The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether a 2006 Michigan referendum to ban public colleges from using race or ethnicity in admissions is constitutional. This is the second affirmative-action case on the court’s docket —the first being Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (discussed in a previous blog). If the Supreme Court declares the ban, known as Proposition 2, unconstitutional, similar bans in Washington and five other states could also be invalidated.
Inside Higher Ed nicely summed up the difference between the two affirmative action cases: “The Texas case is about the extent to which public colleges and universities may consider race and ethnicity in admissions, while the Michigan case is about the extent to which voters can bar such consideration.”
The Supreme Court accepted the Michigan case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, after the state’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, appealed a November ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The appeals court struck down Proposition 2 in an 8-7 vote, on the grounds that it “undermines the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change.” Under Proposition 2, minority citizens who want public university admissions to consider race must launch a burdensome ballot campaign, whereas groups seeking other university policy changes are free to simply lobby.
Schuette argues that Michigan’s measure and the Equal Protection Clause both protect a fair political process, whereas “preferential treatment based on race (which necessarily means discrimination against other races)… focuses entirely on achieving a particular outcome (here, an admissions outcome), even at the expense of making the process discriminatory.” Michigan’s measure, he says, “does not endorse race-based policies; just the opposite, it stops discrimination based on race.”
The Supreme Court will hear the Michigan case in its term starting in October. Its ruling in the Texas case is expected this spring or summer, but could occur at any time.
On Wednesday, March 20, the Washington State Economic & Revenue Forecast Council (ERFC) released its quarterly update of State General Fund Revenues. Revenue from an anticipated increase in Washington housing permits and real estate excise tax receipts is expected to offset higher federal tax rates and spending cuts than were previously assumed. Overall, revenue projections for both the 2011-13 and 2013-15 biennia remain relatively stable, with a slight net gain of about $40 million across the two biennia. However, this net gain is negated by the roughly $300 million in additional Medicaid caseload costs. The state and its lawmakers now face a $1.3 billion deficit along with court-mandated funding for K-12 education, which could cost another $1 billion. Their upcoming budget proposals will have to reconcile these demands on the state purse.
We anticipate that the Senate Majority Caucus Coalition will release its operating budget proposal sometime next week, while the House will likely release its budget by early next month. Until that time, any specific impact on the UW cannot be assessed. Please see the full OPB brief for more information.
Legislation was introduced in the California Senate on Wednesday that would require the state’s 145 public colleges and universities to grant credit for faculty-approved online courses taken by students unable to register for overenrolled, on-campus classes. If the bill passes and is signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown (who has been a strong supporter of online education), online courses could go mainstream much more quickly than predicted. At the moment, however, Senate Bill 520 is just a two-page legislative placeholder, or “spot bill,” to be amended with details later.
According to Inside Higher Ed, the bill’s sponsor, Democrat State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, said the bill is meant to “break the bottleneck that prevents students from completing courses.” In Fall 2012, more than 472,000 of the 2.4 million students in the California Community Colleges system were put on waiting lists and at the California State University system, only 16 percent of students graduate within four years. Theoretically, increasing capacity to meet student demand for key, gateway courses could improve on-time graduation rates and more efficiently use state funds. The debate, of course, is whether online courses are actually effective and thus appropriate substitutes for traditional courses.
Under the proposed legislation, a nine-member faculty council representing the state’s three public higher ed systems would determine which 50 introductory courses are most oversubscribed and which online equivalents should be eligible for credit. When reviewing online courses, the panel is to consider whether a course:
- Offers instructional support to promote retention;
- Provides interaction between instructors and students;
- Contains proctored exams and assessment tools;
- Uses open-source text books; and
- Includes content recommended by the American Council on Education.
MOOCs provided by Udacity and Coursera, as well as low-cost, self-paced courses from StraighterLine could all be up for consideration—several of which have already gained ACE approval.
Senator Steinberg emphasized at a news conference that the legislation “does not represent a shift in funding priority” for higher education in California, and is not intended to introduce “a substitution for campus-based instruction.” Nevertheless, for the many faculty and university administrators concerned about SB 520’s consequences, the devil may be in the yet-to-be-determined details. We’ll keep you apprised as those details are fleshed out.
