Financial aid

As aid deadlines approach, automated IRS data retrieval unavailable to students

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College access advocates scramble as Trump administration says IRS tool designed to simplify student aid process could be unavailable for several weeks.

A challenge to college presidents to fight for low-income students (essay)

To: All 2,000 delegates at this weekend's annual meeting of the American Council on Education

Your assignment for this annual meeting: make history for low-income students. What proposals can you have live and moving by the time the lights go out Tuesday there at the Washington Marriott Marquis?

No, we may not rest on the restore summer Pell idea. That’s paying a fine. We should not have lost summer Pell in the first place.

To inspire you, to offer conversation starters, I’ve contacted for you as many higher ed leaders and thought leaders as I could to offer my spotlight for their best ideas, right here, in this obscure column.

Their ideas:

  • Equitable funding through state and federal litigation, as in K-12.
  • Admit once and for all the greater needs of low-income students and stop providing these students with less funding per student than elementary school students.
  • A student hope survey each semester, with help for those without.
  • Much more day care and early childhood education, essential for children and parents, especially those who are college students.
  • Free lunch and bus/subway passes for the college students who received these in K-12.
  • Expand Pell to include more job training; measure college success with job placement in the field of study.

One of ACE’s plenary speakers, Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute, said that the power shift in Washington cannot sideline federal action to improve opportunity for low- and middle-income students. “To be effective, we have to think about what kinds of policy changes could really have an impact on the prospects for upward mobility. That means not just asking for more money, but ensuring that government, institutions and students use the funds equitably and efficiently.”

Baum looks back to the start for all students. She would start “by ensuring high-quality, affordable day care and early childhood education, so parents, including student parents, know their children are well cared for.”

Delegates: find Sandy Baum. Bring sharp pencils. Make a plan for better day care.

Start with the tough end of the question. Start the discussion with the people around you right now and in every hallway and by every coffeepot. The harder end of the question? Example: “To have expanded day care for all Pell students who are parents, we would have to …”

For solutions, I mean ones that take as a given the current difficult federal budget situation, with a proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending and cuts to all other agencies. Think! My teaching self believes in every one of you. Yes, you can. Remember, you are the stars of what you yourselves call the greatest higher education system in the world.

Who are these low-income students? I mean the students, grasping for a postsecondary credential, who may not today, Friday, have a full weekend’s worth of food to eat.

I mean the legal immigrant whose trip from a distant continent to my windowless basement office to edit a transfer essay included a stop in a six-foot-square underground jail cell, with more than a dozen other prisoners crammed in. (Naming even the country could put the student and his/her family at risk.)

With President Trump proposing a $54 billion increase in defense spending at the expense of other agencies, we need as many approaches for these students as we can field. I have gathered plausible ideas from thoughtful realist higher ed leaders I know. Grab and improve on these ideas with your neighbors as you wait for an ACE session to start, as you file in out and out of plenaries, as you wait for coffee or sit down for superb free meals that many low-income students will not have during this meeting.

Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College and a national champion for low-income students, suggested judicial remedies, the long-haul chess game of desegregation litigation such as Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund took to prepare for 1954 U.S. Supreme Court desegregation decision, Brown vs. Board of Education. Mellow today shares the same reasoning as Marshall did then for turning to the courts: legislative strategies are not working.

“In the U.S., justice has often been found in the courts, and it might be time to seek justice for low-income students that way,” Mellow said.

Delegates: send an Uber and invite the civil rights lawyer John Brittain at University of the District of Columbia to join you. Find Gail Mellow. Sit down and stay seated until you have a plaintiff, funding and a litigation strategy.

“Hope is important,” said Hal Plotkin, an Obama deputy under secretary of education and a community college graduate himself. “Students who have hope are more likely to move through adversity. The absence of hope is self-fulfilling. Why don’t we measure hope? We could ask students questions that are about hope but grounded in reality. If I were a college president, I would want to know if my students were mostly hopeful about their futures or mostly hopeless -- and what the trends are/were.” Plotkin is now senior open policy fellow for Creative Commons USA.

Richard Kahlenberg and the Century Foundation have created a new task force to take next steps from the foundation’s excellent 2013 “Bridging the Higher Education Divide: The Report of the Century Foundation Task Force on Preventing Community Colleges From Becoming Separate and Unequal.” The report stated again that in U.S. higher education the students with the highest need, most of whom are in community colleges, receive the least funding. This is at odds with much of the policy and practice for K-12.

