In “For Public College, the Best Tuition Is No Tuition,” a recent opinion piece published by The Chronicle, the author describes the merits of Finland’s no-tuition education system. In Finland, “all education became public and free” during the 1960s as part of a multipronged strategy to reform and improve education. The other prongs of the strategy involved strengthening the country’s basic education by providing teachers with better pay and training, ensuring that students have individual attention at a young age, and by making education more interactive and experience-based. Forty years later, the country ranks 1st in Pearson’s Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, which is based on results from a variety of international tests of cognitive skills as well as measures of literacy and high school graduation rates. The US ranked 17th. Though the accolades go to Finland’s basic education system, the author concludes that the US should model its higher education system after Finland’s. However, a higher percentage of the US’s population has attained tertiary education (42 percent, ranked 5th, versus 39 percent in Finland, ranked 9th) and a higher percentage has entered into higher education (72 percent, ranked 8th, versus 68 percent in Finland, ranked 13th).
Even if the US should model its higher ed system after Finland’s, the no-tuition strategy is not nearly as feasible as the author suggests. To determine whether Finland’s approach would be “affordable” for the US, the author multiplies the number of US public students in 2008-09 by the average cost of public tuition, room, and board in 2009-10. By his calculations, the program would cost $130 billion annually which, he notes, is more or less equivalent to what the federal government spent on Pell grants and student loans in 2010 ($134 billion). His approach, however, has some serious flaws:
- First, what he is analyzing here is the cost of all public education becoming free, not all education becoming public and free, which is Finland’s model. It is unclear whether the author accidentally left out private non-profits and for-profits—which would be converted to public institutions and made free under Finland’s model. But if the other sectors are added into the equation, the program costs increase significantly.
- Second, undergraduate tuition and fees have increased since 2008-09. Between 2009-10 and 2012-13, adjusting for inflation, undergraduate tuition and fees increased by about 5 percent per year at public institutions and by an average of 2 percent per year at private non-profits. During that the same time, federal spending on Pell grants and undergraduate financial aid remained relatively stable after adjusting for inflation, meaning the costs would not be nearly as interchangeable as the author suggests.
- Lastly, completely eliminating the price of tuition would stimulate demand, which would increase enrollment at public institutions and, thus, the cost to taxpayers. Not only would there be a per-student cost (tuition, room, board, etc.) for each additional student, more students would also require more buildings, classrooms, labs, housing and other capital investments.
Another significant feature inherent in Finland’s system that isn’t contemplated by the author is Finland’s use of a barrier to entry. Finland has limited enrollment spaces and, thus, requires that students pass certain standardized tests at specified levels, depending on the program. This works well in Finland due to their exceptional K-12 system, which ensures that all students are thoroughly prepared for college regardless of personal income or community wealth. The same cannot necessarily be said about our basic education system in the US. Thus, it isn’t clear whether a standardized test could serve as a barrier to entry without significantly and profoundly harming less prepared students.
We’re trying to create a system in which students of all backgrounds and privileges have access to higher education, but substituting price for a proxy barrier like college preparedness may not get us very far. College preparedness would be a preferable barrier in that naturally-talented low-income students would have a better chance of attending college than they currently do; but what would happen to the students who don’t have the resources they need to succeed? Would they be denied access to higher education?
There are costs and tradeoffs associated with every higher education system and reform plan, free tuition is no exception. Free tuition may be a viable option, but it’s not a silver bullet.
Thursday night, time ran out for Congress to reach a deal to keep federally subsidized student loan interest rates from doubling. The Senate adjourned for its Fourth of July recess without voting on a plan; thus, the interest rates on new federally subsidized loans will double to 6.8 percent on Monday July 1st (the same rate as unsubsidized federal student loans).
It is possible, however, that students won’t end up paying the increased rates. There has been a push from some legislators to enact a one-year fix that would temporarily adjust/lower the interest rates after the fact. As the lender of the student loans, it is within the federal government’s power to apply such a solution retroactively.
