall by Burning Glass Technologies, a Boston-based employment firm that analyzes job advertisements. That research found that employers are more likely to replace workers who do not have bachelor’s degrees with those who do.

One reason for this, according to Burning Glass, is that many “middle skills” jobs are becoming more technological and complex. Architectural drafters, for example, these days are expected to be “junior engineers,” the report found.

But employers also appear to be screening applicants by requiring bachelor’s degrees for positions that do not require nor are likely to require the kind of training one would get from a B.A. or B.S., according to the report, citing certain human resources and clerical jobs as examples.

This sort of credential creep is alarming to some economists, such as Richard Vedder, who directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and teaches economics at Ohio University. Vedder has written that an oversupply of bachelor’s degrees creates its own demand.

Wage Gains

The virtually nonexistent unemployment rate for bachelor’s holders poses a test to higher education, Carnevale said, beyond just trying to keep up with employer demand.

That’s because the “wage premium” for workers with a four-year degree relative to those who hold only a high-school credential, while large, has stagnated in recent years. As employers run out of graduates to hire, however, the wage premium should climb again. That outcome would be further proof of the value of a four-year degree.

Full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree or more who are between the ages of 25 and 32 have median annual earnings of $45,500, according to a report the Pew Research Center released last year. Two-year-degree holders or those with some college credits and no degree earn $30,000 while high school graduates earn $28,000.

Source: Pew Research Center

Another study, which the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released last year, tracked the fluctuating earnings premium for a four-year degree.

The premium was at its lowest in 1980, when bachelor’s degree holders earned 43 percent more, on average, than workers with just a high school credential. In 2011, however, it was 61 percent, or $20,050 per year.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Carnevale predicted that gap would widen because of the high demand for bachelor’s degree holders. But it will take about two years for those effects to show, he said.

LeBas agreed that earnings gains of highly educated employees will outpace others. “Wage pressures among skilled workers will almost certainly rise further in the coming year,” he wrote.

Berkeley Chancellor: Cal Isn’t for ‘Normal’ Students

Berkeley Chancellor: Cal Isn't for 'Normal' Students
February 9, 2015

University of California at Berkeley is “faced once again with the threat of political interference in academic affairs,” its chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, wrote Friday in the university’s student newspaper.

Dirks (photo at right) took exception to California Governor Jerry Brown’scontention that the state’s flagship university has closed its doors to “normal” people. Dirks said reading Brown’s remarks was an “otherworldly experience.”

“Personally, I am not much interested in a campus filled with ‘normal’ students,” Dirks wrote. “What I am interested in preserving is what we have: a place where the extraordinary is, well, ordinary.”

Brown, a Berkeley graduate, has taken a more assertive role in trying to manage the UC system, although sometimes it perhaps hasn't always been clear what he is proposing, as with his complaint about the lack of “normal” students at Berkeley. Was that to suggest the university should let in other, less qualified students? As one long-time California political columnist pointed out recently, Brown -- a four-term Democrat who served two of those terms in the 1970s -- has long been interested in changing the state’s education system, one way or another.

“I’m going to starve the schools financially until I get some educational reforms,” Brown said when he took the office for the first time 40 years ago.

“What kind of reforms?” he was asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Brown replied.

The governor has recently said he wants to study several things for the UC system, including expanded online education, offering three-year degrees and offering credits for students who can prove they are competent in certain subjects.

So Much for Bachelor’s Degrees Not Having Value

So Much for Bachelor's Degrees Not Having Value
February 9, 2015

It's become fashionable among some pundits and politicians to question the economic value of the bachelor's degree. But the latest unemployment figures, which show good hiring trends across the board, suggest to Bloomberg Business that there is one possible labor market problem for bachelor's degree holders: there may not be enough of them. The article notes that the unemployment rate for bachelor's degree holders is now down to 2.8 percent (compared to 5.7 percent for the adult population as a whole). The rate for bachelor's degree holders is the lowest since September 2008, and the article says that this level makes it conceivable that the job market will run out of bachelor's holders to hire.

Job tests for graduates grow in Indian market

Job tests for graduates grow in Indian market

By Paul Fain, for Inside Higher Ed

Angst over the perceived “skills gap” and a dearth of trained workers is growing. Meanwhile, many complain that typical college transcripts say little about what someone knows and can do in the workplace.

One way for employers to find better job applicants might be to require all potential hires to take a test. This “GRE-for-job” assessment could measure both soft and hard skills. Employers might even require all job-seekers to get a minimum cut-off score.

There is a growing market for such workplace readiness tests in the US. One of the most established is ACT’s WorkKeys. The suite of 11 assessments help employers select, hire, train and retain a “high-performance workforce”, according to the non-profit testing firm.

Yet few if any major companies in the US require college graduates to earn a minimum score on a standardised skills-assessment to get hired. This is happening in India, however, and US-based companies are on board.

More than 1.5 million people in India have taken a test called the AMCAT (Aspiring Minds’ Computer Adaptive Test). The assessment measures aptitude in English, quantitative ability and logic. (Click here for a few sample questions.) It also includes a variety of situational and judgement tests, which scrutinise personality types and soft skills to see how they might apply in specific fields.