More funding for high-need students in higher education? “The idea sounds pie in the sky, but Tennessee and other states are already moving in this direction, providing an 80 percent premium in funding to colleges that graduate Pell students,” said Kahlenberg. “What if that 80 percent principle was applied nationally?” The Century Foundation has funding from the William T. Grant Foundation to think through just this question. Delegates: find Rick Kahlenberg there and sign up for the task force.

Anthony P. Carnevale, also an ACE plenary speaker and research professor and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, wonders if higher education in this environment needs to reconsider past objectives.

“Do we go whole hog on gainful employment?” Carnevale asked. “Completion is not enough. Graduates have to get a job.” As measures, he asks if new degree/certificate holders have an increase in wages in a job in the field of their training. Delegates: find Tony. Listen. With magnificent clarity and plenty of evidence, he this week opened my mind to this new-to-me idea.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, also author of Paying the Price, College Costs, Financial Aid and the Betrayal of the American Dream, restated her recommendation for a federal lunch program for the college students who were eligible for federal free and reduced-price lunch in K-12. Some studies indicate that more than 50 percent of low-income college students may be both food and housing insecure. Delegates: send an Uber to the Longworth Building on Capitol Hill and invite U.S. Representative Bobby Scott (D-Va.) to join you. Scott already wants to put such a plan into the budget. Let Scott advise you on a relentless strategy in spite of Republican gloom.

Pam Y. Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College, is advocating against student hunger with Goldrick-Rab, and sees every day both the benefits of proving food and the costs of student hunger. Bunker Hill (where I work) helps students enroll for and renew food stamps, has food available, and hosts a monthly food pantry for which the Greater Boston Food Bank delivers 5,000 pounds of groceries.

“Food, housing, transportation are essential to academic completion,” Eddinger said. “They are simply necessities. There are no silver bullets.”

Paying for this? Remember, we are a nation that is funding an unbudgeted $5 trillion war. For these low-income students? We can succeed.

Wick Sloane is an end user of a most highly selective higher education. Follow him on Twitter @WickSloane.

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Education Department's inspector general wants feds to more closely monitor colleges with shaky finances

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The Education Department needs to better monitor colleges' finances to prevent another costly fiasco like the 2014 collapse of Corinthian Colleges, says the agency's Office of Inspector General.

Moody's: Free College a Credit Positive

Free college tuition proposals will be moderately credit positive for the overall higher education sector, Moody’s Investors Service said Friday in a report issued after New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee and San Francisco have recently introduced new or expanded proposals.

Proposals for free public college tuition tend to be relatively cost-effective ways for governments to support higher education access and affordability goals because they are usually structured as last-dollar programs that exhaust other sources of financial aid before drawing on new state subsidies, Moody’s said. Consequently, the ratings agency expects the trend toward free college to continue.

Different programs are structured differently and will have different credit implications, Moody’s noted. Analysts expect more credit-positive effects for community colleges in early years, paired with more negative effects for regionally oriented public and private colleges. That’s because most programs implemented so far have been at community colleges. But if students transfer in large numbers into four-year public university programs after completing two-year degrees, the net effect could balance out over time.

Any widespread expansion of free-tuition programs from two-year universities to four-year universities could have a negative effect on four-year private colleges with regional brands, according to Moody’s.

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N.Y. Republicans Counter Free Public College Plan

New York Republicans have a counterproposal to Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s controversial plan to provide tuition-free public college to students whose families earn $125,000 or less -- increase an existing grant for students attending either public or private institutions.

A group of Republicans in the New York State Assembly want to expand New York’s Tuition Assistance Program’s award sizes and make it available to wealthier families. The program currently makes need-based awards of between $500 and $5,165 to families earning $80,000 a year or less. The Republicans want to raise the income limit to $125,000 -- the same as Cuomo’s free college proposal -- and increase the maximum award to $6,470.

Republicans estimate the plan would cut college costs for 336,000 students, according to CNN Money. Cuomo’s office has estimated his plan would cover 200,000 students. Republicans would also make other changes, making graduate students eligible for Tuition Assistance Program awards and creating tax credits for New Yorkers paying off their student loans.

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Report documents impact of income tax breaks for higher education

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States often don't calculate revenue lost through higher education income tax benefits for students, report finds.

Federal watchdog protects students and taxpayers (essay)

Recently, Republican Senators Mike Lee and Ben Sasse called on President Trump to fire Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Rich Cordray, yet another salvo in an ongoing effort to undermine the agency’s effectiveness since its creation in 2010. Meanwhile, the U.S. Court of Appeals, which had decided that the CFPB’s single-director structure was unconstitutional, recently reversed that decision and has decided to review the case again, in May.

College students have particular reason to be concerned about the hostility toward the CFPB, given how effective the agency has been in solving their problems with debt. But taxpayers should be alarmed, too.