The increase was originally scheduled to occur a year ago. But, thanks to an election-year alliance of student advocates and the Obama administration, the rate increase was delayed by a year.
For more information, see the Inside Higher Ed article and please stay tuned to the Federal Relations website for updates.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that Fisher v. University of Texas (UT), the case on UT Austin’s race-conscious admissions policy, be sent back to an appeals court for further scrutiny. The case stemmed from a lawsuit by Abigail Fisher, a white applicant to the university who claimed she was unfairly rejected due to UT Austin’s affirmative action admissions program. For more background on this case, please see our previous two posts, found here and here.
The court’s 7-to-1 decision did not provide a direct answer about the constitutionality of UT Austin’s admissions practices. Instead, it ordered the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reconsider the case on the grounds that the appeals court had failed to apply “strict scrutiny” (a rigorous standard requiring that both an important goal and a close fit between means and ends be identified) in its review of the case and subsequent ruling in favor of UT. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the only dissenting voice; she argued that the appeals court was right to support UT’s policies.
According to the NY Times, Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority that courts reviewing affirmative action programs must, “verify that it is necessary for a university to use race to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.” This necessitates, he said, “a careful judicial inquiry into whether a university could achieve sufficient diversity without using racial classifications.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling did not displace its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which found educational diversity to be of sufficient importance to overcome the government’s standard ban on racial consideration. However, as Inside Higher Ed reports, legal experts believe the court’s demanding “strict scrutiny” requirements will make it difficult for UT and many other institutions to successfully defend their use of race in admissions.
The debates surrounding Fisher v. UT and affirmative action in higher education as a whole are far from over. Many expect the Texas case to return to the Supreme Court after a new review by the appeals court. We will keep you posted with any updates.
On Saturday, the Senate released a revised budget proposal, which closely resembles the budget they passed in April. For the UW, the two budgets differ in just a few ways:
- Unlike the original Senate budget, the revised budget does not include a $12.5M transfer away from the UW Hospital Account;
- The revised budget does not cut the UW by $3.2M for “administrative efficiencies” that were assumed in the original budget; but
- Compared to the original proposal, the revised budget provides the UW with $3.2M less in new funding.
The latter two changes essentially nullify each other. A few additional changes occurred with regards to state employee health benefits; we are working to interpret the effects and will provide more information as soon as possible.
As mentioned, the revised Senate budget doesn’t stray far from the original. Just like the Senate’s original proposal, its revised budget:
- Provides the UW with $479.6M (General Fund and Education Legacy Trust funds) for the 2013-15 biennium—$10.2M of which is one-time performance-based funding;
- Assumes 0% tuition increases for resident undergraduates;
- Preserves tuition setting authority, but nullifies that authority if either SB 5883 or SB 5941 pass (the bills would require the UW to decrease resident undergraduate tuition rates by 3 percent for the 2013-15 biennium and limit future resident undergrad tuition growth to the rate of inflation); and
- Generates “new” funding for higher education by imposing a 20 percent tuition surcharge on international students at the state’s public colleges and universities.
For more information about the original Senate proposal, please see the full OPB brief.
A student journalist and two newspapers are filing lawsuits challenging Louisiana State University (LSU) for choosing a new president in a closed search process. LSU’s presidential search committee released just one finalist, F. King Alexander (the current president of California State University at Long Beach) for consideration. The suits claim that the closed search denied the public the right to participate in the search and violated the state’s public-records laws, which guarantee open access to public documents. The plaintiffs claim the list of candidates for a university president position should be open to the public under Louisiana’s Public Records Act.
Concern over closed searches has been mounting elsewhere, as well. While many states have laws that guarantee access to public records, others allow universities to withhold information on candidates until a certain point in the process. Universities argue that closed searches are necessary because many prestigious applicants are currently presidents of other institutions and would be uncomfortable with publically acknowledging their candidacy, for fear of retribution or embarrassment if they do not land the job. Advocates of open searches say that students and faculty have a right to be informed about the process and will be more confident in the eventual choice if they see all of the options upfront.
