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Why University of Kentucky has significantly shifted its ratio of merit to need-based financial aid (essay)

One of the strengths -- and there are many -- of the American higher education system is its traditional commitment to access.

Higher education leaders at all levels have been united in their desire to create and maintain affordable pathways to attendance at postsecondary institutions. We all are aware of the well-documented potential for progress that higher education offers generations of students and families.

But without question, during the last 30 years, the affordability of a college degree has eroded noticeably and significantly. A number of factors have contributed to that trend, but it’s clear that, as low-tuition, low-aid models have evolved into high-tuition, high-aid models, more and more middle-class students have been denied the opportunity to pursue higher education. That is why we at the University for Kentucky have evaluated how we structure our scholarships and have decided to chart a dramatically different path -- one much more aggressive in facilitating the success of students and families of limited financial means. It is right for our students, and it is right for the Commonwealth.

We’ve seen that, over time, colleges and universities have begun to use institutional aid to “sculpt” their entering classes. We have deployed aid to meet institutional priorities -- to support worthy goals of academic achievement and diversity, and to achieve important strategic objectives such as higher graduation rates.

But at what cost?

The connection between socioeconomic status and academic ability is well established. On average, students from families with higher incomes score better on national tests (ACT and SAT), are academically prepared, and engage in college-preparatory tutorials, among other advantages. It is no wonder, then, that those students also are rewarded more generously with institutional aid that is targeted toward merit.

At the University of Kentucky, we understand the results of these socioeconomic advantages and merit-based aid strategies. Students at the top end of both academic preparation and income receive the bulk of our merit-based aid -- which means the students who have the most options for postsecondary attainment are also receiving the most resources.

The fact is, however, that promising students who come from lesser means have not had such additional advantages and, in too many cases, have suffered as a result. As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, we have a moral responsibility to change that situation.

To be sure, we have institutional aid dedicated to those with the most need, and we take advantage of the longstanding state and federal funds available. But, as has also been the case in the overall American economy since the Great Recession of 2008, we are observing the worrisome trend of a hollowing out of the middle. It is those students in the middle -- both in terms of socioeconomic background and academic preparation -- who are facing increasing obstacles to postsecondary attainment.

There is no question that these students can succeed. The question is can they afford the opportunity? At UK, our goal through our strategic plan is to place the student at the center of all of our decisions. Against that backdrop, we recently announced a new initiative that will radically change how we allocate our institutional aid.

Through UK LEADS (Leveraging Economic Affordability for Developing Success), we are intentionally moving away from the institutional merit-based-aid arms race and instead committing ourselves to serving our students and our state. We want unmet financial need to be off the table as a concern for students and families.

A review of internal data has indicated that students with $5,000 or more unmet need -- defined as the amount remaining after the expected family contribution and all other aid (institutional, state and federal aid) -- had a significantly higher risk of attrition than students with less than $5,000 unmet need. And attrition increased significantly with each additional $5,000 in unmet need.

UK LEADS will dramatically shift the ratio of merit to need-based financial aid over the next five years. Currently, 90 percent of our aid is targeted to merit. By 2021, we hope 65 percent will be directed to financial need.

We plan to continue offering merit-aid based on a set of selection criteria. But if we do not make a radical change, it will become more difficult for our middle-class students to attend and graduate from our institution.

As public institutions have entered the institutional-aid arms race, institutional goals have taken precedence over the needs of their states and students. At UK, we believe that if we focus instead on student success and what is best for our state, institutional success will follow. But the reverse may not be true.

In the wake of the recent presidential election, there is also a strong push nationally to reinvest in the middle class, to address economic dislocations wrought by globalization and technology. Access to higher education must be a vital component of that effort.

In changing the way we think about aid -- by focusing less on sculpting a class of students and being more concerned about who can be positively impacted by a renewed commitment to affordable access -- we in higher education can once again honor our legacy as the nation’s brightest hope for economic and social progress.

Eli Capilouto is the president and Tim Tracy is the provost of the University of Kentucky.