One of the vulnerable populations receiving special attention at the agency, college students over the past several decades have experienced increasing financial barriers to their educational paths, despite our intent to remove those barriers. To ensure that all qualified students get the education that we want them to pursue, we, the taxpayers, support the federal financial aid programs by spending $128 billion on them in 2015, not to mention spending billions more to fund public institutions in every state.   

Despite that support, student debt remains a huge obstacle for graduates. Sixty-nine percent of college students are graduating with an average of $28,950 in debt. This debt is a drag on individual borrowers, who will see a decrease in their lifetime savings as their money is spent paying down educational debt. It has also become a drag on the economy as a whole, as borrowers put off purchasing a home and starting a family until they achieve the firmer footing we hoped they’d have at graduation.  

Unsurprisingly, yet of significant concern, borrowers from the lowest income backgrounds carry more student debt than their more financially well-off counterparts, a financial reality that undercuts our national hope that education be ‘the great equalizer.’  

These problems stem from shrinking state budgets for education and grant programs that don’t keep pace. But they are exacerbated when students lose even more money to tricky financial products and predatory lending schemes that are marketed right on campuses. 

During the financial crisis, 67 percent of students reported being stopped on campus to be offered a credit card application. Often, these offers were accompanied by freebies -- pizza, a tee shirt or even a chance to get an iPod -- if the student just applied. Unfortunately, the rates paid by those with the worst credit, such as traditional-aged students with their spotty to non-existent credit histories, were upward of 20 percent, plus an additional 23 percent in fees on their balances. Now, the CFPB is the leading watchdog of the campus credit card marketplace, conducting a bi-annual survey of the trends on campuses.

Students, as the captive audience they are, have become targets for higher-priced private loans than what they can get on the open market. In 2007, then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo found that students and families were assuming pricey private loans because their college aid offices, enticed by banks hoping to gain more federal loan customers at the institutions, were pushing them over other products, sometimes even including loan offers in aid awards. CFPB generates an annual report on the private loan marketplace to Congress, highlight the troubling developments.

Also, in 2009 the for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges revealed to investors that it would issue $130 million in private loans for the year to its students, even as it admitted its students wouldn’t be able to repay them. Now, CFPB has specific authority to investigate deceptive lending practices on campuses, which has led to lawsuits against prominent for-profit college chains such as ITT Tech, Bridgepoint, and Corinthian. For instance, it won $480 million in relief for borrowers at Corinthian schools, who were tricked into assuming private loans that carried interest at almost 10 percent.

Importantly, in 2009 the defaulted federal student loan portfolio crossed $50 billion; the billions in default was not just the result of borrowers falling behind. In the past two years, CFPB has sued several banks for servicing practices that increase debt, including Wells Fargo and Discover Bank. Discover denied consumers information they needed to obtain federal income tax benefits, eventually paying $18 million back to borrowers in a settlement.  

And recently the agency announced a lawsuit against Navient, the student loan servicing giant formerly known as Sallie Mae, which services 12 million borrowers. The lawsuit alleges that the firm cheated borrowers out of their right to lower monthly payments and lower interest accrual by downplaying enrollment and renewal deadlines for those programs.

These problems are especially outrageous on two fronts. First, they undermine the ability of students to get an education. Second, they devalue the investment that taxpayers have made in our college students, as our financial aid dollars end up flowing away from the students we aim to help, and toward predatory lenders that are breaking the law.

As over 50 student and consumer and educational groups declared in a recent letter to Congress, neither students nor taxpayers should have to tolerate these problems. Now is not the time to render ineffective the agency that is stepping in on our behalf.

Christine Lindstrom is the higher education program director for U.S. Public Interest Research Group student chapters.

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Study: Tuition increases are not entirely explained by state disinvestment

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Tuition rose faster than state appropriations fell, and federal aid helped make that possible, study asserts. does headline overstate? should we add "(Alone)" or something, so we're not making it seem like Cato is saying state disinvestment plays no role? dl***Good point. Added "Alone." -RS

Researchers download federal data amid concerns over future access

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Some education researchers have begun downloading federal data amid questions about the new administration's commitment to continuing transparency efforts.

Maine Cuts Tuition for Graduate Students From Nearby States

The University of Maine is building on its highly visible tuition-matching program for undergraduates by starting a similar new program for graduate students.

The university's new regional graduate scholarship will be available to new fully admitted students from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont starting this fall. It will drop out-of-state tuition from $1,361 per credit hour to $650 per credit hour for 22 programs. That's the same price or lower than students would pay if they were attending a flagship campus in their own state, according to the university.

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