The New York Times reported last week that the University of Phoenix will be shutting down 115 of its 227 locations over the next year—25 main campuses and 90 learning centers. The roughly 13,000 students affected by the closings (4 percent of the total student body) will have the option of either transferring to the university’s online classes or moving to another physical location. In addition, the Apollo Group, which owns the university, announced it is laying off 800 employees (4.7 percent of the university’s total staff).
The changes surprise some as Phoenix was a booming success for over a decade. However, in 2011, for-profits as a whole began to struggle. Tightened regulations; a poor economy; growing competition from MOOCs and other online providers; and scrutiny of the sector’s unethical recruiting practices, low graduation rates, high default rates, and use of federal funds caused for-profit enrollments to fall significantly relative to other sectors (as discussed in a previous post). And, as enrollments fell, so did revenue. The University of Phoenix was among the hardest hit. Compared with the same fiscal quarter a year ago, student enrollment at Phoenix dropped nearly 14 percent and Apollo’s net income plummeted 60 percent.
So, will the University live up to its name and rise anew from the remains of its finances and reputation? Or could Phoenix’s decline foretell the impending doom of other for-profit institutions? Time will tell.
The Pell Grant program, the largest federal student grant program, was expected to be $20 billion short of the $40 billion price estimated for FY12 (which ended July 1). However, the Department of Education surprised many with newly-released data showing the federal government not only spent well under that estimate at only $33.4 billion, but in fact $2.2 billion less than FY11.
Recently, Pell eligibility increased dramatically as college enrollments rose and the recession continued to impact family/student income. This trend continued in FY12 and, interestingly, the dip in Pell spending occurred despite a 58,000 increase in Pell recipients—to almost 9.7 million. In fall 2011, nearly one quarter of UW freshmen were Pell eligible.
Reasons for the decline in Pell spending include:
- The elimination of the year-round, or summer, Pell Grant, which allowed students to qualify for two awards in a year.
- More students attending college part time as part-time status reduces Pell award amounts.
- Fewer students attending for-profit institutions, which tend to enroll students who qualify for larger awards. Recent bad press and slumping enrollments have hit for-profits hard. Consequently, the number of Pell recipients at for-profits declined by 108,000 students, to roughly 2.1 million, and accounted for $1.4 billion of the decrease.
The drop in Pell expenditures is a relief for most lawmakers as they face next year’s “fiscal cliff” and must address both the impending tax hikes (when Bush tax cuts expire) and the automatic spending cuts (as mandated by the sequester). The Obama administration and congressional Democrats have resisted financial aid-related budget cutting, maintaining the maximum Pell award of $5,550 and writing specific protection for Pell Grant funding into the Budget Control Act. However, recent financial straits have already caused the federal government to eliminate several student loan programs such as the previously-mentioned summer Pell Grant, the six-month grace period for loan repayment, subsidized Stafford Loans for graduate students, and incentives for early loan repayment. With the sequester and difficult budget decisions looming on the horizon, it is safe to say that no funding is safe.
A new study from the State Budget Crisis Task Force concludes that in many states, anticipated revenues will be insufficient to cover mounting Medicaid enrollment caseloads, underfunded pension commitments, and local government budget obligations. The authors focused their investigation on California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Virginia. They predicted that anticipated revenues (from sales, income, or other taxes) would be both insufficient to cover expenses and fairly instable, as personal income remains volatile and unemployment (and underemployment) high. In other words, we are edging towards the state budget precipice, even as the national economy distances itself from the official end of the Great Recession proclaimed in 2009.
These conclusions are not unfamiliar to readers; we recently blogged about state-level fiscal uncertainty and sluggish revenue growth. However, this study sheds additional light on the subject, being the first to make a comprehensive assessment of the tension between mounting expenses and shaky revenues in highly populated states.
While Washington State continues to experience slow economic growth in some sectors and in its generation of tax revenue, the Economic Revenue and Forecast Council (ERFC), in its July collections report, refrained from making any firm economic revenue projections due to the excessive variability of receipts. The ERFC report also emphasized slowing job growth: while reducing state unemployment by 0.5 percent would require 160,000 new jobs each month, the state only added 80,000 new jobs in June.
While anticipated revenue is increasing slightly, the downside risks of a second recession brought on by the debt crisis in Europe, disappointing job growth, and depressed consumer confidence are significant. Despite these concerns, ERFC predicts slight revenue increases for both the 2011-13 and 2013-15 biennia, due to legislative action from the 2012 supplemental budget.
