Office of Planning and Budgeting

As of last Thursday, select California community colleges can charge differential tuition for their most popular extension courses. California’s Governor Jerry Brown supported the bill as an “experiment” that would give a limited number of colleges some flexibility to offer more sections of their most popular courses. The system, which has suffered many years of deep budget cuts, currently turns away as many as 600,000 students because colleges cannot afford to offer enough courses to accommodate them.

The new California law allows six community colleges to charge students for the “actual” cost of the courses, including instruction, equipment, and supplies, rather than the heavily subsidized $46 per credit that they currently assess. The rates are expected to be more than three times higher than the current rate for residents. In order to participate in the program, the colleges must be over-enrolled and the new sections they offer cannot replace the original class. The original class must maintain the current tuition rates, but if the course is full, new sections of the course can be more expensive. The law also requires that a third of the revenue gained from the extension courses be returned back to financial aid.

Critics of the program believe that the law is a first step towards eroding California’s strong commitment to affordable and accessible community colleges. They argue that this program is merely a “toll road for the economically privileged” that will put low-income students at a severe disadvantage. Supporters counter that the program, at the very least, expands access to popular courses and, at best, might even help low-income students because of the 33 percent return-to-aid requirement.

To read more about the program, check out this Inside Higher Ed Article or read the law itself.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court appeared to be in favor of upholding a Michigan referendum, known as Proposition 2, which banned the use of affirmative action in the state’s public colleges and universities. The case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, is not about whether it is permissible for public colleges to consider race and ethnicity in admissions, but whether it is legal for voters to bar such consideration. For background information about this case, please see our previous post.

Tuesday’s arguments focused primarily on a piece of the Equal Protection Clause, known as the “political process doctrine,” which states that political processes cannot be altered in a way that puts minorities at a disadvantage. Opponents of Proposition 2, contend that, under the measure, minority groups who want to reinstate affirmative action must launch a difficult and expensive campaign to re-amend the state constitution, whereas Michigan citizens seeking changes to other university admissions policies are free to simply lobby university regents. This, they argue, places an unfair and disadvantageous burden on minorities.

Swing vote, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, expressed doubts about whether Proposition 2 truly violates the political process doctrine and only two liberal members of the court voiced major criticisms of the Michigan measure. Thus, with Justice Elena Kagan recused from the case, the numbers point toward the court upholding Proposition 2. Such a decision would effectively preserve similar bans adopted by voters in Arizona, California, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Washington; by lawmakers in New Hampshire; and by the public university governing board in Florida. In addition, it could theoretically embolden campaigns for similar ballot measures
elsewhere.

While it seems clear the Justices will rule in favor of Michigan, it is less clear whether the Justices are interested in reversing the political process doctrine, which dates back more than 40 years. In 1982, for example, the justices ruled against a Washington referendum that attempted to prevent Seattle from using a local busing program to desegregate schools. NPR reports that Michigan Solicitor General, John Bursch, “urged the Supreme Court to reverse the Seattle decision and others like it, if necessary.”

We’ll post updates as more information becomes available.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently released “Skills Outlook 2013,” a report that studies adults’ skills in literacy, numeracy, and technology across 24 countries. While Japan and Finland ranked first and second respectively in average scores, the United States scored significantly below average in all three fields. Many experts worry that the US will not be able to compete in a global marketplace unless we are able to improve proficiency in these skill areas.

There was not much good news for the United States in the OECD’s report: Americans ranked 16th out of 23 countries in literacy (comprehending and interpreting words, sentences and complex texts), 21st out of 23 in numeracy (solving problems in a mathematical context), and 14th out of 19 in technology skills (problem-solving using a computer). Furthermore, socioeconomic background was a greater predictor of skill proficiency in the United States than in other countries, indicating large social disparities and a low potential for upward mobility. However, socioeconomic background was less of a predictor for younger US adults, meaning (perhaps) that socioeconomic background is becoming less of a barrier with time. Lastly, not only did the US score below average in all areas, there was hardly any improvement between younger and older generations. For numeracy, older US adults (ages 55-65) performed near the average, but younger US adults (ages 16-24) scored dead last among all participating countries. This last point is particularly concerning as it suggests young people are entering a much more demanding labor market, but are not much better prepared than those who are retiring.

These disappointing results raise an interesting question: if the US has such a dearth of skilled workers, how is it able to remain an innovative and productive economy? Anthony Carnevale, from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, believes it is because the US compensates the most talented and skilled workers exceptionally well, which attracts significant foreign talent and creates great innovation and growth from the top down. However, as growth in the future will likely require more skills at every level of the economy, the American advantage could be slipping. The authors suggest that better educational opportunities and better training in the workplace will be necessary to reduce social inequities, improve upward mobility, and thus avoid economic stagnation. While the report finds that more education is correlated with higher skill proficiency, the quality of education in different countries can differ to the extent that a 25-34 year old high school graduate from Japan exhibits better skill proficiency than a college graduate from Spain. This suggests that adults can learn important skills outside of the traditional educational track—through better job training, adult education, and skill certification and recognition.  

For more information, check out the full OECD report, or analysis by Inside Higher Ed and the New York Times.

