Tuition Strategy Lacking

(Information excerpted from Inside Higher Ed)

Setting tuition at public colleges and universities is no simple task.

Governors and lawmakers approve different levels of state funding to subsidize higher education from year to year. Those same politicians are frequently unhappy with rising college costs, and they sometimes move to freeze tuition or cap its rate of increase.

tuition strategy

But flat tuition, if not accompanied by an increase in appropriations, can result in fewer sections and longer times to graduation, which is expensive for students and families. And because of the way many state aid programs are structured, public tuition rates can directly affect the amount of financial aid students receive.

In other words, setting public tuition is an exceedingly complex process involving numerous power centers. It’s a process with numerous possible unintended consequences for students’ ability to pay for college. Yet it’s a process that’s not even close to being standardized from state to state.

Most states don’t even have a single strategy for addressing affordability, according to a new report (http://www.sheeo.org/projects/state-tuition-fees-and-financial-assistance/2017-report) from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. SHEEO found that 68 percent of higher education agencies it surveyed had no unified affordability strategy taking tuition, fees and financial aid into account.

That lack of strategy comes even as four out of five states have put in place attainment goals for increasing the percentage of their residents with postsecondary credentials. As a result, SHEEO is calling for states to bring together governors, lawmakers, higher ed governing boards and college presidents in order to set tuition and fees in ways that line up with attainment goals.

Although SHEEO is pushing broadly for a balance to be found between the cost students pay and colleges’ revenue needs, it didn’t issue its new report to examine actual tuition costs in depth. Instead, it looked at the different ways states set tuition, fees and student aid by conducting a survey that received responses from 54 higher education agencies in 49 states.

Specifically, SHEEO is calling for policy makers to incorporate tuition policy into broader affordability and attainment strategies. Institutional revenue sources like state appropriations, financial aid and tuition should be coordinated, and more transparency should be established around institutional expenditures, the organization says. It also called for a multiyear approach to tuition policy – one that would not necessarily lock in specific tuition rates over a set number of years but would create a range of allowable increases over three to five years, allowing institutions, students and families to plan better.

There are still skeptics about the effectiveness of those strategies. Andrew Gillen, an independent higher education analyst, said increased coordination between policy makers could be worthwhile for some reasons. But he doesn’t think it will lead to a lower cost of delivering education or encourage third parties to shoulder more of the cost.

“The bottom line is that increased coordination doesn’t have much potential to reduce or reallocate costs,” he said. “And even if it did, it is unlikely students would see any of the benefit.”

There is also no guarantee that bringing different parties together would result in better coordination. Many players with power would be hesitant to give up the ability to set tuition, said Joseph Rallo, Louisiana’s commissioner of higher education. Different institutions also face vastly different situations.

Military Members Seek School Choice

School choice

(David Boyle is board chair of the Alaska Policy Forum. He and his wife have 45 years of Air Force experience. His words follow).

“We got orders, and we’re moving this summer.”

As a veteran, I can tell you these can be some of the most challenging words a military member can utter to their family.

Reactions can range from, “Not again. We just got here,” to, “Great news! I hate this place.” Relocating to an unfamiliar place is daunting in itself. Choosing a place to live with schools in mind is even more so.

We face a lot. The movers come and pack things – some of which we might never see again. Likewise, our kids pack up their lives to probably never see their friends and classmates again. Our children feel like their friendships and social lives may never be the same. On top of that, our kids also must adapt and survive in new classrooms.

In many cases, some spouses remain in their current location, so their children can complete a school year after receiving relocation orders. Some spouses even stay put until their kids finish high school, which can take years. Uncertainty of the quality of education in the next place is enough for some families to feel they have no better option than to brave the hardships that such a distance can bring.

The challenge often begins with new neighborhood schools that may have a different curriculum, different sports programs, no advanced placement classes or fewer course options than families’ previous schools. Military kids lose the continuity of a curriculum.

Our children could use much more stability, and many schooling alternatives, including distance learning, charter networks, virtual learning and even home schools could provide that as kids move from place to place.

Those alternatives are not available everywhere – a problem for families that move frequently from state to state. It’s a problem that could be solved, however, with education savings accounts (ESAs) – a flexible type of school choice – provided at the federal level. And why not? These parents are actually federal employees. In this way, military families would have more opportunities to ensure continuity in their children’s education. After all, our kids need that stability in what, to most, would be a disruptive life.