Sequestration will take effect tonight at midnight. While the cuts will be smaller than originally mandated ($85 billion instead of $109 billion), the impact in federal FY13 will be higher since the cuts must now be applied to only seven months instead of nine. Immediate and long-term impacts on the UW and Washington State are difficult to predict. However, during the remaining months of federal FY13, we estimate that the sequester could reduce the UW’s federal grant and contract support by an estimated $75 million to $100 million and cut Build America Bonds (BABs) subsidy payments by $500K to $700K. Additionally, the UW is projected to lose about $33,000 in work study funds for 2013-14. The potential impact on Washington State includes $11.6 million less for primary and secondary education, $11.3 million less for education of children with disabilities, and 1,000 fewer children receiving Head Start services.
Please see the full brief prepared by the Offices of Federal Relations, Planning & Budgeting, and Research and be sure to visit at the UW’s Federal Relations blog for regular updates.
The College Board announced today that it would begin the process of overhauling the SAT. While no details have been published yet, David Coleman, the new president of the College Board, has indicated that the test would be adjusted to more closely mirror—and better prepare students for—the expectations of a college classroom. In the past, Coleman has been critical of the SAT writing section, introduced in 2005, saying that the opinion-based writing style the test demands is not comparable to the evidence-based style required in college. Coleman also claimed that changes to the test would improve the transition from high school to college, better align the test to the core high school curriculum, and increase equity and fairness.
Some experts believe the SAT is being revamped because of increased competition from the ACT. This year, for the first time since the tests were created, the number of students taking the ACT exceeded the number taking the SAT by about 2000 students. The ACT has traditionally been favored in the Midwest, and by students who do well in rigorous courses but have more trouble with high-stakes aptitude tests. Now, many students take both tests, and students from all regions are considering the ACT as an option. The SAT overhaul may therefore be an effort to make the test more relevant and re-establish the SAT’s dominance in the college admissions testing field.
Check out Inside Higher Ed’s article on the potential new SAT, or read Coleman’s letter for more information.
The National Student Clearinghouse recently released an interactive map that illustrates the experience of students who were first time freshmen in 2006. The map shows six-year graduation rates broken down by institution type, student age, and part-time or full-time status. Washington’s level of college completion was higher than average—Washington’s six-year graduation rate for the 2006 first-time freshman cohort, across all types of institutions, was 66.3 percent, while the national average was 60.6 percent. Interestingly, full-time students at four-year public institutions in Washington had a much higher six-year graduation rate, at 86.4 percent, compared to 81 percent nationwide. Unfortunately, Washington students who enrolled part-time had completion rates below 19 percent at four-year publics and below 13 percent at two-year schools. Furthermore, non-traditional students (first-time freshmen 25 years old or more) were much less likely to graduate in six years than their younger counterparts.
To learn more, or to see how Washington compares to the rest of the United States, check out the interactive map featured on the Chronicle’s website or read the NSC’s report.
Although there are many types of financial aid, it is typically awarded on the basis of either need or merit. Need-based aid is largely a result of a federal calculation and is somewhat predictable: to ensure access, students with more financial need receive more financial aid of various forms. And, although there is no universal definition of the merit aid, it traditionally describes scholarship money used to attract top academic achievers. However, Kevin Carey, director of education policy at the New America Foundation, asserts in a recent commentary for The Chronicle that a significant portion of merit aid is actually used to attract “academically marginal students with wealthy parents.”
Carey cites evidence of this trend. A 2011 U.S. Department of Education study found that of the full-time students at four-year institutions who received “merit” aid in 2007-08, almost 20 percent had entered college with a combined SAT score of less than 700 and 45 percent had scored below 1000 (out of a possible 1600). The study also shows that although the percentage of private college students receiving need-based aid showed a slight decline from 1995 to 2007 (going from 43 to 42 percent), the proportion receiving “merit” aid nearly doubled during that time span (from 24 to 44 percent). At public universities, the percentage of students getting need-based aid increased from 13 to 16 percent, but the growth in merit aid outpaced it, going from 8 to 18 percent. Thankfully, as discussed in a previous post, a group of private-college presidents has been calling on its peers to limit the amount of financial aid awarded on criteria other than need.
The National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs’ (NASSGAP) Annual Survey Report on State-Sponsored Student Financial Aid and Brookings’ Beyond Need and Merit: Strengthening State Grant Programs provide corroborating evidence that merit-aid is becoming more prevalent, while need-based aid is diminishing. However, neither discusses the academic strength of the students receiving merit aid.
So why is this happening? If a college offers good scholarships and financial aid packages to an affluent family, it may incentivize them to choose that school. Even though that family’s son or daughter may be a low academic achiever who has a decent chance of dropping out, it is still lucrative for the school to attract those students. Noel-Levitz, a higher ed consulting firm, revealed that one of its client colleges was able to generate over $10,000 more per low-achieving student than they could per top-achieving student.
