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.
“Aligning the Means and the Ends: How to Improve Federal Student Aid and Increase College Access and Success” is the Institute for College Access & Success’s (TICAS) white paper for the Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (see our recent post for more information). Some of the report’s suggestions have been echoed in other white papers and publications, such as simplifying the federal financial aid application process, making the Pell program a mandatory federal budget item, and fostering more understandable and comparable reporting of college costs. The paper’s others recommendations include:
- Holding colleges accountable not only to the percentage of student borrowers who default on loans (represented by the currently-used cohort default rates), but also to the percentage of students who take out loans in the first place. TICAS proposes denying federal aid to colleges that score below a certain threshold on a combined index of the two measures. The group also recommends increasing federal aid to colleges scoring above a certain threshold. The amount of additional aid would be determined by how much Pell funding their students receive.
- Shoring up the Pell Grant. TICAS proposes doubling the maximum Pell grant award, to about $11,000 a year, and extending the eligibility timeframe from 6 years to 7.5.
- Creating a single federal student loan with no fees and a fixed interest rate. The rate would be low while students are in school and would rise, by a fixed amount with a cap, when they leave.
- Streamlining repayment plans, replacing multiple options for income-based plans with only one. Delinquent borrowers would automatically be placed in the income-based plan; but, a non-income-based option would be available to other borrowers. TICAS wants to leave borrowers with a choice, but argues they need real counseling—not just disclosure—to help them decide.
- Eliminating higher education tax benefits and sending the savings to Pell Grants and monetary incentives for states and colleges. If tax benefits are preserved, the group recommends restructuring them into an upgraded American Opportunity Tax Credit aimed at helping low- and moderate-income students.
TICAS’ paper outlines a few ways the government could fund these proposals in addition to potentially eliminating higher ed tax benefits. As The Chronicle nicely summarized, those options include, “limiting the benefit of itemized tax deductions, taxing private equity and hedge-fund income like other income, and removing or reforming tax-exempt bonds for private nonprofit colleges.”
Back in November, the American Council on Education (ACE) revealed a “wide-ranging” project to evaluate MOOCs’ academic potential and determine whether some MOOCs should be eligible for college credit. Our previous blog post provides additional background information. In the 11 weeks since that announcement, ACE reviewed five MOOCs offered by Coursera (one of the largest MOOC providers) and, today, announced it has recommended all five MOOCs for credit.
The endorsed MOOCs are:
- “Pre-Calculus” and “Algebra” from the University of California at Irvine;
- “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution” and Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach” from Duke University; ” and
- “Calculus: Single Variable” from the University of Pennsylvania.
Courses were reviewed on their substance, quality of educational experience, and the value and security of their tests and assessments tools. To meet standards for the latter, Coursera established a series of identity verification measures and partnered with a remote monitoring service called ProctorU. Some MOOCs use peer assessments to score student work, a method which has been criticized for uncertain reliability. But given the STEM focus of these five courses, they all rely on objective scoring systems rather than peer assessments.
Although ACE’s validation of the MOOCs is noteworthy, it’s up to the Council’s 1,800 member colleges to individually decide whether they’ll actually offer credits for the courses. For now, students at Duke, Irvine and Penn will not receive credit for taking their institutions’ ACE-approved courses. Inside Higher Ed reports that UC-Irvine does not consider its MOOCs to currently be worthy of its credit because neither the learning environment nor the academic commitment of a course’s thousands of students can be controlled. “Those anybodies can influence negatively the learning environment of students who are serious about taking it,” said Gary Matkin, UC-Irvine’s dean of continuing education. Similarly, Duke believes its traditional courses offer “an entirely different kind of educational experience” than MOOCS, including “substantial interactions between students and the faculty member.”
While other colleges decide whether to accept Coursera’s MOOC certificates for credit, ACE is reviewing courses from Udacity (another MOOC provider) for possible credit recommendations.
As The Seattle Times reported today, “For the first time ever, three Washington colleges swept the nation in their respective size categories for having the most participants in the Peace Corps.” The UW topped the large-schools list with 107 volunteers (tied with the University of Florida), Western Washington University led the medium-schools list with 73 volunteers, and Gonzaga University came in first on the small-schools list with 24.
Carrie Hessler-Radelet, acting director of the Peace Corps, traveled from D.C. to attend a news conference here on campus today. She personally congratulated the three schools on their rankings and said the achievement reflects Washington’s dedication to innovation and helping the poor.
The UW also topped the large-schools list between 2007 and 2010.
The Gates Foundation has joined the nation’s financial aid conversation and is attempting to rethink how policies and practices can not only help maintain access (in the face of flagging state support and rising tuition prices), but also help students succeed. In September of last year, the Gates Foundation launched its Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project, which provided 16 organizations with funding to develop and publish innovative financial aid strategies aimed at encouraging college completion. One of the 16 organizations, the New America Foundation, recently released its white paper, which recommends bolstering Pell Grants, limiting student loan options, and removing higher ed tax benefits.
