Office of Planning and Budgeting

It will soon be easier for students and parents with adverse credit histories to qualify for federal PLUS loans.  Under new the Education Department’s (ED’s) new rules – which were released on Wednesday and are expected to take effect in March – ED will review only two years (rather than five) of a prospective borrower’s credit history to determine loan eligibility, and will excuse up to $2,085 in certain types of delinquent debt when running initial credit checks.

ED agreed to revisit the rules following pressure from many colleges and families who were angered after ED tightened the PLUS loan standards in 2011. The 2011 changes resulted in thousands of sudden loan denials and, consequently, enrollment declines and revenue losses at some institutions. According to Inside Higher Ed, department officials expect that the new standards will allow an additional 370,000 applicants to pass the initial credit check for PLUS loans.

Representative Chaka Fattah – Pennsylvania Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Education Task Force – lauded the new standards; however others connected with historically black colleges have criticized ED for not moving quickly enough.  Meanwhile, some policy analysts and consumer advocates argue that ability-to-pay criteria are necessary to prevent borrowers from being saddled with unmanageable debt, and that the new rules don’t do enough to safeguard against default.

If defaulting becomes an issue as a result of the new standards, the silver lining is policymakers will at least know about it and, hopefully, be able to do something. As part of ED’s changes to the PLUS program, the department will begin calculating and publishing annual cohort default rates for institutions receiving PLUS loans.[1] That information should help illuminate whether borrowers are getting in over their heads.

Ultimately though, as EdCentral points out:

“The Department must do a better job reaching out to parents and helping them understand the terms and conditions of their loans, including the ability to repay their loan as a percent of their income if they consolidate into a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan. Better counseling won’t solve all the issues with the PLUS loan program. But it’s a start until we can ensure PLUS loans are a safe product for families and we can improve access to better aid options like grants for low-income families.”



[1] ED currently only calculates cohort default rates for colleges that receive Stafford loans.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently released its annual update on federal student loan cohort default rates (CDRs), which measure the frequency with which student borrowers at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, etc.) default on their federal loans. Although the UW’s CDR rose while the national CDR declined, the UW’s rate still remains well below that of the nation.

ED is in its first year of using only the more accurate three-year CDR measure – as opposed to the two-year CDR. Thus, this year’s report only includes the FY2011 three-year CDR, which represent the percentage of student borrowers who entered into repayment in FY2011, but failed to make loan payments for a 270-day period within three years of leaving school.

The Department provides breakdowns of its data by institution type, state and school. Here are some key findings:

  • The national three-year CDR declined from 14.7 to 13.7 percent overall.
  • The three-year rate decreased over last year’s rates for all sectors:
    • Public institutions decreased very slightly from 13.0 to 12.9 percent,
    • Private nonprofits decreased from 8.2 to 7.2 percent, and
    • For-profits’ whopping 21.8 percent rate decreased to 19.1 percent.
  • The UW’s three-year CDR increased slightly from 3.9 to 4.3 percent, but this is still nearly 10 percentage points below the national average

While this is good news, many students still struggle to afford ever-increasing tuition fees and/or to repay their student loans. The UW reaches out to our former students at risk of default on their Stafford Loans and helps identify federal repayment options that could benefit them. Former UW students who are in default or experiencing difficulties repaying their loans can contact the Office of Student Financial Aid for assistance (osfa@uw.edu, 206-543-6101). Students can also visit studentloans.gov to explore their repayment options.

As the UW’s Office of Federal Relations reported on their blog, yesterday Senate Democrats released plans to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). Their proposal focuses on four main goals:

  • Increasing affordability and reducing college costs for students,
  • Tackling the student loan crisis by helping borrowers better manage debt,
  • Holding schools accountable to students and taxpayers, and
  • Helping students and families make informed choices.

In addition, today the House Committee on Education and the Workforce introduced reauthorization-related bills of their own, including:

For more information, check out the Federal Relations blog and a recent article by EdCentral.  We’ll post more information on OPBlog over the coming weeks.

On Monday, The Equity Line posted the following piece about how the U.S. compares to the other World Cup countries in terms of degree attainment.

More Than Just a Game: Degree Attainment Around the World (Cup)

Posted on June 16, 2014 by Kaylé Barnes and Joseph Yeado

“Defying commentators, critics, and prognosticators, the U.S. has already performed quite well against the other nations competing for the 2014 World Cup. Yes, the competition on the field only started last Thursday and the Yanks have yet to kick things off today, but the U.S. is beating most of the competition in another competition: college attainment.

Among the 32 teams competing in Brazil, the United States ranks third for the percentage of adults with a 2-year or 4-year college degree.

It may look like America has trounced the competition, but there are two important facts that put these figures into perspective.

