Office of Planning and Budgeting

Here are a few noteworthy headlines from the past few days of higher education news:

  • History professors at the University of Florida are fighting a proposed differential tuition strategy that would hold tuition rates stable for “high-skill, high-wage, high-demand” degree programs for at least three years.  Most STEM degrees made the list of majors recommended for this tuition freeze, while core Humanities disciplines (such as history) did not.  The Governor-commissioned task force responsible for the proposal said, “The theory is that students in ‘non-strategic majors,’ by paying higher tuition, will help subsidize students in the ‘strategic’ majors, thus creating a greater demand for the targeted programs and more graduates from these programs, as well.”  Supporters feel such an approach will provide taxpayers with the maximum return on their investment and “improve the university system overall.”   However, the opposition, championed by a number of history professors, argues the strategy would detract from the university’s prestige and lead to a less “richly educated” workforce.  Over 1,300 faculty from Florida and beyond have petitioned Florida Governor Rick Scott to seek faculty input for future decisions regarding Florida’s higher education system.  This particular form of differential tuition contrasts with the more typical, cost-driven approach, under which students in majors that cost the university more to provide (such as STEM fields) are charged higher tuition than students studying less expensive subjects (like history).
  • Carnegie Corporation President, Vartan Gregorian, is advocating for a presidential commission on higher education to “generate the kind of attention and urgency that the circumstances demanded for the nation to keep its competitive edge.”  The commission’s mandate would be to address the many challenges confronting higher education (cost, access, etc.) and help policy makers determine its future.  Given the drastic demographic, technological, and economic changes already occurring in higher ed, Mr. Gregorian believes now is the appropriate time to discuss nation-wide reform.
  • Apprenticeships are becoming more popular in the U.S. as a means of bridging the disconnect between what students learn in college and what their future employers actually want them to know.   Several Harvard professors, inspired by Germany’s “dual system” of providing students with practical job-related skills and theoretical instruction, are working with six states to establish apprenticeship programs.

As a means of both acknowledging and analyzing the recession’s impact on students, this year’s National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) included a new set of questions asking how students’ finances affect their stress and academic activities. Approximately 15,000 first-year and senior students from “a diverse group of 43 institutions” responded to the new addendum.  The results, which were released last week, indicate that “finances were a significant concern for the majority of students.” 

As seen in Table 5 from the official report:

  • The majority of students frequently worried about paying for college and regular expenses.
  • Roughly 1 in 3 students said financial concerns interfered with their academic performance.
  • About 30 percent said they frequently chose not to buy required academic materials due to cost.
  • More students looked into working more hours than into borrowing more money as a way to cover costs.
  • Approximately 3 in 4 students still agreed that college is a good investment.

In addition to these findings, the study found that over 55 percent of full-time seniors said that their choice of major was influenced by factors such as ability to find a job and/or the prospect of career advancement.  Yet, 89 percent of students overall said the most influential factor in choosing a major was still how well it fit with their talents and academic interests.

Washington’s Economic Revenue and Forecast Council (ERFC) released November’s revenue forecast today. Overall, revenue collections for the current biennium are holding steady, while collections anticipated for the next biennium are slightly lower than the previous forecast.

2011-13 (FY12 and FY13)

For the current biennium, collections are $8 million higher than the previous forecast, and though this increase is extremely slight, it signals
to agencies that additional, current year budget cuts are unlikely when the legislature reconvenes in January.

2013-15 (FY14 and FY15)

The upcoming session will be at least 105 days in length and result in a new biennial (two year) budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The revenue forecast for the upcoming biennium was also updated today and as predicted, shows a modest decline but largely holds anticipated collections to the previously forecasted level. As required by law, ERFC releases optimistic and pessimistic alternative forecasts for the coming biennium. The alternative forecasts suggest that a variance of $3 billion in new revenue or in new cuts is possible. For the time being, the actual forecast for the upcoming biennium is $88 million lower than the September forecast. Slow growth is expected in both Washington State and the US. However, high downside risks including the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, federal fiscal cliff, and the resulting employment and consumer confidence declines present significant reasons to be skeptical about any significant revenue growth.

Governor Gregoire will release her biennial budget in December, but new Governor Jay Inslee may present an alternative budget in January, at
the same time the legislature begins its budget process. Stay tuned! We have a long way to go!

