Feds Spend $75m to Urge Kids into College on Government Teat

Today is a "time when college has never been more important," according to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) who announced its latest $75 million competition--"First in the World (FITW)."  It will create grants to "fund the development and testing of innovative approaches and strategies at colleges and universities that improve college attainment and make higher education more affordable for students and families." 


The rationale behind this contest is that college is a must at a time when "costs have never been higher," according to the May 15, 2014 Department of Education news release.  Earlier this year, President Obama took his "fair shot at success" tour out on the road, targeting rising college costs as the alleged roadblock to must-have higher education as Breitbart News reported


The FITW press release also said that they draw "on the approach of the Department’s Investment in Education Fund (i3), in which higher levels of evidence of success divide the competition into several tiers of funding."  Those are tiers of funding that happen to come out of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to the Department of Education.  Yet again, FED LED ED reaches into the American taxpayers' wallets and nudges a nation along from shovel ready to future ready.

The Investment in Education fund is subtitled "i3" because, they say, it's built on a theme of threes, representative of three years of its funding (2010-12) through the Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII),three levels of federal support, and three objectives all outlined in last summer's  Department of Education press release "The Power of 3: Reflections on the 2013 i3 Annual Project Directors Meeting."  Read with a translator.  It is written in Educanese, the purposefully unintelligible and euphemistic language of FED LED ED.

i3 also touted private-sector fund matches in 13 states and the District of Columbia.  FITW is structured in a multi-layered web of programs, grantees and agencies that support the college and career readiness mandate and underserved populations like the P-12 Success for All Foundation, Achievement Network, Diplomas Now, and the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, a project which began in 2002 to recognize "academically excellent and socially equitable middle schools." 

Then there's the School Transformation Network, whose goal is to develop a P-16 "approach to use technology integration to address instructional practices with the new Common Core State Standards."

Interestingly, Texas, among the 4 states to have rejected the Common Core, really isn't missing out on what's going on in California, New York, Illinois or any in-network state because it has a School Transformation Network through TASA, the Texas Association of State Administrators, which was previously headed up by Jeff Turner, the recently ousted superintendent of the Dallas area Coppell Independent School District (ISD).  Turner told the Dallas Morning News in April that he planned to keep a foot in the door on the future-ready education front.

This year, FITW competition grants will be awarded in only one tier (development grants), but "additional evidence will be incentivized through the competition," according to the Department of Education.  

"Evaluation will also be a key component of the program. Successful applicants must demonstrate not only an innovative project design, but outline a rigorous plan for how the project will be evaluated to demonstrate its effectiveness." 

What defines an innovative project design or a rigorous plan?   According to the i3 directors meeting press release, it explained "Evidence, derived from rigorous qualitative and quantitative evaluations, is the sine qua non of i3 projects, and the content of the more than 11 concurrent sessions addressed topics ranging from 'the good, bad, and ugly' of logic models to the challenges of gathering and analyzing such extant data as student test scores, enrollment information, and attendance and disciplinary indicators."  Likewise, it said that individual project evaluations would fit into a National Evaluation of the i3 program that would be be built on an analysis of the findings of the i3 project evaluations. Understand it better now?

No doubt, across America, college tuition costs have spiked.  Breitbart Texas looked at in-state tuition hikes at the University of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech University systems.  The FITW press release cited College Board statistics that showed "average tuition and fees at public four-year institutions in 2013-14 as more than three times higher than they were in 1983-84, after adjusting for inflation." 

However, the College Board may not be the most impartial stakeholder to pull up primary source information. It's headed up by Common Core architect David Coleman who is busy aligning every college entrance exam in America to the Common Core State Standards, including the SAT, which will be ready in 2016, essay optional.

Likely, those statistics hail from the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES). They broke down nationwide college costs from data provided by the Department of Education.  In turn, they tracked back to academic school year 1981-82 up through 2011-12.   Those findings portrayed a broad nationwide brush stroke of cost increases from public two and four year institutions and private colleges, although it did not itemize in and out of state tuition fees in side-by-side comparisons.