To improve “both the effectiveness and sustainability of Pell Grants,” the New America Foundation recommends:
- Making the Pell program a mandatory federal budget item;
- Increasing the maximum grant faster than is currently scheduled while restoring summer grant support;
- Limiting Pell eligibility to 125 percent of a program’s length;
- Providing additional federal funding to public and private-nonprofit colleges that have a large proportion of low-income students and high graduation rates; and
- Requiring four-year colleges that enroll a small percentage of low-income students and charge more than $10,000 per year (after financial aid) to match some of the Pell dollars they receive with need-based aid from institutional funds.
The plan, which is intended to be “budget neutral,” recommends that the Pell Grant changes be funded by:
- Eliminating the American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning tuition tax credits, tax-advantaged savings plans for education, and the student loan interest deduction;
- Ending the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program; and
- Encouraging borrowers to refinance old student loans into direct lending.
The authors also recommend consolidating federal student loan programs into a single, “enhanced” Stafford Loan system as a means of simplifying the student loan system and reducing the potential for default. This would involve:
- Automatically enrolling all federal student loan borrowers in income-based repayment plans;
- Eliminating subsidized undergraduate loans;
- Setting student loan interest rates via a fixed formula that adjusts to market conditions;
- Ending the Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS loan programs;
- Increasing borrowing limits slightly to $40,000 total for undergrads and $25,500 per year for grads; and
- Limiting federal student loan eligibility to 150 percent of a program’s length.
Although some (if not many) of these ideas are politically unpopular, the authors argue that their recommendations must be implemented together in order to be effective. However, it seems more likely that Congress will cherry-pick specific suggestions to pursue or perhaps ignore the report’s policy proposals altogether. The Gates Foundation hopes their project will, at the very least, stimulate discussion about reforming financial aid.
My name is Julia Martinelli and I am the Student Assistant for the Office of the University Architect within the Office of Planning and Budgeting. I am currently a Sophomore at the University of Washington and I am planning on majoring in Architecture with a minor in Urban Ecological Design and Italian. Within my position I will be writing about events, updates, and news regarding the planning and architecture.
Currently, the University District is preparing to undergo multiple changes in the upcoming years. In an effort to guide these changes, a group of residents, businesses, social service providers, the U District Chamber, City of Seattle, and University of Washington has come together to create The University District Livability Partnership. The University District Livability Partnership (UDLP) is a four-year strategic initiative that is working towards transforming the University District into a sustainable, walkable community. The vision of the UDLP for the University District is to have a vibrant and innovative district of entrepreneurs, major employers, talented workers, and diverse residents. The collaboration of partnerships in the UDLP are preparing to help the University District transition and grow as it experiences many changes in the upcoming years, especially with the emergence of the light rail station on NE 43rd St. and Brooklyn Ave.
Within the UDLP there are four components, which include the Commercial Revitalization Strategic Plan, an Urban Design Framework, U District Next: A Community Conversation and Long-Term Leadership & Partnerships, each of which focuses on different aspects and strategies to reach the final desired goal for the U District. Additional information regarding the different components of the UDLP may be found here.
The UDLP Strategic Plan was formally released on January 31, 2013, at the third and final U District Next: A Community Conversation event. In order to preserve the unique and historical aspects of the University District as well as develop new enhancements that will enrich the already vibrant community, the Strategic Plan has developed five initiatives. The initiatives include organization, economics, marketing, clean & safe, and urban design, each of which has its own specific set of goals and strategies. The goal of the organization initiative is to create long-term leadership capacity and partnerships of effective and diverse voices. Whereas, the economic initiative is striving to create an attractive neighborhood for various startups, large companies, and businesses where they can both flourish and contribute to the community. The marketing initiative wants to both appeal to the current community of the U District as well as reach out and draw in new residents, investors and businesses by advertising the best elements of the neighborhood. The clean & safe initiative wants to develop a safe and clean environment that contains resources that will provide support to everyone. And lastly, the goal of the urban design initiative is to design and create a built environment that fits and reflects the culture of the University District community. All of these initiatives create a group of organized tasks that will contribute to The Strategic Plan’s strategic vision for the future University District. If you would like to read the Strategic Plan, visit the UDLP website found here. If you would like to contribute your thoughts and ideas about the future of the U District, please go here.
Last week, the National Commission of Higher Education published an open letter calling on “every college and university president and chancellor to make retention and completion a critical campus priority” and asserting that such efforts are “an economic and moral imperative.” Six higher-ed associations assembled the Commission in 2011 at President Obama’s request. The 18 college presidents that form the Commission’s membership come from every sector, except for-profits, and were tasked with investigating strategies that individual schools can use to improve graduation rates.
The NY Times quotes Dr. E. Gordon Gee, chairman of the Commission, as saying, “We concentrate most on the admissions side of things, getting the bodies in, and there’s no one in charge of seeing that they get through and graduate.” Although enrollment rates are strong, nearly half of all college students nationwide fail to earn a degree within six years (79 percent of
entering freshman graduate from the UW within six years).
