Leading up to his January 20, 2015, State of the Union address, President Obama announced on Thursday a major proposal to make the first two years of community college free for qualifying students - a savings of up to $3,800 annually for a full-time student, according to the White House. The plan, dubbed America's College Promise, is inspired by The Tennessee Promise, a popular program championed by the state's Republican Governor Bill Haslam, though the two "Promises" differ in some key ways. Obama is expected to speak more about the proposal today at Pellissippi State Community College, where he will be appearing with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
America's College Promise is envisioned as matching grant program, and is designed to ensure states do not use federal funding to replace state support for higher education. The basics of the proposal are as follows:
Federal Commitment: Federal funding will cover 75% of the average cost (tuition & fees) of community college
State Commitment: States will provide the remaining 25% of funding
Student Qualification: Students must enroll at least half-time and maintain a 2.5 average GPA while making "steady progress" toward completion.
Community College Qualification: Community colleges must offer either: (a) academic programs that are fully transferable to a local public four-year state college or university; or (b) high-performing occupational/vocational training degrees or certificates. Community colleges will also have to adopt evidence-based approaches to foster student success.
The White House blog and fact sheet provide some more details on the proposal, but until legislative language has been drafted, NACAC will be unable to offer a substantive assessment. We will closely follow the proposal and keep membership updated on any developments. In general, NACAC is supportive efforts to keep postsecondary education affordable and accessible, and initiatives to simplify the transfer process between institutions, especially those between community colleges and four-year institutions. Our Transfer Knowledge Hub has resources and research on transfer-related issues to help students, counseling and admission professionals.
A father stands at the table, flipping through a brochure. He lets out a soft whistle as he turns to the page on tuition and fees. "Back in my day," he says, "this college cost half the amount. When did you get so expensive?"
That scene is likely familiar to admission officers, particularly those who work at public institutions. Alumni/ae, now parents of prospective students, are revisiting their alma maters and discovering that the cost of attendance has risen sharply from when they were enrolled. And while it is true that the cost of college has risen, another shift has compounded the challenge of expense: state appropriations for public higher education are down, placing a heavier burden on tuition and fees as a revenue source. Put another way: If the funding needed for financing a degree at a public college were visualized as sacks of flour dispersed on a raft, keeping it dry, then today's sacks of flour are significantly heavier than they were before -- and more of them are being placed in the corner belonging to tuition (i.e., family expenses) than the corner belonging to state support (i.e., state appropriations). Other sacks are elsewhere on the raft (local and federal support, private donations, endowments, sales, hospital or athletic revenue, etc.). The question is, how many more sacks can be shifted to tuition without upsetting the raft? More provocatively: How much of a degree from a state university should be funded by the state? At what point are public colleges no longer public?
The results of a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raise these questions with new urgency. The December 2014 report, "Higher Education: State Funding Trends and Policies on Affordability
," reveals that, in 2012, tuition accounted for a larger portion of revenue at public colleges than did state appropriations -- a tipping point. The study examined years 2003-2012. In 2003, tuition comprised 17% of revenue and state funding 32%. In 2012, tuition made up 25% while state funding made up 23%. A chart showing the changes over time is on page 9 of the GAO report. Another important finding in the report is that, while state funding has declined by 12% from 2003-2012, this impact of this decline is more acute when adjusted for enrollment levels. Enrollment at public colleges increased by 20% from 2003-2012, resulting in a state decline in spending per full time equivalent (FTE) of 24% (p. 8).
Not only has the amount of state aid been shrinking, its composition has been changing, too. More and more, states are distributing financial aid through merit-based, as opposed to need-based, grants. In 2003-04, 71% of state financial aid was need-based and 29% was merit-based. In 2011-12, 64% was need-based and 36% was merit-based (p. 13). A common criticism of state-administered merit-based aid is that it does not effectively reach the students who most need the financial support to afford college. The GAO found that, over the years studied, the ratio of net tuition to annual income has increased 1.5x, but the hardest-hit are those in the lowest income quartile: their ratio was approximately 4x greater than the ratio of those in the highest income quartile (p. 13).
