Office of Planning and Budgeting

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has updated its ongoing state budget report: States Continue to Feel Recession’s Impact. On average, state tax collections increased 8.3 percent in 2011, but 30 states have so far projected $54 billion worth of budget shortfalls for Fiscal Year 2012, on top of the $530 billion worth of shortfalls closed by states since 2007. Even if revenue continues to increase at the same rate as it did last year, it would take over seven years for state budgets to recover to pre-recession levels.

As states continue to cut funding, including laying off government workers, unemployment remains over 8 percent and more people than ever are in need of government services, including education and social services. The report emphasizes the importance that increased tax revenue will likely have to play in the recovery of state budgets given how much spending has already been cut by states and how unlikely additional federal aid appears to be. Visit the CBPP website and blog often for updates on many state and federal budget issues.

Released last week by the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, Beyond Need and Merit: Strengthening State Grant Programs describes the scope and type of state grant programs across the US, and provides recommendations for improvement. Such programs currently provide over $9 billion in aid to students each year and comprise, on average, approximately 12 percent of total state funding for higher education. However, they vary widely in number, complexity, eligibility criteria, grant amounts, and efficacy.

Average annual tuition at a public four-year institution in the US is just over $7,000, and the average state grant disbursed to students ranges from $44 in Alaska to over $1,700 in Sourth Carolina (averaging $627 across all states). While 73 percent of all such aid is disbursed based primarily on financial circumstances, many states have adopted large, merit-based programs in recent years that direct grants to non-needy students. For example, the report notes that in Louisiana, where the average annual household income is $45,000, 45 percent of total state grant funds went to students from households with income above $80,000.

Ultimately, the report focuses on ways to potentially streamline state grant programs and better target their resources to those students who need them most in order to increase the impact on both college access and completion. Major recommendations include:

  • Focus grants on students with financial need, who have been shown by research to be most postively affected by grant aid.
  • Simplify grant programs to the extent possible while still being able to target resources to needy students. Straightforward applications, early knowledge of awards, and effective net-price calculators all have a positive impact on application and enrollment rates for students with financial need.
  • Consolidate multiple programs where possible, including converting state required tuition set-asides to state grants to avoid the appearance that the students are subsidizing needy students instead of the state.
  • Create financial incentives for students while they are enrolled by requiring minimum but attainable grades and steady progress toward completion.
  • Consider targeting resources to non-traditional students, including those who are older, part-time, and placebound.
  • When resources are constrained, ration grant aid in a way that is clear and predictable for students.
  • Consider state grant aid incentives in concert with federal and institutional aid to ensure that programs are not operating at cross purposes.
  • Evaluate existing programs as well as test and evaluate new approaches.

Although not discussed much in the report, Washington State has one of the most generous state grant programs in the nation, even though it currently does not have enough funds to accomodate all qualified students. 98 percent of Washington grant funds are awarded based on student financial need and the average grant per student is nearly $900, compared to the national average of $627. Washington State Need Grant funding and policy has and will continue to be key to maintaining college affordability as scarce resources have necessitated rising tuition while household incomes are stagnant. This report provides some useful guidelines for ensuring that taxpayers receive the best return for each dollar invested in student success.

New OPB Brief on University of Washington Seattle Campus Planning Initiatives.

The Office of Planning and Budgeting (OPB) coordinates and oversees physical campus planning initiatives for the UW’s campuses. OPB is currently engaging partners and experts across the Seattle campus in several new planning initiatives, which are highlighted in this brief. The focus ranges significantly, but current initiatives include projecting future needs (e.g. precinct planning), systems planning (e.g. way finding and signage), master plans for sub-areas and features (e.g. Pend Oreille entrance and North Campus housing), campus-wide plans (e.g. Campus Master Plan), as well as participating in local community planning (e.g. University District planning).

We’ve blogged about recent federal scrutiny of the for-profit higher education sector, and specifically about their reported exploitation of veteran students. In addition to new Department of Education higher education regulations implemented last year, President Obama signed Executive Order 13607 in late April. The Order charges several administrative agencies (Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Education) with developing a set of principles that will apply to all institutions receiving funds from federal military and veteran education benefits programs, including the GI Bill. The Principles must be developed within 90 days of the Order and ensure the following for all students eligible for such benefits:

  • Require that institutions provide prospective students with information about the total cost of the education and the portion of that cost that will be covered by their military or veteran benefits as well as estimated student loan costs.
  • Require that institutions provide prospective students with clear data about student outcomes such as graduation rates and time to degree.
  • End all fraudulent or overly aggressive recruiting techniques.
  • Provide individualized educational plans detailing how a student will fulfill program requirements and provide an estimated time to degree.
  • Provide a contact for financial and academic advising to each student.

The Order also mandates development of a centralized system that allows any student receiving military or veteran benefits to register complaints with the federal government. Additionally, it seeks to trademark the term GI Bill and other related terms to cut down on misleading or faudulent use.

Although the Executive Order applies to all institutions who enroll students receiving these benefits, including the UW, the vast majority of violations of these principles exist in the for profit sector. Recognizing that the sector is most affected by the new Order, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities is  appealing to Congress by arguing that the Administration is creating unessecary and duplicative oversight. In the meantime, the involved agencies are moving forward in compliance with the Order.

Today, with public financing for higher education eroding, tuition on the rise, and little growth in household income, the idea that technology can and must revolutionize higher education has once again taken strong hold. Recent start-ups, Coursera and Udacity, founded by Stanford faculty members, and a joint MIT/Harvard venture called edX have the country talking once again about the future of higher education. A new OPB brief  describes these new developments, clarifies the differences between classroom learning, online learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and evaluates their roles in and impact on higher education in the US.