The figures lumped together current dollar costs of undergraduate tuition, room and board that was estimated to be $14,300 at public institutions, $37,800 at private non-profit institutions, and $23,300 at private for-profit institutions in 2011-12 comparative to the 2001-02 school year.  NCES stated that "prices for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at public institutions rose 40 percent, and prices at private nonprofit institutions rose 28 percent, after adjustment for inflation. The inflation-adjusted price for undergraduate tuition, room, and board at private for-profit institutions was 2 percent lower in 2011–12 than in 2001–02."

Breitbart News has also examined the affordability issue.  In fact, a 2013 report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) debunked the myth of out-of-control tuition as the result of state funding cuts.  "(Not) Cheaper by the Dozen: 12 Myths about Higher Education's Cost and Value" used the Texas university systems to model the national trend of skyrocketing tuition between 2000-10.  TPPF showed tuition hikes were instead the result of university operating costs.  It pointed out that between 2000-10, Texas higher education state subsidized funding fell 10 percent but the average tuition jumped 115 percent; fees rose 61 percent.


"In truth, there have been mild decreases in legislative funding accompanied by wild increases in university spending," the report illustrated in myth #2.  Additionally, TPPF stated that a 72 percent tuition spike between 2003-09 occurred faster than the rate of inflation and healthcare costs, pre-Obamacare.


TPPF also cited findings by Ohio University economist Dr. Richard Vedder who wrote " In 2009, spending by Americans for post-secondary education totaled $461 billion, an amount 42 percent greater than 2000, after accounting for inflation."  This astronomical dollar amount was the equivalent of 3.3 percent of the total U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and an amount greater than the total GDP of countries like Sweden, Norway, and Portugal.

TPPF highlighted student loan debt at $1.1 trillion, where it was in 2013 when the report was written.  It was higher than national credit card debt.  Today, the student loan debt clock is closing in on $1.183 trillion.

TPPF also presented evidence that that the class of 2012 graduated with an average of $29,000 in loan debt that with interest "could approach $40,000."  They sourced a 2013 Fidelity survey of 750 college graduates who between "ballooning student loans, credit cards and money owed to family members, were facing an average of $35,200 in college-related debt."

To add insult to injury, college graduates face an uncertain economy across the country.  Breitbart Texas reported on dismal findings of college grads unemployed, underemployed or employed in service worker jobs to pay off some of that student loan debt.

Similarly, in 2013, CNN Money highlighted 36.7 percent of college graduates who were working in jobs that didn't even require a college degree.  According to the article, economists have labeled it the "mal-employment" rate that has hit the 25 year-old and under highly educated crowd.


The article also stated that college graduates with degrees in accounting, engineering or computer sciences were more likely to find work as well as those students who worked in their chosen fields while still in school.  Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northwestern University, who crunched the mal-employment numbers, identified the South, Southwest and West as weaker labor markets.

According to the Federal Register, the Daily Journal of the United States Government, FITW's purpose is to fulfill President Obama's goal for the nation that by 2020 the United States will "once again lead the world in the proportion of its citizens holding college degrees or other postsecondary credentials."

The Daily Journal continues onto describe the program with a fiscal year 2014 budget of $75,000,000, with up to $20,000,000 set aside for Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs).  "There will be one competition with one set of priorities and one set of selection criteria. We will consider an institution as an MSI for purposes of this competition if the institution meets the qualifications for an MSI as described in the application package and the institution certifies that it meets those qualifications through the application. Institutions of higher education may only submit one application and may only be awarded one grant." 

FITW's Absolute Priority I is about increasing access and completion for underrepresented, underprepared, or low-income students.  The Journal cites an NCES report that "consistently indicate that students from higher-income families are more likely to finish postsecondary programs of study than lower-income students." 

The imperative is "that we" must increase this potential college population.  Absolute Priority II applies to the same population in community colleges with the goal of a "seamless transfer" from two-year to four-year institutions to enable attainment of a bachelor's degree.  

FITW, a Fund for Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE) program,  joins FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which Breitbart News reported as another Department of Education pricy policy that provides more than $150 billion each year in low-interest loans, "in grants that you don't have to pay back" and work study programs. 


The FITW grant application process opened on May 16 and runs to June 30.  Projected number of awards are listed at 38.  Pages 28495-28504 of the Federal Register contain the details.  

Race to the Top, the go-to-college edition, rages on at all costs.


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