Office of Planning and Budgeting

Christy Gullion, Director of Federal Relations, recently provided an update on the fiscal cliff–the combination of large decreases in federal spending and simultaneous increases in income taxes set to take effect January 1st. For background information, please see the brief put out jointly by the UW offices of Federal Relations, Planning & Budgeting, and Research.

A bill introduced to the House of Representatives earlier this month by Rep. Thomas E. Petri, a Wisconsin Republican, would overhaul the federal student-loan programs. Under the proposal:

  • Monthly payments would be capped at 15 percent of discretionary income—the new income-based repayment program currently caps payments at 10 percent of discretionary income.
  • Payments would be withheld directly from paychecks—essentially eliminating the potential for defaulting, a welcome thought for schools with high default rates (predominately for-profits) which are at risk of losing eligibility to participate in federal aid programs.
  • Interest accrual would be capped at 50 percent of a loan’s total at the time of graduation—good news for borrowers, often low-income, who take upwards of 10 years to repay loans.
  • Subsidies would be eliminated that currently pay interest while undergraduates are in college—a means of offsetting the cost of capping interest, but potentially detrimental to low-income students.
  • Loan forgiveness after a certain number of years (usually 20 or 25) would be eliminated—this could dissuade students from entering public-service careers for which loans are currently forgiven after 10 years.

The proposed system resembles those used in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. If passed, the new rules would only impact new loans.

While some components of the bill could be beneficial, such as the cap on interest accrual, many other components appear problematic. The Chronicle reports that the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators expressed support for the proposal saying, “We need to make it as easy as possible for borrowers to stay on the straight and narrow.” But others, such as the advocacy group Institute for College Access & Success, worry the bill would “take away some key tools for managing federal student debt,” such as forbearance and deferments.

Since similar proposals from Rep. Petri have had little success in the past and since his latest bill has no cosponsors, the bill is unlikely to be passed. However, it could be discussed during next year’s Congressional debate over reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, which expires at the end of 2013.

Last Wednesday, eight Democratic senators sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) asking Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, to investigate strategies that some for-profit colleges allegedly use to falsely lower their cohort default rates (CDRs)—the rate at which student borrowers default on federal loans. Institutions with high CDRs can face penalties including a loss of eligibility for federal student aid programs.

The letter cites a recent Senate Committee report, which presents evidence that for-profits routinely use two tactics
in particular to manipulate CDRs:

  1. “Encouraging or even harassing borrowers” into forbearances or deferments, which can delay default until after the
    period for which CDRs are typically reported; and
  2. Manipulating campus and program categorizations in a way that makes their default rates artificially low.

The senators argue that “for-profit schools should not be able to use administrative smoke and mirrors to circumvent regulations that protect students and taxpayers, and the department should take action to prevent these tactics.” Some for-profits have admitted to using such strategies to “manage” their CDRs, but they deny that doing so conflicts with their students’ best interests.

For-profits consistently average higher default rates than all other higher education sectors.  Of the students who began repaying loans in 2009, 22.7 percent of students at for-profits defaulted within three years, while only 11 percent of public students defaulted in that timeframe, and only 7.5 percent of private nonprofit students. In contrast, the UW’s three-year CDR was an impressively low 3.1

Comparing for-profits’ two-year CDRs with newly-reported three-year CDRs reveals a major, and potentially damning, discrepancy. Fifty percent more students from for profits’ defaulted in the three-year timeframe than in the two-year timeframe. The senators say this “raises serious questions about how widespread the use of such tactics may be across the sector.”

ED has yet to respond to the senators’ letter.

The Governor’s budget office released the first set of biennial budgets today. The current Governor proposed a “current law” balanced budget, assuming no new revenue, and a budget with new revenue, appropriating $34.1 billion of Near General Fund State per year, for which all of higher education, including financial aid, would receive nearly $3 billion (or 8.7 percent). As a reminder, Governor Gregoire’s budget proposals are the first of many budgets to be released for the upcoming biennium. The earliest point that the UW will have a sense of its actual anticipated state funding level is late April 2013. In addition, we might see Governor-elect Inslee release his own budget, or a set of budget priorities, in January 2013.