As the 114th Congress and state legislatures convene, federal and state support for higher education will be hotly-contested topics. The GAO report is important not only for the facts it presents, but also for the questions it encourages about the very nature, and future, of public higher education.
With the emanating roll out of Common Core-aligned assessments this spring, many people are wondering how the tests will interact with the traditional college admissions tests, ACT and SAT. Although both Smarter Balanced and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) have made statements that the 11th grade summative test was not designed to be used in college admission decisions, the question remains as to whether or not it will eventually be considered by admission offices- and this question may remain unanswered for several years. According to a Smarter Balanced representative who presented at NACAC’s annual conference this past September, “to the extent that we see changes, it will be an evolution [not a revolution] as things progress.”
So where are states now? Several states administer the ACT or SAT to all public school 11th graders statewide, whereas some have district-optional policies, or no mandate at all. So far the implementation of PARCC and Smarter Balanced common-core aligned tests does not seem to have had any negative effect on the number of students taking the ACT or SAT, in fact, those numbers continue to increase. Recent articles have spoken to increasing numbers of students taking the ACT college admission test, due to more states adopting it statewide (Nevada and Missouri most recently), as well as, the increasing number of students in states that already administer the tests statewide. In addition, Missouri also made the decision to use ACT as its 11th grade college- and career readiness measure rather than the new Smarter Balanced assessment, which the state will use in other grades (Education Week).
While the SAT is currently redesigning its test, with a “continued emphasis on reasoning alongside a clearer, stronger focus on the knowledge, skills, and understandings most important for college and career readiness and success,” the ACT has no such plans. In 2014, 1.85 million students (the most ever) took the ACT and 1.67 million took the SAT.
For more information, see NACAC’s common core webpage, as well as:
Fall application season is in full-swing, and students and families are carefully considering college costs and how to best finance a degree. Meanwhile, May 2014 graduates have, generally, passed the end of student loan grace periods and are entering repayment. So as graduates look back at the debt they have accrued and future students look ahead and the debt they may accrue, it is timely that two new reports have been issued on student aid and debt. College Board's 2014 Trends in Student Aid
report examines, panoramically, the landscape of student aid. The Project on Student Debt, which is supported by the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), report Student Debt and the Class of 2013
provides a narrower snapshot (press release
The Project on Student Debt did not examine for-profit institutions due to severe shortages in available data. Among the private non-profit and public institutions studied, great levels of variation were found at both the state and institution level. Overall, the report finds that average debt ($28,400) for the Class of 2013 increased by 2% from the average for the Class of 2012. Additionally, approximately 1/5 of the debt is private, non-federal student loan debt -- a distinction that bears consideration, since private student loans do not provide borrowers with the same protections and interest rates as federal loans. Drilling down into state-level data, the Project on Student Debt calculated average student indebtedness to range from $18,656 (New Mexico) to $32,795 (New Hampshire). The ten states with the highest average student debt were NH, DE, PA, RI, MN, CT, ME, MI, IA, and SC. The states with the lowest average student debt were NM, CA, NE, DC, OK, AZ, UT, HI, WY, and LA. Not all of the institutions with the highest or lowest average debt are located in these states, underscoring the fact that institutional aid practices differ greatly. To see state-specific and individual college data, visit the Project's interactive map
According to the College Board's report, student borrowing is gradually slowing. The past decade has seen a sharp uptick in student borrowing, due in part to increased enrollment in college during the recession; there was a 43% increase in Stafford loan borrowers between 2003-04 and 2013-14. But these numbers are beginning to drop off again: between 2010-11 and 2013-14, students took out 13% less in student loans, with total federal loan borrowing dropping by 18%. While those figures look promising, they are by no means is the whole story. The College Board finds that average debt has increased 19% over the past ten years, and 13% over the past five. Tuition pricing and state aid continues to play an important role in the costs students bear in financing their degrees. Total grant aid per full time equivalent (FTE) student increased rapidly by 39% from 2007-08 through 2010-11. The increase dropped off sharply, to 8%, over the following three years. State grant aid increased at a lower rate, 10%, between 2007-08 and 2010-11, and declined by 5% from 2010-11 to 2013-14, with a 3% decline just in the 2013-14 year. Average grant aid per FTE student varies state-by-state, from under $200 to over $1,000. The percent of state grant aid that is need-based has increased from the low 70s% in the mid-200s to 75% in 2012-13, the broad trend is a significant decrease in percent of need-based grant aid: in 1982-83, 91% of state grant aid was need-based.