ESAs allow parents to access the public funds already set aside for their children’s education. Those funds – often distributed to families via a restricted-use debit card – can cover private school tuition and fees, online learning programs, educational therapies, private tutoring, community college costs, higher education expenses and other approved customized learning services and materials. ESAs could even allow families to use their funds to pay for a combination of public school courses and private services, depending on their children’s needs.

A 2017 Surveying the Military (https://www.edchoice.org/blog/new-2017-survey-finds-military-veteran-families-want-americas-k-12-education-system/) report by EdChoice found young military/veteran parents and especially active-duty military parents are more likely than their counterparts to have already sought schooling options beyond a neighborhood public school for their kids. Not only that, but the vast majority of military-connected families said they support programs like ESAs and for good reasons. Mostly, they want access to better academic environments, more flexibility as parents and more individual attention for their kids.

While serving, my wife and I relocated our kids to five different state school districts in a 10-year period. I can say that finding that “good neighborhood with good schools” in which to rent or buy a home is a formidable task.

I remember arriving in a new location. I asked a friend who was already stationed there, “Is X school a good school?” She said it was. Later on, my son told me, “Dad, I was sure glad to see you pick me up every day after school.” I came to find that his school was a dismal failure, and my son actually feared for his safety every day! What an eye opener that was. (But, hey, he got straight As.)

How does a military family get current, valid, reliable data on a local school system?

The military base or post does not provide any information on the performance of local schools. The real estate industry provides some, although it’s dated and inaccurate. Most military families get their information from friends and by word of mouth. In my experience, that was not a very good source to determine my child’s future.

This information vacuum needs to be filled to help military families find the best fit for their children’s educational needs.

Tennessee to Offer Skills ‘Warranty’

Tennessee has drawn its share of higher education attention with its Promise program gaining national recognition. A new initiative seeks to further address workforce skills challenges.

The Times Free Press in Chattanooga has the details.

Beginning next fall, new graduates of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) or similar technical programs offering certificates and degrees from state community colleges will come with an eye-catching “warranty” for prospective employers.

If companies can demonstrate the graduates they hire aren’t up to snuff, “we’ll take them back and train them for free,” Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora Tydings told Gov. Bill Haslam.

Replied Haslam: “I love the idea. … That’s accountability at its finest.”

“It’s exactly what it sounds like,” Tydings told reporters. “If you do not have the skill set for which we say we have trained you, we’ll take you back and retrain you for free – if an employer documents that you do not have those skill sets within a year of graduation.”

Tydings said she doesn’t expect community colleges and TCAT to have to do much graduate retraining because of the job the institutions do.

promise

Tech Talk: Be Part of the Talent Solution

You don’t need anyone to tell you about the workforce/talent challenges that companies across the state are facing. The tech and innovation sectors, of course, are not alone in dealing with this dilemma.

Solutions must be both short and long term. Think coding schools and other training opportunities as more immediate; reaching deeper into the K-12 system to introduce potential careers at an earlier age as being on the other end of the spectrum.

But a message we’ve shared, no matter the business or industry, is to be part of that solution. Don’t just point out the problems. Don’t blame others unless you’re willing to help produce answers.

One way that everyone can contribute is to Share Your Road. It’s not just a phrase, but a coordinated initiative to introduce young people to the possibilities and what they can and should be doing to help reach those career destinations.

The Indiana Chamber Foundation and Indiana INTERNnet are among the Share Your Road partners, part of the Roadtrip Indiana initiative that sent three students on the road earlier this year. A public television series in 2018 will highlight what they learned.

See some of those who have helped pave the way thus far and take the time to inspire others at https://indiana.shareyourroad.com.

Share Your Road

Need a Little FAFSA Coaching? College Goal Sunday is Nov. 5

College Goal SundayOverwhelming is a good way to describe what it’s like to send your child off to college. Maybe you’re sad (or happy, no judgement) to have them out of the nest and discovering their first taste of independence. Aside from hoping they go to class and get an education that can set them up for a bright future, there are dorms to furnish and long-term decisions to make.

And all of that doesn’t include one of the most stressful aspects: how to pay for college.

One way to alleviate the stress of sorting through the financial aid process is by attending College Goal Sunday on November 5. Financial aid professionals will volunteer at 39 locations around the state to help students and families fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The document is required for students at most colleges and universities to be eligible for grants, scholarships and student loans.

While the FAFSA process can seem daunting or time consuming, students and families can fill out and file the form online in one afternoon with the help of professionals standing by.

College Goal Sunday is run by the Indiana Student Financial Aid Association (IFSAA) and is adding this November event in addition to its annual College Goal Sunday in February.