 

 

Controversy has surrounded massive open online courses (MOOCs) since their inception.  Some believe MOOCs will broaden access to higher education and bring down costs, while others fear the rush to embrace MOOCs may come at the expense of academic quality. To help settle this debate, the American Council on Education (ACE) revealed yesterday a “wide-ranging research and evaluation effort” of MOOCs’ academic potential, including a pilot project to determine whether some MOOCs should be eligible for college credit.  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded ACE nearly $900,000 to pursue these activities—one of the foundation’s 13 new MOOC-related research grants.

ACE’s pilot project will examine 5 to 10 MOOCs offered by Coursera (one of the largest MOOC providers.) beginning next year. Teams of faculty will compare these MOOCs to traditional college courses, evaluating their contents, teaching methods, and student engagement. To pass the review and be recommended for credit, Coursera must find a way to authenticate its students’ identities—a difficult task considering thousands of students can register for each course. Coursera hopes to address this challenge by partnering with online proctoring companies that monitor tests remotely and verify students’ IDs via special software and webcams.

According to the NY Times, if ACE believes a course deserves academic credit, students who want to earn that credit would pay a fee for the proctored exam.  If those students want a transcript that they can submit to other schools, they’ll need to pay another fee (Coursera’s offerings are otherwise free).

It should be noted that even if ACE recommends a course for credit, individual colleges must still decide whether to accept those credits. While higher education institutions (as represented by ACE) and the Gates Foundation may believe in the potential of MOOCs’, it is unclear whether colleges will actually welcome MOOC transfer credits.

On Tuesday, 11 states voted on ballot measures that could impact higher education. The following table (based on one from The Chronicle) summarizes how those measures fared.

YES–the measure passed           NOthe measure failed

CALIFORNIA
YES Prop 30 Would temporarily increase sales and income taxes in order to raise approx. $6-billion in revenue and stave off $963-million worth of cuts to the public colleges.
MAINE
NO Question 2 Would allow a $11.3-million bond issue to fund capital for a diagnostic facility at the University of Maine.
MARYLAND
YES Question 4 Would let children of illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition rates provided they meet certain conditions.
MICHIGAN
NO Proposal 2 Would let graduate students form unions and bargain collectively.
MISSOURI
NO Prop B Would raise cigarette taxes and use the revenue to create a Health and Education Trust Fund. About 30 percent of revenue would go to higher education.
MONTANA
YES LR-121 Would require proof of citizenship in order for a person to receive certain state services, which includes attending Montana’s public colleges.
NEW JERSEY
YES Question 1 Would let the state issue a $750-million bond for buildings and upgrades at public and private colleges.
NEW MEXICO
YES Question C Would authorize a $120-million sale for certain higher education repairs and improvements.
OKLAHOMA
YES Question 759 Would ban affirmative action programs in the state, including their use in public colleges’ admission policies.
RHODE ISLAND
YES Question 759 Would give Rhode Island College up to $50-million for its health and nursing programs’ facilities.
WASHINGTON
NO SJR 8223 Would allow the UW and WSU to invest publicly-generated revenue (i.e. parking fees and indirect-cost reimbursement for grants) in corporate stock.
YES Initiative 1185 Would renew the requirement of a two-thirds legislative vote in order to create new taxes or raise existing ones–effectively making it more difficult for the state to generate new revenue for programs including higher education.

 

Although other nations continue to outperform the U.S. in terms of educational attainment, the Pew Research Center reported yesterday that record numbers of young Americans are attending and completing college. Of Americans aged 25 to 29 in 2012, 33 percent have completed at least a bachelor’s degree and 63 percent have completed some college—up from 17 and 34 percent respectively in 1971.

The NY Times noted that this is welcome news following the “education reversal” of the early 2000s, when the percentage of young Americans (ages 25 to 29) earning bachelor’s degrees leveled off and was surpassed by the share of “prime age adults” (ages 45 to 64) receiving degrees. Now, this trend “has vanished or been reversed by recent improvements in the education attainment of young adults,” according to the report.

The authors posit that more young Americans may have recently pursued (and earned) degrees in higher education as a means of weathering the job drought caused by the 2007-09 Great Recession. However, the report acknowledges that the portion of young adults attending and completing college has generally increased since 1980. This long-term trend it attributes to improved public opinions regarding the importance of a college education. According to a 2010 Gallup survey, 75 percent of Americans agreed that, in order to get ahead in life, a college education is necessary (up from only 36 percent in 1978).