Completion efforts should take into consideration the changing face of higher ed: first-generation, mid-career, part-time, and veteran students are an ever-increasing share of the nation’s student body. The report notes that “adult learners are far less likely than their traditional-age peers to complete their degrees” and will need flexible schedules, more financial assistance, and targeted student services in order to succeed.
Other recommendations from the report include:
- Narrowing course options so that students prioritize completion;
- Putting someone in charge of overseeing completion efforts; and
- Giving credit for previous learning.
The Commission asks colleges to avoid one-size-fits-all solutions and to eschew inflating their graduation rates by admitting only the best-prepared, lowest-risk students and/or by making it easier for students to pass.
The report acknowledges, however, that colleges need assistance in these completion endeavors, saying, “Disinvestment in higher education is terribly damaging and undermines efforts to expand and enhance academic and support services for students.”
The Commission believes the report will trigger a sense of urgency among leaders (academic or otherwise) and, hopefully, meaningful action.
Christy Gullion, Director of Federal Relations, recently provided an update on the sequester–the large, automatic federal spending cuts originally scheduled to take effect January 1st of this year, but delayed until March 1st thanks to a last-minute, bipartisan deal.
For background information, please see our most recent post on the topic as well as the brief put out jointly by the UW offices of Federal Relations, Planning & Budgeting, and Research.
The Grapevine project’s annual compilation of data on state funding for higher education shows that 30 states increased their appropriations for higher ed institutions and financial aid from FY12 to FY13. On Tuesday, the
researchers at Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers released their tables summarizing initial allocations and estimates reported by states from September 2012 through January 14, 2013. As most states are in the midst of FY13, their budgets for the year are more-or-less finalized; however, some changes could occur due to reporting lag time.
Overall, states are spending just 0.4 percent less on higher education in FY13, compared with FY12—a relatively small decline given that state support for colleges dropped 7.5 percent from FY11 to FY12. The net decrease in this year’s budgets resulted from cuts in just 16 states, with the worst appearing in Florida (8 percent), Alabama (6 percent) and New Jersey (5.5 percent). Another 16 states, including Washington, are showing increases of less than 2 percent, which The Atlantic notes “will likely amount to a cut once inflation takes its bite.” Budgets in the other 18 states indicate more sizable increases, all the way up to 14 percent in Wyoming.
Generally, however, the gains that some universities are receiving this year do little to make up for massive cuts since the recession. States are still collectively spending 10.8 percent less than they were five years ago, when the recession began, and thirty-eight states have decreased their overall higher ed appropriations during that time, according to a Grapevine table. Among those 38, Arizona and New Hampshire cut their budgets by 37 percent and 36 percent respectively and a dozen states, including Washington, sliced funding by over 20 percent.
A news release accompanying the survey data, cited by The Chronicle, states, “Barring a further downturn in the economy, the relatively small overall change … suggests that higher education may be at the beginning stages of a climb out of the fiscal trough caused by the last recession.” However, even if state appropriations continue to stabilize, the Moody’s report discussed in our previous post points out that federal spending, tuition revenue, endowment returns, and other traditional revenue sources for colleges and universities face major challenges in the coming year. We aren’t out of the woods yet.
Last week, Moody’s Investors Service issued a negative short-term outlook for the entire sector of higher education based on its conclusion that every traditional revenue source for even the most elite colleges and universities is under pressure. That pressure, according to the report, is the result of nation-wide economic, technological and public opinion shifts, which are largely beyond institutions’ control.
The outlook report, released annually, articulates the fundamental credit conditions that Moody’s expects higher education will face during the next 12 to 18 months. For the last two years, Moody’s gave elite colleges and research universities a stable forecast; but this year, the following factors contributed to a negative outlook for the entire industry:
Struggling Revenue Sources:
- State appropriations are unlikely to increase meaningfully due to weak economic recovery.
- Federal spending on research and student aid could be truncated in response to the nation’s fiscal concerns.
- Tuition revenue continues to be suppressed by low family incomes and public/political pressure to keep prices down.
- Endowment returns are vulnerable to any economic volatility that could stem from federal tax and budget decisions.
- Donations are not expected to increase and could face pressure as Congress evaluates associated tax deductions.
- Financial diversity is no longer helpful as all revenue streams are strained.
- Student debt and loan default rates have increased and thus challenged the perceived value of a degree.
- High school graduates are declining in number.
- Public and political scrutiny of efficiency and degree value could add to institutions’ list of regulatory requirements.
- New technologies such as online learning and MOOCs could provide new revenue opportunities, but could also undermine traditional higher ed models.
Moody’s analysts warn that revenue streams will never rebound to post-2008 levels and leaders in higher education will need to adapt by thinking strategically and adjusting their operations.
But not all is gloom and doom. Although Moody’s gave higher education a negative outlook, most of the country’s top colleges and universities still hold the strong credit rankings. The UW, for one, continues to maintain a Aaa credit rating—the highest offered by Moody’s. Additionally, the report stressed that the intrinsic value of and demand for higher education remains stable.
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