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In Focus

Oct 19, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

New, Earlier FAFSA Will Benefit Low-income, Independent Adult Students

By Wayne Taliaferro

The new Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), released on October 1 for the 2017-2018 school year, includes numerous changes that will benefit students, particularly independent adults. In addition to extending the filing period by three months, which will allow students to get information much sooner, the Department of Education (ED) has simplified the application process to make it easier to complete.

By opening the filing period 90 days earlier than last year (a change that will continue in the future), ED has enabled students to make more informed decisions about financial planning and where to enroll. Another important change is allowing students to report their household income and asset information using their prior year’s tax returns, which will be accessible through the IRS Data Retrieval Tool. Starting this year, students receiving Medicaid will qualify for the Simplified Needs Test (SNT), an alternative FAFSA filing method used to automatically qualify a student for the maximum Pell award based on their receipt of means-tested public benefits.

These changes will significantly reduce FAFSA’s complexity, a concern cited for decades by higher education advocates. Independent adult students—who make up an increasing share of college students, frequently juggle school with work and family obligations, and are often low income—will see the most benefit from the simpler application.

The new FAFSA, combined with recent federal and state investments in college access and completion initiatives, are important steps in the right direction. But there are still too many barriers for low-income and independent adult students, including remaining issues with the FAFSA filing process. The application remains overly complex, and award limits and eligibility requirements are still too strict. Low-income students continue to have low FAFSA filing and completion rates. Indeed, one-third of students who do not complete the FAFSA are Pell grant eligible. Further, federal student aid is still largely unresponsive to today’s students, independent adults in particular. CLASP looks forward to working with government and higher education institutions to ensure all students have an opportunity to earn postsecondary credentials.

Oct 18, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Breaking Down Barriers by Connecting Credentials

By Judy Mortrude

Over the past year, Lumina Foundation and Corporation for a Skilled Workforce have been facilitating a nationwide dialogue on credentials as part of their Connecting Credentials initiative. The groups they have engaged in this dialogue all agree that too many learners face a confusing and chaotic credentialing marketplace, especially those who are low-income, minority, and otherwise underserved and underrepresented.

Connecting Credentials: From National Dialogue to Collective Action, the initiative’s latest report, outlines the goal of creating a 21st century credentialing ecosystem where all learning matters, all credentials are based on outcomes and competencies, and all credentials are portable, useful, and easily understood by learners and employers.

The report calls for collaborative action on seven critical areas and is creating a dashboard to gauge impact in each arena:

  • Engaging employers
  • Empowering learners
  • Developing common language
  • Creating an open data and technology interface
  • Increasing transparency
  • Advancing equity through public credentialing policy
  • Promoting development of tools

The report comes at a crucial time when nontraditional students need to understand and embrace the importance of obtaining credentials as a critical step along a path to economic security. During the recession recovery, 95 percent of new jobs have gone to workers with at least some postsecondary education. Low-income and working adults have limited postsecondary opportunities, and people of color continue to lag in postsecondary attainment. The economic futures of underserved individuals can be more promising when they have access to programs and tools that enable them to achieve and leverage credentials.

Another effort in the credentials arena is Credential Transparency Initiative, which recently unveiled a tool that addresses how to achieve and leverage credentials. This credential directory tool offers a powerful one-stop shop for job seekers and employers alike.

Clearly, it is daunting to consider the idea of unbundling credentials from our current system of educational institutions and untangling credentialing pathways to create clear routes to educational and economic goals. However, rather than shut down discussions of an idea so large and complex, Connecting Credentials is keeping that conversation going.

Oct 17, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

New Evidence on Performance-Based Funding; Equity Measures Needed to Avoid Admissions Restrictions and Other Pitfalls for Low-Income Students

By Anna Cielinski

Admissions restrictions for underprepared students is the most commonly cited unintended consequence of performance-based state funding for public postsecondary institutions, according to a new book released by the Community College Research Center (CCRC). Low-income students and students of color are disproportionately represented among the groups who are harmed by these practices. The book, Performance Funding for Higher Education, studies experiences in three states and includes a chapter titled “Unintended Impacts of Performance Funding.”

CCRC’s research undergirds the need for states to incorporate equity measures as a significant factor in their performance-based or outcomes-based funding (OBF) formulas. Equity measures could be used to support incentive funding based on the number of low-income, underprepared, adult, or minority students graduating,  or the number of students who meet an interim measure of progress (such as successful completion of developmental education). Some states' formulas include such measures, but others do not, and states new to OBF should prioritize them.

According to CCRC’s study, performance funding policies can produce sizable unintended, negative impacts, particularly for the students who are least likely to succeed. The most frequent impact is restricted admission to community colleges and universities (67 of 124 interviewees). This includes 23 out of 66 community colleges, which must reconcile performance targets with their mission of open access for low-income and minority students. Additionally, some Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) may be particularly hurt given their outreach missions. Other unintended impacts include weakening of academic standards, compliance costs, lessening of institutional cooperation.  

Interviewees reported several concrete mechanisms for restricting access, including:

  • Raising admissions requirements (30 of 67);
  • General restrictions (22 of 67);
  • Selective student recruitment (15 of 67); and
  • A shift toward non-need-based financial aid (6 of 67).

The chapter also discusses the troubling possibility that “those outcomes—though unintended by policy designers—may actually be intended by institutional actors.”

In light of these findings, it is clear that publicly funded colleges and universities need strong, concrete incentives to provide comprehensive services that help underprepared students persist in school, earn their degrees, and achieve economic success. States should build equity measures into their funding formulas as one way of providing those incentives to institutions.

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