Washington is currently considering amending its own public records law with HB 1298. The bill would require the “applications of finalists applying for the highest management position in an agency”, such as a university president, to be released to the public. The information would need to be provided before the agency could make its hiring decision. Until now, applications for public employment were exempt from public disclosure under Washington law. The bill passed unanimously out of the House and is currently being considered in the Senate.
To read more about the Louisiana case, check out the Chronicle’s article. To read HB 1298, please follow this link.
A recent update on our state’s progress toward meeting the Washington Roundtable’s Benchmarks for a Better Washington emphasizes the need for legislative action on education, including protecting funding for our public universities, as well as transportation and business costs. The Roundtable – a nonprofit, public policy organization comprised of major, local business executives – created the Benchmarks in 2011 as a means to measure and track Washington’s economic vitality and quality of life. The organization publishes annual updates that examine state-by-state comparative data (primarily from federal sources like the U.S. Dept. of Education); assess Washington’s position in key categories; and highlight opportunities for improvement.
The May 2013 update showed that:
- Washington trails most states in high school graduation rates (ranking 32nd nationally) and bachelor’s degrees awarded per capita (39th nationally).
- Washington’s road condition rankings have dropped from 16th (2012 ranking based on 2008 data) to 29th (2013 ranking based on 2011 data) and our state continues to rank poorly on bridge conditions (41st).
- Washington ranks in the bottom third of states for business tax burden (36th), unemployment insurance tax rates (40th) and workers’ compensation benefits paid (50th).
- However, Washington has held onto its lead in patent generation (5th) and in low commercial and industrial electricity rates (3rd).
The authors argue that Washington must move quickly to improve its education pipeline and align with workforce needs. As 70 percent of Washington jobs will require postsecondary training by 2020, they assert, “It is imperative that Washington prioritizes higher education and does a better job of preparing its citizens to succeed.”
In Monday’s edition of CrossCut, Roundtable President, Steve Mullin, urged lawmakers to focus on two key topics during the remaining weeks of session: education and transportation. He specifically called for legislators to ensure our colleges and niversities have the funding they need to develop necessary talent. “Decision time is here,” he wrote, “Education is the driver of prosperity and individual quality of life. Transportation is the backbone of commerce. Both need attention before the 2013 Legislature adjourns.”
Georgia State University (GSU) has launched an innovative pilot program, called the Panther Retention Grant, designed to help retain and graduate GSU students who drop out of school for financial reasons. At Georgia State, a diverse public university with over 24,000 undergraduates, administrators have been struggling to raise the undergraduate 6-year graduation rate, which has been below 50 percent for years. This task is complicated by the diversity of the student body–more than 50 percent of students qualify for federal Pell grants, 60 percent are non-white, and 26 percent are adult learners.
In an effort to better understand the root of its low graduation rates, GSU administrators decided to study the students who were dropped from classes for non-payment. They found that the majority of students who were dropped had good grades and owed less than $1,000 on their tuition bill. The university therefore created the Panther Retention Grant—small grants awarded to students who would otherwise be cut due to nonpayment—to bridge the gap on their tuition bill and give students the opportunity to return to school. The grant comes with strings attached—students must complete three online financial literacy modules and fill out a study skills questionnaire to receive the funding.
GSU has already seen promising results. A few years ago, the university provided small grants to 200 students who had been cut for nonpayment to allow them to return to school. The program not only helped retain those students, it also generated more than $660,000 in otherwise forgone tuition revenue. Last year, GSU expanded the program, awarding $600,000 to more than 700 students. GSU hopes its program will demonstrate the effectiveness of targeted, need-based aid in improving graduation rates, particularly for low-income and minority students.
The University of Washington has long recognized the importance of ensuring affordable education for low-income students with its commitment to Husky Promise. Thirty-three percent of resident undergraduates were eligible for Husky Promise this year, which covers all tuition and fees for resident students who qualify for the Pell Grant or State Need Grant. This contributes to the UW’s remarkable success in retaining and graduating students: 79 percent of entering freshmen graduate from the UW within six years, one of the highest 6-year graduation rates among public universities in the nation.
