Monday, October 02, 2006

fun facts

Percentage of students going to college and completing a degree
College participation
Korea 48%
Greece 43%
Finland 37%
Belgium 37%
USA 35%
Ireland 35%
Poland 34%
Australia 31%
France 31%
Hungary 31%
Spain 30%
New Zealand 29%
Netherlands 27%
Norway 25%
Portugal 25%
Sweden 24%
Czech Rep. 24%
Germany 23%
Austria 23%
Denmark 20%
Slovak Rep. 20%
Iceland 19%
Switzerland 18%
Mexico 13%
Turkey 11%

College completion
Japan 26%
Portugal 25%
U.K. 24%
Australia 23%
Switzerland 23%
Denmark 23%
Ireland 21%
New Zealand 21%
France 20%
Iceland 19%
Korea 18%
Belgium 18%
Sweden 18%
Slovak Rep. 18%
Poland 17%
USA 17%
Spain 17%
Netherlands 16%
Hungary 16%
Czech Rep. 15%
Mexico 14%
Norway 14%
Finland 13%
Turkey 13%
Austria 13%
Germany 13%
Italy 12%

Source: National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education


By Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY
The United States has made incremental improvements in preparing students for college in recent years, but it has made "no notable progress since the early 1990s" in increasing college participation rates, a report says. And, it says, degree-completion rates in the USA compare poorly with those of other countries.
Those and other findings "challenge the notion that the American higher education system is still the best in the world," says former North Carolina governor James Hunt, chairman of the board of the non-partisan National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, based in San Jose, Calif.

The center is to release the report, its fourth in a series, Thursday in Washington. For the first time, it compared national and state performances with those of 26 other countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, whose members include many of the world's leading economies, such as Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and Turkey.
The USA does not fare well, the report says. For example, although it still leads in the share of people ages 35 to 64 with a college degree, it ranks seventh among 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. That suggests that as the large and well-educated baby boom generation retires, the USA faces a drop-off in college-trained workers to replace them.
Though it ranks fifth in college participation rates, it continues to trail other countries in raising those rates, the report says.
Of particular concern, the report says, is the proportion of students who complete a college degree or certificate program. The USA ranks 16th among 27 countries.
The report also suggests that tuition increases, combined with dwindling financial aid, contributes to the flat growth in participation rates. "For most American families, college affordability has continued to deteriorate," Hunt says.
Since the early 1990s, it says:
The proportion of family income needed to pay net college costs (after accounting for all student financial aid except loans) at public four-year colleges has grown from 28% to 42% in Ohio; from 18% to 30% in Iowa; from 25% to 36% in Oregon; and from 20% to 31% in Washington state.
• State support of need-based financial aid improved significantly in Washington, California and Maryland.
Gaps in college participation between high- and low-income students persist. In Virginia, 58% of high-income and 14% of low-income young adults ages 18 to 24 are enrolled in college; in Illinois, the gap is 52% to 23%.
• The likelihood of a ninth-grader enrolling in college four years later is less than 40%, decreasing from 44% to 32% in Hawaii and from 45% to 37% in New York.