Slow economic recovery and continuing high unemployment rates have significantly increased concern about student borrowing levels. OPB’s latest brief provides basic information and data about student borrowing (in the US and at the UW) to help contextualize such concerns.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has updated its ongoing state budget report: States Continue to Feel Recession’s Impact. On average, state tax collections increased 8.3 percent in 2011, but 30 states have so far projected $54 billion worth of budget shortfalls for Fiscal Year 2012, on top of the $530 billion worth of shortfalls closed by states since 2007. Even if revenue continues to increase at the same rate as it did last year, it would take over seven years for state budgets to recover to pre-recession levels.
As states continue to cut funding, including laying off government workers, unemployment remains over 8 percent and more people than ever are in need of government services, including education and social services. The report emphasizes the importance that increased tax revenue will likely have to play in the recovery of state budgets given how much spending has already been cut by states and how unlikely additional federal aid appears to be. Visit the CBPP website and blog often for updates on many state and federal budget issues.
Released last week by the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, Beyond Need and Merit: Strengthening State Grant Programs describes the scope and type of state grant programs across the US, and provides recommendations for improvement. Such programs currently provide over $9 billion in aid to students each year and comprise, on average, approximately 12 percent of total state funding for higher education. However, they vary widely in number, complexity, eligibility criteria, grant amounts, and efficacy.
Average annual tuition at a public four-year institution in the US is just over $7,000, and the average state grant disbursed to students ranges from $44 in Alaska to over $1,700 in Sourth Carolina (averaging $627 across all states). While 73 percent of all such aid is disbursed based primarily on financial circumstances, many states have adopted large, merit-based programs in recent years that direct grants to non-needy students. For example, the report notes that in Louisiana, where the average annual household income is $45,000, 45 percent of total state grant funds went to students from households with income above $80,000.
Ultimately, the report focuses on ways to potentially streamline state grant programs and better target their resources to those students who need them most in order to increase the impact on both college access and completion. Major recommendations include:
- Focus grants on students with financial need, who have been shown by research to be most postively affected by grant aid.
- Simplify grant programs to the extent possible while still being able to target resources to needy students. Straightforward applications, early knowledge of awards, and effective net-price calculators all have a positive impact on application and enrollment rates for students with financial need.
- Consolidate multiple programs where possible, including converting state required tuition set-asides to state grants to avoid the appearance that the students are subsidizing needy students instead of the state.
- Create financial incentives for students while they are enrolled by requiring minimum but attainable grades and steady progress toward completion.
- Consider targeting resources to non-traditional students, including those who are older, part-time, and placebound.
- When resources are constrained, ration grant aid in a way that is clear and predictable for students.
- Consider state grant aid incentives in concert with federal and institutional aid to ensure that programs are not operating at cross purposes.
- Evaluate existing programs as well as test and evaluate new approaches.
Although not discussed much in the report, Washington State has one of the most generous state grant programs in the nation, even though it currently does not have enough funds to accomodate all qualified students. 98 percent of Washington grant funds are awarded based on student financial need and the average grant per student is nearly $900, compared to the national average of $627. Washington State Need Grant funding and policy has and will continue to be key to maintaining college affordability as scarce resources have necessitated rising tuition while household incomes are stagnant. This report provides some useful guidelines for ensuring that taxpayers receive the best return for each dollar invested in student success.
The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released a report addressing the effects of state disinvestment on enrollment rates in Californian higher education institutions. California high school graduates, despite applying and being eligible for enrollment, are less likely to enroll in the UC or CSU system today than five years ago. The report blames this decline on state cuts in higher education spending, which has led to skyrocketing tuition and enrollment limits at California schools. While California community colleges have absorbed some of this decrease, the report finds that students are increasingly going out-of-state or not enrolling in college at all.
Highlights from the report include:
- Enrollment rates of Californians at UC and CSU have fallen by one-fifth in the past five years, from 22 percent of CA high school graduates in 2005 to 18 percent in 2010.
- UC and CSU have rationed enrollment and increased tuition in order to blunt the effect of decreasing state support on educational quality. Tuition rose by 50 percent between 2007 and 2011 at UC, and by 47 percent at CSU. Tuition at CA community colleges has also almost doubled in that time.
