Ways to Reduce College Costs: Reform Financial Aid

This is an occasional blog that summarizes an item from From 25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College.

by Jason Beideman

The American financial aid system fails simply because it is not streamlined. The system is not user friendly and in fact discourages people from getting their fair share. Families filling out FAFSA don’t learn of their aid availability until months after they send in the form. This leads to students not knowing whether that can afford school or not, until way after they have completed all the steps to apply and get aid. To fix this problem, the system needs to change at its core. Financial aid must be visible at a much faster rate. Since financial aid is need based this can be done before the student has decided on a school so they will know how it will affect the prices of the schools they wish to apply to. The system needs to be more user friendly to allow people to understand what costs will lie ahead of them and give them a path in order to achieve their goals and get a degree. The only thing in the way of reform is the current position colleges are in, they have the power and obviously don’t want to lose it. The United States would need to regulate the colleges and expedite the financial aid process if they want to prioritize higher education.

The Highest-Paid Employees at Top Research Institutions? Not Women

Sarah McFarland

 A recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education highlights gender inequalities in the higher education industry. A report by the American Association of University Women and the Eos Foundation found that women are significantly underrepresented among those who hold the 10 highest-paying jobs at the nation’s top research universities. The data was split into three groups: core employees (e.g. deans, faculty), medical-center employees, and athletics employees. Women composed only 24% of top earners in the core group, 12% in the medical-center group, and 7% in the athletics group. The gap is even larger for women of color. Among women who were in the highest paid positions at universities, 22.2% of them were white, 0.6% were Asian, 0.8% were Black, and 0.8% were Hispanic. Among the top earners at several top research universities, 0% were women. Despite women’s absence in these roles, the majority of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees are earned by women.

This article clearly highlights gender diversity issues in higher education, especially among women of color. The implications of the pandemic on women in academia makes this an even more concerning issue. Women are already less likely to achieve tenure than men, and mothers have reduced their hours far more than fathers have due to COVID-19. Women have been publishing less research than men due to these increased obligations (e.g. caregiving) that disproportionately fall onto women. Since many believe the pandemic triggered a “pink recession” with long-lasting impacts on women’s careers, this is a particularly worrisome trend.

Do “Weed-Out” Classes Make any Sense?

by Taylor Johnson

Weed-out classes are something many students have faced at one point or another. However, some believe they still serve a purpose. In this article, Adams argues points that many of us likely agree with, that weed-out courses are used as intimidating tactics for freshman students who are just getting used to the college experience and that they discourage students from high-demand STEM careers that we need more people to pursue.  Adams also references how these types of classes impact minorities, saying a recent survey found that half of the science chairs at various universities believe weed-out classes are discouraging women and minorities from entering STEM-based careers. Given all of these terrible aspects of these types of courses, they prevail in almost all universities. While I understand they are used to make sure the people entering these careers are qualified, it seems that these courses are actually pushing people away, and making students feel inadequate in careers they could be a good fit for. This makes me wonder, is there a way we can still have challenging courses without them having the stigma of being a weed-out course? Or will any hard class with high fail rates achieve this title, making them simply inevitable with “harder” programs?

Are Community Colleges the Future of Higher Ed?

By Jason Beideman

This article highlighted what may be the future of higher education in this country, four year community college degrees. Most states already allow community colleges to give four year degrees which helps lower the cost to acquire a bachelors degree. The article also discussed the need to make transferring from community colleges to four year schools much easier. I think both of these initiatives are necessary for the United States to keep up with the rest of the world in education. On top of offering four year degrees, community colleges are using connections with four year universities to ensure their credits will transfer and allow the students to finish their degrees on time. Montgomery county community college in PA has deal with Temple University and other local colleges to ensure that they will accept their classes as credits. Furthermore, all of Pennsylvania’s community colleges made a deal with Southern New Hampshire University that allows students to transfer up to ninety credits and receive a ten percent discount. This is just how states that don’t allow community colleges to give four year degrees adapt to give their students a cheaper path towards their goals. I look forward to seeing how this progresses and if community colleges are the future of higher education in America.

How Multiple Kids in College Affects Financial Aid

By Lauren Prokesch

A U.S. News and World Report article states that in 2023-2024, families with multiple kids in college will not be allowed to apply for discounts due to the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2020. FAFSA could cause costs to double for families that are sending two children to college simultaneously. Families filling out the FAFSA starting October 1, 2022 will still see questions about number of kids in college, but now that will have no influence in determining how much aid a student is eligible for. Out-of-pocket costs for families will be the same for each child after financial aid is taken into account, rather than a previous discount for multiples like twins and triplets. Families were given the unhelpful advice to save more money, take out loans, and send their children to cheaper colleges where their kid’s grades will stand out and increase scholarship possibilities. This puts many middle-class families at risk, as tuition rates go up each year, and due to this act, anticipated aid will go down.

The FAFSA Simplification Act is also replacing the EFC with the SAI (student aid index), which will most likely not affect low-income families. If families already have a zero EFC, they qualify for a Pell Grant of the maximum amount, so it doesn’t matter how many children they have, they will still be eligible. This act also increases the allowance for income protection, which will benefit the lower class because more of their income can be excluded when considering financial aid amounts.

