OCTAE Connection - Issue 212 - August 21, 2014

OCTAE Newsletter

                             August 21, 2014

                 OCTAE Welcomes Lul Tesfai



OCTAE is pleased to welcome Lul Tesfai who joined our staff as a special assistant in July. Before joining OCTAE, Tesfai was a policy consultant for the California Senate Office of Research. In this role, she evaluated how well the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation vocational training programs improved employment opportunities for ex-offenders and aligned with the workforce needs of state and regional economies. Tesfai began her career in education as a Teach For America corps member in San Francisco. Prior to attending graduate school, she was an educational consultant to the San Francisco Unified School District, where she helped to build and sustain student achievement growth in poor performing schools on the verge of closure. As a graduate fellow in the office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Tesfai worked on a number of education, urban, and social policy issues, including Chicago’s Cradle-to-Career Initiative. She is committed to ensuring educational equity for students of all ages and working to diminish the predictive power of demographics. Tesfai has a bachelor’s in political science and international studies from Northwestern University and a master’s in public policy from the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. In her free time, she enjoys rock climbing and trying out new Crock-Pot recipes.

NSF Announces $18M in Funding for Three Regional Science and Engineering Partnerships

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced funding for three science and engineering research groups that will build regional partnerships in Nebraska-Kansas, Arkansas-Missouri, and Louisiana-Mississippi.  Each of these partnerships will receive Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-2 awards of up to $6 million through NSF's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). This program establishes regional partnerships with government, higher education, and industry to improve state and regional research infrastructure, and research and development capacity, as well as academic competitiveness. Adult education providers, including community colleges, the workforce community, ED’s federal partners, and others may wish to explore these partnership activities for potential application to their own work.

According to the announcement, these awards will fund researchers from 20 universities over a three-year period to undertake nationally significant scientific challenges. Each group will implement region-specific activities “for developing a scientifically literate workforce and broadening participation of underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).” According to Denise Barnes, head of EPSCoR, “These consortia will spur technological innovations that drive economic growth and develop a diverse STEM-enabled workforce." 

Following are brief descriptions of the work that the three teams will be doing:

Nebraska-Kansas: Areas of study for this consortium will be laser technology and atomic, molecular, and optical research. Education, outreach, and workforce development activities will involve partnerships with small colleges in those states, summer workshops for high school physics teachers, and several student programs.

Louisiana-Mississippi: This group will focus on developing “new experimental and computational tools” to develop polymers for “medicine and material science.” It will work to strengthen regional economic competitiveness by building a diverse STEM workforce.

Arkansas-Missouri: This consortium “will promote STEM education and workforce development through training activities for teachers, undergraduate and graduate students, and faculty members.” Their research will focus on plant science for “food security and agricultural sustainability.”

Please visit NSF’s EPSCoR website for more detailed information on these funding partnerships as well as state team and NSF program contact information.

New Senate Report: Is the New G.I. Bill Working?

For-Profit Colleges Increasing Veteran Enrollment and Federal Funds  

The Obama administration and the Democratic members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee are concerned about whether federal student aid is being used effectively to graduate postsecondary students with degrees or certificates that prepare them for entry into high-skill, high-demand occupations.  These officials have been looking at institutions with high dropout rates and those whose students accumulate student debt in excess of their ability to repay their loans.  To address one part of this issue, veterans’ educational benefits, the committee released the report Is the New G.I. Bill Working? For-Profit Colleges Increasing Veteran Enrollment and Federal Funds 

Three years ago, according to the report, the HELP Committee determined that, of the top 10 recipients of veterans’ education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, eight were large, publicly traded companies operating for-profit colleges.  Now, in the program’s fourth year, analysis finds that enrollment of veterans in for-profit colleges has again increased substantially, even though overall for-profit college enrollment has declined.

Financially, the report notes that, “Taxpayers continue to spend twice as much on average to send a veteran to a for-profit college,” even as up to two-thirds of the total students who enrolled at these for profit colleges in 2008–09 terminated their studies without a degree or a diploma.  There also is the concern that some for-profit college companies are increasing their dependence on veterans funds “to comply with federal requirements intended to ensure that these companies do not become overly reliant on federal education resources.”

In addition to these general findings, other specific discoveries are causing concern among the committee members.  Examples of these include the following:

  • In 2009, 62 percent of veterans attended a public college.  That percentage dropped to 50 percent in 2013.  The percentage of veterans enrolled in for-profit colleges increased from 23 to 31 percent over that same time period.
  • From the 2009–10 to the 2012–13 school years, the number of veterans attending for-profit colleges and the amount of benefits those colleges received increased more than at other institutions of higher education.
  • The yearly burden on taxpayers is twice as high, on average, to send a veteran to a for-profit college as compared to a public college or university ($7,972 versus $3,914).
  • For the 2012–13 school year, Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits in the amount of $1.7 billion went to for-profit colleges. This was nearly the entire program cost in 2009.

These and other HELP Committee concerns are detailed in this report, and show why the for-profit higher education sector has become increasingly controversial in recent years.