Office of Planning and Budgeting

The College Board released its 2010 Trends in College Pricing report this week. The report made a large public splash amidst heightened concern about college prices during the economic crisis. The report’s data and conclusions were presented and dissected from many different perspectives, including: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Inside Higher Ed, and The Chronicle.

The full report is worth reading, but some of the highlights include the following:

  • Over the past decade, tuition sticker prices increased, on average, 5.6% per year at public four year institutions. Note that in the 1990’s when state funding levels were high, tuition increased more slowly, while cuts to state funding in the last decade have led to rapid increases.
  • On average, state appropriations per FTE declined by 9% in 2008-09, and by another 5% in 2009-10.
  • In 2009-10, state appropriations per student were 19% lower than they were a decade earlier.
  • Over 47% of all students enrolled in a four year institution (public or private) face published prices of less than $8,999 per year. Only 13% are enrolled in an institution with a published price of over $30,000 per year.
  • In 2010-11, the average student at a public four year institution received $6,100 in grant aid and tax benefits, and Only 1/3rd of college students pay the published tuition and fee rates.
  • Due to historic increases in Federal Pell Grants and increased institutional aid, the average net price paid by students was actually less than the net price paid in 2005-06. Note that students and families who receive little or  grant or tax aid are paying significantly more than they were in 2005-06.

While college costs continue to rise faster than the rate of inflation, which is especially concerning when family incomes are losing ground, the data show that federal, state and institutional grant and tax aid have had a powerful effect on the net cost of college. In fact, many students with financial need are paying less today than they were 5 years ago.

In addition to illustrating the striking role that financial aid is playing in college affordability, the report also highlights the dramatic decline in state support for public institutions, which are operating with almost 20% less state funding per student than they were a decade ago, despite state approval of larger than normal tuition increases.

Ultimately, the costs of public higher education are being shifted from the states to the students and families who are paying higher tuition, and to the federal government, which is providing increasing levels of financial aid.

Expect further detailed analysis of this report and how the College Board’s findings apply to the UW soon.

Having weighed tens of thousands of public comments, the US Department of Education released today a final set of regulations governing various aspects of higher education. While primarily aimed at what are widely seen as abuses within the for-profit higher education system, the regulations apply to all institutions and are driven by the federal government’s interest in protecting the integrity of the federal government’s $170+ billion annual investment in higher education via student aid programs (governed by Title IV of the US Higher Education Act).

Notably, final regulations regarding the controversial gainful employment rule were not published today. Having received over 90,000 public comments and facing an intense for-profit sector lobbying effort, the Department has indicated a need for more time before it is able to finalize gainful employment regulations. The Department will host public meetings on the rule on November 4th and 5th.

Inside Higher Ed has a good overview of the regulations released today, which will take effect in July 2011, as well as links to the rules and a list of the revisions made since the initial rules were proposed. Major changes include:

  • Eliminates loopholes allowing institutions to provide incentive pay for admissions and financial aid employees. The rules now explicitly state that incentive payments for employees can not “in any part” be based on enrollment or financial aid metrics.
  • Revises the definition of a credit hour for the purpose of awarding federal student aid.
  • Clarifies the timeline for returning federal student aid when a student is no longer enrolled.
  • Requires for-profit institutions to provide easily accessed graduation and job placement statistics, as well has college cost calculators.
  • Requires institutions to notify DOE of new non-degree certificate programs, some of which DOE may determine require a formal application for federal approval (note that this is an area where feedback/lobbying had a significant impact as the original rule required DOE approval for all such programs).

These rules represent a large step for the federal government in regulating higher education in the US.

For more information on the federal government’s intensifying scrutiny of the for-profit higher education sector and why it matters to traditional institutions, see our previous posts: Senator Tom Harkin and the HELP Committee Continue to Investigate For-Profit Colleges, and Under Federal Fire, For-Profit Colleges Point Finger at Publics.

John Aubrey Douglass of UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education has issued a new report on the current status of higher education, and potential paths for growth and change into the future.