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

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Florida State U Republicans Face Scandal

Leaders of Florida State University's College Republicans are facing impeachment over allegations that they embezzled $16,000 in membership dues and donations and engaged in the "overt solicitation of sexual favors in exchange for favorable board positions," according to a notice of impeachment which became public Monday.

"There is an internal investigation underway by FFCR to collect further evidence and testimony of malfeasance by past leadership, in order to correct the mistakes and set the club back on the path to complete autonomy," Cade Marsh, the chairman of the Florida Federation of College Republicans and the vice chairman of the College Republican National Committee, said in a statement to the Tab, after sending the notice. "These do not represent legal proceedings or facts necessarily, but are in the pursuit of an internal audit as to the charges. Generally, these things are rarely, if ever, made public, but given the severity of the charges brought, an immediate suspension was necessary."

The notice came after a letter, signed by the majority of the FSU College Republicans voting executive board, was delivered to the Florida Federation of College Republicans' executive board last week. In response, the FFCR re-federated the FSU chapter, suspending both its treasurer and chairman. If they are impeached, a special election will be held within 90 days. Among the more serious charges detailed in the notice of impeachment are that the chairman, James Dilmore, threatened physical violence against other members of the group and sexually harassed some who were interested in serving on the organization's board.

Dilmore is still listed as the chair of the Florida State College Republicans on the group's website, and he identified himself as such when interviewed last week for an Inside Higher Ed article about College Republicans and their support of President Trump. "I'm not part of the establishment," he said at the time. "I'm not one of those people. That's who I hate. That's why I love Donald Trump."

The notice of impeachment was first obtained by a student-run Florida State humor website called the Eggplant. Dilmore did not respond to several requests for comment on Monday. A spokesman for Florida State declined to comment, citing student privacy laws. 

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Author discusses new book about transgender college students

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Author discusses new book about a part of the student population pushing for more support -- and facing a backlash in some states.

Falwell to Work With Trump in 'Official Capacity'

Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University's president, said he would work with President Trump in an "official capacity" but that he could not yet announce what that role would be. Falwell, an early and prominent Trump supporter, made the comment in an interview with the Christian Broadcast News while he was attending the president's inauguration.

During the brief interview, he also said the U.S. Department of Education had micromanaged colleges, intruded too much into the accreditation process and made the federal student loan process too complicated.

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Colleges shouldn't abandon early-admissions programs (essay)

Every year without fail, a well-respected educator comes out against early-admission programs, calling them “barriers to keep most low-income students out.” This year’s quote is from a recent piece in Inside Higher Ed by Harold O. Levy, a former chancellor of the New York City Public Schools and the executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

I have great respect for Levy and for the significant work done by the Cooke Foundation to advance students of great potential from economically disadvantaged families. But early-admission programs are not discriminatory by definition at the bulk of the nation’s nonprofit, four-year colleges and universities. And in fact, they do not have to act against the inclusion of disadvantaged students at the nation’s most prestigious institutions. Here’s why.

It is true that many low-income students are not aware of early-decision programs because they are the first generation in their family to go to college and attend high schools where counselors are responsible for 1,000 or more students each. But colleges and universities can and do promote early decision and early action in all of their search communications, on their websites and in their brochures. And those of us who are committed to enrolling low-income students go out of our way to connect with them and to make them aware of early programs while saving places for them in the regular pool. Pell-eligible students represent 35 percent of the enrollment at my institution, Drew University, and we have an early-decision program -- so it can be done. Further, those students graduate at the essentially same rate as the other two-thirds of the student body, so they are being served well.

Many highly selective colleges are now test optional in admission, so the fact that low-income students may not have test scores in time for early deadlines is a nonissue at those institutions. And the notion that low-income students can’t commit to enrolling through an early-decision program because they need financial aid is an equally empty hypothesis.

First of all, the early Free Application for Federal Student Aid allows colleges to award actual aid upon early-decision admission. Second, as every early-decision institution will tell you, if the aid is not sufficient in the family’s mind, the student will be released from the early-decision commitment.

