Office of Planning and Budgeting

On Monday, the College Board released a report indicating that only 43 percent of the 1.66 million college-bound seniors taking the SAT in 2012 are “college ready,” as defined by achieving a score of 1550 or more on the SAT. The College Board claims a student scoring 1550 or higher on the SAT has a 65 percent chance of achieving a B- or higher average in their first year at a four-year college. The percentage of college-bound seniors scoring 1550 or higher in 2012 was the same in 2011, though about 17,000 additional seniors took the test in 2012.

Scores in the component sections have been slipping for some time: In critical reading, average scores dropped from 500 in 2008 to 496 in 2012; in writing, scores fell from 493 in 2008 to 488 in 2012, and average achievement in mathematics stayed constant at 514. The College Board blames this partly on the huge increase in students taking the test—the number of test-takers has grown by 6 percent since 2008—and partly on an insufficient college-preparatory curriculum in America’s high schools. Seniors that took four years of English, and three each of math, science and social studies scored an average of 144 points higher than students that did not complete these core courses, indicating that college preparatory coursework significantly improves a student’s performance on the SAT.

Encouragingly, more minority and low-income students than ever are participating in the SAT. Forty-five percent of seniors taking the SAT in 2012 were minority students, and 36 percent reported their parents’ highest level of education was a high school diploma or less. In addition, twenty-two percent of SAT-takers took the test for free through the College Board’s fee waiver program. This represents the largest number of fee waivers used since the program began in 1970. Unfortunately, minority and low-income students, apart from Asian American students, still perform substantially worse on all parts of the SAT than white and middle/high income students do. On critical reading, for example, black students score 99 points lower than white students on average (428 vs. 527).

To learn more about this year’s statistics, check out Inside Higher Ed’s blog post or read the full report.

On October 10th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas (UT)—the first Supreme Court case on the use of race in higher education admissions since Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003. The case asks that the Court either declare UT’s admissions policy to be in violation of Grutter v. Bollinger or entirely overrule their 2003 decision that race could play a limited role in universities’ admissions policies. An overruling of Grutter could effectively end affirmative action at public universities.

Although around 80 percent of UT’s admissions decisions are made via a unique, race-blind method called the Top 10 Percent Plan, the case challenges whether UT’s “holistic file review” system (which is used to fill the remaining 20 percent of openings) exceeds their right to consider race and ethnicity. Under the holistic file review system, admissions officers and hired readers assess the full application submitted, reading essays and recommendation letters, assessing writing skills, and importantly, seeking to understand the context in which SAT scores and GPAs were earned. Race is one of many contextual factors considered. The UW adopted a race-neutral version of the holistic approach when it became clear, several years after the passage of I-200, that a composite score admissions platform (which essentially scores applicants based on GPA and SAT or ACT scores) insufficiently accommodated diverse applicants. Over time, the UW’s holistic review, even without a race factor, was found to significantly increase the diversity of entering classes.

In fact, schools across the country use similar systems to foster diversity in their schools, and many have voiced their avid support for UT. In August, the American Council on Education filed a brief on behalf of itself and 39 higher education groups backing UT. The Obama administration also filed a UT-supportive brief, as did a group of U.S. senators, and a number of states (including California, where voters barred public universities from considering race in admissions).

However, last Friday, opponents of UT’s holistic review caught a break when the Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization based in D.C., presented new research suggesting that eliminating the consideration of race would have a lesser impact on minority students than some believe. In addition, their research implies that under affirmative action, minority students may actually achieve less academic success than they would otherwise. The studies received criticism for their methodology and lack of peer-review, but have still caught the attention of the media and public.

Debates will likely continue through next month. If the Court rules in favor of Fisher, the use of holistic review across the country may be called into question, although the UW’s race-neutral model should be significantly less vulnerable.

The UW’s Office of Federal Relations posted information this morning detailing the federal sequester’s impact on state budgets. Read the grim summary here.

The Offices of Federal Relations, Planning & Budgeting, and Research recently collaborated on a policy brief summarizing basic sequester information. Note that sequester updates are available on the Office of Federal Relations’ blog.

As a recent post discussed, if you attend college, you are more likely to earn more money. But, as you might imagine, the financial value of higher education depends on what program you choose and where.

Information on the annual earnings of students from different programs and institutions is exactly what Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican of Florida, hope to provide. Their recently-introduced “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act” proposes creating a state-based, individual-level data system linking the average costs and graduation rates of specific programs and institutions to their graduates’ accrued debt and annual earnings.

