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Public Agenda Alert -- August 8, 2013
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For-profit Colleges
American Dream & Income Mobility
Engaging Ideas
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What Do Students Know About 
For-Profit Colleges?

For-profit colleges are under the gun of late: their profits are falling; anecdotes abound of their shortcomings; and their default rates are often higher than graduation rates.


For-profits certainly merit some attention. Students attending or considering them should know they will earn a credential that is cost-effective and useful. Taxpayers should know federal funding is being spent wisely. 


To this end, over the past year and with the support of The Kresge Foundation, we spoke to current community college and for-profit college students, prospective adult college students, and students who started college and dropped out, about their thoughts regarding for-profit colleges. We also spoke to employers. What do students know and think about for-profit colleges? What are employers' attitudes toward for-profits, and do these attitudes have any bearing on students' prospects for employment?


We are still analyzing the results of this research (to be published later this year) and are pulling together findings, but we've heard a few things that you may not have expected:

  • While most current for-profit students are confident their degrees will greatly improve their job chances, only a minority of for-profit alumni say that getting their degree was well worth it.
  • Many prospective students feel their options are quite limited -- especially older students and those choosing a two-year college. These students say that community colleges, four-year institutions, and for-profit schools all have their pros and cons, and no one type of school addresses all of their needs and concerns.
  • Students and employers generally are unfamiliar with the term "for-profit college" -- something researchers, policymakers and the media should be aware of as they try to reach these audiences. 
These are just a few of the things we heard from students and employers. If you're interested in learning more, let us know and we will send you the report when it has been released. 


Reflections on the American Dream 

and Income Mobility 

A person's  prospects for escaping poverty are higher in areas that have better K-12 schools, more two-parent households and more opportunities for civic engagement, according to a  new study on income mobility. Income mobility is also strongly correlated with geography, with mobility lowest in the Southeast and Midwest and highest in the Northeast, Great Plains and West. How do the realities of economic mobility pair with our assessment of the possibilities of attaining the American Dream? 


Last year, we surveyed 2,000 Americans from across the country about their views of the American Dream. In general, the ingredients people identified as essential to achieving their idea of the American Dream correspond with findings from the income mobility study (which the researchers note are correlational and not causal). 


 In our research, Americans broadly agree that hard work, strong families and a good education are key elements that contribute to achieving the Dream -- each are seen as essential by more than 75 percent of Americans. 


We also found that Americans are divided on the role of government and communities in helping achieve the American Dream: 42 percent of respondents agreed that "achieving the Dream is mainly something people do for themselves-what government and communities do doesn't matter," while 39 percent agreed with the statement "it's crucial for the government and communities to take steps so every child has a fair chance at the American Dream."


Individualism, entrepreneurism, and the ability to build a successful life out of near nothing through hard work are positive ideals for our country - ideals that have sometimes come to life in reality. At the same time, the income mobility study indicates that, for some people, the prospects for rising out of poverty significantly depend on circumstances including geography and quality of education-- and can often be nearly impossible to achieve.

Many factors go into an individual's ability to make a better life, and we still don't fully understand how all these factors relate and why economic success can vary to such a wide degree. Access to the American Dream is not a simple matter, and our conversation about that access shouldn't be either.

Our American Dream research suggests that there is a real opportunity for the nation to have a healthier and more robust national dialogue about the Dream. The income mobility study further highlights the need for such a dialogue. Join the conversation with your thoughts - tweet us or comment on Facebook with the hashtag #InvisibleDream.


Engaging Ideas   

Slow Ideas 
Atul Gawande shares the story of the first use of antiseptics versus anesthesia to show how some innovations spread faster than others. He also went on The Colbert Report to discuss scaling up ideas, which he said relies on dialogue between people, not incentive or punishment.   
A Lot of Civic Leaders Need to Listen to This Painfully Obvious Advice
Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program have a new book, titled The Metropolitan Revolution, which describes the power shift to cities. In this interview, the authors discuss the barriers to making big changes, how to collaborate across sectors, and, ultimately, build a network to solve tough problems. 

25 Years From Now and Still Relying on Fossil Fuels?
In this month's National Geographic The Great Energy Challenge, Senior Fellows Jean Johnson and Scott Bittle have a look at the estimated international energy mix for 2040. What will it take for long-term projections to show more than a marginal shift?

Why Americans All Believe They Are 'Middle Class'
Nearly half of Americans call themselves middle-class, even as many don't actually fit the category. What are the pitfalls of using this term and does it have a bearing on policy and our national perception of class? 
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