I always tell students and their parents that they should apply in a binding early-decision program only if parents know how much they are willing and able to contribute toward college expenses, and if they are not interested in comparing offers from other institutions. If they receive enough to make attendance possible, and the college is the student’s first choice, then the process has successfully concluded. If, however, they want to shop for the best deal, then early decision is not for them. But we can’t just say that early decision is bad for all low-income students.

In many ways, early decision is the best time to apply for financial aid, because colleges do not exhaust their grant resources during the early round. And as I said, if the aid is not sufficient, colleges will release students from the early commitment. This is a no-lose proposition for the student.

Levy presents compelling evidence of the disparity of incomes represented in early-decision programs:

The Cooke Foundation study found that only 16 percent of high-achieving students from families with annual incomes below $50,000 applied for college admission on an early-decision basis in the 2013-14 academic year. But 29 percent of high-achieving students from families with incomes above $250,000 applied on an early-decision basis. Is it any wonder that so many more upper-income students gain admission?

To be fair, that needs to be put into context. According to a 2014 report from the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of all low-income students were enrolled in college compared to 81 percent of all high-income students (defining low income as the bottom 20 percent of all family incomes and high income as the top 20 percent). In other words, many more high-income students enroll in college in the first place, so it is not surprising that many more high-income students also enroll through early decision.

This underscores the real issue for American higher education. We need to spend less time advocating for the elimination of a program, like early admission, that attracts higher-income students (who, by the way, help to bring in the revenue to support lower-income students) and more time -- as the Cooke Foundation and many colleges do so well -- developing better ways to recruit and support low-income students through to graduation. The future competitiveness of our country depends on it.

Robert Massa is senior vice president for enrollment and institutional planning at Drew University. He previously served as vice president for enrollment and college relations at Dickinson College and as dean of enrollment at Johns Hopkins University.

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Tens of thousands of college students and professors march in Washington

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Tens of thousands of students and academics join Women’s March on Washington.

Power Five leagues adopt new rules lessening time demands

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NCAA's Power Five conferences unanimously adopt new rules lessening time demands on college athletes, though some programs would like to see exemptions made for recruiting activities.

UVA President Will Step Down Next Year

Teresa A. Sullivan (right) announced Friday that she plans to step down as president of the University of Virginia when her current contract ends in the summer of 2018. While president, Sullivan has pushed plans to expand the faculty and selected academic programs, and led efforts to improve the undergraduate experience and academic advising. She also led efforts to complete a $3 billion fund-raising campaign. And Sullivan worked to fight sexual assault when the university was the subject of a now notorious Rolling Stone article about an alleged fraternity rape, and she pushed to continue those efforts and to mend campus relations when the article turned out to be false. In the last week, she announced plans to increase undergraduate enrollment to admit more Virginians and to provide new financial aid funds to those not eligible for most other aid.

Sullivan may be best known for her successful effort to hold on to her job in 2012 when board members ousted her but backed down two weeks later amid an outpouring of support on campus for Sullivan and anger at the board members who wanted to remove her.

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Lincoln U Changes Definition of Financial Exigency

Lincoln University in Missouri made headlines last year for shuttering its history department against the advice of a faculty committee. Now Lincoln has changed its financial exigency policy in ways that would make it much easier to lay off tenured faculty members. Financial exigency -- defined by the American Association of University Professors as a dire, institutionwide crisis -- is one of the few ways AAUP policy says that professors in good standing may lose their jobs. Most institutions have adopted that policy, and those that don’t risk possible censure by the AAUP.

Lincoln has changed its rules to specify that financial exigency may be declared not only at the university level, but also “for specific colleges, schools, departments or programs.” Faculty members with the shortest term of service now also “will generally,” not definitively, be terminated before those with longer periods of service.

A spokesperson for Lincoln did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary for tenure, academic freedom and governance at AAUP, called the university's new policy a “significant departure from our standards” and reiterated that the association defines financial exigency as “a severe financial crisis that fundamentally compromises the academic integrity of the institution as a whole and that cannot be alleviated by less drastic means.”

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