On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions policy in its second consideration of a Fisher v. University of Texas appeal. As a reminder, the case stemmed from a lawsuit by Abigail Fisher, a white applicant to UT Austin who claimed she was unfairly rejected due to the university’s affirmative action admissions program. Since our last update, when the Supreme Court ordered the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reconsider the case, the appellate court affirmed their decision in favor of UT, and Fisher again appealed that court’s decision to the Supreme Court. For additional background on this case, please see our previous two posts, found here and here.
The case was decided by an unusual 4-3 margin due to Justice Kagan’s recusal and the recent death of Justice Scalia. According to the NY Times, Justice Kennedy, who had never before voted to uphold an affirmative action plan, wrote for the majority that “…it remains an enduring challenge to our nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”
This decision marks the end of the Fisher case, but the debate over affirmative action in higher education carries on.
Stay tuned to the OPBlog for updates.
OPB has posted a report on higher education trends from the past year to the Briefs tab of our website.
Based on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Trends Report, the brief summarizes the ten trends outlined by The Chronicle and highlights relevant examples from Washington state. The brief also outlines a selection of additional higher education trends which we have observed.
The Lincoln Project, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ study of public research universities (PRUs), has recently come out with its fifth and final report, which examines the challenges facing PRUs and recommends strategies for addressing them. The recommendations are threefold:
- Address Financial Challenges:
The sharp reduction in state funding for PRUs—down 30 percent since the year 2000—has been particularly harmful because it has forced public universities to raise tuition. This directly affects access for low-income students—one of the key responsibilities of public higher education. For this reason, the authors highlight financial aid for low-income, in-state undergraduate students as the most important program that institutions can provide. The UW’s Husky Promise program, which provides free tuition to resident undergraduates with financial need, is an example of this type of financial aid.
To cope with diminished state funding, the report also recommends:
- Regional alliances with other PRUs, allowing the schools to combine programs;
- Focusing fundraising on unrestricted donations, allowing universities to put the money towards core educational programs;
- State-led creation of PRU long-term funding plans, allowing universities to more securely plan for their future; and
- Advocating for additional federal research support.
- Form Public-Private Partnerships:
In the authors’ view, there is a natural alliance between PRUs and businesses. PRUs are critical to the business community: they educate workers and provide research upon which businesses and corporations build their enterprises. Universities also rely on businesses for funding assistance and for employment opportunities for their graduates. The report recommends that businesses provide research funds, well-paid internships, scholarships, and other support mechanisms for universities and their students. Universities, in turn, should provide easier access to their research and actively work towards partnering with businesses. The UW has a variety of public-private partnerships, including its Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a partnership with Microsoft and Tsinghua University in Beijing.
- Serve Students:
- Simplify financial aid: Filling out a FAFSA is a complicated process which can impede access to higher education. Simplifying the loan application procedure would help ensure that a larger proportion of students who are interested in higher education get access to the funds they need to pursue their goals.
- Track student performance: Thanks to improved data analysis tools, universities have an enhanced ability to help students graduate. The report highlights Georgia State University (GSU) as a particularly successful example. GSU uses an algorithm to pinpoint students at risk of failing or dropping out, enabling the university’s advising services to intervene on a one-to-one basis. According to the report, these interventions have increased graduation rates by 20 percent, reduced time to graduation, and eliminated graduation rate differences between racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
- Improve transfer pathways: The report recommends that four-year institutions work with community colleges to simplify the transfer procedure. Doing so can make higher education more affordable and accessible and can help transfer students graduate with a four-year degree on time and with as little debt as possible.
Two overarching themes of the Lincoln Project’s report are partnerships and accessibility. Public universities will need both in order to continue fulfilling their dual missions of conducting top-level research and providing high-quality, affordable higher education.
Earlier today, the leadership in the House Appropriations Committee released their 2016 supplemental operating budget proposal. Toward the end of this week, the leadership in the Senate Ways & Means Committee will release their budget. Following that release, we will post a brief here outlining the differences between Governor Inslee’s proposed budget and the House and Senate proposals.
