Resources & Publications

In Focus: Federal Postsecondary Policy

Sep 14, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Department of Education Announces Significant Change Simplifying Application for Federal Financial Aid

By Lauren Walizer

Today, President Obama announced a significant policy shift that will help low-income students access college financial aid by making the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) simpler to complete. This key administrative change, which CLASP supported in its recent recommendations for higher education reform, would allow applicants to complete the FAFSA using income tax data from two years prior to the current year.

This change is a major win for students, significantly simplifying the aid application process. Forty percent of students who said they didn’t complete the FAFSA because it was “too much work” would have qualified for a Pell Grant. At community colleges alone, 39 percent of students fail to apply for federal financial aid. Allowing applicants to use income from the “prior-prior year” will make it easier for low-income students to apply for aid using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which can automatically import their tax information. This will save students time and paperwork and allow them to apply for financial aid earlier. By accessing more relevant information further in advance, students will be able to make more informed college decisions, as well as apply for state and institutional grant aid that is given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

Under the current rules, applicants must wait to complete the FAFSA until January 1 of the year they plan attend a higher education institution. Additionally, they must verify their household income using their most recent tax data. For instance, a student completing the FAFSA for the 2015-2016 academic year (which begins July 1, 2015) would not be able to access the form before January 1, 2015 and would have to use their 2014 tax data.

Starting with the 2017-2018 FAFSA form, the announced change will allow students to access and submit the form three months earlier—beginning October 1 instead of January 1—and use the tax data from two years prior (in this case, 2015 income data rather than 2016).

According to a report on the potential impact of a prior-prior year policy, independent students without dependents are most likely to see a change in their Pell award of $1,000 or more when using tax information from two years prior. Additionally, while this policy will help many students obtain the financial aid they need, it is important to protect students who have experienced a significant drop in income between the prior-prior year and the time of enrollment. When evaluating either such applicant type, CLASP strongly encourages institutions to use their professional judgement authority.

The U.S. Department of Education should further encourage this practice through their materials and guidance—reminding institutions about their ability to exercise professional judgment and advising students about their right to request a professional judgment appeal. CLASP has continuously highlighted the need for policies to support independent adult students, who make up an increasing share of college students and who frequently juggle school with work and family obligations.

Aug 14, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Reform the HEA to Address the Unmet Needs of Low-Income and Nontraditional Students

By Lauren Walizer

While the stereotype of college students being fresh out of high school and dependent on their parents is certainly true for some, the balance has tipped to the point where the majority of postsecondary students today are independent and perhaps have spent time working or raising a family between high school and their attendance in college. This is one of the most critical reasons why the Higher Education Act (HEA), which was last reauthorized in 2008, needs to be updated. In recognition of the many ways that HEA could be improved to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student body, CLASP has updated our policy priorities for reforming the HEA. These policy recommendations reflect our goal of boldly improving federal higher education policy to educate and prepare students for economic success, and preparing lower-income individuals for a rapidly shifting labor market. The reauthorization of the HEA offers a significant opportunity to:

  • Make financial aid responsive to today’s students by addressing the needs and attendance patterns of non-traditional and low-income students;
  • Transform education delivery to support student success by connecting student financial aid with other programs, benefits, and sources of student assistance, establishing robust career pathways, and better integrating competency-based education; and
  • Leverage outcome information to support better decision making through data collections that reflect the current student population and measure their success in finding employment.

Fifty-one percent of today’s undergraduates are independent, 40 percent are adults age 25 or older, 27 percent work full time, and 26 percent are parents. These students bring life experience, which enhances their educational experience and, at some institutions, contributes to higher completion rates as compared to their younger peers. However, the temporal and logistical constraints facing these students require access to more flexible schedules and methods of delivering education to accommodate their many responsibilities. Students also need better information to help them make good educational decisions, as these choices carry more consequence when combined with balancing work and/or family.