Interested? Here’s what you should bring:

  • Students should attend with parents or guardians (unless students are age 24 or older)
  • Parents should bring completed 2016 IRS 1040 tax returns, W-2 forms and other 2016 income and benefits information
  • Students who worked the previous year should bring their income information
  • Students age 24 and older should bring their own completed 2016 IRS 1040 tax return, W-2 Form or other 2016 income and benefits information
  • Students and parents are encouraged to apply for U.S. Department of Education FSA IDs at ed.gov before attending the event

A complete list of sites is available at CollegeGoalSunday.org. All sites will have online capabilities and many will offer Spanish language interpreters. Students who attend and fill out a completed evaluation will also be entered to win one of five $1,000 scholarships.

Report: STEM Message Not Getting Through

It seems as if everyone is talking about the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent shortage, but the message is apparently not being heard. Randstad US conducted a study to uncover key motivations, beliefs and perspectives of STEM-related topics among kids aged 11 to 17.

The research shows that despite high interest in STEM studies and confidence in STEM skills at a younger age, interest dwindles as children grow older. Students 11 to 14 years old are 18% more likely than students aged 15 to 17 to consider math one of their favorite subjects. Fifty-six percent of young people also said knowing how STEM skills relate to the real world would make STEM classes more interesting.

“The term ‘STEM’ needs a rebrand and awareness campaign to get the next generation of talent excited about pursuing these careers,” said Alan Stukalsky, chief digital officer for Randstad North America. “Young people are self-selecting out of higher STEM education classes because they can’t see how these skills apply to different professions and employers they’re excited about. It’s a misperception and a serious economic problem, as a rapidly growing number of jobs now require STEM competencies. If we don’t find a way to guide and prepare the future workforce for these positions, we run the risk of the need for these skills escalating and the hiring gap expanding.”  

The study revealed not only a lack of students’ awareness of what types of STEM jobs exist, but also a lack of personal connection to STEM professionals and how STEM jobs are defined.

  • 52% of students say they don’t know anyone with a job in STEM, and more than 1 in 4 students (27%) say they haven’t talked to anyone about jobs in STEM.
  • Almost half (49%) of respondents say they don’t know what kind of math jobs exist and 76% report not knowing a lot about what engineers do.
  • 87% think people who study STEM work at companies like NASA; far fewer associate them with mainstream consumer brands like Instagram (40%) and Coca-Cola (26%).

Young people reported high enthusiasm for careers not explicitly defined as STEM but requiring related skills, suggesting the need for broader education as to how STEM skills can be applied in fields beyond math and science.

  • 64% of students rate creating video games for a living as very fun, while 90% rate it somewhat fun.
  • 54% of respondents think it would be very fun to earn a living working with marine life, with 89% rating it as at least somewhat fun.
  • 47% think it would be very fun to make web sites for a living, with 86% saying it would be at least somewhat fun.

K-12 Teacher Shortage Grows

Teacher shortages are not a new concern and the subject areas with the biggest gaps remain fairly consistent. Still, as the 2017-2018 school year was beginning, CNN had an extensive report on the challenge. Among the findings:

The Learning Policy Institute estimated that if trends continue, there could be a nationwide shortfall of 112,000 teachers by 2018.

Public schools in 48 states and the District of Columbia report teacher shortages in math for the 2017-18 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Forty-six states report shortages in special education, 43 in science and 41 in foreign languages.

Nationwide, teacher education enrollments dropped 35% between 2009 and 2014, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the Learning Policy Institute.

A survey at UCLA found that freshmen’s interest in teaching as a career has steadily declined over the past decade.

Dan Goldhaber, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Education Data and Research, who studies educational trends at the University of Washington, sees two main reasons.

Math and science teachers aren’t paid enough. Salaries for U.S. secondary school teachers have largely remained the same over the past two decades, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

And students in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) can make more in other professions than they would teaching.

Teaching in the U.S. is too demanding. About 8% of teachers leave teaching each year, with two-thirds quitting before retirement, according to the Learning Policy Institute. This is double the percentage of teachers leaving the profession in countries like Singapore and Finland.

As far as potential solutions:

  • Help students be more strategic about their teaching opportunities. When students enter teaching certification programs, let them know where the jobs are. In many parts of the country, they’ll have an easier time finding jobs to teach math or science than English.
  • Partner school districts with local college and university programs. Though the teacher shortage is rooted partly in subject areas, it’s also a matter of location. Schools in low-income areas struggle more to fill positions. “It is the kids that are oftentimes most at risk that are the ones who are likely to suffer the most,” Goldhaber said.

One way to fix that would be to pull in students from local higher-ed programs to help teach in those areas. Many may stick around for a full-time job after graduation.