As a reminder, supplemental budgets include technical corrections and minor appropriation changes to the current 2015-17 biennial budget (fiscal years 2016 and 2017). Budget proposals in the House and the Senate will be amended in their respective committees, and possibly on each chamber floor, before negotiations begin towards a compromise budget.
Overview of the House budget:
Compared to the Governor’s proposal, the UW would receive an additional $50,000 to fully fund the implementation of HB 1138. In addition, the House budget would not reduce the UW’s allocation for legal services (the Governor proposed a reduction of $151,000).
Under the House proposal, the UW’s share of the settlement in the Moore v. HCA lawsuit would increase to nearly $16.3 million, compared to $15.6 million in the Governor’s budget.
The House Capital Budget Committee will release its 2016 supplemental capital budget proposal on Wednesday. Stay tuned to the OPBlog for updates on proposed budgets as they move through the process.
The Obama administration has introduced a plan to bring back year-round Pell Grants and to create a $300 bonus for Pell recipients taking at least 15 credits a semester. Both elements of the plan are designed to incentivize students to graduate faster and accrue less debt in school. The plan would cost $2 billion over the next year, according to the Department of Education.
The year-round Pell Grant program was initially put in place by President Bush in 2008 but was cut in 2011 as a budget-saving measure. While the effort to reinstate the program will likely face significant Congressional opposition, there is some bipartisan support. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-LA), Chair of the Senate education committee, and Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado are cosponsoring legislation to reintroduce year-round Pell Grants. “We have long supported providing students a more flexible Pell Grant program and hope this is one of many areas Congress and the administration can work together to strengthen higher education,” a Republican education committee spokesman was quoted as saying in Inside Higher Ed. Even with this bipartisan support, however, the administration faces a difficult task in getting the legislation through a very budget-conscious Congress.
The $300 bonus, dubbed “15 to finish” by education non-profits, is also somewhat controversial, though the division is between a different set of stakeholders than the Pell Grant expansion. Many college completion non-profits support 15 to finish, saying that encouraging 15 credit semesters is an important tool in incentivizing Pell recipients to graduate on time. The plan has drawn criticism, however, from community college leaders and adult student advocates, who contend that 15 credits is too many for students who are busy working or who have come into higher education unprepared for college-level work.
See the UW Federal Relations department post for further information on the Pell Grant proposal.
New York state has recently instituted the “Get on Your Feet” loan forgiveness program in an effort to keep young college graduates living and working in the state. The program, originally introduced as a part of Governor Cuomo’s 2015 Opportunity Agenda, is designed to help struggling recent graduates in the state pay back their student loan debt. Get on Your Feet is the most recent extension of NY state’s financial aid to its college graduates, which includes loan forgiveness for several public service professions and need-based state grant programs with awards of up to $5,165.
There are a number of eligibility stipulations for the program, including that the graduate be enrolled in the federal Income-Based Repayment plan or the Pay As You Earn plan, that they are making less than $50,000 per year, that they work and have graduated in-state, and that they have received their degree during or after the 2014-15 academic year. Get on Your Feet also only applies to federal loans; private loans are ineligible for relief through the program.
The plan, which has been covered by CNN Money, the Huffington Post, Forbes, and the Washington Post, is not without controversy – recent graduates who do not qualify for Get on Your Feet are upset because they feel they are paying for others’ college costs while reaping none of the benefits of the loan forgiveness. The program is financed through the state’s General Fund, for which the primary sources of revenue are in-state taxes.
The Washington Post article above (linked again here) lists some of the other states that have forms of student loan forgiveness. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia offer some form of loan forgiveness for its residents, according to the article, but New York is the only state that specifically targets lower-income graduates. Most programs in other states are concentrated in public-service industries; health, social work, teaching, and public law.
Washington state provides health-care professionals with loan forgiveness of up to $70,000 over two years (details here) and also gives financial assistance in the form of the State Need Grant (SNG), which distributes financial aid awards up to the price of in-state undergraduate tuition—$10,344 at UW—for Washington residents whose families meet the minimum income requirements.
Unfortunately, more than 33,500 students across Washington, 3,500 of whom attend the UW, are eligible to benefit from the SNG but do not because the program has not received sufficient funding from the state.