Today’s postsecondary students not only contend with the current offering of programs and information not meeting their needs, but they have unmet financial need as well. On average, a community college student is estimated to incur $16,325 in education-related expenses annually, with only $3,347 of that comprising tuition and fees. The remaining costs include those for transportation, books, supplies, food, and housing, for which grant aid often – and for low-income students in particular, virtually always – is insufficient to cover. In 2000, the lowest-income students had an average of $5,985 annually in unmet need; in 2012 that figure had nearly doubled to $10,061.

In general, it is clear that student needs are often not met by what many traditional colleges currently offer. CLASP’s recommendations for improvements to the HEA will shift federal policy to better support low-income and non-traditional students.  As postsecondary credentials are increasingly necessary to secure good jobs and advance economically, reforms to the HEA are essential to help all individuals obtain the higher education and skills they need to enter and advance in the workforce.

Aug 12, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

WIOA State Plans: Proposed Requirements and Opportunities for Action

By Judy Mortrude and Anna Cielinski

Last week, as part of implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Labor (DOL), together with three other federal agencies, released a formal Information Collection Request that contains proposed required elements of states’ mandatory Unified Plans or optional Combined Plans. Comments will be accepted at until October 5, 2015.

An ICR is primarily intended to collect comments on the potential benefits and burdens of complying with federal collection of information. However, this ICR is notable because it offers an early look at  the elements states will have to include in their WIOA state plans, in advance of the Departments' expected operational guidance on planning.

Under Unified Plans, states are required to explain how they will implement WIOA’s six core programs: Title I Adult, Title I Youth, Title I Dislocated Worker, Title II Adult Education and Family Literacy, Title III Wagner-Peyser, and Title IV Vocational Rehabilitation. States can choose to expand the list of programs in the plan—creating a Combined Plan—by adding any of the optional 11 combined planning partners.*

State plans will be strategic—analyzing economic conditions, workforce characteristics, and workforce development goals—and operational, including descriptions of state operating systems and policies. Data alignment and integration will require developing a common intake process and the ability to track participation across all programs in the plan.

According to the ICR, the state planning process should yield “more comprehensive and integrated [education and training] approaches, such as career pathways and sector strategies, for addressing the needs of businesses and workers.” To accomplish that, states will need to build strong relationships across all of the core WIOA programs and any of the optional combined planning partners. 

The ICR also identifies priority of service requirements. State plans must go beyond strategies for the general population; they must expressly define coordination of services for individuals with barriers to employment, veterans, unemployed workers, and youth. There are also program-specific requirements. For instance, Title I Adult programs must provide priority of service “to individuals who are low income, public benefit recipients, or basic skills deficient,” while Title II programs must prioritize incarcerated populations likely to re-enter society within 5 years of program participation.

Plans will also include assurances that the state had “input into the development” and “provided an opportunity to comment” to a wide range of stakeholders, including the general public.

State plans are due to the federal agencies on March 3, 2016. In the coming weeks, CLASP will be releasing “Opportunities for Action,” a series of short topical memos with recommendations for WIOA state plans, local plans, policies and guidance, and budget choices that can realize the promise of WIOA for helping low-income youth and adults succeed economically. Do not miss this important opportunity to shape critical workforce development services in your region.

Career and technical education programs authorized under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (20 U.S.C. 2301 et seq.);Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (42 U.S.C. 601 et seq.); Employment and Training Programs under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Programs authorized under section 6(d)(4) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 2015(d)(4))); Work programs authorized under section 6(o) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 2015(o)); Trade Adjustment Assistance for Workers Programs (Activities authorized under chapter 2 of title II of the Trade Act of 1974 (19 U.S.C. 2271 et seq.)); Jobs for Veterans State Grants Program (Programs authorized under 38, U.S.C. 4100 et. seq.); Unemployment Insurance Programs (Programs authorized under State unemployment compensation laws in accordance with applicable Federal law); Senior Community Service Employment Program (Programs authorized under title V of the Older Americans Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 3056 et seq.)); Employment and training activities carried out by the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Community Services Block Grant (Employment and training activities carried out under the Community Services Block Grant Act (42 U.S.C. 9901 et seq.)); Reintegration of Ex-Offenders Program (Programs authorized under section 212 of the Second Chance Act of 2007 (42 U.S.C. 17532)).

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