1 + 1 + 1 = Big Brother

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — A little-known federal program created days after Sept. 11, 2001, examined financial aid records of college students targeted by the FBI in terrorism investigations, but it's unclear whether it netted any terrorists, according to U.S. Education Department documents.
The program, called Project Strike Back, was a joint project of the department and the FBI and was created 10 days after the terrorist attacks, according to the documents from the department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
The documents were released to USA TODAY through Freedom of Information Act requests. They were also obtained by a Medill School of Journalism reporter working with the Associated Press.
About 14 million students apply for federal financial aid for college each year, the Education Department says. FBI spokeswoman Catherine Milhoan said the FBI gave the OIG "a small, select list of a couple of hundred names associated with ongoing investigations."
Intelligence has repeatedly indicated terrorists have exploited student-visa and financial-aid programs, and identity theft has been a factor in some student loan frauds, said John Miller, FBI assistant director of public affairs, in a statement Thursday.
The FBI asked the inspector general's office "to run names of subjects already material to counter-terrorism investigations against the databases to look for evidence of either student loan fraud or identity theft," Miller said. "No records of people other than those already under investigation were called for. This was not a sweeping program, in that it involved only a few hundred names."
Milhoan said Project Strike Back "was one of many utilized by the FBI to identify potential people of interest. In the post-9/11 world, it's the job of the FBI to connect the dots and follow our investigations where they lead us. We continue to do that while adhering to FBI guidelines, Department of Justice regulations and most importantly in accordance with the United States Constitution."
Concerns sparked program
The program was created, at least in part, because Bush administration officials believed that terrorists were trying to obtain money "from criminal activity such as identity theft and credit card fraud," according to one memo.
The inspector general's office investigates cases of fraud, waste and abuse in federal education programs, including student loans.
Under the program, the FBI provided the department with names of targets of FBI terrorism investigations. The department reviewed its records to determine if the students received or applied for federal aid or if the loan program had been defrauded, according to an OIG statement.
"Details developed during this project will be disclosed to the FBI and Justice Department attorneys," noted a Sept. 24, 2001, memo from Don Reid, the assistant inspector general for investigations to a Boston-based OIG special agent.
The memo notes that the FBI gave names to the OIG on Sept. 24, 2001, only three days after Project Strike Back was initiated — and 13 days after the Sept. 11 attacks. The names, however, were redacted in the memo. The other inspector general office memos, dated April 2003 and February 2006, noted the OIG was continuing the program, but most descriptive information was redacted.
According to a June 16 memo, the department said it ended Project Strike Back that month. About 10 days earlier, reporters in Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism interviewed the special agent who oversaw the program.
Mary Mitchelson, the counsel for the inspector general's office, said the program was closed because FBI requests had been dwindling since the effort's first year.
"We closed it because there really was no reason to keep it open," she said.
Mitchelson would not comment on whether the program netted any terrorists or suspects, nor how many names the department turned over to the FBI. She said the requests were legal because law enforcement agencies can seek an exemption to the Privacy Act, which governs student data held by the federal government.
The FBI's Milhoan said the program was not an attempt by the agency to do an end-run around the law. "That's not our job," she said. "Our job in the FBI is to uphold the law."
Katherine McLane, an Education Department spokeswoman, said, "By statute, the Office of the Inspector General operates independently of the Department of Education and can be called to cooperate with law enforcement."
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings learned of the project Wednesday, said Samara Yudof, a department spokeswoman.
Project Strike Back is virtually unknown within the higher education community, even among top financial aid and admissions officials.
"There was no attempt to conceal these efforts, in that they were referenced in publicly available briefings to Congress and to the General Accountability Office," Miller said in the FBI statement.
The program was mentioned in a September 2002 Education Department report to Congress, noting that it had been initiated. And a May 2004 Government Accountability Office report on data mining noted that the program compares Department of Education and FBI data "for anomalies. Also verifies personal identifiers."
Plan to track students
The revelations come as Spellings prepares to unveil the final report of her Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which has endorsed a national "unit records" system — basically a database that would track students throughout their academic careers.
While supporters say it would make it easier to learn how both colleges and students perform, critics say such a system could violate student privacy.
Speaking to reporters about the commission's work, Spellings on Wednesday said, "There can and should be ways that we protect security — obviously this government does that at the IRS, at the Social Security Administration and, you know, a lot of places. And we work hard to do that."
She added, "Should we protect privacy and security? Heck yes. Absolutely."
Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the American Council on Education, which represents colleges nationwide, likened the project to the IRS turning tax returns over to the Department of Homeland Security "for possible ties to terrorism."
"Ultimately, this is troubling but not surprising," Hartle said. "It's hard to be surprised when it has become obvious that the government is mining every database that they have. In the war on terror there are no safe harbors where federal data is concerned."



