Submitted by Paul Fain on February 24, 2015 - 3:00am
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center this week released state-level student completion data. The nonprofit center tracked 2.7 million students who first enrolled in college in the fall of 2008, following them for 6 years. The report builds on the center's previous research, which found more encouraging graduation rates than other studies had identified, in part because the Clearinghouse has huge data sets that can follow students across institutions and state lines.
Nationwide, the report found that one in three community college students earned a credential at an institution other than the one at which they first enrolled. And 13 percent of students who began at a four-year public completed at a different institution. In five states (Iowa, North Dakota, Virginia, Kansas and Texas), more than 20 percent of students who began at a community college completed at a four-year institution. The report includes state-by-state tables and other breakouts of the data.
The board of South Carolina State University on Monday placed President Thomas Elzey on administrative leave and named the interim provost, W. Franklin Evans, as acting president, The Post and Courier reported. The move came shortly after a legislative committee passed legislation to shut down the historically black college for two years. There are also several legislative proposals to fire all board members, with the expectation that a new board would get rid of the president. Elzey, in office less than two years, has acknowledged many of the financial and other challenges facing the university that have frustrated legislators. But he has said that the university was making progress on what would be a long-term recovery plan.
Submitted by Ben Miller on February 24, 2015 - 3:00am
Seemingly from the day it was created in 1992, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, has been a popular target for reform. The Obama administration shortened the time it takes to finish the form by two-thirds and created an automated tool so families can import their tax data. And now there’s a competition to see who can drop more of the FAFSA’s 105 questions. The president’s latest budget targets 30 questions for removal, while a bipartisan group of senators led by Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican now in charge of the committee that covers higher education, wants to go even farther -- shortening the FAFSA to just two questions that could fit on a postcard.
Making the FAFSA less of a burdensome impediment to financial aid receipt and reform is a laudable goal. But the obsessive “who can go lower” approach to simplifying the FAFSA is misdiagnosing the disease. FAFSA’s problem is not its length -- it’s the frequency that it’s required.
Reducing the number of FAFSA questions gets at a very specific problem -- the annual burden associated with completing the form. Doing so would free families from the yearly process of digging up complex tax, asset and other income data.
But as Michael Stratford discussed recently in Inside Higher Ed, removing FAFSA questions comes with its own set of concerns. In particular, colleges and most states do not have unlimited entitlement funds for financial aid, so they want as much data as possible, in order to vary the price charged to students to a degree that would make the airlines jealous. Take away that data by bringing the form down to two questions and you may just drive the creation of additional forms like the dreaded and expensive CSS Profile.
Fortunately, there’s a middle path that accomplishes the goal of reducing burden while still giving colleges and states the data they need to make nuanced decisions: a one-time FAFSA.
Since students would still fill out a detailed form, colleges would have the data they need to parcel out resources. They just would not have new information to do so year after year.
For students, the FAFSA would become more like any other part of the college application process, which is full of one-time submissions like essays and transcripts. This includes the Department of Education’s master promissory note, which only needs to be filled out once to receive federal student loans. And it would reduce the chances that students would lose financial aid solely because they failed to reapply the following year -- a problem that professors Sara Goldrick-Rab and Robert Kelchen identified in a post on a similar proposal in 2013.
What families and students would get in return for this one-time burden is something that could never be earned in any annual application process, regardless of length: predictability. Few students entering college have any idea what their financial aid might be beyond the first year. And they will not know for sure until they actually apply for aid again. A shorter form can help families more accurately predict what they might receive -- but it’s still an estimate, not a given.
A one-time FAFSA would make it possible to promise a student on day one what their aid package would look like for the rest of their undergraduate career. Families could use that information to budget and plan for costs in a way they cannot today. It could also be a huge help for low-income students considering different college options, since they would know exactly what support they could count on from the federal government at the same time they submit applications.
Only requiring the FAFSA a single time is a required step for many proposals for reforming federal student aid. For example, House Republicans proposed last year to create a flex account for Pell Grants. Students would be told upon entering college the total amount of Pell aid they are entitled to throughout their whole education and then would be allowed to spend it down as they took classes. It’s an intriguing idea that could send a strong message to students about just how much money they can get for college. But it’s also an empty promise for students under the current system, since the account balance would have to be recalculated each year.