In Re-Imagining California Higher Education, Douglass argues that the existing model for higher education in California (here representative of higher education in states across the US) has changed only incrementally over recent decades and is ill suited, due primarily to the combination of declining per student funding and increased enrollment, to meet the near-term demands of the economy, much less US stated goals of dramatically increased participation and attainment for the future.

Douglass proposes that California boldy reimagine its higher education system by building on the existing strengths of its current tripartite system (two year community colleges, the four-year California State system, and the four-year UC research institutions). Among his proposals:

  • An expanded community college sector that includes a set of institutions offering four year degrees and a set of institutions with a more explicit ‘transfer focus’.
  • A new poli-technic institution sector that focuses on applied degrees in science, engineering and technology.
  • A new online ‘open university’ that focuses on adult and/or placebound learners in California.
  • Increased focus on international recruitment to attract funding dollars and top talent to the state.
  • Increased focus on partnering with the federal government in funding institutions beyond basic research and financial aid to students.

With arguably the best– and certainly the largest– public higher education system in the country, if not world, the old saying ‘So goes California, so goes the nation’ comes to mind while reading Douglass’ report.

At this month’s meeting, the Board of Regents was given a presentation detailing student enrollment to provide a sense of the size and scope of the UW’s instructional enterprise.  Highlights from this presentation are below.

All enrollments

  • In Fall 2010, 49,940 students were enrolled; this represents a 21 percent increase over the Fall 2000 enrollment of 41,200.
  • Of the 49,940 students, 42,935 (86%) are considered “state-reported students.”
  • Of the 7,005 non-state-reported enrollments, 1,020 represent students allowed to take up to six credits on a space available basis (senior citizens and state and university employees).  Those remaining are students in fee-based programs.

State-reported undergraduate enrollments

  • In Fall 2010, 32,500 state-reported undergraduates are enrolled, up 16 percent from the Fall 2000 level of 28,000.
  • Of these 32,500 undergraduates, 16 percent are nonresidents.

Looking forward, a new report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 2010: State of College Admission, puts college enrollment figures in a national context by discussing trends in the college-age population and projections for post-secondary participation in the coming years. They find that while the number of high school graduates has peaked after a decade of growth (expected to rebound by 2018-19), college enrollment continues at an all-time high even though minorities and low-income students remain underrepresented.

Two economists at the College of William and Mary have published a new book called ‘Why Does College Cost So Much?‘ In a co-authored op-ed published by Inside Higher Ed, Archibald and Feldman explain that their book is an attempt to largely dispel commonly asserted narratives that blame rising college costs on a particular set of actors (the government, the administration, the faculty, or even students and families) who have created institutional dysfunction that must be targeted for reform.

Instead of these often politicized arguments, they attempt to examine the higher education industry in the context of the American economy with the basic assumption that economic forces acting on and reshaping other industries might also be applicable to higher education. The authors focus particularly on the role of technology in reducing the costs of manufactured goods and agricultural products, but not services.

We look forward to reading this new addition to the literature.

UW administration recently submitted four budget exercises to not only close out the current biennium (2009-11), but also to plan for the coming biennium (2011-13). Each submission was required by OFM.

Information to make final adjustments to the current, 2009-11 biennium:

Information to help the Governor and the Legislature write initial budgets for the 2011-13 biennium:

  •  The state’s budget forecast for the coming biennium (2011-13) calls for a shortfall in state funds that could be between $4.5 and $6 billion. In an effort to understand how agencies would be affected by further state funding reductions in 2011-13, OFM ordered all agencies to submit information about the possible effects of a 10 percent reduction in funds, $58 million for the UW (please note this was an illustrative exercise and does not represent existing UW plans for implementing future budget cuts). The UW’s plan was submitted on September 30, 2010.
  • On September 13, 2010, the UW submitted its 2011-13 operating and capital budget requests, including all required university data plus any requests for funds for the coming biennium. As we’ve noted in the past, we do not anticipate any new operating resources from the state for new endeavors on campus. The UW’s operating budget and capital budget were submitted to OFM on September 13, 2010.