Unfortunately, the fact remains that other countries are not only achieving higher levels educational attainment than the U.S., their rate of improvement outpaces ours. If the U.S. is to reclaim its title as a global leader in higher education, we will need greater gains than this in the coming years.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in a pivotal copyright-infringement case over whether textbooks from foreign markets can be imported to the U.S. and resold without the publisher’s permission. The Court’s decision in the case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, may have major consequences for publishers, academic libraries, museums, and others who resell, lend, or display copyrighted material made and purchased outside the United States.

The case arose when Supap Kirtsaeng, a U.S. college student originally from Thailand, re-sold textbooks that his friends and relatives shipped to him from abroad. In response, publisher John Wiley & Sons sued him for copyright infringement. Mr. Kirtsaeng’s defense centers on the first-sale doctrine, which permits the buyer of a copyrighted work to lend or resell it without permission. However, the Copyright Act states that the first-sale doctrine applies only to goods “lawfully made under this title,” which may or may not include foreign products. In August 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision that only domestic works are protected under the first-sale rule, nevertheless the Supreme Court may have a different ruling.

As the NY Times reported, much of Monday’s discussion involved what lawyers call the “parade of horribles”—the worst-case scenarios that could result from a ruling in favor of the publishers. For example, libraries could theoretically be prohibited from distributing foreign-made books, owners of foreign cars could be barred from re-selling them as used, and more. The publisher’s attorney stated that there might be provisions allowing for some gifts and re-sales, such as the “fair use” doctrine which lets copyrighted works be reproduced if they are to be used for research, critique, or similar purposes. However, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. countered, “It seems unlikely to me that, if your position is right, a court would say, it’s a fair use to resell the Toyota, it’s a fair use to display the Picasso.”

Justice Elena Kagan, considered by many to be the crucial swing vote in the case, actively questioned both sides, but did not reveal her leanings. Otherwise, the justices appear divided, according to The Chronicle. A ruling in the case is expected by the end of the court’s term, in June.

One of several recent Pell Grant changes has made it harder for some students to finish school and earn a degree, according to Inside Higher Ed. Effective July 1st this year, the federal government decreased the duration of Pell eligibility from 18 semesters to 12 semesters as a means of both cutting costs and incentivizing students to graduate on time. While most students take less than 12 semesters to earn their bachelor’s degree, existing Pell recipients (who expected to receive 18 semesters of eligibility) were not grandfathered in when the changes took place.

Of the estimated 62,000 students affected by the change, colleges say the hardest hit were transfer students and students who have attended some college, but never earned a degree. More specifically, many impacted students seem to be those who:

  • Left school before graduating, but have returned to complete their degree;
  • Transferred, or “swirled,” between multiple schools—a growing trend in higher education;
  • Enrolled with a for-profit institution, but transferred elsewhere before graduating; and/or
  • Changed programs multiple times within the same school.

According to an “informal tally” by the California State University system, about 6,100 of the system’s students (4 percent) lost Pell Grant eligibility because of the new 12-semester limit.

Since some students who lose eligibility may not be able to afford to continue their education and earn a degree, this change could conflict with the government’s emphasis on improving graduation rates and increasing the number of degree-holders. However, as Congress gears up to deal with impending sequester cuts, the financial benefits of these types of tough decisions are increasingly likely to outweigh the nonfinancial costs.

The Department of Education released a set of final regulations today that will implement the new Income-Based Repayment provisions explained in our last blog post. Borrowers who took out student loans on or after October 1, 2011 will be eligible for the program. Borrowers who fall into that category, and who also took out loans on or after October 1, 2007, can retroactively include those loans in the new IBR plan.

The Department of Education acknowledges that there has been some concern about the plan, as the New America Foundation in particular has claimed it will help mostly high-income, high-debt borrowers and give universities incentives to keep tuition high. However, the department does not believe there is conclusive evidence that this is true and will be implementing the program as soon as possible, perhaps as early as this fall.

The new regulations also include a provision making it easier for borrowers who experience a “total and permanent disability” to discharge their student loans. Previously, borrowers with disabilities had to notify each sub-lender and guarantee agency separately. The new system will allow them to submit just one discharge application to the Department of Education.