- UC has reduced its campus enrollment targets and places students not accepted to their campus of choice into a referral pool, which grants them admission to less popular campuses where they are less likely to enroll. CSU now requires a higher SAT/GPA combination for CA students that live further from their chosen campus in an effort to limit enrollment. Community colleges cannot officially deny enrollment, but they have increased class sizes and decreased program offerings which effectively limits slots.
- Most students accepted to UC who decide not to enroll there, go to private institutions, usually out of state (34 percent). 30 percent enroll at CSU, 12 percent to community colleges in California, 8 percent to public schools out of state, and 10 percent do not enroll in college at all.
The report finds these trends troubling, since it represents a great loss of human capital to California. Estimates say that two out of five jobs in CA in 2025 will require a bachelor’s degree; if current trends continue, California will be short one million bachelor’s degree holders by that time. The report recommends locking in tuition for four years for each incoming class, offering deferred tuition payment plans, reinvesting in higher education and increasing the availability of financial aid to students in order to combat decreasing enrollment rates. To read the full report, click here.
Demos, a research and advocacy organization, recently published a report entitled “The Great Cost Shift” discussing the effects of higher tuition and lower state investment on a growing and diverse college population. The report focuses on the Millennial generation, the group of students born in the 1980s and 90s and beginning to enter college in the 2000s.
There were 26.7 million young people (ages 18-24) in the US in 1990, and 30.7 million in 2010. This population growth combined with increased participation in higher education created a 37.9 percent undergraduate enrollment increase in public universities over 20 years. Additionally, the Millennial generation is characterized by much greater racial ethnic and racial diversity than previous generations (12.3 percent are African American, 57.2 percent are white, and 20.1 percent are Hispanic). Both the growth and diversity of the young adult population has altered the needs of students, and institutions have had to adjust both services and support as a result.
These changes in the number, type and needs of students over the last 20 years has been accompanied by a steady disinvestment of state governments in higher education, which resulted in significant tuition increases. The very institutions, public, that have absorbed the majority (65.5%) of enrollment increases have also endured the largest decline in funding per student (26.1% decline in real terms from 1990-2010). As a result, public four-year institutions raised tuition by 112.5 percent, adjusted for inflation, over the same time period while the real median household income rose just 2.1 percent.
While states and institutions have often offset these tuition increases with larger financial aid packages for student with need, it is increasingly not enough to cover students’ educational expenses, and students borrowed 4.5 times more in 2010 than in 2000.
The report concluded with a number of recommendations:
- Recognizing that lower investment in higher education results in higher tuition and lower access for low and middle-income students, states should appropriate more money to higher ed, especially investing more in large institutions that produce a significant number of degrees.
- Reform the tax system to relieve the tax burden on low and middle-income families.
- States should move away from merit-based aid and focus on need-based financial assistance. They should also increase awareness about the benefits of federal student loan programs to decrease the volume of private debt students take on.
To read the entire report, please click here.
AAUP released its annual academic salary information this week. The data show, once again, that faculty salaries have not kept up with inflation, that they have not increased significantly over many years, and that the pay gap between professors at public and private institutions continues to grow.
Although these data do not address the rapidly increasing costs of benefits (healthcare especially), they do make clear that the growing cost of tuition is not primarily driven by increasing faculty salaries, a popular argument. Don’t expect that explanation to fall out of favor, however, as previous years of data have seemed to make no impact on its prevalence.
According to the latest survey by the Pew Center for the People and the Press, conducted in late February, the majority of all Americans think higher education contributes positively to the country, while those identifying themselves as conservative were more likely to doubt its benefits. While 67 percent of Democrats believe college affects the country positively, only 51 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of conservative Republicans agree. For those who self-identify as agreeing with the Tea Party, only 38 percent think colleges have a positive effect and 47 percent think they have a negative effect.
That said, both Democrats and Republicans who have experienced higher education think it was a worthwhile personal investment (81 percent and 85 percent, respectively). Furthermore, parents of all political backgrounds fully expect their children to go to college: 99 percent of Republican parents, 96 percent of parents who are Democrats and 93 percent of Independents hope their children will receive higher education.
Finally, the primary purpose of college is debated across the political spectrum. While liberal Democrats tend to say college should focus most on enhancing the student personally and intellectually (47 percent), 52 percent of conservative Republicans think college should focus primarily on teaching skills and knowledge needed in the work world. In general, 47 percent of survey respondents thought skills were the most important, while 39 percent believed personal growth was the crucial component of a college education.
To read more about the survey, please follow the link to the Pew Center report here.
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