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In Focus

Apr 7, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

National Partners Call for a Conversation on Creating a Competency-Based Credentialing Ecosystem

By Evelyn Ganzglass

Today, CLASP joined policy leaders in other organizations in calling upon key stakeholders in our nation’s postsecondary education and workforce credentialing system to come together to increase transparency, trust and portability in the credentialing marketplace.

CLASP and the other signatories of the Call for a National Conversation on Creating a Competency-Based Credentialing Ecosystem believe that the time has come for large scale expansion of the use of credentials that recognize an individual’s competencies – regardless of means of acquisition – to improve employer competitiveness, reduce skill shortages, expand career advancement opportunities for workers, reduce time to credential for workers and students, and improve returns of accredited credentialing systems relative to costs.

The paper describes the crisis of credibility in our complex and highly fragmented credentialing system and outlines the components of what a fully functioning, competency-based credentialing ecosystem would include.

It concludes by posing questions to each of the key stakeholder groups regarding issues and strategies that will be needed to move this action agenda forward.

Read the paper>>

Apr 2, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Ryan Budget Offers Bleak Future for Aspiring Low-Income College Students

By Marcie Foster

This week the House Budget Committee, chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), released its vision for the FY15 federal budget.  For the fourth year in a row, the committee’s budget cuts off college access for millions of low-income students —undercutting the widely shared goal expressed in its title, Path to Prosperity. Moreover, it does so in a way that disproportionately impacts low-income, working adult students, many of whom are parents and must work while attending college.

While the budget summary notes that final decisions would be left to the committee, it outlines “illustrative policy options” that would:

  • Slash funding for the Pell Grant program, restricting access for low-income students in future years. The Ryan budget eliminates all funding for Pell from the “mandatory” portion of the budget, which would drive up the portion of the budget coming out of the capped discretionary fund and threaten aid availability to low-income students in the future. The Pell Grant program makes college a reality for nine million low- and moderate-income students and helps the U.S. build a more skilled and globally competitive workforce. Rep. Ryan’s proposal would undermine our nation’s skill-building efforts and economic growth at a time when projections estimate that, by 2020, nearly two-thirds of jobs will require at least some postsecondary education.
  • Threaten completion for low-income, working students by cutting off their financial aid if they attend less than half-time. The budget suggests eliminating aid eligibility for students who must reduce their course load to less than half-time (fewer than 6 credits) even when such a reduction is due to the unavailability of courses, changing work schedules, or family obligations. Less-than-half-time enrollment of low-income students is mostly temporary, and cutting off aid during semesters with lower course loads may make it impossible to enroll at all, threatening their ultimate completion. According to a Department of Education study, continuous enrollment significantly increases the probability that a student will complete a degree.
  • Restrict the purchasing power of the Pell Grant, putting college further out of reach for low-income students. Rep. Ryan proposes to freeze the maximum Pell Grant for the next 10 years, despite the fact that the purchasing power of Pell has eroded considerably over time. The award level that Rep. Ryan suggests ($5,730) is expected to cover less than one-third of the cost of college in 2014-2015—the lowest since the start of the program. By 2024, this same award level would only cover 20 percent of college costs.
  • Reduce aid eligibility of all types—including Pell Grants, student loans, and other aid—for some students by modifying the formula for calculating student aid. The budget suggests changing the aid eligibility formula in such a way that would restrict aid even further to low-income students, potentially increasing their unmet need (the difference between the costs of college and the amount of grant aid that the student receives). In 2012-2013, the average community college student already had more than $6,000 in annual unmet need. Policies that increase unmet need could result in students taking out additional loans to meet college costs or deciding to forgo college altogether.

Furthermore, Rep. Ryan claims that the Pell Grant program is on an “unsustainable” path. In fact, the program has seen a decline in costs since 2010, resulting in funding surpluses for the last several fiscal years. Program costs are expected to remain level over the next 10 years, after adjusting for inflation.

Due to the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act in December 2013, which set spending levels for FY14 and FY15, the Ryan budget is unlikely to become law. However, it sets a dangerous and short-sighted example for future federal spending decisions.  We should be investing in America’s workforce not undercutting committed and hard-working students seeking greater opportunity through postsecondary education and economic success for themselves and their families.

Mar 20, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Amid Rising College Costs, State Funding for Need-Based Aid is Too Low

By Manuela Ekowo and Katherine Saunders

The rising cost of college is at the forefront of the higher education debate. College costs are rising four times faster than family income, putting a postsecondary education further out of reach for low-income students.

Low-income students are often the first in their family to attend college and are at higher risk of dropping out because of unmet need—the gap between college costs and what students can afford to pay on their own and/or with aid that does not need to be repaid. One option available to address this gap is state need-based aid, which is awarded based on income and other financial factors (as opposed to academic performance). However, a recent report shows that, despite recent modest increases, state funding for such programs is still too low to measurably improve college access and success for low-income students.

Despite the proven success of need-based aid in reducing students’ financial burdens, investments to date have been far too small.  In 2012-13, the average full-time community college student still had more than $6,000 in unmet need. According to the most recent report from the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs (NASSGAP), in 2011-12, the 50 states and District of Columbia spent a total of $6.8 billion on need-based grant aid for college students. While this is a 6 percent increase from the previous year, it averages out to only $482 per enrolled undergraduate student—less than one-fifth of what the federal government spent on Pell Grants, the primary federal grant program to help millions of low-income students access postsecondary education. California, New York, and Texas led all states with the amount of need-based undergraduate grant aid awarded to students in 2011-12.

All the available data shows that investing in an individual’s education and training provides states with a more skilled and educated workforce and improves states’ economies in both the short and long term. In a joint study of all 50 states with the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), CLASP describes just how many workers need better skills and wages to become self-sufficient and promote economic growth in their state. This is consistent with research by the Economic Policy Institute, which finds that by increasing access to higher education, states will “expand economic opportunity and…do more to strengthen the overall state economy than anything else a state government can do.”

Many states are holding off on new investments until they have fully recovered from the recession, but students cannot afford to wait for the postsecondary education they need to secure their future. Need-based financial aid should continue to be a priority for states; it is a win for students and for state economies.

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