Choosing college

Which Indiana colleges have well-paid grads? A new tool for applicants has answers

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
A student walks through the hallway of University Prep, a Denver charter school.

High school students making crucial decisions about where to go to college might find traditional college rankings helpful, but some Indiana leaders say Hoosier students need better tools.

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education recently rolled out a new college information system called the Indiana College Value Index that gives students and their parents a host of information about Indiana colleges and universities, including important feedback from alumni and details such as the percent of majors that earn salaries higher than the state median.

The new tool paints a fuller picture of the cost, atmosphere and support provided by the state’s public two- and four-year colleges and universities and deliberately avoids giving colleges a ranking because the best school for each student could vary with each student’s grades, interests and priorities.

“We have all this great data, but we’ve known for a long time what we’re missing is the qualitative measure of the value of a college degree that you can’t just capture in numbers,” said spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson.

The new index includes information from the commission’s existing reports about how much colleges cost, how long it takes a typical student who enrolls to graduate and how much remediation they might need later on. It also factors in results from a survey earlier this year of 14 public colleges and universities that asked alumni to answer questions about a range of topics, including internships, extracurricular activities, college debt, and job satisfaction and income post-graduation.

Some of the state’s larger institutions, such as Indiana University, did not participate in the survey, but other information about the state’s largest university is recorded in the index.

The largest source of new information in the index is feedback gathered from alumni.

“The voice of the student is a pretty important one that we should, to the extent possible, try to factor in to provide a more representative picture of what’s going on and where there’s room for improvement,” said Jason Bearce, the associate commissioner.

Using the new tool, students and families can see information about whether colleges offer services to support job searches and how Indiana stacks up nationally when it comes to relationships with faculty, among other sortable data points.

The index is still in its early stages, said Commissioner Teresa Lubbers, but it’s another part of a conversation that is happening in various stages among Indiana educators and policymakers about how to make sure students are prepared and able to eventually contribute to Indiana’s workforce and economy after they leave high school.

The tool could serve as a way to not just help students and families navigate the college admissions process, it could also be a useful way for state colleges and universities to see how they compare to their peers. Years ago, Bearce said, colleges mostly relied on enrollment numbers as the main indicator of success. Later, graduation rate became the popular metric.

By offering more information, Bearce said the goal is to encourage participation from colleges that might have had reservations about college rankings that look at just one or two factors.

Supporters of the index recognize that it’s not as simple to use as rankings like the controversial annual college list from U.S. News and World Report, but Lubbers said the Commission is working to make its new tool as accessible as possible to families that might be overwhelmed by college choices, particularly students who will be the first in their families to go to college.

As they work to add more colleges to the index and tweak how the data is presented, the Commission is also looking for feedback from people who use the tool this year. They’re working with the Indiana Youth Institute as well as local school districts and the principals and superintendents associations to figure out what information is still needed and how the index could work better.

“If we waited to have it just right … we’d never do anything,” Bearce said. “There are some gaps, but we didn’t want that to prevent us from putting something out there.”

Starting young

New York City child care centers are serving more infants, but for poor families seats are scarce

PHOTO: Logan Zabel

Yvette Cora, who works at an East New York day care center, turns down a steady stream of parents asking to enroll their babies.

The center where she works, St. Malachy Child Development Center in East New York, has a contract from New York City to care for babies and toddlers from low-income families. But most won’t get offered a spot until their child is at least 18 months old — it takes six months to a year to get off the baby room waitlist.

“I refer them to home providers, and sometimes after they go visit those homes they come back here and say they prefer it here,” said Cora.

It’s an increasingly common experience for day care providers who work with the city. As interest in early childhood education has grown in the city, more families are seeking spots in day care programs for their babies — but the programs for poor children are actually losing capacity, even as programs that serve more affluent families grow.

With the upcoming transition of the city’s subsidized child care system to the Department of Education (DOE), it remains to be seen how the DOE will prioritize infant care, and whether the agency will find a way to increase the capacity for this age group in centers.

In the past two years, the number of slots for children under 2 years old increased by 10 percent in licensed early education centers citywide — from 9,853 spots in 2015 to 10,806 in 2017, even as total capacity in centers has grown by only 2 percent. That’s according to the Center for New York City Affairs’s analysis of data provided by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which issues licenses to the centers.

At the same time, the child care centers that contract with the city to serve low-income families have been losing their capacity to take in infants and toddlers. The number of openings for children under 2 years old in those centers fell by 8 percent during the same time period, amounting to about 100 lost slots for young children.

The shift means that while Bright Horizons, one for-profit day care provider that charges up to $40,000 per year for full-time care, is growing, there are fewer spots for families whose total annual income is less than that.

“The capacity has grown, but not for poor people,” said Kathleen Hopkins, vice president of the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone Department of Community Programs that oversees two centers that provide infant care. “There are still not a lot of options for poor families.”

