In Focus

Oct 1, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Live Webcast of National Credentialing Summit

By Evelyn Ganzglass

On October 5, CLASP, Lumina Foundation, and the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce will co-convene the National Credentialing Summit.  Along with co-convening the summit, CLASP has released numerous resources on improving America’s credentialing system.

The summit’s opening session, "Setting the Stage: Transforming Our Fragmented Credentialing System Into One That Works Better for Students, Employers and the Nation," will be WEBCAST LIVE. Jim Lehrer, former executive editor and anchor of PBS NewsHour, will moderate this session. He’ll facilitate a distinguished panel in examining dilemmas posed by our nation's lack of a transparent, connected credentialing system. The opening session also will be recorded and posted on for later viewing. Please join the conversation on Oct. 5 via Twitter @ConnectCreds and #ConnectCreds.

CLASP is focused on improving the nation’s credentialing system. Low-income people and people of color have the most to lose in our current fragmented and confusing credential system, and they have the most to gain from changes that will create a more equitable and connected system. Low-income families understand that postsecondary credentials are increasingly the gateway to employment at family-sustaining wages –and to succeed in the workforce, more young people and working adults than ever are seeking education beyond high school.

Low-income students face multiple financial, logistical and educational challenges in accessing and succeeding in postsecondary education. One challenge is the booming credential marketplace itself. Often, prospective students don’t know which credential to pursue because it is difficult to figure out which of many like-sounding credentials offer the best value for their money and their time spent to earn the credential – and which credential will be most useful for achieving the boost in earnings they seek. Students, especially those with little or no experience in postsecondary education, are also subject to predatory marketing that too often leads them to go into debt pursuing programs of study leading to credentials that aren’t valued by employers.

Nontraditional students, including low-income working adults, also encounter many dead-ends as they try to navigate the often circuitous pathways to marketable credentials they pursue as they balance work, family, and educational requirements. These pathways may start with informal learning on-the-job and/or short-term training obtained from any of a wide variety of providers, including employers, unions, community colleges, technical trade schools, community-based organizations and, increasingly, on-line training providers. Some of this education may carry “credit” within the education system, but much of it does not. Those seeking to advance in education often have to start all over again because they can’t get credit for what they’ve learned at work or through previous training. Students may encounter further dead ends as they try to move from applied non-transferrable programs to academic transferrable ones. Experience and credentials earned in one field of study or occupational area may not be easily transferrable to another. The National Credentialing Summit will explore solutions to these problems.

The Connecting Credentials website supporting the dialogue was launched in June and includes 89 co-sponsoring organizations. We encourage you to visit the resources section to explore the newly uploaded collection of video clips, recorded e-conversations, and cartoons. Hundreds of individuals representing diverse stakeholder perspectives have participated in 12 e-conversations over the past four months. Sessions focused on six themes: (1) building trust in the assessment and validation of competencies represented by different kinds of credentials; (2) improving the portability of credentials within education, within labor markets and across both; (3) informing learner decision-making about credentials; (4) assuring the labor market relevance of credentials; (5) creating pathways to quality credentials for low-income, low-skill learners; and (6) informing employer decision-making about credentials.

Following the Summit, documents made available to in-person attendees will be uploaded to the website. Resources posted will include a “Landscape Review of Innovations in the U.S. Credentialing Marketplace: A Working Document,” which is a first attempt to bring together information on many national and multi-state initiatives being implemented to improve the credentialing marketplace. In addition, more than 100 entries will be posted that are presented in chart format and organized by six key attributes proposed for a reimagined U.S. credentialing system. Those attributes are explained in “Connecting Credentials: Making the Case for Reforming the U.S. Credentialing System,” which articulates growing consensus that a redesigned postsecondary credentialing system must: (1) be easily understandable; (2) assure quality; (3) be up to date; (4) be connected; (5) enable comparisons; and (6) assure race and class equity.

Register Here

Sep 15, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Department of Education Announces Significant Change Simplifying Application for Federal Financial Aid

By Lauren Walizer

Today, President Obama announced a significant policy shift that will help low-income students access college financial aid by making the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) simpler to complete. This key administrative change, which CLASP supported in its recent recommendations for higher education reform, would allow applicants to complete the FAFSA using income tax data from two years prior to the current year.