The University anticipated and responded to any requests for information about prior and future budget cuts by working with appropriate units that have experienced the most significant reductions in the past, and which will likely be affected by further reductions in the future. The reductions we’ve made in the past two fiscal years were strategic in nature; academic units were largely shielded from reductions and various administrative units were targeted for larger reductions.

While each unit had to take an immediate cut in funds to reconcile the $17.1 million October reduction, any future cuts will once again be strategic, differential, and the result of collaboration between units, the Provost, and Planning & Budgeting.

The federal Recovery Act of 2009 included a two year expanded higher education tax credit (based on the existing Hope Tax Credit). The new American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) maxes out at $2,500, can be redeemed for up to four years, is partially refundable (up to 40%), and eligibility does not start to phase out until joint household income reaches $160,000 per year. Overall, the AOTC is a much more inclusive and expansive tax credit when compared to the existing and permanent Hope and Lifetime credits.

A new report from the US Department of the Treasury provides details on the AOTC benefits provided to Americans during 2009 and 2010. They find that The AOTC has been a great help to families across the nation facing larger than normal tuition increases as state higher education budgets have been cut deeply.

  • 12.5 million students/families received a higher ed tax incentive in 2009.
  • AOTC increased total tax incentives for higher ed by over 90%, from $9.6b in 2008 to $18.2b in 2009.
  • AOTC recipients got an average tax credit of $1,700, a 75% increase over the average credit received via the Hope or Lifetime credits in 2008.
  • 4.5 million students and families were able to take advantage of the new refundable status of the AOTC, receiving an average of $800 that they would not have previously qualified for.

The AOTC is set to expire next year. The Obama administration has called for Congress to make the expanded credit permanent (at an estimated cost of $58 billion over 10 years). Visit the Federal Relations website, and keep up with their Federal Report for news of any action that Congress may take on this issue in the coming weeks and months, and keep an eye on the OPB website and blog for news about what changes in these tax credits might mean for UW students and their families.

While some may be expanding public investment in higher education, the US is not alone in wondering how to maintain globally competitive institutions while significantly increasing student access in the face of diminishing public resources. A British panel headed by Lord John Browne released a long anticipated report, Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education, which outlines Britain’s higher education goals, assesses the ability of the existing system to meet them, and proposes a new financing model that shifts the cost away from taxpayers and toward the graduates themselves.

The debate about higher education as primarily a public or private good is a familiar one in the US, where shifting the costs from the state to students has been a decades long trend. British institutions only introduced student fees in the early 90’s, and since 2006, British institutions have been allowed to charge a maximum of  £3,000 ($4,800) per year to supplement government funding. If Britain were to implement the report’s recommendations to slash government funding by 82%  and remove the cap on student fees, British higher education would not only catch up, but surpass the US in terms of the public/private split in higher education funding. However, note that loan repayment terms in Britain are much more flexible than in the US.

Some of the primary components of the proposal include:

  • The institutions shall set fees competitively.
  • The Government will front the cost of attendance via student loans.
  • These loans will be paid back after graduation, but not unless or until the student is making more than £21,000 per year.
  • The interest charged will only be high enough to cover the Government’s cost of making the loans.
  • The student’s monthly loan payment will be based on earnings.
  • All outstanding loan amounts will be forgiven after 30 years of payments.

Because the Government is taking on the risk in this model, they propose that institutions face a government levy of 40-90% on any fees charged above £6,000 to discourage needless fee increases.

Such a dramatic increase in the cost of higher education for British citizens is alarming to many. However, proponents note that as many as 20% of students might never have to repay the loans due to low income, and that many others will pay less than the total amount owed. Concerns remain, however, for those who believe in the concept of ‘sticker shock‘, wherein a lower income student is deterred from attending an institution due to the high sticker price, even if financing options may dramatically reduce the overall cost. Still others, including in the humanities and social sciences, are concerned about the differential treatment of medical and other STEM related education fields, which would continue to receive government investment.