Title IX?

by Catherine Vincent

Should the Biden Administration change the regulations in Title IX created by Beaty DeVos concerning the due process of student accused of rape? Tile IX is a law created in 1972 that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools, this law since its creation has been interpreted in different ways by each administration. During the Obama-era guidance to colleges and universities was critiqued as being to hard on students and faculty that were accused of sexual misconduct or rape and included aggressive investigations of schools that had mishandled complaints about sexual assault. Trumps administration tried to narrow the definition of what constitutes as sexual misconduct and created a process that cements the due process rights of those accused. Rape and other forms of sexual misconduct I feel should be treated with speed and efficiency and at many higher level institutions it is not. Usually schools try to push it under the rug or not even address it at all and as a female student it is very concerning that your school is not able protect you or assist you in prosecuting your aggressor. Something in the article that stood out to me was said by Ms.Klein the former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton “The policy of this administration is that every individual, every student, is entitled to a free — a fair education free of sexual violence, and that people — all involved — have access to a fair process,” this statement is what every school should have in their mission statement because the protection of students is the most important thing that a school can do.

College Students & SNAP

by Declan Barrett

A new article discusses the benefits that would be applied to college students by widening the requirements to join SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This program helps those in need by supplying them with food stamps, which can be used as money to buy food. With the pandemic currently, many college students have had their job hours reduced, or the job closed all together, as colleges and surrounding areas adjust to a new environment.

The one catch this expansion would have would mean that any student with an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) greater than $0 would not be enrolled in this program. As many college students know, the EFC is a ridiculous value that assumes a familial contribution to college expenses, and that assumption fails to realize that not all families follow this. This article does not highlight that, but it can raise the question if entering college is actually now more desirable because of additional snap benefits – or if this really will benefit students because those with families that can (but don’t) get their EFC are ignored by this prospect.

FAFSA Audits and Minority Students

By Kaitlyn Perry

An analysis by the Washington Post found the federal government audits the FAFSA data of minority students much more often than they audit white students’ data. The FAFSA is, of course, the application college students must fill out every year in order to receive any type of aid from the federal government, and it is often required to be eligible for scholarships as well. Millions of students complete the FAFSA, and every year a percentage of those applications are chosen by the Department of Education for verification. The process is meant to reduce fraud and ensure the proper funds are being allocated. However, in the analysis of federal data, they found that there were certain demographics the verification process targeted. The government says it targets applicants that have the highest probability of producing errors on their application. Students who are eligible for Pell grants or have an EFC of $0 were also targeted more often than those with a higher family income. As a result of racial disparities in wealth and income, these targets are more often than not, Black and Latino students. This has resulted in mass amounts of stress in students who have to continuously prove to the federal government that they do in fact need the aid they are applying for, all while trying to keep up with the demands of college classes. It is yet another example of the systemic racism in the education system, specifically in higher education.

AI & Higher Ed

by Taylor Johnson

This new story from Marketplace Tech is based on the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it may change higher education and the workforce in the near future. This subject is now receiving attention after a small liberal arts school called Colby College has chosen to incorporate AI into subjects/ majors their school already offers. The president of the university, David Greene, argues that  artificial intelligence will become the norm in the near future and that it should be incorporated into more liberal arts universities. While he brings up many interesting examles of how AI is going to be important in each field of study, one of the main reasons he feels AI needs to be incorporated into higher education now is so students can lead AI instead of it leading them. He argues that if AI is kept to only being used in the narrow scope of technology and the defense industry, and continues to not be incorporated into higher education, it will never be able to grow into the powerful resource it has the potential to be. Greene argues the importance of AI’s incorporation in higher education stating:

“one of the beauties of people who are trained in the liberal arts is that they understand how to come at a problem from multiple, different angles… the more that we have people who are coming from liberal arts backgrounds, who are raising the kind of questions that will ultimately shape AI in more positive ways, the better off we’ll be.”

While the advancement of artificial intelligence may seem like a great idea on the surface, many are still apprehensive about incorporating it into higher education. This is usually due to costs and the fear that it may render certain positions useless, potentially positions that colleges are training their students for.

Putting student loan forgiveness in perspective: How costly is it and who benefits?

by Sarah McFarland

A new article from Brookings evaluates the effectiveness of implementing a student loan forgiveness program, as well as more beneficial alternatives to increasing affordability. According to Looney, forgiving $50,000 in student loans would cost almost twice as much as what the federal government has spent on Pell Grant recipients over the last two decades. Even forgiving $10,000 in student loans would amount to what the government has spent on welfare since 2000 and would exceed spending since then on the school breakfast and lunch program. Black and Hispanic households, as well as those with lower levels of education, are more likely to benefit from these programs. Meanwhile, students from white, highly educated, and high-income households are more likely to have higher levels of student loan debt.

According to Looney, student loan forgiveness would place among the largest transfer programs in American history, providing a greater benefit to students from households previously mentioned with higher levels of debt. As a solution, the government should develop targeted programs to relieve poorer students. Such solutions include doubling the Pell Grant for current students and reducing loan balances for former recipients based on the amount they would have received because of this change. Another solution includes pushing income-driven repayment plans, which allow borrowers to repay loans based on the amount they can afford. Each of these solutions would reduce the benefits reaped by students who can afford college, while still increasing affordability for students in need of assistance most.