Aid leader: Link ratings to ‘social responsibility’

Rate colleges on “social responsibility,” said the departing chair of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators at the group’s annual conference. Instead of President Obama’s proposed ratings system, colleges should be recognized for educating low-income students, said Craig Munier, who directs financial aid at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

The plan, which is modeled on the LEED ratings of green buildings, would assign institutions ratings of silver, gold, or platinum based on a calculation that would take the percentage of a college’s undergraduate students who are eligible for Pell Grants, multiply the number by a ratio of credit hours earned to credit hours attempted, and divide it by the institution’s cohort-default rate.

Part of the goal, Mr. Munier said, “is to create a little public embarrassment” for institutions that are not fulfilling their duty to educate needy students. He jokingly called the plan “Craig’s LEED certification on social responsibility.”

Panelist Marcus D. Szymanoski, manager of regulatory affairs at DeVry University, argued for multiple metrics that would recognize that different students have different priorities.

Text nudges boost persistence

More than 18 percent of Pell recipients with a B average or higher didn’t reapply for aid for a second year of college, a recent study reports. Close to half did not return to college and those who did return had lower persistence rates than students who had reapplied for aid,

Text-message reminders to apply for aid can boost persistence for community college students, according to a new working paper, Freshman-Year Financial-Aid Nudges. The nudges cost only $5 per student.

Researchers designed a series of messages about financial aid, refiling the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (Fafsa) and maintaining satisfactory academic progress, a precondition of receiving aid, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A group that had helped the students in high school with college and aid counseling, uAspire, sent the messages.

The messages were designed to both connect students with advising and remind them about deadlines and requirements.

. . . The messages made a difference for community-college students. Sixty-four percent of such students in the control group persisted to their second year. For those who got the messages, the rate was 12 percentage points higher: 76 percent.

Messages didn’t affect the re-enrollment rate — 87 percent — of  students at four-year colleges and universities.

Aid on a postcard

two-question postcard could replace the lengthy Free Application for Federal Student Aid (Fafsa) under a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate. Students would be asked their family size and household income two years earlier.

The Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency Act, introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also would let students know about their financial aid prospects before they apply to colleges, restore year-round Pell Grants and simplify student loans. Students would be offered two repayment options: income-based repayment and the standard 10-year repayment plan.

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“Every year, 20 million students waste millions of hours and countless dollars on a 100-question application form that only needs to be the size of a postcard,” Alexander said in a statement.

Year-round Pell Grant would be paid for by eliminating subsidized loans,

Simplifying Fafsa Will Get More Kids Into College, argue Alexander and Bennet in a New York Times op-ed. Some students give up on going to college because they can’t handle the form, they write.

The two-question Fafsa would be accurate for 95 percent of students, argue Susan M. Dynarski and Judith E. Scott-Clayton in College Grants on a Postcard.

Students’ families would save almost 100 million hours a year — the equivalent of nearly 50,000 full-time jobs — with a simplified Fafsa, estimate Dynarski and Scott-Clayton.

Colleges, which now spend $432 million auditing aid applications, would  see much lower administrative expenses, they write.

Pell aid for dual-enrollment students?

Extending Pell Grants to dual-enrollment students would encourage low-income students to get a head start on college, advocates argued before a congressional briefing yesterday.  “For low-income students, they are essentially penalized for taking college early,” Adam Lowe, the executive director of the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, told CollegeBound.

Dual-enrollment students are more likely to enroll in college and earn a degree, says Lowe.

In some states, dual-enrollment courses are free, but most charge students for some of the costs, Lowe said. 

Several financial-aid proposals are under discussion, including a recent report from the College Board, reports CollegeBound.

The U.S. Department of Education late last year asked for colleges willing to be experimental sites for new financial aid strategies, including giving high school students Pell Grant money to pay for college. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators recently suggested a promise of a Pell Grant in 9th grade would motivate students to pursue higher education.

It’s hard to estimate the cost of extending Pell coverage. About 1.4 million high school students are taking more than 2 million college courses across the country.

Rubio: Dream the affordable American Dream

Education and the American Dream was the theme of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s keynote speech at Making Community Colleges Work, a Next America session sponsored by National Journal at Miami Dade College.

The son of immigrants, Rubio used Pell Grants, student loans, work study and summer jobs to pay for a four-year degree and law school. He started his career as an attorney with $100,000 in student loans.

To find a good-paying job, “it is vital that you get the right degree geared toward the right industry,” Rubio said.

