The Codcast: “Time to degree’ is key

No one doubts the value of a college education. It is increasingly a requirement for entry into the middle class. But the road to a degree is filled with lots of potholes and obstacles. One top of it all is the ever-rising price of higher education, which is saddling many students with thousands of dollars of debt as they walk out the door with their degree — if they get a degree at all.

The three key words in the college affordability conversation are “time to degree,” according to Michael Dannenberg on this week’s Codcast. Getting more students to finish their higher ed programs and obtain degrees on time are crucial, says the one-time adviser to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who now serves as director of strategic initiatives at Democrats for Education Reform in Washington.

For half of all students who enroll in higher ed institutions, the “time to degree” is endless — they never graduate, says Dannenberg. Of those who do get degrees, it takes students seeking a four-year bachelor’s degree five years, on average, to complete a program, while those seeking two-year degrees typically take three years to finish. That added time is added cost – 20 percent for BA candidates, 33 percent for those seeking an associate’s degree – for students and to public financial aid budgets.

Dannenberg, who has advised every Democratic presidential nominee over the last four election cycles on higher education policy and also served as an adviser to late Rhode Island Sen. Claiborne Pell (think Pell Grants), says there are lots of well-intentioned efforts to ease the college affordability crunch that don’t deliver.

Encouraging students to first obtain a lower-cost community college degree and then transfer to a four-year institution is one of them. Community college is great for those pursuing a career that requires an associate’s degree, says Dannenberg. It’s a poor choice, however, for those seeing it as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree. He says only 14 percent of those who make that switch wind up completing a bachelor’s degree program, a figure 30 percentage points lower than the graduation rate for equally qualified peers who enroll directly in four-year schools out of high school.

The biggest overall factor affecting completion rates in higher education is the rigor of a student’s high school curriculum. One of every four students arriving on a US college campus requires remedial coursework before being ready to earn college credits, and these students are 74 percent more likely than better-prepared peers to drop out.

Better high school preparation and strong support structures for students once they’re at college can help boost completion rates. We also need to start holding higher education institutions accountable for completion rates, says Dannenberg. “Student completion is often not a priority for leaders in higher education, though they may say otherwise,” he says.

With states having dramatically pulled back on funding of public higher education institutions, Dannenberg says we are running a “giant social experiment” in which more and more of the burden of paying for college is being shifted onto individuals. The result for too many is crushing debt.

“Free college” or “debt-free college” initiatives being launched by some states or high education institutions are encouraging moves, he says, but they have to be accompanied by attention to things like high school curriculum rigor and accountability for institution completion rates. They also have to and include support for attending both two-year and four-year schools.

It can’t be “free college on the cheap,” says Dannenberg.



Timothy McGourthy of the Worcester Municipal Research Bureau suggests some state offices be moved from Boston to Worcester or other Gateway Cities to save on rent and spur economic development. (CommonWealth)

A Globe editorial urges the Legislature to embrace the bill passed last week by the Senate to revamp the education funding formula, but says revenue to pay for the bill needs to be identified along with new accountability provisions aimed at closing persistent achievement gaps. Here is the CommonWealth account of last week’s Senate action, which the editorial calls the “most consequential piece of education legislation” in 25 years.


Boston officials have hired an outside counsel to review how the city’s fire department has handled complaints from female firefighters of harassment and discrimination on the force. (Boston Globe)

A report commissioned by then-Boston Mayor Thomas Menino in 2002 called for a resumption of ferry service to Long Island, saying the roads in Quincy could not handle the increased traffic. The unearthing of the study gives ammunition to opponents of a new bridge in Quincy who say Boston Mayor Marty Walsh too quickly dismissed the ferry option. (Patriot Ledger)


The US embassy in Israel officially opens in Jerusalem Monday amid tensions in the Middle East over the move. (Washington Post) Israeli soldiers shot and killed at least 37 Palestinians trying to cross the border in protests at Gaza on Monday. (New York Times)


Republican Alexander Leighton Williams, a  senior at UMass Lowell, jumps into the race for state Senate against Rep. Diana DiZoglio. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Herald’s Jessica Heslam talks to the mother of a transgender 16-year-old girl about the November ballot question that would repeal the state’s transgender rights law.