Finally, the College Board reports (and TICAS notes) that 32% of student borrowers entering repayment in 2010-11 attended for-profit colleges, and 44% of students in default by October 1, 2013, were for-profit students, despite accounting for only 10% of FTE undergraduate students enrolled in 2010-11. NACAC has resources
to educate students, family members, and counselors on for-profit colleges. In addition, NACAC staff is engaged in efforts to promote greater transparency and accountability in the sector, which is known for frequently aggressive and misleading recruitment practices and substandard educational and employment outcomes.
On November 17-18, NACAC will be represented in a convening of recognized educational leaders committed to supporting the school counseling profession’s critical role in increasing college access and success. San Diego State University’s (SDSU) Center for Excellence in School Counseling and Leadership (CESCaL) is hosting the event in partnership with the White House’s College Opportunity Agenda and the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative. The group of invited experts will focus on strategies to strengthen the school counseling profession through enhanced preparation in college and career readiness.
The SDSU-hosted convening, which will be available to the public through a live webcast, will focus specifically on advancing systematic change in several key areas:
- Modifying requirements for graduate programs in school counseling to include non-negotiable preparation standards for college and career readiness
- Creating sustainable and effective partnerships between university training programs and K-12 school districts in order to ensure productive field training related to college and career readiness for prospective school counselors
- Enhancing district-level professional development in college and career readiness for experienced school counselors
- Aligning hiring policies and procedures for school counselors with the goal of enhancing knowledge about college and career readiness within the profession, and
- Creating strategic partnerships with donors who are interested in supporting students’ college and career goals through change in school counselor training and practice.
The SDSU-hosted event is designed as a goal-oriented working meeting which aims to conclude with 20 or more active university/K-12/community partnerships that are well on their way to meeting these systematic change goals. The group also will create mechanisms to support the establishment of additional partnerships and to assist all partnerships in meeting the systematic changes, thereby allowing the work to continue long after the meeting has concluded.
The event follows a series of historic milestones that have occurred over the last year. In a January 2014 White House sponsored summit, President Obama called for “an ambitious new agenda aimed at improving college value, removing barriers to innovation and completion, and ensuring that student debt remains affordable.” Following the summit, senior White House staff arranged a listening and learning session on school counseling which examined challenges that counselors encounter while supporting students’ college aspirations. In late July, Harvard University hosted a White House convening on counselor’s influence on college enrollment. This meeting encouraged attendees to inventory existing partnerships and establish collaborative relationships with school districts, higher education institutions, college access groups, and non-profit institutions. NACAC will continue to represent the valuable experience and expertise of the membership in these national efforts to enhance the role of the school counseling profession.
A new White House report, “Counseling and College Completion: The Road Ahead,” contains a comprehensive summary of the “College Opportunity Agenda: Strengthening School Counseling and College Advising” event convened earlier this year by the White House’s College Opportunity Agenda and Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. The event took place on July 28th and was part of a continued effort of the White House and the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative to focus on college access.