Nationally, majors such as business, liberal arts, and hospitality have underemployment rates at or above 50 percent. There are simply more graduates than jobs in these industries. Meanwhile, engineering, health services and education all have underemployment rates less than 25 percent. 

Students and their families need to be equipped with the information necessary to make well-informed decisions about which majors at which institutions are likely to yield the best return on investment. This is why I, along with Senator Ron Wyden, proposed the “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act,” which aims to give students reliable data on how much they can expect to make versus how much they can expect to owe.

Rubio called for making income-based repayment the universal method for student loans.  He also proposed an alternative to student loans known as Income Share Agreements.

Let’s say you are a student who needs $10,000 to pay for your last year of school. Instead of taking this money out in the form of a loan, you could apply for a “Student Investment Plan” from an approved and certified private investment group. In short, these investors would pay your $10,000 tuition in return for a percentage of your income for a set period of time after graduation – let’s say, for example, 4 percent a year for 10 years.

This group would look at factors such as your major, the institution you’re attending, your record in school – and use this to make a determination about the likelihood of you finding a good job and paying them back. . . . Your only obligation would be to pay that 4 percent of your income per year for 10 years, regardless of whether that ends up amounting to more or less than $10,000.

Income Share Agreements are a great idea, writes Richard Vedder. Investors “buy equity in students as opposed to lending to them.” The risk shifts from students to investors.

Rubio also called for better career and vocational education in high school, apprenticeships and “more pathways for working parents” at the community college level.

Reforming the “broken accreditation system” would open the door to “new, innovative and more affordable competitors,” he said. He proposed a new accrediting agency for online education. With standardized tests to demonstrate competency, students could learn online or on the job and earn a low-cost job certification or degree.

Pilot will test Pell aid for college grads

Low- and moderate-income college students are eligible for Pell Grants — until they earn bachelor’s degrees. With so many four-year graduates struggling to find jobs, the U.S. Education Department is funding an experiment at Lewis and Clark Community College in Illinois.  Unemployed or underemployed college graduates will receive Pell aid to fund up to a year of job training, reports Community College Week.

States eye free community college tuition

Community college tuition could be free to high school graduates in Tennessee, Mississippi and Oregon.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam proposed making two years of a community or technical college education free in his State of the State address. “Net cost to the state, zero. Net impact on our future, priceless.”

“We just needed to change the culture of expectations in our state,” the governor told the New York Times. “College is not for everybody, but it has to be for a lot more people than it’s been in the past if we’re going to have a competitive work force.”

Community college costs only $3,800 a year in Tennessee, just above the national average. With help from Pell Grants, most students pay little or nothing in tuition and fees. However eliminating tuition would enable lower-income students to use their Pell aid to pay for books, supplies, transportation and living expenses.

The “Tennessee Promise” will have a psychological impact, Haslam predicted. Many people don’t realize community and technical colleges are affordable. “If we can go to people and say, ‘This is totally free,’ that gets their attention.”

The plan would cover Tennessee’s 13 community colleges, which grant academic degrees, and 27 technical colleges, which provide job training. The technical system is nationally known for high success rates.

The net cost to the state isn’t really zero, but Haslam estimated diverting lottery revenue would cover the $34 million a year.

Mr. Haslam also called for Tennessee’s public colleges to make a new effort to recruit the state’s nearly one million adults who have some college credits but ended their educations without earning degrees or professional certificates. And he proposed expanding a program that gives particular help to struggling high school students so they can go to college without needing remedial classes that do not earn college credit; studies have shown that students who take remedial courses are far less likely to graduate.

High school graduates in Mississippi could attend community college for free for two years under a bill being considered in the Legislature, reports the Clarion-Ledger. Scholarships would be available to students younger than 21 who enroll full-time and maintain a 2.5 grade point average.

The idea started at Meridian Community College, which began offering what it calls a “tuition guarantee” in fall 1996, using privately donated money.

Oregon legislators also may study whether it’s feasible to let high school graduates attend community college for free. “If we get this right, I think we can unleash a tremendous amount of motivation within these young people, giving them the motivation to stay in school, to get a certificate, to achieve that additional learning that can make a difference in terms of their economic success,” Gov. John Kitzhaber told the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee.

 whether free community colleges is feasible.

Pell reforms under discussion

Reforming Pell Grants was the topic of a House subcommittee hearing last week. Witnesses discussed tightening eligibility, disbursing checks every few weeks, linking checks to attendance and requiring financial aid counseling, among other ideas. Congress is preparing to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which sets rules for student aid, notes Community College Daily.