In 1990 the United States soccer team qualified for its first World Cup after a 40-year drought. Though it failed to win a game and was sent home, the U.S. was ranked first in the world in four-year degree attainment among young adults. Since that time, our men’s national soccer team has steadily improved, but our college attainment rates have not. The United States now ranks 11th among developed nations for young adults with college degrees.

The U.S. may compare favorably to other World Cup countries, but the data still mean that only 2 in 5 adults have some kind of a college degree. In fact, just 59 percent of students at a 4-year college will earn a bachelor’s degree in six years – not to mention that black and Latino students complete at even lower rates (40 percent and 52 percent, respectively). Ranking well relative to other countries doesn’t mean much when we are leaving so many of our students behind.

Third place is not good enough. More important to our country’s well-being than winning the World Cup is whether we have an educated population prepared to face the challenges of the new global economy. Higher education leaders and policymakers should look to the example of the colleges and universities across the country that are leading the way to improve student success and proving that low graduation rates are not inevitable.

The expectations of American soccer supporters have risen steadily since 1990, and millions are tuning in to watch our boys play in Brazil. It’s time that we raise our expectations about college attainment and the equity in attainment levels.

Only then can the United States realize its gooooooaaaaals of being first in the world on the fútbol pitch and in degrees.”

Here’s a quick roundup of some of this week’s headlines in higher ed news.

Report Argues Gainful Employment Rules Could Hurt For-Profits’ Students 

According to a study commissioned by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, up to 44 percent of students at for-profit colleges could lose access to federal financial aid under the latest “gainful employment” proposal. The authors of the report—Jonathan Guryan, an economist at Northwestern University, and Matthew Thompson of Charles River Associates, a consulting firm—argue that since for-profits tend to serve students who have fewer financial resources and less academic preparation, the proposed rules would leave students without other options. Additionally, the report asserts that the rules should not be based on short-term measures of earnings and student debt, as such metrics tell an incomplete story. The Department of Education released the proposed rules in March. The window for public commenting closed on Tuesday.  This report was part of a final lobbying campaign by both sides.

Startups Playing Matchmaker with Students and Employers

Several startups have begun serving as matchmakers between community college students and employers. One of the startups, called WorkAmerica, states that it will provide students with a legally binding job offer before they enroll at one of the startup’s partner colleges. WorkAmerica has already started placing students into trucking programs, and plans to expand to other “high churn” employers, such as those that hire welders, IT technicians, and medical assistants.  Another similar startup, called Workforce IO, connects employers with “trainers”—which can include community colleges, in addition to nonprofits and other mentoring agencies. The company uses a library of 275 job-skills “badges” to vouch for its workers’ skills. In an era when students are increasingly concerned with their post-graduation employment opportunities, it’s possible that such a model could be applied to some programs at four-year institutions.

Data Say College is Worth More Than Ever

Research shows that not only is a college degree is worth the time and money it takes to earn one; it’s worth more than ever.  According to analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Economic Policy Institute, the pay gap between college graduates and those who either never went to college or never graduated from college, reached a record high last year. The NY Times article summarizes, “Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree. That’s up from 89 percent five years earlier, 85 percent a decade earlier and 64 percent in the early 1980s.”

Representative Paul Ryan, the House Budget Chairman, released his FY15 budget proposal on Tuesday. The proposal would remove the in-school interest subsidy for all subsidized undergraduate student loans, eliminate mandatory funding for Pell Grants, and freeze the maximum Pell Grant award at $5,730 for the next 10 years.

As Office of Federal Relations put it in their blog post, “That essentially means that $870 in the maximum grant would have to be funded by increased discretionary funds or the maximum be cut from $5,730 to $4,860.”

Please see the Federal Relations website for more information, and check out articles by Equity Line, Inside Higher Ed, and The Chronicle.

A recent report by New America, titled The Graduate Student Debt Review, reveals that much of the nation’s “$1 trillion in outstanding federal student debt” is the result of expensive graduate and professional degrees, rather than unaffordable undergraduate educations.

The report, which analyses recently publicized data from the Department of Education, shows that around 40 percent of recent federal loan disbursements are for graduate student debt. Moreover, the paper shows that graduate student debt across a variety of fields—not just business school and medical school—comprises some of the largest increases in student borrowing between 2004 and 2012. Thus, the authors recommend that legislators, journalists, and the public at large adjust their understanding of student debt to recognize that it’s not just undergraduate problem.