In anticipation of last Monday’s “Pay It Forward” working conference in Philadelphia, national education groups and nonprofit organizations released a joint statement opposing the proposal. The joint statement is available here. For more information about PIF, please review our post about Oregon legislation requiring “consideration” of a “Pay It Forward, Pay Back” pilot. A comprehensive brief about the proposal’s UW application is available here.

Last week, the College Board released its 2013 Report on College and Career Readiness, which found that the percentage of students who are unprepared for college-level work has remained essentially unchanged for the past five years. According to the College Board, only 43 percent of graduating seniors in 2013 had achieved their “SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark,” defined as scoring a 1550 or above on the SAT. While there have been some achievements—more minority students are taking the test, and both African-American and Hispanic students are scoring higher—scores are not improving on the whole.

In order to improve students’ college readiness, College Board president David Coleman believes the College Board must partner with schools to implement the Common Core, a set of standardized guidelines detailing what students should learn in each grade. He believes this will help students be better prepared both to take the SAT and to perform at the college level. In addition, the College Board is considering making changes to the SAT. According to a Kaplan Test Prep survey, more than 72 percent of college admissions officers think the SAT should change in order to be better aligned with high school curricula, correct perceived socioeconomic and cultural biases, and make the writing section more relevant. Coleman has promised to address these concerns with an overhaul of the SAT in 2015, which will include a stronger emphasis on analysis, a revamped writing section, and more curriculum-based questions.

As the College Board makes changes to the SAT, the test is becoming ever more similar to the ACT—its biggest competitor—which overtook the SAT in market share for the first time last year, according to the NY Times.  The ACT, which is known for more straightforward questions, emphasizing grammar and mechanics over vocabulary, and testing curriculum-based content, has also made some changes in recent years. The test is now available in a computer-based format and features some free response questions in which students carry out virtual experiments and detail their observations. Experts believe the SAT will likely move towards a computer-based delivery system with its revamp in 2015, and many hope the writing section will be optional, as it is on the ACT.

To read more about the coming changes to the SAT, check out this New York Times article. To read the College Board’s report, please click here.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released its annual update on federal student loan cohort default rates (CDRs), which measure the frequency with which student borrowers at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) default on their federal loans. Although both national and UW CDRs rose, the UW’s rates remain well below those of the nation.

As ED is in its second year of switching to the  more accurate three-year CDR measure, this year’s report includes both the FY 2011 two-year and the FY 2010 three-year CDRs. These rates represent the percentage of student borrowers who failed to make loan payments for 270 days within two or three years, respectively, of leaving school.

The Department provides breakdowns of its data by institution type, state and school. Here are some key findings:

FY 2010 three-year CDR:

  • The national three-year CDR increased from 13.4 to 14.7 percent overall—public institutions increased from 11.0 to 13.0 percent, private nonprofits increased from 7.5 to 8.2 percent, but for-profits’ whopping 22.7 percent rate decreased slightly to 21.8 percent.
  • The UW’s three-year CDR increased slightly from 3.1 to 3.9 percent, but this is still nearly 11 percentage points below the national average

FY 2011 two-year CDR:

  • The national two-year CDR increased from 9.1 to 10.0 percent overall—public institutions increased from 8.3 to 9.6 percent, for-profits increased from 12.9 to 13.6 percent, but private nonprofits held steady at 5.2 percent.
  • The UW’s two-year CDR increased from 2.1 to 3.2 percent, but this is still nearly 7 percentage points below the national average

While this is good news, many students still struggle to afford ever-increasing tuition fees and/or to repay their student loans. The UW reaches out to our former students at risk of default on their Stafford Loans and helps identify federal repayment options that could benefit them. Former UW students who are in default or experiencing difficulties repaying their loans can contact the Office of Student Financial Aid for assistance (osfa@uw.edu, 206-543-6101). Students can also visit studentloans.gov to explore their repayment options.

On Friday, the Obama administration gave some clarity to the Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas, as the decision had not provided a direct answer about the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education. Instead, the ruling had underscored the necessity of “strict scrutiny”—a term that sparked concern and confusion among some college officials. In a “Dear Colleague” letter, the Education and Justice Departments clarified:

An individual student’s race can be considered as one of several factors in higher education admissions as long as the admissions program meets the well-established ‘strict scrutiny’ standard; specifically, the college or university must demonstrate that considering the race of individual applicants in its admissions program is narrowly tailored to meet the compelling interest in diversity, including that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice.

In other words, colleges can continue considering race in admissions decisions as long as race-neutral alternatives would not achieve “sufficient diversity,” as Justice Kennedy put it in the case’s majority decision. Determining what constitutes “sufficient” diversity is where much of the remaining ambiguity lies.  However, in their letter, the Departments pledged to provide “technical assistance” to institutions as they interpret the ruling and asserted that previously-provided guidance on affirmative action still holds true.

As Inside Higher Ed reported, legal experts believe the court’s “strict scrutiny” requirement will make it difficult for UT and many other institutions to successfully defend their use of race in admissions. However, the Obama administration seemed to encourage colleges to maintain their diversity efforts. “The Departments of Education and Justice stand ready to support colleges and universities in pursuing a racially and ethnically diverse student body in a lawful manner,” the letter stated.