 Members of the House Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee—as well as the four witnesses from the higher education sector—agreed that the Pell program, which has swelled to about $30 billion a year, needs some adjusting to curtail costs and to ensure that students who need financial assistance the most get it—and that they succeed in college. But they differed on how to do it.

“There is concern among members of the higher education community and of my colleagues in Congress that Pell has strayed too far from its original intent,” said subcommittee chair Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who noted that the program serves more than 9 million students.

Grants should be targeted at low-income students, said Jenna Ashley Robinson, outreach director at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Too many middle-income students are eligible for aid now, she said

Pell has helped broaden access to college, said Michael Dannenberg of the Education Trust. “The percentage of low-income students going to college today is twice what it was 40 years ago when the Pell Grant program began,” he said. “We’ve cut the gap between low-income and upper-income students’ college access rates by 40 percent.” More than 90 percent of Pell recipients come from families with incomes of less than $50,000, according to Dannenberg.

The discussions at the hearing touched on a number of areas—from providing yearround Pell Grants in order to accommodate students who take college courses during winter and summer breaks, to whether student aid contributes to escalating college costs. But a good part of it focused on ensuring that students who received grants were attending classes. Robinson noted that Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina does not disburse grant money to students if they haven’t attended class during the first 10 percent of the semester, and the college tracks students’ academic progress.

Richard Heath, director of student financial services at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland, outlined strategies to prevent fraud and abuse. These include: monitoring out-of-state addresses and multiple applications from the same address, working with faculty to provide accurate attendance records, requiring students to meet with an advisor during the first three weeks of school to receive their Pell check and using a federal database to check on student aid applicants.

Single Stop links students with aid

At a growing number of community college campuses, Single Stop USA counselors help low-income students access government services and benefits so they can stay in school, reports Businessweek.

On the morning of Turner Gray’s English 201 final at the Borough of Manhattan Community College last spring, a city marshal evicted her and her two kids from their Bronx apartment. She’d fallen behind on rent after the city cut off her welfare because it mistakenly thought she wasn’t working. Money troubles had forced Gray to quit school once before. This time she had somewhere to turn for help. Gray went to her school’s Single Stop USA office, where a worker lined up emergency funds from BMCC and, after days of phone calls and paperwork, helped sort out the misunderstanding with the city. “I was back in my apartment in a week and a half,” Gray says.

On average, Single Stop clients access at least $5,400 in services and benefits that would otherwise go unclaimed, estimates McKinsey. The program now has offices at 17 community colleges in seven states.

 “You are doubling the Pell Grant,” says Sara Goldrick-Rab, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who’s studying the program. “That’s real money.”

. .  .Goldrick-Rab found that Single Stop’s New York programs are on track to reduce dropout rates by 20 percent to 30 percent. That would be “quite a sizable and meaningful” effect if the results hold up over the long term, Goldrick-Rab says. “Research shows it’s really hard to move the dial for this population.”

Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College calls Single Stop “the most effective and efficient program that we’ve ever had.”

First-gen students need advice, mentoring

First Generation Student, a new web site, provides sensible advice for students who will be the first in their families to go to college. Jaimie Krause writes about developing academic resiliency. In another post, Mark Kantrowitz offers financial aid tips, starting with finding a mentor.

It’s also important to connect with other students on sites such as First Generation Student and I’m First, writes Kantrowitz. For example, Garret Juliano, who’s studying business and accounting at Western Piedmont Community College in North Carolina, can serve as a role model.

However, Kantrowitz warns first-generation students to start at a four-year college or university if their goal is a bachelor’s degree.

A community college program is an inexpensive way to obtain a certificate or an associate degree. However, if your goal is to obtain a bachelor’s degree, taking a detour through a community college to save money may mean that you never reach your destination. Half of first-generation students who begin their higher education at a four-year college intending to obtain a bachelor’s degree earn that degree within six years of enrollment, compared with a quarter of those who start their studies at a community college.

Parents who aren’t college educated have trouble understanding how much college will cost, write Susan Dynarski Judith Scott-Clayton in The Future of Children.

Calculating the net price of college for a given family requires understanding their finances as well as the rules of the Pell Grant, student loans, the tuition tax credits, state grant programs, and aid offered by individual colleges.

Students “are quite poor at estimating net prices,” they write. Some don’t apply for financial aid because they don’t realize they’re eligible.