The test is proctored and takes two hours to complete. It costs 750 rupees or roughly $12 (£7.70) to take.

Multinational conglomerates are among the 600-plus companies that use the test from Aspiring Minds, a firm based in Gurgaon, a city located near New Delhi. Some require all applicants and all employees to take the AMCAT, said Varun Aggarwal, Aspiring Minds’ chief technology officer and chief operating officer.

Accenture and Deloitte, two massive, US-based consulting firms, go a step farther by setting “standardised cut-off” scores on the test for job seekers in India, Mr Aggarwal said. So do other companies.

One is Sapient Global Markets, a business and technology consulting company. Sapient uses the assessment this way for all of its technology-related jobs in India. Prashant Bhatnagar, an India-based director for the company, said Sapient requires college-graduate applicants for tech jobs to hit a minimum score on the AMCAT to qualify for an interview.

Mr Bhatnagar said via email that this is just the first part of a multistep hiring process, which he compares to the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

The test is a “great leveller”, he said. It allows the company to be more fair in considering applicants who have graduated from different colleges, by relying on something other than an institution’s prestige, Mr Bhatnagar said. Sapient also uses applicants’ scores on the assessment as “our own yardstick, year over year”.

Aspiring Minds would like to break into the US market. Mr Aggarwal said the company has had conversations with American colleges and companies.

The testing firm has partnered with edX, the massive online course provider run by MIT and Harvard University. Indian students who complete edX courses can register for free on Aspiring Minds’ platform to take the assessment and seek jobs.

Mr Aggarwal is a product of both the American and Indian higher education systems. He earned a master’s in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT. Aspiring Minds’ CEO, Himanshu Aggarwal, graduated from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, as did many of the company’s 260 or so employees.

It won’t be easy to build a critical mass of users in the US, said Mr Aggarwal. The company has been operating in India for eight years, and only recently saw its test-taking numbers really begin to snowball. Aspiring Minds also operates in the Philippines, Ghana and the Middle East, among other places.

“It’s a market-making business and people don’t like tests,” he said.

Even so, Mr Aggarwal argues that the AMCAT helps make the hiring process more meritocratic, by verifying what job-seekers know and can do. It’s a way of identifying talent, which is crucial for both companies and the millions of skilled yet underemployed workers in India.

Aspiring Minds is one of a growing number of firms that want to tap into the market for post-college, workplace assessments. Many seek to measure non-cognitive skills and problem-solving. Like Aspiring Minds, they typically feature adaptive elements, meaning the tests change based on a user’s answers. The group includes Evolv, Gild and Knack.

Some startups seek to link undergraduates students with employers. One new addition, JobVille, is described as a combination of Candy Crush (a popular Facebook and smartphone game) and LinkedIn. Diana Cobbe, the startup’s founder, recently won a $10,000 prize from the Lumina Foundation for the app.

Cobbe said that JobVille will introduce students, beginning as freshers, to three types of jobs and one employer each day. “It takes about five minutes a day,” said Ms Cobbe. “They need to have employer networks.”

Colleges should pay attention to this emerging field, said Louis Soares, vice-president for policy research and strategy at the American Council on Education and head of the council’s Center for Policy Analysis. For one thing, students might be able to benefit from the assessments. Companies are using them as hiring tools, he said, and colleges could steer students toward the tests and cover some or all of the fees.

Skills assessments are also worth tracking because of what they say about the value of a degree.

“It calls into question the current credentialing system,” said Mr Soares. “They upend conventional wisdom.”

Major testing firms will continue to a play a role in developing job-market assessments.

In addition to ACT, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) has created two tests employers could use, although they are aimed at colleges. Another player is the Council for Aid to Education, which last year released a revised version of its College Learning Assessment, which is dubbed the CLA+.

WorkKeys was one of the first on the scene. So far it has mostly been used in manufacturing and other fields that do not typically require job applicants to hold bachelor’s degrees. But that may be changing.

The 11 WorkKeys assessments can be used by a broad range of employers, said Chris Guidry, ACT’s director of career and college readiness. And ACT continues to tweak WorkKeys based on expected changes in job markets.

The testing firm designs its assessments based on specific information about local hiring needs. It uses job descriptions from a federal database as well as research from its own trained job profilers, who are deployed around the nation. They study the tasks and skills associated with jobs in each area, said Mr Guidry.

The three types of assessments that see the most use are ones that measure reading for information, the ability to locate information and applied math skills. As a result, jobseekers who pass those assessments quality for ACT’s National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC). They can earn one of three possible levels of readiness on the certificate. So far ACT has issued more than 2.6 million of the credentials.

In addition to those three tests, ACT offers eight assessments measuring different skills, including ones in applied technology, business writing and teamwork. Companies can offer the tests that make the most sense for their employees.

Guidry said some employers use the tests when they are seeking to relocate to a new area. For example, the results can help “whittle down” 200 applications for 20 new jobs. Employers also test current employees, sometimes to remediate where their skills are lacking or to learn more about high-performing workers.

However, ACT does not recommend that employers rely solely on WorkKeys in the hiring process. And Mr Guidry said companies typically allow applicants and current employees to retake the tests multiple times.

“It’s not about excluding” anyone, he said. “People have good days. People have bad days.”