Cost of Degree, Educational Consulting, Graduation Rates, Understanding the Market

Avoiding the College Closure Trap

If you’ve been following reporting on colleges and universities, you’ve probably noticed increasingly frequent reporting on small colleges closing down and sometimes on a few big ones. About a week ago, Michael Vasquez and Dan Bauman reported on data gathered by The Chronicle of Higher Education on college closings in “How America’s College-Closure Crisis Leaves Families Devastated.” The situation is so dire that “in the last five years, about half a million students have been displaced by college closures, which together shuttered more than 1,200 campuses.” That’s over 1200 campus closings displacing 500,000 students in the last five years alone. We have a crisis indeed. I’m going to explain here how you can spare yourself from the pains of a college shutdown by seeking out a little bit of information that isn’t that hard to find.

First, this data follows a pattern: for-profit colleges are largely the culprit. 88% of these shutdowns were of for-profit colleges, who account for 85% of all displaced students. So the first and most obvious thing to do is to avoid for-profit colleges. Their initial, large growth coincided with the rise of online education, which met a legitimate need: more students than you think have accessibility issues when it comes to attending college, either because of their own mobility or because of location, as not everyone has even a community college nearby. Furthermore, online education is attractive to working adults because of their busy schedules. Even if a college is nearby, sometimes it’s very difficult to make it to a scheduled class meeting. But the landscape of online education is changing now, and more and more state or otherwise non-profit institutions are getting into online education.

But why are for-profit colleges particularly at risk? To start, because they’re being run for profit. That means the owners of these institutions aren’t investing in endowment funds, which can protect the school from drops in enrollment and temporary budget shortfalls. And being run on a profit motive causes a host of other problems too. First, if the budget shortfall is bad enough, investors are far more willing to quickly cut and run to minimize losses. In some cases, the decision to close a for-profit university was made within a week, with no advance warning for students, and at times in the middle of a semester. These practices reveal that there’s little sense of obligation to students at many for-profit institutions, just an obligation to investors’ bottom line. Prospective college students, working adults, and military personnel should be wary of for-profit colleges because they’re vulnerable, and because they have some of the worst numbers for employability, retention, and graduation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “The 6-year graduation rate was 59 percent at public institutions, 66 percent at private nonprofit institutions, and 26 percent at private for-profit institutions.” For-profit colleges see students through to graduation at less than half the rate of their non-profit peers.

Furthermore, because the purpose of the institution is to generate profit for investors, faculty tend to be demoralized, underpaid, overworked, and lack any real say in how the institution is run: there’s very little in terms of shared governance. And it’s just going to get worse. By all indications, the Trump administration is loosening up oversight on the for-profit sector, so they will be able to engage in predatory admissions practices more easily than they did under the Obama administration.

So I’d like you to consider the following as major red flags when you’re considering a college of your choice:

  1. Low endowment
  2. Low faculty governance; mostly or completely untenured faculty (getting common everywhere, though)
  3. Low six-year graduation rate
  4. High acceptance rate (make an exception for community colleges, which are typically open enrollment by law)

And I’d like you to take one more step. While you can be sure that any for-profit college will fit all four of the above criteria, you should also know that many small, private non-profit colleges and universities do as well, especially small private colleges in rural areas. So wherever you apply, ask admissions officers the following questions:

  1. What percentage of your classes are taught by full time faculty? Don’t just ask what percentage of their faculty are full time. Those numbers can be fudged.
  2. What percentage of your full time faculty are tenured or tenure track?
  3. What percentage of your faculty have terminal degrees?
  4. What’s your six year graduation rate?
  5. What’s your endowment?

Of course you’ll want to know about sports, dorms, extracurriculars, and everything else, but college admissions officers who can’t answer the questions above probably don’t want to, and those are the questions that matter most to the quality of education at any given institution and to its long term stability. Most of this information is available online at a variety of sources, and services like Bright Futures Educational Consulting can provide unbiased, researched information about the best colleges and universities to attend for your major and your budget. Contact us if you’re unsure of your own research on these colleges and you’d like help navigating this minefield.


Educational Consulting, Understanding the Market

Latest Scandals in College Admissions

If you’ve been following the news lately, you may have heard about the latest scandal in college admissions. Fifty people were recently charged by the District Attorney in Massachusetts for illegal activities intended to guarantee their children admission to a number of elite colleges around the country. Some of these activities included illicit aid in college entrance exams such as the SAT, while others included bribing college coaches to guarantee a spot on their college team.

I think this recent scandal deserves the attention it’s been getting, but I think some of the commentary has been misguided. I’m going to offer a few thoughts here to help us think through the anxieties revealed by these scandals and better ways to think about them.

First, college admission is indeed a very stressful time for both parents and prospective students. It does matter which college you attend. It’s not true that education is the same across the country, and you do want to attend the best college that you can. Colleges with higher endowments do provide better education, hire top faculty and actually provide them support, provide better networking opportunities, and provide better facilities and other opportunities.

However, it’s not true that you or your child needs to get into any one particular college to have a good future. It’s not even true that Ivy League colleges are necessarily the best colleges in the country for any given area of study — your state’s public college may have excellent programs geared towards yours or your child’s interests. While some educational paths are certainly better than others, there isn’t just one right educational path for you or your child. There are many ways to do it right.

Next, there’s nothing wrong with doing every legal thing you can to improve test scores to help you get into a better college. Take SAT test prep classes. Get tutors if you’re weak in some areas. Take the test multiple times if your first score isn’t your best one. Hire services like ours to advise you, and seek out advice from guidance counselors as well. But you don’t have to be rich to get this help. There are a lot of free and inexpensive aids out there. You just need to know how to find them.