The scarcity of choice for poor families with infants is largely driven by cost. Infants and toddlers are the most expensive age group to serve in child care centers. Most babies in the subsidized child care system are placed in the far less-expensive but also less-regulated subsidized family child care programs, where women get paid meager wages to look after neighborhood kids in their homes, often their living rooms.

But studies nationwide have found family child care programs to be, on average, of lower quality than center-based care, and there’s been a growing interest in increasing the number of slots for infants and toddlers in subsidized New York City child care centers.

Some say that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-K expansion and public awareness campaigns such as “Talk to Your Baby” added urgency to this discussion by raising awareness of the importance of receiving high-quality care during the first few years of life.

Staff at the city’s child care resource and referral agencies say they now see a growing number of parents from all backgrounds who believe that early education centers are better equipped than informal arrangements with friends and family to provide quality care and prepare young kids for school. “It’s a trend of the last five years,” says Nancy Kolben, executive director of the child care resource and referral agency Center for Children’s Initiatives.

Early childhood centers that enroll only families who can pay without public subsidies have responded by charging parents more money to offset the high costs inherent in baby care, including expensive sprinkler systems, ground floor classrooms, and that babies be cared for in small groups.

But at subsidized child care centers, rising rents combined with flat city funding have made infant care elusive, despite efforts from ACS to encourage growth.

“Everything we have seen says it’s a money-losing proposition to do [infant care] as a center-based facility because of the infrastructure you need,” said James Matison, executive director of Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, which oversees five early education centers that serve low-income families.

“We lose a lot [of space] if we try to incorporate cribs and changing tables, and enrollment numbers go down,” says Maria Contreras-Collier, executive director of Cypress Hills Child Care Corporation.
Some directors say that serving infants is easier at large child care centers that can dedicate a few rooms to babies without cutting back on overall enrollment.

Hanover Place Child Care, a center in Downtown Brooklyn, is a case in point. A large school with a total capacity for over 300 children, it accepts more vouchers to care for infants than any other center in the city. In recent years, as surrounding neighborhoods gentrified, it has begun attracting families who pay privately.

But after a special-education preschool it shared its building and some staff with closed, Hanover Place lost a security guard, art teacher and a nurse. Meanwhile, rents in the neighborhood skyrocketed as new construction crept closer and closer.

Some local parents fear it is only a matter of time before the Brooklyn real estate boom will lead the center to close its doors entirely, or at least close doors to families unable to pay the tuition necessary to keep them open.

This story is adapted from a policy brief from the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.

Charter growth

Smaller cohort of charter schools to open in Memphis in 2018

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Daphnè Robinson, director of charter schools for Shelby County Schools, offers recommendations to the school board.

With charter schools comprising a fourth of Shelby County Schools, district leaders say they’re setting a higher bar for opening new ones in Memphis.

The school board approved only three out of 14 applications on Tuesday night, just months after the district overhauled its charter school office to strengthen oversight of the growing sector.

Opening in 2018 will be Believe Memphis Academy, Freedom Preparatory Academy, and Perea Elementary. The approvals mean the district will oversee 55 charter schools, easily the largest number of any district in Tennessee.

But it’s significantly less than last year, when the board green-lighted seven applicants. Since then, Shelby County Schools has doubled the size of its charter oversight office and stepped up scrutiny of applications.

“We want to strengthen the process every school year because, when it comes down to it, the lives of our kids are at stake and millions of dollars in taxpayer money,” said Brad Leon, chief of strategy and performance management.

This year, the district hired a new leader and new staff for its charter office. It also used five application reviewers from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the group that last year recommended a slew of changes for opening, managing and closing charter schools.

But even with all the changes, the school board didn’t follow all of the staff’s recommendations. Perea’s application had been recommended for denial but, after much discussion, the board voted 7-2 to let the group open an elementary school inside the recently closed Klondike Elementary building. Board members pointed to Perea’s long record of success in operating a preschool at Klondike.

The other two approvals were in line with staff recommendations. Believe Memphis Academy will be a literacy-focused college preparatory school serving students in grades 4-8 in the city’s medical district. Memphis-based Freedom Prep will open its fifth school, which eventually will serve grades 6-12 in the Whitehaven and Nonconnah communities.

Board member Teresa Jones expressed concern about deviating from staff recommendations on Perea.

“We have a process. And by all accounts, it’s not a perfect process, but it’s been applied to everyone,” she said.

But Billy Orgel, another board member, said the charter office should have taken into account the long-standing preschool’s performance, even though it’s never operated an elementary school.

“There is a track record with the funders. There is a track record with the school,” he said, adding that “no process is perfect.”

Groups vying for approval this year wanted to open schools that range from an all-girls program to a sports academy to several focused on science, technology, engineering and math.