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Dec 19, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Rating Colleges, Improving Outcomes

By Anna Cielinski

Today, the U.S. Department of Education released a draft framework for President Obama’s proposed college ratings system, previously known as the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS). The purpose of the ratings system is threefold: 1) to provide better information to students and families about access, affordability, and outcomes, 2) to generate reliable, useful data that policymakers and the public can use to hold institutes of higher education accountable, and 3) to help colleges and universities measure, benchmark, and better address the principles of access, affordability, and outcomes.

CLASP has made a number of recommendations to the Department over the last year, in the form of written comments, testimony, a briefing paper on implementing a system that empowers students while avoiding unintended consequences, and a briefing paper on the importance presenting workforce outcomes.  We are pleased to see some of our recommendations addressed in the draft framework.

First, we are gratified that the Department plans to include workforce outcomes, like employment and earnings, in the ratings system.  Students, especially low-income students, go to school to improve their earnings potential.  A ratings system without workforce outcomes would be sorely insufficient. We especially applaud the Department because including workforce outcomes will be no easy task. The ratings systems will need to address a myriad of issues, including  who is covered by the metric (all students or only graduates), timeframe of the measurements (e.g., one, five, or ten years out), and not creating disincentives to enroll low-income or underprepared students who may have uncertain paths to economic success. 

Second, we appreciate the attention to creating fair comparison groups of institutions that take into account differences in institutional characteristics and missions.  The strategy of grouping colleges and universities by predominantly two- and four-year institutions is a good start, and the framework rightly identifies additional characteristics for consideration like program mix and admissions selectivity.   

One element missing from the framework, however, is disaggregating workforce outcomes by program of study.  Many low-income and non-traditional students have very few institutions to choose from; they often stay close to home to live with their parents, or they have families of their own and cannot uproot to attend a far-away college.  Yet, students do have the important choice of program of study, which often drives employment and earnings outcomes as much as the institution they select. Facilitating more informed choices of programs of study through better information on earnings, along with the other measures like completion, holds the promise of helping low-income, non-traditional students and their families move out of poverty.

In the coming weeks, CLASP will complete a full analysis of the Administration’s draft framework, and we look forward to working with the Department to improve the rankings system.    



Dec 15, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

“CRomnibus” for FY 2015—What It Means for Low-Income People in Postsecondary Education and Training

By Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield and Katherine Saunders

On Saturday night, the U.S. Senate joined the House in passing a spending bill (referred to as the “CRomnibus,” a hybrid of a continuing resolution and an omnibus budget bill) for the remainder of the fiscal year through September 30, 2015, that would provide modest increases to student aid and workforce training programs, while unfortunately cutting Pell Grant funding (the largest federal grant program for low-income undergraduate students).

  • Pell Grants: Pell Grants received a $100 increase in the maximum annual award from $5,730 to $5,830 for the 2015-16 academic year. However, Pell Grant funding was cut by $303 million, $219 million of which will partially replace mandatory funds for private student loan servicers that were eliminated in a previous budget agreement. The cut will not lead to harmful eligibility changes to the program in the current academic year because the Pell Grant program is currently running a surplus. But, the program is projected to face a significant shortfall in FY 2016 and beyond. In the past, shortfalls have harmed non-traditional students because of eligibility changes that have included setting a cap on the number of semesters for receipt of Pell Grants and eliminating summer Pell awards. Cutting the program funding now, instead of saving the current surplus for future leaner years, sets a dangerous precedent for the program.
  • Ability to Benefit: This bill partially reinstates the ability-to-benefit (ATB) provision, which provides Pell Grant and student loan access to low-income students who lack a high school diploma or equivalent and who enroll in a career pathways program, enabling them to receive student aid by passing an exam or successfully completing six credit hours. The change goes into effect immediately, but the amount of Pell Grant for which ATB students will be eligible varies based on enrollment date. Those who enter a career pathways program before July 1, 2015, will be eligible for the maximum Pell Grant award of $5,830, while those enrolling after July 1, 2015, will be limited to only the maximum discretionary Pell Grant award of $4,860.
  • WIOA Title I Funding:  State grants for adult, dislocated workers and youth training and employment services were increased by a total of $36 million over the prior year’s appropriated level, with the increased amounts allocated to Governors’ reserve funds for statewide employment and training activities.
  • Adult Education:  The bill increases adult education state grants by $5 million over the prior year’s appropriated level, an increase of 0.9 percent.
  • Federal Work-Study:  Federal work-study (FWS) helps needy students obtain part-time employment to cover the cost of their education. FWS funding increased by $15 million over the prior year’s appropriated level, which will assist an additional 8,900 students.
  • Foster Youth: A box will be added to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to identify students who are foster youth or were in the foster care system, so that the U. S. Department of Education can use that information to notify students about their potential eligibility for student aid, including postsecondary education programs through the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program.
  • Minority-Serving Postsecondary Education Institutions (MSIs):  Programs to support MSIs received additional funding of $8.7 million over the prior year’s appropriated level, an increase of 1.6 percent.
  • Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for Workers:  The bill extends the TAA programs through fiscal year 2015 with $710.6 million in funds expected to serve 17,300 new participants.


Oct 22, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

A Coming of Age Story for Career Pathways

By Judy Mortrude and Manuela Ekowo

At the recent National Dialogue on Career Pathways, many federal officials observed that the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) uses the term “career pathways” more than twenty times, signaling a coming of age for this powerful workforce development strategy.

The career pathway approach connects progressive levels of education, training, support services, and credentials for specific occupations in a way that optimizes the progress and success of individuals with varying levels of abilities and needs. This approach can benefit well-prepared students, but it’s especially beneficial for more vulnerable populations.

WIOA provides a comprehensive definition of a career pathway program and signals the move toward career pathway system building. While WIOA heavily features career pathway language, new and existing partnerships may still wonder what exactly is meant by “career pathways.” Moreover, programs and partnerships may need a better understanding of the nuances of career pathways before they’re ready to receive help building systems.

To guide the work ahead, Career Pathways Explained, is brought to you by CLASP and the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways, a partner-driven initiative with 10 leading states that successfully developed a framework identifying criteria and indicators to define quality career pathway systems and metrics to measure and manage success. This visually engaging, web-based tool explains how the career pathway approach helps individuals with limited skills access education and training that leads to employment in occupations and industries that are in high demand. It also provides concrete examples of success in Alliance states. The tool is designed to explain career pathways to people in the field who appreciate this approach but are not steeped in it.

Be sure to check out Career Pathways Explained. We think you’ll find it very useful, and we encourage you to share it with your colleagues.

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