This change is a major win for students, significantly simplifying the aid application process. Forty percent of students who said they didn’t complete the FAFSA because it was “too much work” would have qualified for a Pell Grant. At community colleges alone, 39 percent of students fail to apply for federal financial aid. Allowing applicants to use income from the “prior-prior year” will make it easier for low-income students to apply for aid using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which can automatically import their tax information. This will save students time and paperwork and allow them to apply for financial aid earlier. By accessing more relevant information further in advance, students will be able to make more informed college decisions, as well as apply for state and institutional grant aid that is given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

Under the current rules, applicants must wait to complete the FAFSA until January 1 of the year they plan attend a higher education institution. Additionally, they must verify their household income using their most recent tax data. For instance, a student completing the FAFSA for the 2015-2016 academic year (which begins July 1, 2015) would not be able to access the form before January 1, 2015 and would have to use their 2014 tax data.

Starting with the 2017-2018 FAFSA form, the announced change will allow students to access and submit the form three months earlier—beginning October 1 instead of January 1—and use the tax data from two years prior (in this case, 2015 income data rather than 2016).

According to a report on the potential impact of a prior-prior year policy, independent students without dependents are most likely to see a change in their Pell award of $1,000 or more when using tax information from two years prior. Additionally, while this policy will help many students obtain the financial aid they need, it is important to protect students who have experienced a significant drop in income between the prior-prior year and the time of enrollment. When evaluating either such applicant type, CLASP strongly encourages institutions to use their professional judgement authority.

The U.S. Department of Education should further encourage this practice through their materials and guidance—reminding institutions about their ability to exercise professional judgment and advising students about their right to request a professional judgment appeal. CLASP has continuously highlighted the need for policies to support independent adult students, who make up an increasing share of college students and who frequently juggle school with work and family obligations.

Sep 14, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

College Scorecard adds earnings data to help students make better decisions

By Anna Cielinski

On Saturday, the U.S. Department of Education released the much-anticipated College Scorecard, a data tool that allows prospective students and others to view and compare information about colleges and universities, guided by what information is most important to the user. In its accompanying policy paper, the Department clarifies the Scorecard’s intention to serve low-income and first-generation students. CLASP commends the Department’s strong commitment to these populations.  

The Scorecard was originally envisioned as an accountability system tying federal funds to colleges’ performance ratings. Its revised focus on transparency is the culmination of years of stakeholder input, including CLASP’s. We’re gratified that the Department heard our concerns about the potential for unintended consequences. As originally conceptualized, the Scorecard could have reduced access for low-income and under-prepared students by linking students’ outcomes to their schools’ eligibility to participate in federal student financial aid programs.

The Scorecard graphically highlights three key measures: net price, graduation rate, and median earnings ten years after enrollment. For each institution, more detailed information is available on cost, financial aid and debt, earnings after school, and demographics of the student body.  One important measure that is not included in the Scorecard (though it is available in the data released to researchers) is the graduation rate among Pell recipients. This would allow low-income people to identify schools where students with similar characteristics are more likely to graduate.

The Scorecard includes data about labor market outcomes, an important addition for which CLASP has long advocated. Earnings results can be critical to help students make good decisions about where to attend school and which program to enroll in. There are two serious limitations with current earnings data; however, both can be addressed in the future. First, earnings data are only available for students who had federal grants or loans. Second, earnings data are available only at the institution level, which is problematic because majors or programs of study can widely vary. CLASP applauds the Department for its announcement that earnings data at the program-of-study level are forthcoming. Since population sizes will be small for programs of study, we suggest combining five years of data into a pooled cohort for each program. In addition, we continue to support the larger effort to amend institutional reporting requirements so that data on all students can be included in the Scorecard information—not just those with Pell grants or federal loans.

For future versions of the Scorecard, CLASP recommends including appropriate caveats to help the user interpret earnings data. For instance, it should address expected variation in earnings in different regional labor markets, differences in institution mission, variation in program mix, and students’ interests and preparation. College Measures websites and other state-level consumer information websites have examples worth considering. This includes Arkansas, California, and Texas, which feature prominent disclaimers.

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