Under Governor Gregoire’s balanced and new law budgets, each of the state’s six baccalaureate institutions would receive slight increases in funding when compared to carry-forward budgets levels, with no new tuition increases or state funding reductions. While the UW has another year of tuition setting authority under HB 1795, the Higher Education Opportunity Act, this budget does not provide any new financial aid funds to cover tuition increases.  Note that Education Legacy Trust funding, from which the UW normally received at least $8 million annually, was removed from all public baccalaureate institutions’ budgets and replaced with general fund appropriations.

The 2012 Legislature appropriated $209 million in state funds to the UW for FY13, thus, both of the Governor’s proposed budgets represent an increase in the UW’s state funding for FY14 and FY15. However, the budget bill devotes these increases to covering expenses associated with the UW’s collective bargaining agreements.  If any funds remain afterward, they will be available for any other purpose(s).

Please review our budget brief on the Governor’s operating budgets and capital budgets. As usual, let us know if you have any questions.

 

Check out Christy Gullion’s latest post about a possible to deal to avoid the federal fiscal cliff.

The NY Times reports that although the federal government’s recently-expanded income-based repayment program is more affordable for some students, it may come with a hefty, and unexpected tax burden. The federal government will generally forgive whatever loans are left after 10 to 25 years of income-based payments; however, unless you attend a program for teachers or take a job in public service, you will have to pay income taxes on that forgiven debt. For someone who attended graduate or professional school and racked up six-figures of debt, the tax could easily be five-figures and, perhaps most worrisome, would be due immediately.

So, how many people could have to face this formidable tax and what would it amount to for the average borrower? The Education Department estimates that approximately two million people had applied for income-based repayment as of Oct. 31. About 1.3 million of those applicants qualified for reduced payment, another 440,000 applications were still pending. According to the article, “400,000 borrowers from 2012 through 2021, each with a beginning average loan balance of about $39,500, would each eventually receive loan forgiveness of about $41,000.” The amount forgiven can be larger than the original balance because of accrued interest payments. Depending on your tax bracket, the federal tax on $41,000 of forgiven loans could amount to over $10,000 and, if you live in a state with income taxes, you’d need to deal with those as well.

That said, since $41,000 is more than double what is given to the average Pell recipient over four-years, a $10,000 tax payment could be considered fair. The New America Foundation and others have argued that the new repayment program provides only marginal benefits to low-income borrowers, but “generous benefits to borrowers with higher federal loan balances” who have the potential to earn high incomes later on. As The Quick and the Ed notes, someone who earns $400,000 at the high-point of their career may still receive over $80,000 in loan forgiveness. In the latter situation, a large, lump-sum tax payment is likely very fair.

The article provides some useful resources for those who are participating in the income-based repayment plan and those who are considering it, including:

The Wisconsin Education Approval Board, which oversees all for-profit colleges located in the state and any online-learning programs offered to its residents, may require that those institutions achieve specific performance standards in order to operate within Wisconsin. Specifically, that board is proposing to require that at least 60 percent of a college’s students complete their studies within a certain time-frame and at least 60 percent of its graduates have jobs.  Public universities and private nonprofit colleges are not under the board’s jurisdiction and would therefore be exempt from the requirements.

The board already collects and publishes data on its institutions. According to those reports, average completion rates fell from 82 to 59 percent over the last six years and the percentage of graduates who were employed during a given year dropped from 44 to 22 percent (in the same time frame).

The Chronicle reports that the board is basing its standards on what they believe “Wisconsin consumers would find ethical, responsible, and acceptable for institutions choosing to enroll them.” However, for-profit colleges have already submitted letters to the board arguing that the proposed standards are “arbitrary and should not be broadly applied to a diverse set of programs, which often enroll underserved populations.”

While the federal government’s “gainful employment” rule is similar to Wisconsin’s proposal, it is unusual to see a state attempt this type of regulatory system. Some states have increased their requirements for online and for-profit institutions—but Wisconsin’s proposal is especially aggressive. For-profits that wish to operate in Washington must receive authorization from the Washington Student Achievement Council, which considers institutions; “financial stability, business practices, academic programs, and faculty qualifications”—but does not yet hold them to specific graduation or employment standards.