Although useful, Senator Wyden acknowledged that such information is limited and that focusing on financial indicators alone could undermine the importance of liberal arts—whose graduates may not earn large salaries right after college. He stated that the bill’s intention is “to empower people to make choices.” However, “people” include not just students, but policy makers—such as Florida’s Governor Rick Scott who sparked controversy last October when he asserted that state money should go to job-oriented fields, rather than fields like anthropology which, he said, do not serve the state’s vital interest.

Regardless of the bill’s success, about half of the states already have the ability to link postsecondary academic records with labor data. And some, such as Tennessee, have already done so. Here in Washington, the Education Research and Data Center is in the process of connecting certain employment and enrollment data for schools, such as the UW, to analyze in the coming months.

All this begs the question: Is college chiefly for personal economic gain?

A recent report by the College Board highlights both the financial and nonfinancial payoffs of college. Additionally, David A. Reidy, head of the philosophy department at University of Tennessee Knoxville, stated in a recent Chronicle article that four-year degrees, particularly in liberal-arts, are not solely for job training. “The success of the American democratic experiment depends significantly on a broadly educated citizenry, capable of critical thinking, cultural understanding, moral analysis and argument,” he wrote. Philosophy and other core disciplines help nurture such a citizenry, he continued, “And the value there is incalculable.”

The Economic Revenue and Forecast Council (ERFC) released its September revenue forecast on the 19th. Believe it or not: Anticipated revenues for the current (2011-13) and upcoming (2013-15) biennia were slightly ahead of the previous forecast.

Although only eight months of the current biennium remain, revenues are running $29 million ahead of predicted levels due to better than anticipated employment numbers, construction activity, and real estate excise tax collections.

Projected revenues for the upcoming 2013-15 biennium (FY14 & FY15) were raised by $23 million; but, as the full forecast and press release note, the downside risks resulting from potentially stagnant employment gains, an extremely weak Washington export market, sovereign European debt crisis, and possible federal fiscal cliff threaten these modest gains.

While ERFC will refine the revenue forecast again in November and the Governor will use it as a basis for her budget, she and the Office of Financial Management (OFM) have already committed any possible additional revenue above current forecasted levels to K12. Revenue projections may have increased slightly with the release of this forecast, but required expenditures in the upcoming biennium will far outweigh potential revenues. OFM projects a $1 billion deficit out the gate.

 

The NY Times reports that researchers at the Brookings Institution have summarized why college is worth it. Their chart shows the percent of people at each income level who have various levels of educational attainment. Not surprisingly, the conclusion is that more education opens the gateway to better, higher-paying jobs.

A few findings to consider:

  • Of the Americans who earn over $150,000, 82 percent had a bachelor’s degree.
  • An individual with only a high school diploma is twice as likely, relative to someone with a college degree, to earn less than $40,000 per year.
  • Conversely, an individual with a college degree is 9 times more likely to make over $100,000 and 13 times more likely to make more than $200,000 per year when compared to someone with only a high school diploma.

Although half of all UW undergraduates graduate with zero debt, even when factoring in debt, college is still a great investment. The same researchers developed another chart showing the return on investing in one’s higher education relative to the return on investing comparable tuition money in the stock market, long-term Treasury bills, housing, corporate bonds or gold.

Once again, the numbers show that postsecondary education opens the door to higher-paying jobs and more opportunities.

Now that both Democrats and Republicans have adopted party platforms at their respective conventions, what do we know about their plans for higher education? Below is a quick overview of each party’s higher education goals and associated action steps (past, present, or future) adapted directly from the parties’ formally-adopted platforms:

DEMOCRATIC PLATFORM

GOAL 1: To make college affordable for students of all backgrounds and confront the burden of loans.

  • Removed banks as student loan middlemen, saving more than $60 billion.
  • Doubled investment in Pell Grant scholarships.
  • Created American Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $10,000 over a 4 year degree.
  • Working to help student loan payments be only 10% of a student’s monthly income.
  • Pledged to incentivize colleges to keep their costs down.
  • Invested over $2.5 billion into strengthening our nation’s Minority Serving Institutions.

GOAL 2: To recognize the economic opportunities created by our nation’s community colleges.

  • Invested in community colleges and called for business-college partnerships to train 2 million workers.

GOAL 3: To make this country a destination for global talent and ingenuity.

  • Will work to help foreign students earning advanced degrees stay and help create jobs here.

REPUBLICAN PLATFORM

GOAL 1: Improve our nation’s classrooms.

  • Address ideological bias that is deeply entrenched within the current university system.
  • Protect the public’s investment in state institutions from abuse by political indoctrination.
  • Call on State officials to ensure that public institutions be “places of learning and the exchange of ideas, not zones of intellectual intolerance favoring the Left.”

