Reducing the Sting of College Debt

Topics: Early College High School, Education Policy, ESSA, Higher Education

Even though recent studies are reaffirming the value of a college education, tuition costs can still be staggeringly high. They don’t have to be.

Moving From Hours Spent in Class to Mastery of Content

“We give $153 billion of federal financial aid out every year based on the credit hour. But the credit hour is really a good at once thing, which is telling people how long you sat … how long were you in class. It’s not very good at telling people what you actually learned,” said Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University.

At SNHU, students can participate in College for America, an online degree program with no credit hours, no professors and no classes. Unlike most online colleges that are just web-based versions of their in-person counterparts, this program offers 120 competencies that students can master at their own speed. This has the potential to reduce the time it takes to earn a degree, therefore reducing cost.

The Policy Team at KnowledgeWorks, our parent company, has been exploring the idea of competency-based education and released a number of policy briefs on the topic. They argue that “a competency education system puts students at the center, replacing rigid time-based structures with flexible learning environments that ensure students receive the support and extra time they need to succeed. This highly-personalized approach provides clear, individualized pathways to student proficiency that help mobilize stakeholders around the collective goal of college and career readiness for all students.”

Getting a Jump Start on College at Early College High Schools

The KnowledgeWorks early college model is built to allow students the opportunity to earn up to 60 hours of college credit, or an associate degree, while still in high school. This is done at no cost to the student. So while research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is showing that people get approximately a 15 percent return on their investment of tuition towards an associate degree, imagine how that return increases if the degree was gained for free!

Leaders, teachers and administrators within KnowledgeWorks early college high schools ensure students succeed in college by:

  • Using the “power of the place” (full integration with a two- or four-year institution) to motivate students to model successful college behavior and grasp higher expectations
  • Creating a seamless transition between high school and college
  • Motivating students to pursue higher education beyond high school by removing the mystery
  • Guiding and supporting students throughout their blended high school and college experiences
  • Creating innovative strategies to better serve the intellectual and developmental needs of underrepresented young people
  • Establishing a supportive and nurturing environment

Synching College Course Selection with Degree Requirements

It sounds elementary to say that one way to reduce the cost of college is to take only the classes necessary to attain a college degree. And yet, ensuring that occurs has been a big change for some institutions of higher education. At City Colleges of Chicago, Cheryl Hyman, the new Chancellor of the system of community colleges, has been aligning classes and requirements. This, along with some other changes around areas like student advising and staffing, has led to a doubling in graduation rates!

“How do you establish a model which helps you shift the paradigm of how community college should be defined? Shift the paradigm from institutions that have typically solely focused on access to those who now couple access with success. What we mean by success is that students are completing what they came here for, in a timely manner and that those credentials are relevant,” Hyman said in an interview with PBS NewsHour.

In Your Community

These are just some of the ways people are addressing the rising costs of college. What do you see happening in your community? Is it working?