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Feb 15, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Wisconsin budget misses the mark on measures promoting equity in postsecondary performance funding

By Anna Cielinski

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s recently released 2017-19 budget calls for University of Wisconsin campuses to compete for $42.5 million in new funding based on performance measures. This adds Wisconsin to a growing list of states that are embarking on a postsecondary performance-based funding system.

State funding for public postsecondary institutions has traditionally been based on enrollment, but today more than two-thirds of states use or will soon use some form of outcomes-based funding (OBF) in four-year, two-year, and/or technical colleges. Outcomes-based funding rewards institutions for student outcomes, like student progress or completing degrees. With states’ greater focus on outcomes, CLASP is concerned—and some research has shown—that institutions may respond to these budgetary incentives by increasing selectivity to make achieving outcomes easier. This would make it more difficult for low-income, underprepared, minority, and adult students to access or complete postsecondary education and earn the credentials they need to succeed in today’s economy.

Wisconsin uses an OBF formula in its technical college system and this budget would create a new formula for University of Wisconsin campuses. Walker’s budget identifies six categories that institutions would be accountable for, which are further divided into 18 measures, one of which is the “low-income student graduation rate.”

CLASP is glad Wisconsin tried to include a measure that would not give negative incentives to enroll low-income students; however it should be a measure of the number of low-income student who graduate, not a rate. A rate can easily be gamed by decreasing the number of low-income students brought in to Universities, which is counter to the purpose of including such a measure. Some experts in Wisconsin are calling attention to this and other flaws in the plan, including that so many measures dilute the effect, rendering them not as meaningful as they could be. Future collaboration with the Board of Regents may lead to better and fewer measures.

Be on the lookout this month for a new CLASP paper, building on our previous work, about the importance of measures that promote equity in outcomes-based funding. Well-thought-out measures pay dividends both to the students who need education to succeed and to our nation’s economy that benefits from a stronger, better-prepared workforce.

Jan 23, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

Today’s Students, Yesterday’s Financial Aid Policies

By Wayne Taliaferro

The necessity of a postsecondary education is a hot topic in mainstream policy discussions. As the world becomes more globalized and our economy becomes increasingly knowledge based, the need for training beyond a high school diploma is increasingly important. States recognize this, and have placed a heavy emphasis on setting and achieving ambitious postsecondary attainment goals in response to their rapidly changing economies. Promise programs, free community college proposals and public awareness campaigns have grown in an attempt to tap deeper into the pipeline of high school students and change the culture and narrative around who goes to college. And, while these efforts are admirable, there are still some blind spots in these otherwise well-meaning state efforts. In particular, what about adult students?

Today, four out of 10 college students are older than 25. More and more, the traditional, campus-dwelling 18-22-year-old full-time student at a four-year institution is becoming the “old normal,” as the “new normal” of college students grows increasingly diverse. Once considered nontraditional, today’s students are juggling work, family and academic responsibilities. They are more ethnically and economically diverse. And most noticeably, they are older. Consequently, support for these students – financial and otherwise - will also look a bit different. Which begs the question, are state financial aid policies really responding to these populations?

Both Education Commission of the States  and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) have been examining this question for the last two years, and the answer is complicated, as is the context. Every state looks different in terms of resources, needs and political climate. However, across just about all states, we consistently found a gap in the accessibility of state financial aid programs for adult students. Based on the diversity of enrollment patterns, needs and demographics of today’s students, the largest state grant programs are not always serving the growing diversity of students. Twenty-nine of the largest state aid programs will only fund full-time students, and 33 are strictly merit-based. Additionally, a handful of states limit eligibility for state grants based on a small window of time since high school completion, virtually disqualifying adult students solely based on age.

Nonetheless, there are cases of success that we can all learn from. A number of states have made intentional efforts to respond to the vastly changing needs of nontraditional students. States like Indiana have built public awareness campaigns and specified targeted grant aid opportunities for adults in response to the changing demands of the economy and the growing needs of students, and states like Minnesota have continuously evolved their state aid programs to become more accessible to students from all walks of life.

On Jan. 26 at 1 p.m. ET, representatives from both states will highlight these examples in a webinar led by Education Commission of the States and CLASP to help build awareness, offer guidance, and encourage peer learning among states around state financial aid and adult students. By building a community around these issues, we hope to change the narrative and inform policy around adult students. By serving all students, states are better positioned to meet their workforce goals while extending opportunities to those who need them most.

This post was originally featured on the Ed Note Blog of the Education Commission of the States


Nov 30, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Better Data, Better College Workforce Programs

By Lauren Walizer

The third paper in CLASP’s Building Skills, Remodeling the HEA series, Better Data, Better College Workforce Programs, takes a look at how data practices can be improved to promote success in workforce training initiatives. Informed by our discussions with community colleges, evaluators, and federal officials, we identified two potential areas of inquiry: efforts to build employer and institutional connections to reach low-skilled individuals; and program innovations institutions have undertaken with data that is available to them, along with suggestions for reform to meet institutional data needs that go beyond the limits of what currently accessible data can do.

The federal government’s ultimate goals for investing in large-scale job training initiatives are to help educate more students and support them in attaining successful outcomes, such as finding a job that pays a family-supporting wage. These programs should be accountable for achieving their desired completion and employment outcomes, particularly for non-traditional students and those living in poverty. For low-income individuals, the best protection against falling back, or further, into poverty is gaining skills that allow them to get a job in demand in their local labor market.

Too often, however, these programs are measured based on such inputs as the number of students enrolled, rather than on outcomes. And the input data is not always of great quality; many training programs are unable to demonstrate how often or how well students with non-traditional characteristics are participating in training programs, and how training providers might mitigate the additional barriers to completion faced by many of these students.

To promote success, future investments in such programs should include provisions enabling the reporting of more rigorous data on outcomes. We recommend the following policy solutions to the problem:

  • Institutions must be actively engaged with their local workforce development board and connected with employers. This facilitates the development of relevant training programs, job placements for students, and monitoring of former student success—all activities that support future program improvements.
  • Training programs must incentivize career pathway students’ efforts to upskill while consciously including opportunities for low-skilled individuals, rather than churning students through the program as quickly as possible. Moreover, federal funding for these initiatives should require that high school-level credentials earned as part of the training program’s career pathway count toward institutional outcomes.
  • Allow a student-level data collection. This would provide, for instance, a foundation for a more robust federal education and workforce data construct that allows federal investments across programs and agencies to be evaluated and given better consideration for potential future investments.
  • Training programs should be able to determine student employment and earnings outcomes by being allowed to compare their student data with wage record data from the state’s Unemployment Insurance system, with appropriate privacy safeguards.

These solutions are not just abstract ideas; they would directly address issues that institutions are struggling with as they implement federal workforce training programs. Current attempts by workforce programs to innovate around the limitations created by the federal Higher Education Act have caused an undue burden on these programs’ ability to effectively operate and evaluate success.

Read the paper here>>

Read the first paper in our series, No Educational Experience Should Be an Island: How Low-Income Students’ Access to and Persistence in Postsecondary Education is Restricted in the Very Programs they Need the Most.

Read the second paper in our series, Improving Connections to Student Aid: Helping Low-Income Students Benefit from National Investments in Workforce Training.



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