For more information, see the Departments’ Q&A document and the article by Inside Higher Ed, and stay tuned to our blog for updates.

On Monday, the U.S. Education Department (ED) began formal negotiationson the draft language of a proposed new  “gainful employment” rule. The rule, originally published in 2011, was designed to enforce a requirement of the Higher Education Act that states career education programs—non-degree programs at all colleges and most degree programs at for-profit colleges—must “prepare students for gainful employment” in order to participate in federal student aid programs. The rule was meant to discourage these programs from misusing federal aid dollars and leaving students with debts burdens they are unable to repay. However, in 2012 a federal judge rejected major provisions of the rule, requiring that ED rethink its strategy.

Here’s a summary of the changes:

  • The proposed rule applies to programs with as few as 10 students, whereas the old rule counted only career-focused programs with 30 or more students. Because of this change, ED estimates that the new rule could cover 11,359 programs at for-profit and nonprofit colleges—nearly twice as many as the old rule covered—and that 974 of those programs (9 percent) could fail to meet the proposed standards.
  • The draft regulation omits loan-repayment as a criterion for federal student aid eligibility. The old rule severed federal aid to programs where too few students were repaying their loans or where graduates’ debt-to-earnings and debt-to-discretionary-income ratios were too high. The new rule removes the loan repayment standards, which the courts deemed “arbitrary and capricious,” and relies only on the latter two measures.
  • Debt-to-earnings calculations would be based only on students who receive federal aid, rather than students who complete the program. The old calculations were based on all students who completed the program, whereas the proposed calculations are based on any students who receive federal student loans and Pell Grants, regardless of whether they complete the program. As the rule is designed to ensure that federal aid is used effectively, this seems a more appropriate approach. 
  • Schools would have fewer chances to improve their performance before losing federal aid eligibility. Under the previous rule, programs that failed the measures in 3 out of any 4 years would be ineligible for federal student aid. However, the new rule only lets programs fail in 2 out of any 3 years before they lose eligibility.

For details, see a comparison of the two versions prepared by the Education Department.  Please continue to follow our blog as well as the Federal Relations blog for updates on this topic.

(This piece was originally posted on 07/11/2013, however it was lost due to technical issues and is therefore re-posted here.)

Last week, the Oregon legislature passed a bill that, if signed by the governor, will implement a pilot program to study the effects and feasibility of substituting upfront tuition payments with income-based, post-graduation payments. For 24 years after graduating, four-year college students would pay back 3 percent of their income and community college students would pay back 1.5 percent. Students who do not graduate would pay back a smaller percent determined by how long they were in school.

If, after several years of study, Oregon decides to adopt a plan (or some form of it), it would signify a major shift in the funding paradigm for public institutions. But that’s a big IF. The plan has received considerable criticism due to a multitude of unanswered questions that could pose significant logistical barriers. For example:

  • How would institutions and/or the state pay for the plan’s implementation (i.e. the several years of foregone tuition revenue between when a student enters school and when they graduate and start earning pay)?
  • How would the state efficiently collect accurate income data on students who move out-of-state?
  • How would the state go about collecting and enforcing payments?
  • How would the plan account for and apply to part-time students, transfer students, mid-career students, and other non-traditional students?
  • How would the plan work with federal and state financial aid programs? Would low-income students be accommodated so as to avoid creating barriers to entry?
  • How does one pilot a 24-year repayment program in just 2 or 3 years?

Even if Oregon’s higher education commission, which is tasked with implementing the pilot program, can find viable answers to those questions, the plan still has a number of possible (if not likely) negative consequences. For instance, the plan may:

  • Magnify the public’s view of higher education as a private good (only benefiting the individual) rather than a public good (benefits for many) which, in turn, could spur the continuing and problematic trend of replacing state dollars with tuition revenue;
  • Make institutions even more vulnerable to economic variations and recessions as their revenue would be tied to graduates’ earning and unemployment rates; and
  • Create social and economic imbalance between Oregon and other states since students who expect to earn less—e.g. social science and humanities majors—would be incentivized to go to Oregon, and students expecting to earn more—e.g. engineering and medical students—would likely go elsewhere.

Granted, the idea of basing college payments on graduates’ income is not a new one. Some federal student loans are eligible for income-based repayment and a program similar to Oregon’s already exists in Australia. However, Australia’s version is administered at the federal level, meaning many problems inherent in Oregon’s plan (tracking students who move around the country, imbalance between states, etc.) are avoided.

The Economic Opportunity Institute, a liberal think tank in Seattle, proposed a version of the plan for Washington in October 2012; but, unlike Oregon’s version, it has yet to go anywhere.  We’ll keep you posted.

Last week, President Obama toured several colleges and universities promoting his plans to make college more accessible and affordable for “middle class” students. As he noted during several stops, achieving a higher education remains one of the most critical means by which citizens achieve job security and financial  stability.

For more detailed information about the central themes of the President’s plans, as well as information about which components require action from Congress, please review a brief on the topic, as well as a blog from Federal Relations. Read more about the plans here and here.

 

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