Finally, I would like to take a moment to distinguish Bright Futures Educational Consulting from other services out there. We are priced to help working and middle class families find their best paths into college. It’s not just about getting in, but about avoiding debt, finding the right colleges and majors for you or your child, and knowing where to find the information you need about all the decisions you have to make when choosing a college or major.

You might notice that many other services like ours are staffed by former college admissions workers. Bright Futures Educational Consulting has background in college admissions, but also in financial aid, course and curriculum design, instruction, and college administration. We’re not just thinking about getting you in to college, but about what you want to do while you’re there, the kinds of decisions that you need to make to avoid high debt (such as how to avoid switching majors, which can be very costly and time consuming), how your personality, personal strengths, passions, and interests can translate into a meaningful degree, and how that degree can translate into a living. We’re not just thinking about admissions, in other words, but about making your college education work for you in your life after graduation.

Check out our Contact Page for more information. We provide a range of consulting services. You only have to pay for the ones you need, and your initial consultation is free.

Avoiding Student Loan Debt, Cost of Degree, Educational Consulting, Majors and Areas of Study, Return on Investment, Understanding the Market

Understanding ROI and Education Degrees

ROI, or “Return on Investment,” is a term that media outlets like Forbes have begun using to describe the value of a college degree. These outlets started using this term to encourage prospective college students and their parents to think seriously of college as a financial investment alongside all of our other considerations about college. The idea behind ROI is that the value of a college degree is determined in part by the cost of the degree against the earning potential of the degree. A degree that costs a lot of money with low earning potential, so the thinking goes, has a bad ROI and is a bad investment overall. 

This way of thinking is I think good for future college students overall, and here at Bright Futures Educational Consulting we emphasize ROI in our advising for degree choices. Unfortunately, despite the wealth of reporting about the value of various college degrees, very little of it is of much value. It either groups together significantly different degrees into deceptively large categories, or it fails to consider how limited are the numbers of people who can pursue specific degrees, or how demand for certain degrees might be short term. 

For example, much reporting on higher education talks about the “humanities” as a group. That’s a mistake of the first kind, lumping together a large number of disparate degrees to create a false impression. English MAs, for example, 24 years after graduation make only about $7000 a year less than MBAs, but the same can’t be said for art history majors. There’s no meaningful data about “humanities” unless you’re majoring in “humanities.” You need to look at the ROI for your specific area of the humanities. 

Other reporting touts degrees in chemical engineering as having the highest earning potential, but seems to ignore the fact that maybe 3% of high school graduates have the math skills to pursue a degree in chemical engineering — and that’s why the degrees lead to such high paying jobs. The market is not yet saturated. That’s not useful information for most high school graduates, but if you’re a math wiz, it might be. 

What I’d like to do is apply ROI thinking to a specific degree to show you how it works. One of the most popular degrees is education, and these degrees are lumped into “humanities and social science” by some reporting. Here’s what you need to know about a degree in K-12 education: 

  • First, a degree in K-12 education is a lot of work. In many states, an education degree is almost a double major, as you have to major in education and in a subject matter (at least if you’re pursing high school teaching). It’s very likely this degree will be expensive as it may take you more than four years to graduate. 
  • Next, it’s a tough field. Most K-12 educators quit teaching after five years. Our system isn’t geared to support teachers and, for that reason, isn’t really supporting students well either. Teachers across the country who want to serve their students feel very frustrated in their ability to do so. 
  • Finally, in most places, it’s a low paying field. Starting salaries for K-12 instructors with bachelor’s degrees range from the high $20s to the low $40s depending on the school district. 

Does this mean no one should go into K-12 education? If you think you’ll love teaching regardless of the challenges, then pursue that career, but I do think everyone who wants to teach needs to go in with eyes open. And, they need to prepare. My recommendations for anyone going into K-12 education, considering ROI, are as follows:

  • First, declare your education major your freshman year. That will cut your time to graduation by allowing you to better plan your classes across four years rather than just two or three. 
  • Next, avoid private colleges. While costs vary by state, most public universities are much cheaper than most private colleges, especially small private colleges. Since the ROI on a degree in K-12 education will be low, you want to avoid debt by keeping costs down.
  • Finally, ask the right questions. When you’re visiting a college and checking out their education programs, ask what percentage of students pass the Praxis test the first time and what percentage are placed in jobs before the end of their senior year. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if an admissions officer doesn’t know the answer to these questions, it may well be because the answers are bad. Get that information before you enroll, and if you can’t, go elsewhere. 

Did you find this information useful? Bright Futures Educational Consulting can provide you guidance on the return on investment for any degree that you might want to pursue and your best college and university options for that degree. Best of all, that information will be personalized for your specific state and circumstances. Contact us by phone or email for a free initial consultation. It’s a small investment now that can save you tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt later.

Educational Consulting, Majors and Areas of Study, Understanding the Market

Begin Your College Journey with Us

Thank you for your interest in Bright Futures Educational Consulting. Bright Futures Educational Consulting provides a full range of services for prospective and current college students, including transfer and graduate students, and for colleges, universities, and other higher educational professionals. Check out our Home Page for details about our services, and check out the Our Services page to understand how they work.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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Bright Futures Educational Consulting is not affiliated with the Federal Department of Education or any college or university. Students who wish to file their federal financial aid forms may do so for free without the help of any third parties at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/fafsa. However, one of our consulting services is to provide guidance for students and parents who need assistance filling out complex financial aid forms, and we can also serve as a paid preparer on request.