Tom Friedman published a glowing op-ed about MOOCs this week that reads more like a commercial for these start-up companies than a careful consideration, but many of the Reader Picks comments are quite good in pointing out the many, many questions that remain about how this use of technology will fit into education into the future.

A few highlights amidst the higher education news this week:

  • The NYT ran a front-page feature on student debt this past Sunday. Many noted the misleading focus, common in popular press coverage of student loans, on individual students with abnormally high loan amounts, but more surprising was the claim that 94 percent of all students owe money at graduation. The correct figure is 2/3rds. The NYT has corrected the piece and explained that they misinterpreted Department of Education data, but the figure is happily bouncing around the internet and probably will be for some time.
  • With another growing budget gap in California, the Governor’s revised budget contains additional cuts to higher education if voters don’t pass a tax hike at the polls this November. The UC and CSU system will face $250m in new state funding cuts if the tax package is not approved.
  • Several top tier institutions are experimenting with creating humanities PhDs that feature shorter time to degree and prepare students for potential careers both inside and outside of the academy.
  • The College Board made an interesting choice in their next leader, 42 year old David Coleman. Coleman was the co-founder of the nonprofit Student Achievement Partners, which helped develop and promote the Common Core Standards, which define what a student should learn and know in english and math through the 12th grade.  
  • MIT Provost and longtime faculty member L. Rafael Rife will replace Susan Hockfield as MIT President when she steps down. Reif was a leader in the development of MIT’s open courseware and online education efforts including the development of both MITx and the new edX partnership with Harvard.


The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released a report addressing the effects of state disinvestment on enrollment rates in Californian higher education institutions. California high school graduates, despite applying and being eligible for enrollment, are less likely to enroll in the UC or CSU system today than five years ago. The report blames this decline on state cuts in higher education spending, which has led to skyrocketing tuition and enrollment limits at California schools. While California community colleges have absorbed some of this decrease, the report finds that students are increasingly going out-of-state or not enrolling in college at all.

Highlights from the report include:

  • Enrollment rates of Californians at UC and CSU have fallen by one-fifth in the past five years, from 22 percent of CA high school graduates in 2005 to 18 percent in 2010.
  • UC and CSU have rationed enrollment and increased tuition in order to blunt the effect of decreasing state support on educational quality. Tuition rose by 50 percent between 2007 and 2011 at UC, and by 47 percent at CSU.  Tuition at CA community colleges has also almost doubled in that time.
  • UC has reduced its campus enrollment targets and places students not accepted to their campus of choice into a referral pool, which grants them admission to less popular campuses where they are less likely to enroll. CSU now requires a higher SAT/GPA combination for CA students that live further from their chosen campus in an effort to limit enrollment. Community colleges cannot officially deny enrollment, but they have increased class sizes and decreased program offerings which effectively limits slots.
  • Most students accepted to UC who decide not to enroll there, go to private institutions, usually out of state (34 percent).  30 percent enroll at CSU, 12 percent to community colleges in California, 8 percent to public schools out of state, and 10 percent do not enroll in college at all.

The report finds these trends troubling, since it represents a great loss of human capital to California. Estimates say that two out of five jobs in CA in 2025 will require a bachelor’s degree; if current trends continue, California will be short one million bachelor’s degree holders by that time. The report recommends locking in tuition for four years for each incoming class, offering deferred tuition payment plans, reinvesting in higher education and increasing the availability of financial aid to students in order to combat decreasing enrollment rates. To read the full report, click here.

Jeff Selingo’s recent blog post on the Chronicle of Higher Education website summarizes conversations he had with students at six higher education institutions about majors, job skills, and online learning. His findings were somewhat surprising and ran counter to many current trends in higher education. First, he learned that students, while completely immersed in the online world otherwise, do not favor online learning. Instead, they crave face-to-face, personal interactions with students and professors. Second, students feel unprepared for choosing a major and a career, and more counseling would be useful in helping students find their ideal career path. Finally, students do not think majors matter that much—instead of pursuing career-specific majors, students want a broad education that exposes them to many disciplines and prepares them to be good learners and thinkers.

As a student, I can relate to most, if not all of Selingo’s findings. I have never taken an online class at the University of Washington, and few undergraduates I know have. Those that have taken online courses say it is much more difficult to stay motivated and keep up with the material when there is no class to go to and no professor or TA to notice if you fall behind. As an International Studies major, discussion and group work are central to my studies and difficult to replicate online. While such classes are likely helpful for non-traditional, working students finishing their degrees, they are not a perfect replacement for an interactive classroom experience.

Selingo’s assertion that students want more career exploration before college is likely accurate, though I know efforts made both in K-12 and higher education in Washington to help students choose careers and majors. The culminating project and High School and Beyond Plan students complete at the end of high school in Washington State is meant to help students identify their interests and strengths and decide on future career and educational goals. FIGs and TRIGs at UW can help students gain an introduction to prospective majors, and career and academic advisors give lots of opportunities for students to explore potential career paths. While certainly not all students seek out help, there are many options and resources for students that look for them.

The finding that surprised me most was that the students Salingo interviewed thought majors did not matter and were not interested in career-specific learning. While most students I know follow their passions and interests when selecting a major, I believe the economic downturn has made my peers more practical about their choices. A student might major in accounting or business instead of economics, or major in biology and pursue their interest in theater in their free time. Many students add second, more job-skills focused majors or minors late in their undergraduate education in order to make themselves more competitive in the job market. Often, internships solicit applications from specific majors like business, engineering or computer science, which pushes students to consider these majors over others in order to get relevant job experience.

To read more of the Chronicle blog post, please click here.