GOAL 2: To address rising college costs and get back to programs directly related to job opportunities.

  • Expand new systems of learning (online universities, community colleges, etc.) to compete with traditional 4-year colleges.
  • Advance the affordability, innovation, and transparency needed to make lower cost alternatives accessible to everyone.

GOAL 3: To get federal student aid onto a sustainable path.

  • Provide families with information necessary to making prudent choices about a student’s future.
  • Shift the federal government’s role in student loans from being the originator of loans to an insurance guarantor for private sector student loans.
  • Welcome private sector participation in student financing.
  • Reevaluate any regulation that drives tuition costs higher.

Voters’ choices on November 6th will determine which party, and consequently which platform, has the greatest impact on the UW. In the meantime, any relevant updates or changes will be added to OPBlog.

US News and World Report released its annual college rankings Tuesday and the UW dropped from 42 to 46 in the National Universities category, and from 10 to 13 among public universities.

This drop isn’t as severe as it might seem. As noted by the Seattle Times, this change is a relatively small one. In the rankings, many universities may have equal scores and so share a numeric rank. This year, for example, there are five institutions that are ranked 46th.  Last year, there were several institutions ranked 42nd. Only one institution is now ranked above the UW that was not ranked above or tied with the UW last year: UC Irvine.

Ranks are calculated by weighting a number of factors:

  1. Undergraduate academic reputation
  2. Retention
  3. Graduation rate
  4. Faculty Resources
  5. Student selectivity
  6. Spending per student
  7. Alumni giving

Interestingly, the factor for which the UW shows the greatest deviation from other similarly ranked institutions is “Faculty Resources.” While the UW is ranked 46th overall, it is ranked 150th in terms of faculty resources. The two most heavily weighted measures in faculty resources are:

  1. The percentage of classes with fewer than 20 students, and
  2. Average faculty salary.

Given the recent economic situation faced by the UW, it is not surprising that these are problematic measures for us.

In summary, the UW’s ranking has dropped, but the significance of that drop is low. Moreover, the UW’s low ranking on the key “Faculty Resources” factor is to be expected given the salary freeze and state funding cuts the UW has experienced during the Great Recession.

Hi, my name is Becka Johnson. I recently joined the OPB as the Higher Education Policy Analyst and am excited to be contributing to the OPBlog as part of my new position. I earned a BA in Psychology from Whitman College and, this June, I received my Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree from the UW’s Evans School of Public Affairs. I look forward to putting my experience to use at the UW and to keeping the community informed of relevant policy topics.

Please feel free to contact me at jbecka@uw.edu if you have any questions or feedback. Thanks for reading!

The Pell Grant program, the largest federal student grant program, was expected to be $20 billion short of the $40 billion price estimated for FY12 (which ended July 1). However, the Department of Education surprised many with newly-released data showing the federal government not only spent well under that estimate at only $33.4 billion, but in fact $2.2 billion less than FY11.

Recently, Pell eligibility increased dramatically as college enrollments rose and the recession continued to impact family/student income. This trend continued in FY12 and, interestingly, the dip in Pell spending occurred despite a 58,000 increase in Pell recipients—to almost 9.7 million. In fall 2011, nearly one quarter of UW freshmen were Pell eligible.

Reasons for the decline in Pell spending include:

  • The elimination of the year-round, or summer, Pell Grant, which allowed students to qualify for two awards in a year.
  • More students attending college part time as part-time status reduces Pell award amounts.
  • Fewer students attending for-profit institutions, which tend to enroll students who qualify for larger awards. Recent bad press and slumping enrollments have hit for-profits hard. Consequently, the number of Pell recipients at for-profits declined by 108,000 students, to roughly 2.1 million, and accounted for $1.4 billion of the decrease.

The drop in Pell expenditures is a relief for most lawmakers as they face next year’s “fiscal cliff” and must address both the impending tax hikes (when Bush tax cuts expire) and the automatic spending cuts (as mandated by the sequester). The Obama administration and congressional Democrats have resisted financial aid-related budget cutting, maintaining the maximum Pell award of $5,550 and writing specific protection for Pell Grant funding into the Budget Control Act. However, recent financial straits have already caused the federal government to eliminate several student loan programs such as the previously-mentioned summer Pell Grant, the six-month grace period for loan repayment, subsidized Stafford Loans for graduate students, and incentives for early loan repayment. With the sequester and difficult budget decisions looming on the horizon, it is safe to say that no funding is safe.