School Counseling leaders and advocates will gather next on November 17-18 at San Diego State University to continue the conversation of improving school counseling preparation, programs, and practices. The event will be livestreamed. Stay tuned via NACAC for the latest on this first-of-its-kind initiative.
The First Lady has announced two new initiatives as part of her Reach Higher campaign to increase college attainment and success. The first is the FAFSA Completion Challenge, aimed at creating and fostering a FAFSA culture in high schools. Students and schools will use social media and videos to share how their community is coming together to boost or maintain high levels of FAFSA completion. The second initiative is the Near-Peer Mentoring Challenge, designed to encourage admission, student affairs and other relevant divisions to develop opportunities for underrepresented students to spend time on college campuses with their near-peers: students from similar backgrounds who are only a few years ahead.
Modeling the call to action on Howard University’s Escape to Mecca and other similar programs, Mrs. Obama hopes postsecondary institutions will create new—or expand existing—programs that allow students to not only attend classes with their near-peers, but also stay overnight, eat in a dining hall, attend an athletic event, and/or participate in other activities that make college tangible. Colleges should submit short videos documenting their programs. Schools and colleges that produce exceptional results in the FAFSA and Near-Peer Challenges will be considered by Mrs. Obama as sites for her 2015 commencement and graduation speeches.
Full details on the Near-Peer Mentoring Challenge and the FAFSA Completion Challenge are available on the Reach Higher website.
On October 30, the Department of Education issued its final Gainful Employment (“GE”) rule, which will determine Title IV eligibility for career programs designed to prepare students for “gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” The GE rule will help ensure that taxpayer funds are spent only on programs that live up to that standard, as evidenced by graduates’ debt-to-earnings ratios. The rule will take effect July 1, 2015. Many of the programs impacted by GE are run by for-profit colleges, an industry known for aggressive recruitment, extensive misrepresentation and poor employment outcomes that leave students underqualified for employment and strapped with unmanageable debt burdens. The final rule is the product of several years’ worth of back-and-forth. In 2011, a federal appeals court overturned key provisions of a 2010 version of the GE rule; the current version has been shaped by ongoing advocacy and lobbying efforts by various stakeholders, including NACAC. If this rule were in effect, the Department of Education estimates that 1,400 programs would lose Title IV eligibility.
Under the rule, GE programs will be evaluated and placed into one of three categories: Pass, Zone, or Fail. If a program is rated Fail for two out of three consecutive years or is in Zone for four consecutive years, it becomes ineligible to receive Title IV funding. The Department of Education has provided a fact sheet detailing the specific debt-to-earning ratios that align with each category. Because the rule will not take effect until mid-2015 and will require a minimum of two years' worth of data to be collected on each program, sanctions for Failing or Zone programs will not be implemented for a few years.
NACAC is pleased that programs that fail to meet these requirements will no longer be able to accept Title IV funds, and that institutions will need to provide consumer protection disclosures to prospective and enrolled students. The rule also establishes an interagency task force to lead federal oversight of the for-profit sector. While these measures are a good first step, NACAC believes there is still room for improvement in the rules. For example, NACAC is disappointed that GE programs will only be evaluated based on the outcomes for students who have completed their programs, thereby disregarding the negative outcomes for some students most harmed by for-profit colleges’ maleficent practices: students who drop out of a GE program with substantial debt but prior to earning any credential.
NACAC’s press release is available here. The full rule may be read here. NACAC's Compliance Center has information on Gainful Employment and other federal regulations that impact members. Additionally, NACAC's Low-Down on For-Profit Colleges is a good resource for counselors, students and families considering proprietary postsecondary education.
The Department of Education has announced its final rule to adjust PLUS loan eligibility for student and parent borrowers. The new rule will be effective July 1, 2015.