Many of the most common objections to a one-time FAFSA could be addressed with simple tweaks. For example, it should pull in multiple years of older data so families cannot manipulate their income for a single year to appear poorer and get better aid. Students who see significant downward financial changes, such as a parent losing a job, could either follow the existing process of appealing to the financial aid office or refile for federal aid. And while it would be better to worry less about the unlikely cases that students see massive income increases, a threshold test could be added to only require new FAFSAs if income went up by very large dollar amounts, such as $20,000.
More broadly, moving to a one-time FAFSA system sends a message of simplicity and flexibility that extends far beyond paperwork. It makes the financial aid system less about obsessing over one's ability to pay in a single year to a longer-term assessment of financial circumstances that are probably not changing a great deal on an annual basis anyway. It builds in a tolerance for some income growth without making families go back through the hoop-jumping process. And in a world where tuition increases are an annual uncertainty, it could be a welcome source of predictability for students.
If the goal of financial aid simplification is really to make the process easier and more predictable for students and families, then the emphasis should be predictability, not a postcard.
Ben Miller is the higher education research director at New America.
Valerie Smith, dean of the college at Princeton University, was on Saturday named the next president of Swarthmore College. Smith is the author of more than 40 articles and 3 books on African-American literature, culture, film and photography and is the editor or coeditor of 7 volumes.
Submitted by Jake New on February 23, 2015 - 3:00am
A University of Florida assistant football coach was suspended after visiting and speaking with a prospect earlier than National Collegiate Athletic Association rules allow, the N.C.A.A. announced Friday. At the time, the player was a junior in high school. The coach spoke with the prospect outside of his high school last January and received his social media contact information.
"The former coach was able to have personal contact to get the prospect's contact information at a time when coaches who were following the rules were unable to have the same level of contact," Eleanor Myers, the chief hearing officer in the case and a law professor at Temple University, said during a press call.
The university decided to suspend the assistant coach and to end the recruitment of the player. While the N.C.A.A. said it will not impose any additional penalties, the infraction report noted that the coach's actions were "illustrative of a significant problem of football coaches skirting N.C.A.A. legislation."
Legislators are offering competing plans to oust the board of South Carolina State University, The State reported. South Carolina State is a financially troubled historically black college, and a House committee stunned supporters of the institution by proposing to shut it down for two years. Now, Senate leaders are backing a plan under which the university's board would be replaced until 2018 by a special five-member board appointed by the governor and the Legislature. House leaders, meanwhile, are backing a plan to give power over the university to the state's Budget and Control Board, which is made up of five elected officials led by the governor. South Carolina State's accreditor must approve any change in control, and has warned that the House plan would appear to violate accreditation rules against undue political control of colleges.
Submitted by Jake New on February 20, 2015 - 3:00am
The Wesleyan University chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon is suing the university for "discrimination, misrepresentation and deceptive practices" over Wesleyan's order that its fraternities must become coeducational. Delta Kappa Epsilon is one of just two officially recognized on-campus fraternities at the university. The other, Psi Upsilon, is facing a lawsuit over an alleged sexual assault, as is an unofficial off-campus fraternity called Beta Theta Pi.
In September, Wesleyan said it would give residential fraternities three years to become coeducational. The DKE lawsuit, filed by undergraduate and alumni members of the fraternity, alleges that the university "broke this promise" and fast-tracked its decision to deny DKE housing rights less than five months after its initial demand, and two days before the university's housing selection process began.
"As a result, the student members of DKE fraternity have inexplicably and without reasonable notice been stripped of their rights to on-campus housing and the fraternity denied the annual rental income it is entitled to as owner of the property," the chapter said in a statement.
The suit, which seeks an injunction to restore DKE's housing next year, states that the university's refusal to "permit male fraternity brothers to reside in single-sex housing flies in the face of the university's willingness to allow many other diverse groups to reside by choice with members of the same sex, ethnicity, national origin, religion, culture, sexual orientation, sexual identification and the like."
The fraternity said it made "good faith efforts to achieve a workable solution" during the last five months, but the university said it disagrees. In a statement Thursday, Wesleyan said the lawsuit has no merit, and that the fraternity "expressly disavowed any commitment" to become coeducational.
"DKE’s annual program housing agreement was terminated for the next academic year only after the organization repeatedly failed to take any meaningful steps or make any reasonable commitments toward residential coeducation before the date on which the housing selection process began," the university stated. "The DKE house has historically operated very differently than other special interest program houses at Wesleyan in many ways, but notably that it explicitly prohibits residence by females. This must change."