On Wednesday, Wisconsin’s board voted unanimously to postpone a final decision until a team made of board members, representatives from colleges and universities, and State legislators can review the proposal more thoroughly.  The team is scheduled to make recommendations to the board in June of 2013.

On Friday, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) approved a rough implementation plan for a set of initiatives that could affect biomedical studies and the faculty, postdoctoral, and student researchers who conduct them. Three working groups proposed the plan back in June and mean for it to guide, diversify, and improve biomedical research through new grant programs and guidelines.

The biomedical workforce working group recommended that the NIH:

  • Help students prepare for careers by providing institutions with additional grants for training and professional development;
  • Encourage graduate students to complete their degrees on-time by capping the number of years they can receive NIH funds;
  • Urge institutions to financially commit to their researchers by slowly reducing the percentage of NIH funds that go toward faculty salaries; and
  • Support the decision-making of prospective graduate students and postdoctoral researchers by asking that NIH-funded institutions provide data on student career outcomes.

The working group on diversity was founded after an NIH report revealed that black researchers were underrepresented in grant applicant pools and that, when they did apply, they were significantly less likely to receive NIH grants relative to their white counterparts. The group called for the NIH to: 

  • Help bridge diversity gaps by implementing a system of career mentorship “networks” for underrepresented minority students;
  • Support under-funded colleges that have a history of training underrepresented minorities in the sciences by considering them for a “well-funded, multi-year” competitive grant program;
  • Establish a committee to address implicit or explicit biases in the NIH peer review system; and
  • Experiment with completely anonymizing grant applications by removing the names of researchers and their institution.

Lastly, the working group on data and informatics asked that the NIH develop a better framework for information exchange and fund more fellowships and training in statistics and other quantitative areas.

These initiatives may sound familiar as many have been pursued, yet subsequently aborted in the past due to a lack of funding. This time may be no different if Congress fails to resolve the fiscal cliff and mandatory spending cuts that could slash the NIH’s budget by 8.2 percent in the coming year.

Massive open online course (MOOC) providers, Coursera and Udacity, are now offering to sell information about high-performing students to employers who have available positions.

Coursera, which is known for working with high-profile colleges, announced its version of the headhunter service on Tuesday. Already some similarly high-profile tech companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, have enrolled in the service. Once an employer signs up, Coursera provides them with a list of students who match the company’s academic, geographic, or skill-based requirements. If an employer sees a profile they like, Coursera emails the student asking if she or he would like to be introduced to the company. Every introduction costs the employer a flat fee, the revenue of which goes primarily to Coursera. However, 6 to 15 percent of the revenue goes back to whichever college(s) offered the MOOC(s) the student attended.

The Chronicle reports that Coursera’s co-founder, Andrew Ng feels “this is a relatively uncontroversial business model that most of our university partners are excited about.” Regardless, Coursera is giving each of its partnering colleges a chance to opt out of the new headhunter service. If a college declines, any and all students enrolled in its MOOCs will be unable to participate in the job-matchmaking program. If a college accepts, its students will still have the option to personally opt out of the service—either altogether or only for courses they are unable to complete.

Udacity, which works with individual professors to offer MOOCS rather than entire institutions, offers a similar headhunter program. So far, approximately 350 partner companies including Google, Amazon, and Facebook have already signed up.

Neither Coursera nor Udacity was willing to disclose the price of their respective services, but both MOOC providers said they give employers more than just student grades. They also collect and share data on students who frequently participate in discussion forums and help answer questions from their classmates. Mr. Thrun, of Udacity, said employers often find those “softer skills” to be more valuable than sheer academic performance as they can be better predictors of placement success.

Yesterday, the Office of Financial Management, in partnership with the Council of Presidents and the Department of Enterprise Services, published an updated version of the Statewide Public Four-Year Dashboard. The Dashboard displays institution- and state-level data on student enrollment, progress, and degree production to help better inform policy makers and the general public.

More information about the Dashboard and the data it displays (drawn from the Public Centralized Higher Education Enrollment System) is available in two OPB briefs:

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