The College Puzzle Blog
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Dr. Michael W. Kirst

Michael W. Kirst is Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University since 1969.
Dr. Kirst received his Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard. Before joining the Stanford University faculty, Dr. Kirst held several positions with the federal government, including Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty. He was a former president of the California State Board of Education. His book From High School to College with Andrea Venezia was published by Jossey Bass in 2004.

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My blog discusses the important and complex subjects of college completion, college success, student risk factors (for failing), college readiness, and academic preparation. I will explore the pieces of the college puzzle that heavily influence, if not determine, college success rates.

Guest Blogger Sara Goldrick-Rab on why federal TEACH grants are the new debt trap

Guest Blogger:
Sara Goldrick-Rab
Assistant Professor of Educational Policy Studies & Sociology
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Scholar at the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education


The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program was established by Congress under the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, to benefit current and prospective teachers. This new grant is available as of the 2008-09 school year. It provides $4,000 per year to students willing to commit (as recent high school graduates) to earning a degree in education and then going to teach full-time for 4 years in high-poverty schools in a specific subject area.

On the face of it this looks like a good program-- incentives for more individuals to become teachers, teach in low-income communities, financial assistance that does not have to be repaid, etc.

But beware: If a student does not fulfill the terms of the grant it is automatically converted into an unsubsidized loan, with interest accruing starting when the loan began.

One can easily imagine many ways a student could fail to fulfill the terms of the grant.
Here are but a few examples:

1. The 18 year old student might change her mind about becoming a teacher (all you have to do to be eligible is to "plan on completing coursework necessary to begin a career in teaching")

2. She might not be admitted to a school of education. This is easy to imagine at a school like UW-Madison, where our admissions occur only after a student begins college and are quite competitive.

3. She might not succeed in the program (you have to maintain a 3.25 GPA each semester)

4. She might not find an appropriate teaching job in her local area and thus be forced to move away from home, or even out-of-state. (There is a clause for this: "There are, however, graduate degree alternatives for teachers or retirees with experience in a teacher shortage area" but the options aren't spelled out)

5. Once she's teaching, she could be laid off (new teachers are especially vulnerable to this).

6. The school at which she's teaching might change in composition, such that it is no longer considered "high-poverty." (It seems the criteria will be based on % free lunch)

For these reasons and many more, the student's "grant" of up to $16K might suddenly become an unsubsidized loan amounting to far more with interest included (something along the lines of $40K over a 10 year period).


Yet to sign up for the program the student only signs a simple form-- since it's not a loan there is no promissory note clearly spelling out terms and conditions. This is thus not like a loan forgiveness program.

We should be very concerned about the potential impacts of this highly misleading program on uninformed students. Apparently while this has passed Congress, it is not out of the Education Department's rule-making process yet. There is time to act. This program should be retooled into a loan forgiveness program -- if a student succeeds, she ends up paying nothing--if she fails, at least the loan was subsidized, and at least she knew what she was getting into...

Copyright 2006 My College Puzzle