James Rooney, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, says ballot questions aren’t the best way to decide complicated policy matters and suggests ways around the dilemma. (Boston Globe)

Former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee is mulling a Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, but many are focusing on praise he has showered on Russian president Vladimir Putin and his work as a paid board member of a Ukrainian organization tied to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. (Boston Globe)


New Valley Bank & Trust is launched in Springfield. It’s the first new bank in the state since 2009 and the only bank based in Springfield. (MassLive)

The development boom hits East Boston’s Orient Heights. (Boston Globe)

A Herald editorials backs a bill on Beacon Hill that would ban robocalls to cellphones.

Adrian Walker says resident complaints about a struggling Venezuelan restaurant in Boston’s Seaport underscore the lack of diversity in the high-cost new city neighborhood. (Boston Globe)

A study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy (subscription required) finds that major foundations shifted hundreds of millions of dollars into donor-advised funds, a tactic experts say offers little transparency and may be a way for grantmakers to avoid mandatory payouts.


Three out-of-state finalists are named for the top job at UMass Boston. (Dorchester Reporter)

The 22 schools operated by the Fall River Diocese saw a 1.7 percent drop in enrollment this year, but officials see that as a sign of hope compared with a 5 to 7 percent decrease in other Catholic schools in New England. (Herald News)

A team of investigators at the federal Department of Education set up to look into fraud at for-profit colleges has been neutered and redirected to process loan forgiveness applications by department officials who used to work in the industry and hired by Secretary Betsy DeVos. (New York Times)

Evan Dobelle asks that his name be removed from the library at Middlesex Community College to end controversy over his term running the school. (Lowell Sun)

Richard Wylie, the president of Endicott College in Beverly, died on Saturday. (Salem News)


Paul A. Hattis says the state’s Health Policy Commission should take on additional responsibilities, including examining the pros and cons of the ballot question setting mandatory nurse staffing levels in hospitals. (CommonWealth)

With junk health insurance, you get what you pay for, says Rosemarie Day. (CommonWealth)

New research suggests race is a factor in inappropriate antibiotic prescriptions with minorities often getting the drugs when they’ll do little to treat an illness. (U.S. News & World Report)


Dueling studies assess the environmental impact of the severe cold snap in late December-early January. (CommonWealth) Robert Golledge Jr. says former president Obama saw a key role for natural gas, and New England should, too. (CommonWealth)

New EPA stormwater requirements are going to cost Pittsfield $110,000. (Berkshire Eagle) Many communities are struggling with how to pay for the new stormwater requirements, and some are instituting special fees. (CommonWealth)

Robert Rio and Charlie Harak say it’s time to update the state’s appliance standards. (CommonWealth)


A New York Times analysis finds New York police arrest blacks and Hispanics at a much higher rate than whites for low-level marijuana charges and debunks the official explanation that there are more complaints about pot from minority neighborhoods.

Can Massachusetts become a leader in marijuana research? (MassLive)

The Lottery continues to sell scratch tickets for games where the top prizes have already been claimed. (Gloucester Times)


A delegation from Massachusetts visited Germany to learn how that country’s criminal justice system deals with young offenders. (Lowell Sun)

Robots being developed by tech firm Boston Dynamics to guard property should be licensed, says former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis. (Boston Herald)

A Hingham daycare worker was charged with child abuse after officials say she force-fed infants to the point of vomiting and shook them when they acted up and a coworker who reported her was suspended for not coming forward sooner. (Patriot Ledger)


John Wenzel, a soon-to-be-former reporter at the Denver Post, reports on what he sees as the demise of the publication under First Digital Media. (The Atlantic)