United States continues slide in global education rankings: A recent report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reveals that the United States continues to fall behind in educating its populace. The study shows that the US has dropped to fifth in the percentage of young adults, defined as those between age 25 and 34, who have some sort of higher education degree (46 percent). This drop comes despite the Obama administration’s stated goal of having the highest proportion of young adults with degrees in the world by 2020. The report also noted that the percentage of students who leave their home countries for college in the US has dropped significantly since 2000, from 25 percent to 19 percent, with more students opting for the UK, Japan and Australia than ever before.
Income-based repayment now most popular higher ed federal aid program: The U.S. Department of Education reports that more student debt is now being repaid through the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan and the Pay as You Earn (PAYE) Plan—another form of income-based repayment—than any other type of repayment. The combination of IBR and PAYE accounts for $188 billion out of a total of $586 billion, a dramatic increase from past years; the percentage of loan dollars in these two programs has doubled since 2013. According to Jason Delisle at edcentral.org (article linked to above), this is both good and bad news. On the one hand, it seems that more students are learning of income-driven repayment plans and are attracted to the affordability they offer. On the other hand, it could be that more borrowers are not expecting to get jobs that would allow them to afford more traditional loan repayment programs.
College enrollments continue to decline: 19.3 million students enrolled in higher education institutions in fall 2015, 340,000 fewer than enrolled in fall 2014, according to a recent report released by the National Student Clearinghouse. The drop was most pronounced among for-profit institutions, which saw a decline of over 180,000 enrollees from 2014, and among community colleges, at which 145,000 fewer students enrolled. Given the demographics of the students who are choosing not to enroll—primarily full-time community college students and students over the age of 24—researchers have attributed the drop in enrollment largely to the improving job market. The enrollment levels of public and private 4-year institutions stayed largely the same; for information about enrollment trends at the UW, please visit UW Profiles’ enrollment dashboard.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced on Monday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has reached a settlement in its false claims case against the Education Management Corporation (EDMC), an operator of for-profit colleges and universities. The $95.5 million settlement is the largest ever in a higher education false claims case. EDMC will also forgive a total of $102.8 million in loans to over 80,000 students who attended its schools, which include Argosy University, the Art Institutes, Brown Mackie College, and South University, between 2006 and 2014.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2007 by whistle-blowers within EDMC, who alleged that the organization was offering extra incentives to their admissions officers based on the number of students they enroll, a violation of the Incentive Compensation Ban in the Higher Education Act. Said Attorney General Lynch in her statement, “EDMC’s actions were not only a betrayal of their students’ trust; they were a violation of federal law.”
Reactions to the settlement have been mixed. While it is encouraging to see the DOJ take action against illegal and unethical practices at for-profit institutions, many student and consumer advocates have criticized the settlement for providing too little relief for students who accrued thousands of dollars of federal student loan debt at EDMC institutions.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has indicated that his Department is willing to listen to claims from students who believe that EDMC mislead them when if offered loans, but critics of the deal say listening is not enough. “I am disappointed that the department’s only plan for EDMC students is to hear their complaints,” said Robyn Smith, a lawyer at the National Consumer Law Center, who was quoted in The Chronicle.
Others have criticized the language of the settlement, which did not force EDMC to admit wrongdoing for its actions. Stephen Burd, a senior policy analyst at New America, laments the continued lack of accountability of for-profit institutions.
“Too many of these cases are settled without finding fault,” he said in the same Chronicle article, “and the for-profit industry has been able to say, ‘Oh, nothing is proven.’”
Despite its issues, this settlement is another step in the Federal Government’s continuing efforts to rein in the questionable behavior of for-profit colleges and universities. Last year, the Department of Education formed an interagency task force to more rigorously oversee for-profit institutions of higher learning. The Department of Defense also suspended all tuition assistance to the University of Phoenix, which targets veterans in its recruiting efforts.