To read more about Georgia’s program, check out the Higher Ed Chronicle’s article. For more information about the UW’s commitment to affordable education, please see the Husky Promise website.
The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act of 2013, a bipartisan federal bill championed by Senators Wyden (D-OR), Rubio (R-FL) and Warner (D-VA) and Representatives Andres (D-NJ) and Hunter (R-CA), was introduced in both chambers of Congress last week. The bill seeks to give students and their families more information about graduation rates, student debt, transfer rates, expected earnings and other important considerations. The goal is to centralize the data so that families can make an informed decision about college.
While there is support for some of the major provisions in the bill, especially for more information on student debt, others are more controversial. The bill would create a federal unit-record database, which some privacy advocates fear could cause confidential data to leak and could enable the government to use data for non-educational purposes. Currently, such databases are banned, which is a major hurdle to the passage of the bill.
Furthermore, while everyone agrees that students should have as much information as possible in making their decisions, colleges are concerned about increasing already onerous reporting requirements. Universities attempting to manage scarce resources are wary of diverting money from the academic mission towards reporting. The Government Accountability Office recently released a report indicating that college experts find existing reporting requirements, such as providing data on enrollment rates, campus safety, and cost of attendance, exceedingly burdensome.
It remains to be seen which, if any, pieces of the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act will move forward in the coming weeks. The Office of Federal Relations is tracking this measure. Please follow their blog to receive updates as this and other similar legislation continues through the House and Senate.
The University of Washington (UW) and Washington State University (WSU) (along with eight other top universities) have been selected by the National Science Foundation to participate in the Graduate 10K+ program, a $10 million initiative to increase graduation rates in STEM fields, particularly engineering and computer science. The UW will receive $970,000 and WSU will receive $700,000 over five years to fund their projects. The initiative is funded by the Intel Corporation, the GE Foundation and prominent hedge-fund manager and White House adviser Mark Gallogly. While the funding for this program is limited, experts hope it will encourage innovative pilot projects at the selected universities and prompt other companies and individuals to donate.
The UW, in collaboration with WSU, will use its funds to implement an “academic redshirt” program for engineering. The program will enroll low-income high school graduates in a five-year engineering degree program. The first year will focus on solidifying students’ math and science skills. Students will receive individualized advising as well as assistance with acclimating to university workloads. This will help them to be better prepared for the rigors of engineering study at the UW and will remedy learning gaps they might have from high school, hopefully increasing freshman retention and degree completion. After successful completion of the first year, the students will be accepted into one of the UW’s engineering departments. UW and WSU each hope to enroll 32 freshmen in the program, reaching a total of 320 students in five years.
To read more about the Graduate10K+ program, check out the Higher Ed Chronicle’s article or read more about UW’s redshirt program here.
On Monday, Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed a bill that gives special status and increased funding to Florida’s top two universities. The bill designates the University of Florida and Florida State University as “pre-eminent” universities and provides them with an extra $15 million per year, for five years, to help them become two of the top ten research universities in the nation. The money pays for increased faculty salaries and more research funding. In addition, legislators are considering restoring $300 million in funding that was cut in the 2012 legislative session. The bill also relieves the two universities of certain onerous reporting requirements. Eric Barron, president of Florida State, claims the increased funding will not only improve the quality of education at his university but also improve the return on investment of state money, because prominent faculty members will not be “raided” by other institutions were they would be paid much more.
The bill also provides $10 million more in funding for online degree programs this year, with $5 million appropriated in subsequent years. Tuition for online programs is capped to 75 percent of tuition for on-campus programs. The legislature would like to see increased out-of-state enrollment in these online courses, as online degree programs have already provided an additional $70 million in revenue a year for the University of Florida.
To read more about the Florida legislation, check out the Chronicle’s article here. To read about current proposals for higher education funding in Washington state, please see our recent briefs on Governor Inslee’s budget priorities or the Senate and House budgets.
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