  • Make teacher certification national instead of state by state.Prospective teachers must pass an exam specific to the state they want to work in. But if a teacher wants to move from, say, Pennsylvania to California, they can’t immediately apply for jobs there. By having a national certification exam, teachers would have more mobility to go where they’re needed.

Purdue, Others to Help With Micro Debt

Purdue University is one of 11 schools that formed the University Innovation Alliance (UIA) in 2014. As reported recently by Fast Company, the UIA members are planning to tackle a challenge that is preventing many students from completing their degree.

Bridget Burns, the executive director of the coalition, says that most of UIA’s school presidents realized they were doing an awful job at keeping students enrolled, particularly those who from low-income households, first generation, or students of color. “It seems like a bunch of institutions … repeating the same experiments (to fix things) over and over and in many cases making the same mistakes.”

One alarming trend: Despite receiving financial aid, roughly 4,000 seniors who have good grades may quit school because of small outstanding scholastic debt. The sums are often less than $1,000 – but in many cases, such balances make them unable to register for their next batch of classes.

UIA and its partners will spend $4 million on micro-debt forgiveness, which will be managed by in-network academic advisors to use at their discretion over the course of the next five semesters. Half of the money is coming primarily from the Gates Foundation and Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates but the other half is a school match. Because every project that UIA does is carefully vetted beforehand, all institutions agree to double whatever philanthropic amount is directed toward their campuses.

The estimated award per student is projected to be about $900, but students can’t apply; administrators, who are adhering to an internal formula designed to spot the best candidates, will identify candidates and offer the one-time surprise infusion. “We know there’s variation across the 11 (schools) but we want to find the students who are low income, on track to graduate within a year – so they’ve already got a lot of effort behind them and it’s not too far ahead – but they have some unexpected costs,” Burns says.

Those costs might be anything that could disrupt an already tight budget, from a parking ticket that went unpaid and snowballed, to car repair, or an unexpected rent or medical issue that affected someone’s prioritization for what must be repaid. For low-income students already on loans, that’s generally a dream killer.

“If we don’t help them through to the finish line, that could waste all their effort.”

The concept of micro-debt relief has already proven effective at Georgia State University, a UIA affiliate that started its own retention granting program in 2011 to try to support the 1,000 or so students that it was losing each semester of extremely small tuition balances. Georgia State’s program is open to all students, not just seniors. Historically, it has 75% of those with more than a year to go are still enrolled 12 months later, while 60% of senior recipients go on to graduate within the same year that they receive assistance.

Burns expects UIA disbursements to cover only about half of the coalition’s students in need. That’s partly because of limited funding but also necessary because it’s a wide-scale experiment. Not aiding everyone creates a sad but necessary control group, allowing future funders to better compare the power of small, emergency cash allowances for those who received them versus those who didn’t.

More broadly, however, she hopes that UIA’s investment encourages other schools to act similarly. “This signaled where they should be focusing their attention,” she says. “These are many of the most innovative universities, who are saying, ‘These are things that are worth your limited time energy and money.’ ”

Bachelors (Degrees) Dominate In This State

In the Indiana Vision 2025 Report Card released earlier this summer, Massachusetts led the way in percentage of the population with at least a bachelor’s degree. That’s not too surprising considering the prevalence of higher education institutions in the Boston area and the state’s entrepreneurial, tech-based economy.

(Indiana, by the way, was 39th in the 2015 statistics with 26.7% of resident possessing at least a four-year degree).

The update, according to a report from the independent Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center:

Half of all workers in Massachusetts held a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2016, marking the first time any U.S. state has reached that educational threshold.

The same analysis points to a growing wage chasm in the state, with the college-educated earning on average 99% – or nearly double – the wages of those in the labor force with only a high school education. That difference, often referred to as the “college wage premium,” was 56.6% across the entire nation in 2016.

In Massachusetts, 50.2% of individuals participating in the state’s labor force had attained at minimum a four-year degree from a college or university in 2016. The next highest states were New Jersey (45.2%), New York (43.7%), Maryland (43%) and Connecticut (42.7%), according to the Current Population Survey data. The U.S. average was 35.5% in 2016.

The numbers point to a dramatic shift in recent decades. In 1979, only about 20% of the Massachusetts labor force had bachelor’s degrees, and the college wage premium was 50%.

VIDEO: Brinegar Explains School Corporation Size Study

Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar discusses the recent study from Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research: “School Corporation Size & Student Performance: Evidence from Indiana,” commissioned by the Indiana Chamber Foundation.