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By Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — An advisory commission report sent this month to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings recommends a wide range of proposals related to the accessibility, affordability and accountability of higher education.
In a speech Tuesday, Spellings focused on just a few, promising to convene a summit next spring to continue a more comprehensive dialogue. The aim is simple, she said: "To make sure the countless opportunities a college education provides is a reality for every American who chooses to pursue it." She outlined key actions:
• Expand into high schools President Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform law aimed at improving the basic reading and math skills of children, especially in early elementary school grades. Also, align high school standards with college work as a way to ensure that students graduate prepared for college-level work.
• Increase need-based aid. Spellings offered no specifics, nor did she not endorse the commission's proposal to increase the average Pell Grant to cover 70% of the average in-state tuition at public universities. The average Pell Grant ($2,445; the maximum is $4,050) covers about 44.5% of the average public university tuition.
In a statement, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., urged her to "convince the president to immediately" increase the maximum Pell Grant to $5,100 and address a "dysfunctional" student loan system.
• Streamline federal financial aid, cutting application time in half and notifying students of their aid eligibility earlier than spring of their senior year in high school. Spellings noted that the federal financial aid application form is "longer and more complicated than the federal tax form."
• Provide matching grants to colleges, universities and states that collect and publicly report student learning outcomes.
• Convene a meeting with higher-education accrediting groups this year "to move toward measures that place more emphasis on learning." She says accreditation, the primary source of quality control in higher education, is focused "more on how many books are in a college library than whether students can actually understand them."
A number of higher-education groups already have responded to concerns raised by the commission.
Last week, six national higher-education groups outlined "next steps" on issues such as increasing access and improving accountability, including a clearinghouse of "best practices" that institutions can share.
And the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities are developing a system of accountability that could be used by public four-year institutions.
Other groups lamented what neither Spellings nor the commission addressed.
"The commission should have strongly condemned the decline in recent years in state support for higher education," said Edward McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents university faculty.
In a statement, the board of directors of the Association of American Colleges and Universities said the commission report "does not offer a coherent vision of (what) graduates actually need for work, life, and active citizenship in the 21st century."


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By Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Margaret Spellings called Tuesday for greater accountability by colleges and universities, including the creation of a national database to track how well students learn.
She also called for an overhaul of the financial aid process and an increase in need-based aid.
Spellings' plans are in response to recommendations by a 19-member commission she created last year to address mounting concerns that U.S. higher-education performance and costs largely escape public scrutiny. It said colleges and universities have slipped into "unwarranted complacency" and that higher education's financing system is "increasingly dysfunctional."
"This is the beginning of a process of long-overdue reform," she said. "Over the years, we've invested tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money and just hoped for the best. We deserve better."
The development of a database has been among the commission's most controversial proposals, mostly because of concerns about student privacy. Known as a "unit record" system, it would track the progress of individual — but unidentified — students over time as a way to better assess and compare the educational performance of institutions.
Although President Bush said in a statement that he strongly supports "the thrust of this important report," Spellings will need approval from Congress to implement the database, and she could face an uphill battle. The House passed a bill in March that would prohibit a "unit record" system. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Education Committee, didn't address the database question in his response Tuesday to Spellings' speech but said, "As she and I have discussed, I expect the department to work cooperatively with Congress."
Proponents of a database that tracks students say federal data on graduation rates gives an inaccurate picture because it doesn't account for transfers to other schools. And though many schools keep their own records, they don't necessarily make the data public. About 35 states have systems in place, but they operate as "islands unto themselves," Spellings said.
Spellings said her plan would make information available to parents, policymakers and others in an easy-to-understand format. Data could include students' majors, costs after student aid and how quickly they graduate. To protect privacy, the commission recommended that the database use anonymous identification numbers, not Social Security numbers.
Estimates for the federal cost to create the system infrastructure range from $10 million to more than $100 million, says the American Council on Education, an umbrella group for higher education. That doesn't account for costs to states or to institutions.
Leaders of a number of higher-education groups, including the State Higher Education Executive Officers, say they support such a database. But "the devil is in the details," said Robert Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities, which represents large research universities.
Spellings offered few details about the database Tuesday but told commission members Monday that she was open to testing such a database as a pilot project, said David Ward, president of the American Council on Education. Education officials said the department would begin with a voluntary, opt-in system for states and institutions.
Ward was the one commission member who did not sign the report, arguing that the commission was looking for "quick solutions." But because Spellings said she would work with higher-education groups, he said, "my anxieties were actually substantially reduced."
But Lee Shulman, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, said in an e-mail that aside from the privacy question, there has been "far too little discussion of whether such a (database) system is worth creating ... if the data it records is not worth using. Really poor and misleading data is far more dangerous than no data at all."

