Resources & Publications

In Focus: Federal Postsecondary Policy

Jun 26, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Department of Education: College Ratings System Will Focus on Helping Students Make Better Decisions

By Anna Cielinski

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education announced that its multi-year effort to create a federal college ratings system will focus on providing consumer information to students, rather than comparing colleges through ratings or high-stakes accountability tied to federal student aid eligibility. This is a shift from the Administration’s earlier plans and follows over a year of advocacy by CLASP.

Later this summer, the Department will release “new, easy-to-use tools that will provide students with more data than ever before to compare college costs and outcomes.” According to the Department, the tool “will take a consumer-driven approach, providing information to help students to reach their own conclusions about a college’s value.”

Since January 2014, CLASP has made a number of recommendations to the Department on the college ratings system (previously known as the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System, or PIRS). We have offered written comments, testimony, a briefing paper on implementing a system that empowers students while avoiding unintended consequences, a briefing paper on the importance of presenting workforce outcomes, and comments on the Department’s draft framework. We appreciate seeing many of our suggestions reflected in the Department’s plans.

CLASP strongly supports the Department’s focus on leveraging information about college access, success, and outcomes to help low-income and underprepared students make better decisions about where to pursue their postsecondary education and training. By choosing not to tie ratings to student aid eligibility, the Department has addressed our concern that using student outcome measures for accountability would have unintended consequences, such as incentivizing institutions to serve fewer low-income and underprepared students.

We hope the Department will follow its plan to use labor market outcomes in the system. Earnings and employment information is important to students, who increasingly see college as a road to better wages. Low-income and nontraditional student who may be place-bound by work and family obligations—an increasing share of postsecondary students—may not have many choices of institutions. Employment data at the program-of-study level will allow these students to make an informed choice of program of study, increasing their chances of earning a family-sustaining wage. The Department is uniquely positioned to bring together existing data sources to provide employment and earnings results for institutions and programs of study.

Using program-of-study-level earnings data for the purpose of consumer information is consistent with states’ recent usage. Along with College Measures, a number of states have successfully created consumer information websites with graduates’ earnings disaggregated by program of study. However, with regard to accountability, only one of the 30 states with outcomes-based funding formulas for higher education uses graduates’ earnings. We hope the Department will take the lessons learned by the states as it develops its tool.

May 29, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Bipartisan House Bill Would Improve Postsecondary Data System, Help Low-Income and Underprepared Students Make Better Decisions

By Anna Cielinski

Last week, a bipartisan group of House members introduced H.R. 2518, the “Student Right to Know Before You Go” Act of 2015. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), would provide students, families, and policymakers much-needed information to improve postsecondary education decisions. H.R. 2518 is the House companion to S. 1195, a bipartisan Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). If enacted, it would be a major step toward an improved federal postsecondary data system that could assist low-income and underprepared students.

The bill would provide an exemption from the ban on a student unit record system and leverage the existing Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to provide more accurate and complete data on student retention, transfer, graduation, and employment outcomes at all levels of postsecondary enrollment. As a member of the PostsecData Collaborative, CLASP strongly believes students should have access to this information when making postsecondary education decisions.

As an advocate for low-income people, CLASP is pleased that much of the data would be disaggregated by Pell Grant status. This will help policymakers and researchers understand how low-income students are faring in postsecondary education, allowing them to target policy changes toward performance or outcome gaps between Pell and non-Pell recipients.

The bill also requires median annual earnings and employment metrics—disaggregated by program of study, credential received, institution, and state of employment—to be reported 2, 6, and 15 years after completion. CLASP has strongly supported responsible use of employment and earnings data while cautioning against unintended disincentives for institutions to enroll low-income and underprepared students.

We are especially pleased that the bill would provide for employment and earnings data at the program-of-study level. Low-income and underprepared students who are place-bound may have limited choices of institutions, but they can choose among many programs of study. This data would help students select programs based on proven earning potential.

While there is much to support in the bill, improvements could be made. For example, it appears that employment and earnings data would not be disaggregated by Pell Grant status under the bill as drafted. Policymakers may be concerned that further disaggregation from the program-of-study level could produce numbers of students too low to report for privacy reasons. That problem could be solved by giving the Secretary of Education authority to combine five years of students into one cohort, a practice already employed by state-run College Measures consumer information websites. CLASP looks forward to working with Congress to improve this important legislation.

Jan 22, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

President Obama’s Two-Generation Strategy: Right Package, Right Time

President’s Obama’s domestic priorities outlined in Tuesday’s State of the Union address encompass a thoughtful and timely package—not simply a laundry list—to help poor and low-income families lift themselves into the middle class.  CLASP has long advocated for these priorities and strategies because we think that, taken together, they support families and add up to a far greater impact together than any of them could have alone.  We are delighted to see the president’s approach reflects this same judgment.

The president’s proposals on community college, child care, paid leave, and tax credits embrace a two-generation approach to addressing poverty that recognizes the importance of supporting both parents and children. Two-generation policies reflect strong research findings that the well-being of parents is inextricably linked to children’s social-emotional, physical, and economic well-being. At the same time, parents’ ability to succeed in school and the workplace is substantially affected by how well their children are doing. Because more than 70 percent of poor children live in families with at least one worker, it is essential that we address the needs of both children and their parents in thinking about the workplace as well as the home.  And 26% of community college students are parents–a policy opportunity for helping both generations that CLASP focused on in a panel discussion at a public forum last summer featuring experts and practitioners from the worlds of postsecondary education and early care and education. 

CLASP believes the president’s focus on the following initiatives is directly responsive to the needs of today’s struggling families:

  • Free community college. In describing his plan for community college, President Obama said, “Forty percent of our college students choose community college. Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt.”   Between 2008 and 2012, the proportion of college students who had low incomes rose dramatically, from 40 percent of undergraduate students with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level in 2008, to 51 percent in 2012. Without income to cover basic living expenses, these students will most likely have to work more to cover direct and indirect college costs, increasing time to degree completion.  The president’s plan to pay for community college tuition would help cover the overall cost of attendance, allowing low-income students to use some of their Pell grants to pay for books, transportation, and living expenses.
  • Child Care.  As President Obama forcefully stated, “It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.” When families are able to access quality child care, children are better prepared for success in life and parents are more likely to succeed on the job as they gain peace of mind from knowing their child is well cared for and thriving. Together, these two goals are critical to our nation’s economic competitiveness now and in the future. Moreover, bipartisan support late last year for the reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant underscores that this issue has traction.
  • Paid Leave.  Millions of Americans are currently losing wages and jobs in order to care for their families and their health.  Almost all (95 percent) workers in the lowest 25 percent of wage earners have no paid family leave, and 70 percent of these same workers have no access to earned sick days. The Administration’s call for Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, federal earned sick days legislation, and proposed investments in state-level paid family and medical leave programs demonstrate a keen awareness of working families’ needs. In addition to helping families, these actions will create a more effective workforce—improving the bottom lines of businesses and driving economic growth.
  • Tax reform. In another strong signal in support of working families, President Obama stated the importance of “helping folks afford child care, college, health care, a home, retirement [by] lowering the taxes of working families, and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.” His strategy? Strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, both of which been shown to effectively help lift families out of poverty, as well as expanding the American Opportunity Tax Credit for higher education costs, the tax credit for families paying for child care, and creating a new credit to help two-earner families with work expenses.

We applaud this strategic vision that offers a ladder up to the middle class for hard-working poor and low-income families by addressing the needs of both children and their parents.  Achieving the American dream by helping struggling hard-working families improve their skills, take care of their children, and better their and their children’s prospects ought to be something we can all agree on.  It’s the right package at the right time.







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