The recently announced National Governor’s Association initiative ‘Complete to Compete’ outlines a promising plan to create a national set of performance metrics to enhance accountability and shape funding strategies. The NGA, under the leadership of incoming Chair West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III, convened a Work Group on Common College Completion Metrics to make recommendations on the common higher education measures that states should collect and report publicly. The goal is to improve college completion rates and overall productivity in a new era of fiscal constraints coupled with unprecedented demand for higher education. Reliable, comparable data within the sector will be key to achieving these goals as NGA and others attempt to identify which policies and practices are tied to successful outcomes.

The initiative has gained supporters across the country, including among the Higher Education Funding Task Force created by Governor Gregoire in Washington this past summer. Below is a summary of the proposed Complete to Compete metrics.

They use the following definitions:

Completion rate: The percentage of individuals who complete a certificate or degree (e.g., associate and bachelor’s).
Attainment rate:
The percentage of a population that has obtained a certificate or degree.
Awarding more higher education certificates and degrees within the same resources, while maintaining quality.

They recommend the following metrics:


  • Degrees awarded: annual number and percentage of certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees awarded;
  • Graduation rates: number and percentage of certificate- or degree-seeking students who graduate within normal program time (two years for associate’s degrees; four years for bachelor’s degrees) or extended time (three years for associate’s degrees; six years for bachelor’s degrees);
  • Transfer rates: annual number and percentage of students who transfer from a two-year to four-year institution; and
  • Time and credits to degree: average length of time in years and average number of credits that graduating students took to earn a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree.


  • Enrollment in remedial education: number and percentage of entering first-time undergraduate students who place into and enroll in remedial math, English, or both;
  • Success beyond remedial education: number and percentage of first-time undergraduate students who complete a remedial education course in math, English or both and complete a college-level course in the same subject;
  • Success in first-year college courses: annual number and percentage of entering first-time undergraduate students who complete entry college-level math and English courses within the first two consecutive academic years; and
  • Credit accumulation: number and percentage of first-time undergraduate students completing 24 credit hours (for full-time students) or 12 credit hours (for part-time students) within their first academic year;
  • Retention rates: number and percentage of entering undergraduate students who enroll consecutively from fall-to-spring and fall-to-fall at an institution of higher education;
  • Course completion: percentage of credit hours completed out of those attempted during an academic year.

In order to track whether access to higher education is sacrificed in the name of completion, NGA also recommends the following ‘context’ metrics:


  • Enrollment: total first-time undergraduate students enrolled in an institution of higher education;
  • Completion ratio: annual ratio of certificates and degrees awarded per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) undergraduate students; and
  • Market penetration: annual ratio of certificates and degrees awarded relative to the state’s population with a high school diploma.

The UW has worked with the State for years in efforts to create a robust performance agreement. As those efforts continue, the influence of a national initiative such as Complete to Compete will be interesting to note.

As the economic crisis has continued to batter state budgets across the nation, the compensation of public employees has become a hot button issue for citizens, politicians, and the media. However, the Economic Policy Institute has released a statistical analysis that shows that, after controlling for education, experience, hours worked, organizational size and personal characteristics, state and local government employees are compensated 3.75 percent less than their private sector counterparts (1.8% less for local government employees and 7.6% less for state employees).

The September 2010 EPI Briefing Paper Debunking the Myth of the Overcompensated Public Employee, by Dr. Jeffrey Keefe, uses federal compensation data to analyze differences in total compensation packages for comparable public and private sector employees. Note that the analysis did not include federal workers. Among Keefe’s findings:

  • College-educated public employees cost more than 20% less than similarly educated private sector  employees.
  • Less educated public employees (high school diploma or less) are paid slightly more than private sector employees.
  • Public employees receive a higher portion of their compensation in the form of benefits.
  • After controlling for education, experience, and personal characteristics, an overall compensation differential of 6% is narrowed to 3.7% after accounting for the fact that private sector employees work more hours.

As the public and elected officials debate potential state budget cuts, it is important to contextualize issues such as the pay, benefits, and job security of our public workforce within available data, and to ensure that we are always comparing apples to apples by controlling for the different mix of jobs in both the public and private sector. Keefe’s analysis is a valuable contribution to the discussion.

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