In 2011, the Department intensified its review of PLUS loan applicants' eligibility; potential borrowers found their past five years' of credit being examined to determine eligibility for the loans. The impact of the new standards was felt acutely by Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as other Minority Serving Institutions. Frequently, students at these institutions relied heavily on their parents having access to PLUS loans to afford tuition. Also frequently, the credit histories of these parents did not pass the Department's muster, resulting in a substantial increase in loan denials and subsequent enrollment declines as students and families could no longer afford to finance the cost of attendance. HBCU advocates vociferously pushed back against the new rules, claiming that access to PLUS loans can make all the difference for their low-income students, who otherwise may find higher education unattainable. Supporters of the measures contended that borrowers, and the public, do not benefit when a loan defaults--an occurrence that the Department's eligibility standards were intended to reduce.
Earlier this year, the Department decided to revisit the contentious issue. If nothing else, yesterday's announcement meets one hallmark of a compromise: it is unlikely that anyone involved in the PLUS loan debate will be truly happy. Those upset by the Department's previous tightening of eligibility will be pleased that, under the new rule, credit history for PLUS loan applicants will only be considered for the previous two years. Up to $2,085 in adverse credit will not be held against the applicant, and this amount will be linked to inflation rates. Meanwhile, those who urged caution at easy access to loans by high-risk borrowers should be somewhat placated by the requirement that borrowers who do have an adverse credit history will be required to complete PLUS loan entrance counseling. The Department will also begin publishing PLUS loan default rates for each institution. Although colleges and universities will not be held accountable for these default rates, as reported by Inside Higher Ed's Michael Stratford, institutional leaders worry that high default rates will reflect negatively on their colleges, as opposed to the demographics of their institutional constituents, who are more likely to be high-need, high-risk borrowers in the first place.
Which brings us back to why the Department originally tightened loan eligibility standards in 2011.
Several events over the past few years, especially those of recent, have brought Clery Act compliance by institutions of higher education to the forefront of national discussions. Violations of the Clery Act have been increasing in recent years. In addition, members of Congress and the White House have played a strategic role in highlighting the issue of sexual assault on campuses and continue to push for more transparency to ensure the safety of students.
Specifically, US Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in July released a new report, “Sexual Violence on Campus: How Too Many Institutions of Higher Education are Failing to Protect Students,” which includes findings from a national survey of over 400 institutions and interviews gathered from a series of roundtable discussions. A summary of the results state that “many institutions are failing to comply with the law and best practices in how they handle sexual violence among students.” McCaskill along with other US Senators released legislation in July to address these issues. In addition, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released its first report on the issue in April of this year and continues to update guidance and model policies for institutions to use.
In response to these and other events, some lawmakers and public advocacy groups have also called for campus security statistics to be included in methodology to rank colleges.
Background on the Clery Act and Recent Amendments
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires all postsecondary institutions receiving federal aid to publish and distribute Annual Security Reports (ASRs) by October 1 each year that include specific campus crime statistics and policies. In addition to making the data available to current students and employees, colleges and universities must submit crime statistics to the U.S. Department of Education and notify prospective students and employees that the report is available, along with a description of the contents and the opportunity to request a copy.
In addition, Congress last year reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which among other things amended the Clery Act to require institutions to include statistics on domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in their annual security reports starting October 1, 2014, as well as include plans for certain policies and procedures around the issue. The U.S. Department of Education published final rules yesterday in the federal register, which become effective July 1, 2015.
Official Resources for Clery Act Compliance
Admission offices must be aware of compliance procedures for distributing information to prospective students regarding the issue. Offices across campus, as well as institutions as a whole should work together to ensure best practices in informing students and families of Clery Act information.
NACAC’s Compliance Center has the latest guidance on compliance specific to admission professionals. In addition, you can consult the following resources:
- The U.S. Department of Education compiled a list of suggested resources to help support the sharing of resources postsecondary institutions may use to inform and tailor their campus sexual assault training and prevention efforts.
- The Clery Center for Security on Campus assists colleges and universities in Clery Act compliance. The website includes resources that can aid institutions as they work to meet the campus safety and security requirements.