Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

Community college a good option whatever DeVos proposes

01/09/2017 - 9am

Michigan conservative philanthropist Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald J. Trump’s education secretary nominee, has never led or even worked in a school, let alone accumulated a higher-education track record, but her selection is not unprecedented.

“People are naturally curious as to what DeVos will propose,” Southwestern Michigan College President Dr. David M. Mathews said.

Ten secretaries have led the Education Department since 1980.

The first, the late Shirley Hufstedler, had been a federal judge.

Hufstedler called her main qualification lack of “any political dealings of any kind with anybody in education.”

DeVos, 58, who advocates charter schools and vouchers that let public dollars be spent on private schools, visited Cass County during two stints as state Republican Party chairwoman.
Her husband, Dick, campaigned in Cass County during his unsuccessful 2006 gubernatorial bid against Jennifer Granholm.

Her selection signals Trump’s intent for educational reform, though it’s sheer speculation as to what to expect.

Former lobbyist Margaret Spellings, secretary under President George W. Bush and now University of North Carolina president, isn’t sure where her friend stands on higher-education policy, either, but in the Chronicle of Higher Education suggested DeVos might emphasize supporting community colleges and streamlining pathways from secondary to post-secondary education.

U.S. News and World Report reported in October only 19 percent of students graduate from a traditional university within four years.

Most college students at public universities take six years to complete bachelor’s degrees, concluded a study by non-profit Complete College America. Only 50 of more than 580 public four-year institutions’ graduation rates exceed 50 percent.

At the same time, college graduates left school in 2015 with record debt.

The average undergraduate student borrower faced $30,100 in loans — up 4 percent compared to the year before, The Institute of College Access and Success reported. Sixty-eight percent of four-year graduates owed loans, compared to less than half in 1993.

The Detroit Free Press last August wrote about “dropout factories,” citing a controversial report by Third Way, a non-partisan, Washington-based think tank, that claimed if Michigan’s 15 public universities were evaluated by the same criteria as K-12 schools, 12 would be labeled dropout factories for failing to graduate fewer than two-thirds of their students.

That report also said a student entering a Michigan public university has only a one in two shot at graduating based on the 52.28-percent, six-year graduation rate.

“No matter what she does,” Mathews said, “there are options people may not be aware of, such as starting at a community college, getting an associate degree, then transferring to a four-year, saving tens of thousands without having to take out loans.”

Associate in Arts and Associate in Science degrees are transfer option designed to allow completion of the first two years of a bachelor’s degree.

Students can start working in a profession and earning money during the two years they finish baccalaureate degrees at four-year institutions.

Mathews also said there is no need to pay huge out-of-state tuition penalties.

“That’s old thinking,” he said. “Our difference is only 7 percent — not double or triple. SMC’s net cost to attend for Michigan students averages under $3,000 per year.”