Most news stories highlight the debt of graduate students—which tend to have much larger loan balances—yet journalists typically don’t differentiate graduate debt from undergraduate debt. EdCentral makes a compelling argument for why this lack of differentiation is a problem and why it deserves legislative attention:

“The failure to distinguish between undergraduate and graduate debt in discussions of college costs is a serious flaw in how we think about student debt. Students, families, and taxpayers invest significant resources in financing “college,” largely because a bachelor’s or associate degree is a must for anyone who wants to secure a middle-class income… But arguments for high levels of subsidy for students who attend graduate and professional school are on shakier ground. While a graduate or professional degree boosts a student’s earnings prospects and the economy at large, it is not the foundation for economic opportunity and middle-class earnings that a two- or four-year degree now provides. Students pursuing graduate degrees should be far more informed consumers. Therefore, they shouldn’t need a lot of public support to finance their next credential, which is why there are no Pell Grants for master’s degrees. That spike in debt for graduate degrees should also focus policymakers’ attention on an impending tidal wave of loan forgiveness for graduate students and the lack of loan limits for students pursuing graduate degrees.”

You can read more about New America’s report at The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed.

Yesterday, March 4th, President Obama submitted his fiscal year 2015 budget request to Congress. The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) has published their analysis of the budget as has the Education Policy Program at New America.

TICAS states that the President’s proposal “takes important steps towards making college affordable for Americans by reducing the need to borrow and making federal student loan payments more manageable.” Specifically, his budget:

  • Invests in Pell Grants and prevents them from being taxed.  The budget provides funds to cover the scheduled $100 increase in the maximum Pell award, raising it from $5,730 in 2014-15 to $5,830 in 2015-16. TICAS notes that although this increase will help nearly 9 million students, “the maximum Pell Grant is expected to cover the smallest share of the cost of attending a four-year public college since the program started in the 1970s.”
  • Makes the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) permanent.  TICAS supports making the AOTC permanent as they note research suggests the AOTC is the most likely of the current tax benefits to increase college access and success.  New America, however, recommends the administration convert the tax credit to a grant program as they state researchers have found grants to be a more effective way to deliver aid to low-income families.
  • Improves and streamlines income-based repayment (IBR) programs. Under the President’s budget, more borrowers would be eligible to cap their monthly payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income and have their remaining debt forgiven without taxation after 20 years. The budget also adjusts the IBR programs to prevent debts forgiveness for high-income borrowers who can afford to pay their loans.
  • Requests funding for the College Opportunity and Graduation Bonuses.  The budget proposes establishing College Opportunity and Graduation Bonuses, which would reward schools that enroll and graduate low-income students on time. Both TICAS and New America note that, unless this proposal is thoughtfully designed, it could incentivize schools to lower their academic standards in order to make it easier for Pell students to graduate. Further, as this proposal is one of several different efforts to reward colleges that provide affordable, quality educations, it is unclear how its goals and formulas would interact with those of initiatives like the Postsecondary Education Ratings System.

The UW’s Federal Relations blog notes that the budget also proposes $56 billion for an “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative,” which “aims to effectively replace the remaining FY2015 sequestration cuts for nondefense discretionary programs – the programs we care about the most.” Please stay tuned to their blog for more information and updates.

As you may have heard, President Obama recently announced his “Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students” initiative, which aims to help more low-income and underrepresented minority students attend and complete college. On January 16th, the White House hosted a summit of the more than 100 colleges, universities, nonprofits, and foundations that made commitments to increase college opportunity. The Chronicle provides a detailed, sortable list of these commitments.

News coverage of the summit and the initiative includes the following:

Now that news sources are back from their holiday hiatus, we have a couple of noteworthy stories to bring you.  Both articles highlight the continuing trend toward greater accountability.

Florida’s new rules linking tenure with student success are upheld:  Last week in Florida, a judge upheld new rules by the State Department of Education that require tenure decisions—known in Florida as “continuing contracts”—to be contingent upon professors’ performance on certain student success criteria. The judge also upheld a new requirement that faculty must work for five years, rather than three, before being eligible for the contracts. The United Faculty of Florida had contested that the new rules were beyond the scope of the department’s powers, but the judge rejected that claim.

Senators propose penalties for colleges with high student-loan default rates:  On Thursday, three Democratic senators introduced a bill dubbed “the Protect Student Borrowers Act of 2013,” which would impose a fine on colleges with high student-loan default rates and federal student-aid enrollment rates of at least 25 percent. Penalties would be on a sliding scale. On the low end, colleges with default rates of 15 to 20 percent would incur a fee equal to 5 percent of the total value of loans issued to their students in default. On the high end, schools with default rates of 30 percent or more would incur a 20 percent penalty.  The Education Department currently cuts off federal funds for institutions with high default rates, but the senators argue it punishes only “the most extravagant, outrageous schools.” The Chronicle writes, “The proposed legislation would hit for-profit institutions the hardest, as their graduates have the highest default rates, on average.”

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