Carey hopes that as taxpayers, the news media, and affiliates of universities become aware of this trend, their vigilance will keep institutions in check.
Many of the white papers sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project have focused on modifications to the Pell program and/or student loans and repayment (including the two I summarized previously, found here and here). However, the white paper released on Wednesday by the Center on Postsecondary and Economic Success takes a different approach. It argues that by making tax-based student aid more beneficial to low and middle-income students, the federal government could save billions of dollars, direct those savings to the Pell program and improve the financial aid system as a whole.
Current tax-based financial aid provides high-income families with much larger tax deductions, since the value of the deductions is linked to a family’s marginal tax rate. As The Chronicle notes, “a $100 tax deduction, for example, is worth early $40 to a high-income household but only $10 to a lower-earning family.” To remedy this issue and refocus the benefits of aid onto low-income families, the Center proposes increasing the refundable portion of the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The Center also recommends eliminating nonrefundable tax credits, such as the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC), since they do not benefit households that pay no income tax (i.e. low-income families).
The table below shows the percent distribution of student aid by type and income category in 2013. As you can see, Pell Grants (in blue) primarily benefit low-income families, whereas tax-based student aid (in purple) does the opposite. Another interesting table from the Tax Policy Center can be found here.
The paper includes three alternative proposals for making tax-based aid more helpful to low-income students and simultaneously boosting college access and completion. It also discusses three options for improving performance measures used in student-aid policies.
On Tuesday, February 12, President Obama discussed higher education briefly in his State of the Union Address. The President repeated a popular refrain, calling on colleges to restrain soaring tuition costs in light of the fact that Americans with some higher education are more likely to maintain steady employment and earn a comfortable income (or, as the President declared, be part of the middle class). As have many others when discussing this topic, the President juxtaposed college access and affordability against college costs without making the important connection to overall funding. As is clear at the University of Washington (UW) and many of its public peers, public funding (both state and federal) that traditionally provided the financial backbone for such institutions has become unstable, showing precipitous declines. It is in this context that tuition and other forms of auxiliary support have increased to maintain some semblance of consistent funding.
After having evaluated the scorecard, the following two key points are worth noting and exploring.
- Obama’s suggested HEA reauthorization policy that would tie federal financial aid to “affordability” runs the risk of disenfranchising students studying in states that cannot or will not support higher education. It may also force institutions in those states to reduce the quality of their educational offerings in order to enable their students to maintain access to federal aid dollars.
- Although the UW looks relatively good in comparison to other institutions now, we cannot be comfortable with the comparison because we were advantaged by the particular time period for which data were available. The UW is vulnerable to faring poorly in these comparisons in the future as data from the past couple of years, in which we were forced to increase tuition at higher rates in order to compensate for dramatic reductions in state support, are used.
Please see a full Planning & Budgeting brief on line.
After many years, immigration reform seems to be back on the table: both President Obama and Congress have indicated that they intend to take on immigration reform this year. A bipartisan group of senators released their draft of an immigration bill, which focuses on increasing border security, giving DREAMers (children brought to the United States illegally at a young age) and agricultural workers a faster path for citizenship, and fixing the administrative processes that make getting visas cumbersome. President Obama released a similar plan, and last summer issued an executive order giving DREAMers temporary relief from deportation.
In Washington State, two bills have been proposed to reform Washington’s policies toward undocumented students. Washington’s undocumented student population has increased in recent years, as undocumented workers form a large part of the state’s agricultural industry. Currently, undocumented students in Washington are eligible for in-state tuition as long as they graduate from a Washington high school and have lived in the state for two years. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, however, have introduced competing bills concerning undocumented students who want to pursue higher education at Washington’s public colleges and universities. Don Benton, a Republican from Vancouver, introduced SB 5087, which would prevent undocumented students from qualifying for resident undergraduate tuition, even if they graduated from a Washington State high school and have lived in the state for many years. SB 5655, introduced by Ed Murray, D-Seattle, takes a different approach, making undocumented students eligible not only for resident tuition, but also for the State Need Grant and the College Bound Scholarship. Neither bill has yet been scheduled for a hearing. The first legislative cutoff date is February 22nd, after which all bills that have not been scheduled for a hearing are unlikely to progress.
To read more about the President and Congress’ plans for immigration reform, check out Crosscut’s analysis here and here.
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