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.
The rising costs of college are a popular subject for everyone from presidential candidates to media outlets. Parents and students blanche as published tuition prices climb ever higher. But the published price – often referred to as the “sticker price” for colleges – offers a misleading picture of the cost of higher education. OPB has updated our brief to reflect the newest available data on published price vs. net price. Highlights include:
- Sector-wide data on increases in published price and net price for public and private four-year colleges
- A description of how declining state investment in higher education has spurred tuition increases
- A table of the top 25 research universities’ net price for resident undergraduates receiving grant or scholarship aid
Our updated brief is accessible here.
Over the past few months, income share agreements (ISAs) have received significant attention from political candidates, higher education advocates, and news sources. A new OPB brief takes a closer look at ISAs by:
- Exploring differences between and the history of privately funded ISAs and publicly funded ISAs (such as Pay It Forward).
- Comparing ISAs to federal income-based repayment (IBR) plans in terms of overall structure, years to repayment, monthly payments, and total cost over time.
- Identifying remaining issues regarding ISAs and their implementation.
- Offering alternatives like improving federal loan repayment options.
Please contact Jed Bradley if you have any questions.
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.
Last week, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to extend the Federal Perkins Loan Program, which had expired in September.
The bill authorizes new undergraduate applicants to join the program through September 2017, but only if they have exhausted all other federal borrowing options first. New graduate students will not be able to join the program, but those who already have Perkins loans can continue to receive them through September 2016.
In the current academic year, over 3,200 University of Washington students have received approximately $12 million in Perkins loans. These low-income, high-need students, rely on Perkins loans to cover any financial gap that remains after grants and scholarships have been applied to their tuition.
More information on the Perkins extension is available at Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle.
Washington State’s Education Research & Data Center (ERDC) recently published the Earnings for Graduates Report, which provides earnings information for graduates from the state’s public institutions. OPB’s latest brief describes where the data for the report came from, discusses some of its limitations, and warns against relying on the report in choosing a program of study.
The Education Department’s (ED) final “gainful employment rule,” which was released yesterday, will hold vocational programs accountable to just one of the two outcome metrics that were proposed in the March draft rule. Cohort default rates (CDRs) were eliminated from the legislation, meaning that debt-to-earnings ratios will be the only criteria upon which individual career education programs are evaluated to determine federal aid eligibility.
Community colleges had advocated for the change on the grounds that a relatively small number of their students take out federal loans and, thus, cohort default rates are “materially and statistically unrepresentative of all the students in a program.”
Student and consumer advocates, however, have contended that the change weakens the rule and doesn’t do enough to protect students and taxpayers. Pauline Abernathy – Vice President for The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), a consumer advocacy group – issued a written statement yesterday saying:
“We and more than 50 student, civil rights, veterans, consumer, and education organizations urged the Obama Administration to strengthen its draft gainful employment regulation, but instead this final regulation is even weaker. The final rule also does not provide any financial relief to students who enroll in programs that lose eligibility; lets poorly performing programs enroll increasing numbers of students, right up to the day the programs lose eligibility; and even passes programs in which every student drops out with heavy debts they cannot pay down.”
For-profit colleges weren’t pleased with the outcome either, arguing that the legislation does nothing to fix a proposal they see as being “fundamentally flawed.”
Arne Duncan, the education secretary, estimates that 1,400 programs—99 percent of which are at for-profit colleges—will fail the rule in the first year. However, that number is 500 less than it would have been under the March version of the rule. Unfortunately, of those 500 programs, 15 are ones where students are more likely to default than they are to graduate. See the article by TICAS for more information.
Since programs will only become ineligible for federal aid after they fail the debt-to-earnings tests twice in a three-year period or are “in the zone” for four consecutive years, institutions will not face penalties for at least three more years. Therefore, it is possible that the gainful employment rule will be revised yet again before its effects are truly felt.
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