A recent story in the LA Times, “UC seeks to boost Californians’ enrollment by 10,000 by 2018,” outlined the University of California’s plan to expand resident undergraduate enrollment at their nine undergraduate campuses. Like many U.S. public universities that have faced significant state divestment during the recession, the UC system has enrolled more nonresident students in recent years to help cover funding cuts and keep resident tuition increases to a minimum. To adjust this trend, the California Legislature recently increased its investment in the UC system by $25 million to partially fund the enrollment of 5,000 additional resident undergraduate students by no later than 2016-17. To pay for an additional 5,000 enrollments proposed by UC, system President Janet Napolitano plans to phase out aid for low-income non-resident students and request additional funding from the California Legislature. Napolitano was quoted as assuming the legislature would “continue to support access for California students.”
According to the article, UC officials are now “working through the logistics of housing, laboratory availability, and classroom sizes.” The increase in undergraduate students will also necessitate enrolling 600 more graduate students for instruction and lab support.
The University of Washington has faced similar financial pressures as a result of the recession, but remains committed to providing Washington students with affordable, quality higher education.
- The UW continues to fully fund Husky Promise, which covers, at minimum, tuition and fees for resident undergraduate students who qualify for the Pell Grant or State Need Grant.
- Since 2009-10, the UW has increased incoming enrollment of resident undergraduates by more than 1000 students at its three campuses.
- During the recession, the UW increased its contribution to institutional financial aid in order to maintain access for students with the most financial need.
- The percentage of Pell-eligible students at the UW rose from less than 20 percent in 2007-08 to 29 percent in 2014-15.
With over 188,000 undergraduate students in the UC system, the plan would increase their undergraduate enrollment by over 5 percent. To achieve a similar overall increase, the UW would need to add approximately 2000 students and would face significant barriers in doing so. Unlike the UC system, UW does not provide need-based aid for non-resident undergraduate students, and thus would not be able to cut that non-resident aid funding to pay for additional resident enrollment. Additionally, all three campuses are nearly at capacity without significant capital investment.
Undergraduates who graduated with student loan debt from four-year colleges in 2014 owed an average of $28,950, according to a recently released report by The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS). 69 percent of graduates have loan debt, the same figure as last year and slightly higher than it was in 2004 (65 percent). The average amount of debt per borrower is up 56 percent from 2004 – more than double the inflation rate over the same period – but only up 2 percent from 2013.
A number of factors have contributed to the rising student debt load over the past decade. States have decreased their investment in public higher education over the last ten years, causing students at public institutions to bear a higher percentage of the funding burden. Since 2004, the share of public higher education funding provided by states has dropped (from 62 percent to 51 percent) and the share paid by students and their families (in the form of tuition) has increased (from 32 percent to 43 percent).
In addition, the growth of Pell Grants has not kept up with rising costs. The TICAS report shows that between 2004 and 2012—the last year in which data is available—recipients of Pell Grants at public four-year colleges saw average cost of attendance rise by $7,400 and grant aid rise by just $2,900. At private, non-profit colleges the gap is even wider; costs rose by $14,400 and grants increased by $8,700.
Washington state is performing well with regard to student loans: only 58 percent of Washington bachelor’s degree recipients who graduated in 2014 had loans, and those who did had an average of $24,804, more than $4,000 below the national average. The University of Washington also looks good by these metrics: thanks in large part to the University’s commitment to institutional aid through programs such as Husky Promise, less than half of all UW undergraduates who graduated in 2014 had student debt and the average debt burden was $21,558, well below the state and national averages.
While Washington’s performance relative to its peers is laudable, student debt is still a major issue for many students. The TICAS report offers a series of proposals to mitigate the student debt load, among them doubling the size of Pell Grants, simplifying income-driven repayment plans, and improving student loan servicing to make it easier for students to pay back their loans. It is important that policymakers remain focused on reducing the student debt burden and continue working with institutions to make higher education accessible and affordable for all students during and after graduation.
 It’s important to note that borrowing rates and debt levels vary widely by state, college and sector.
 Because the federal government does not require colleges to report debt levels for their graduates, data in the TICAS report is based on voluntary reporting by institutions. Hardly any for-profit colleges voluntarily report their graduates’ average debt, so this year’s debt figures are for public and nonprofit colleges only.
Next Page →