I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around academe. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week.

College affordability, open educational resources, and risky partnerships.

This week’s newsletter is an annotated reading list, which I’m continuing to compile as part of The Edge’s summer schedule. In this one, I share ideas for new policies to make college more affordable for students with the greatest financial need, a rundown on state actions to promote open educational resources, and some warnings about colleges’ “lending out” their brands to coding boot camps and the like.

  • As debates over “free college” and canceling student debt go on, two professors who study college costs are arguing for more-nuanced approaches, to ensure that federal taxpayers don’t end up rewarding states that have been starving public higher ed. To me, the most interesting idea in their new paper, “Moving Beyond Free: A College Affordability Compact for the Next Generation,” is awarding a Pell Grant “top-off subsidy” to under-resourced, high-impact institutions that serve low-income students.

    That’s one of several proposals from David Feldman, a professor of economics at the College of William & Mary, and Christopher R. Marsicano, an assistant professor of educational studies and public policy at Davidson College. Their paper, published by the think tank Third Way, emphasizes not only policy nuance, but accountability. The authors suggest that those Pell bonuses go to institutions that accept students with the most significant financial need (not who just manage to qualify for Pell Grants) and can show positive outcomes like solid graduation rates and post-college earnings and low rates of loan default. “‘Free college’ may fit on a bumper sticker,” Feldman and Marsicano write, but they say they’ve come up with a “more progressive and efficient approach.”

  • Advocates for open educational resources are celebrating California’s $115-million commitment to “zero textbook-cost” degrees, signed into law in July, which Nicole Allen of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, or Sparc, called “a monumental investment.” Curious what other states are doing? Check out the OER State Policy Tracker that Sparc is updating with legislative and other actions relating to textbooks, as well as policies on publishers’ deals for “inclusive access.”
  • As more colleges partner with coding bootcamps and other (for-profit and nonprofit) non-degree education providers, a new report from the Century Foundation warns that some deals might be taking advantage of “regulatory blindspots” that could leave students at risk. “Flying Under the Regulation Radar: University Partnerships With Coding Bootcamps,” written by Taela Dudley, a senior policy associate for the watchdog group, and Emma Rindlisbacher, a contributor, is based on reviews of several such contracts, in the same vein as the organization’s prior work scrutinizing universities’ contracts with online-program managers.

    The latest report, on boot camps, raises concerns about relationships that limit colleges’ control over academics and program operations and that shield the boot camp-type providers from accreditors’ review. “If the program does not live up to the university’s own academic standards,” the report argues, that “could put the university’s reputation at risk.” Consider also the potential lack of scrutiny from colleges’ boards, which might value such partnerships for their convenience and “short-term profitability,” as the report puts it, and you have a dangerous combination that can leave students “in a very precarious situation.”

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at goldie@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, find them here. To receive your own copy, free, register here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.

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