This helps me a lot more than it helps you

By Kathy Seal
If you know a teenager, chances are good you've heard her say at least once that she's working on a community service project "because it looks good to colleges."
This phrase is so common these days that it's enough to make us wonder: Do kids ever do anything for its own sake, because it's interesting, enjoyable or ethical?
The blame rests with our increasingly competitive society and the commercialization of the college culture that perpetrates the harmful myth that only a few of the college "brands" are "the best."
"As a result," says Lloyd Thacker of the Education Conservancy, which works to change the college admissions process, "we've got this extremely exaggerated interest in a small group of schools. There is this huge myth ... that this brand will determine your value in life."
Altruism ... with strings attached
There's something wrong when fourth-graders start announcing their first choice of college, and families talk about the Ivy League every night at dinner. Among many middle-class families, this college admissions pressure is creating a bizarre outlook that harms our children.
For community service projects, many kids are visiting nursing homes or tutoring disadvantaged children not out of basic human kindness, but out of self-interest. Rather than fostering their altruism, we're teaching our kids that goodness isn't its own reward, but that good deeds call for a material prize — a slot in a name brand college. We're leeching their innate humanity.
There's plenty of research that supports this point. In one study, University of Rochester psychologist Edward Deci investigated "What happens when you pay people for an activity they enjoy?" He gave college students pleasurable block-building puzzles to solve. He told half the students they'd get $1 for each solved puzzle. After a while, Deci said the experiment was over and he had to leave the room for a few minutes. The students could do more puzzles, he added casually, or read magazines.
Then he watched them through a one-way mirror. The students who had earned money spent less time playing with the puzzles than those who hadn't received rewards. That's because the money undercut their internal motivation, shifting attention onto the reward itself. Dozens of studies have confirmed this effect.
Kids won't grow up valuing acts of altruism if our social institutions don't encourage charity for its own sake.
'Packaged' students
Ironically, pursuing activities because they "look good for college" isn't the best route to college acceptance, at least at the most selective schools.
Admissions committees can tell the difference between a student who pursues activities to "look good" and one who is truly interested, curious and otherwise self-motivated, says Bruce Poch, vice president and dean of admissions at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. A kind of Botox-freeze glazes the faces of the "packaged" kid, he explains, but the engaged student radiates excitement and connection to the greater world around her. When kids aren't gaming the system, their personal statements will match the picture painted by counselors and teachers.
"Go find something you want to do," Poch advises high school students. "Find what you like, and then you can tell me about that." If kids try community service and like it, they should follow their inner passion. That's the kind of student, says Poch, that college professors want to teach.
Kathy Seal is coauthor of Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning.

Give me tax money so I can turn around and sell your contact information

By Kathy Chu, USA TODAY
Despite rising concern about college students' debt loads, the nation's largest four-year colleges are disclosing students' contact information to credit card-issuing banks and earning up to millions each in annual fees by giving the banks the right to market on campus.
A USA TODAY survey reveals that each of the largest 10 universities — through its alumni or athletic association — now partners with a bank to issue co-branded cards to alumni and students. The deals exist at hundreds of colleges.
"They're getting less revenue from state governments and looking at everything they can to raise revenue," says the American Council on Education's Jacqueline King.

The partnerships don't violate any laws. But they're facing more scrutiny because they undercut some states' efforts to crack down on credit card marketing to students.
Legislators in states such as Tennessee have sought unsuccessfully to curtail these marketing agreements. In 2004, the latest year for which figures are available, three out of four college students had credit cards, with undergraduates holding an average outstanding balance of $2,169, according to Nellie Mae, a student-loan provider.
Universities can receive more than $2.5 million a year for marketing deals with one card company, says Robert Manning of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Under these deals, colleges typically give banks contact information of alumni and students. They often also give issuers the exclusive right to solicit at certain campus events.
USA TODAY's survey also finds that eight of the 10 largest universities, all of them public, say they allow other marketers access to student contact information as well under state laws that deem campus directories public information.
Consumer groups worry that these disclosures infringe upon student privacy and that card companies are preying on financially inexperienced young adults.
Travis Plunkett of the Consumer Federation of America adds that some students might get a co-branded university credit card as a show of school loyalty and pay little attention to the card's terms.
Universities point out that it's typically the alumni association, not the university itself, that strikes deals with the card issuers. (Alumni associations typically fund university programs, though.) They also note that the schools' logos on cards help promote the schools.
Kevin P. Hegarty, the chief financial officer of the University of Texas at Austin, adds that UT doesn't want to "block free commerce" by barring students from the university's co-branded card.