Last week I shared some information about student debt. Student debt is a serious issue and affording college is a significant challenge for most American families. But as I tried to demonstrate last week and will do so again this week, the perceptions about the student debt issue are not clearly understood.
Last week I shared the statistics about the levels of debt incurred by students. I also shared the affordability data related to family income levels. Today I want to focus on financial aid opportunities and the actual tuition paid by students.
One of the misperceptions related to college affordability and student debt is the issue of financial aid. It is often reported, albeit erroneously, that it is very difficult to receive financial aid, especially at private, independent colleges. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are the facts:
1. A vast majority of college students at all types of institutions receive some form of financial aid, including loans (92% at for-profit institutions; 89% at independent institutions; 82% at public institutions).
2. More students receive financial aid (grant or scholarship aid) at private, independent colleges than at other types of institutions (84% at independent institutions; 81% at for-profit institutions; 67% at public institutions).
3. Most important, however, students at private, independent colleges are twice as likely to receive grants (not loans) as students at public institutions and three times more likely than those at for-profit institutions (79% at independent institutions; 39% at public institutions; 24% at for-profit institutions).
What is even more alarming is the lack of growth in federal grant programs for students seeking a college degree. Simply said, our national leaders speak eloquently about the need for increased education, but fail to support it for those in financial need. In 1984-85, the federal government awarded $1.3 billion in federal grants to college students. In that same year, private, independent colleges awarded $1.4 billion in grants.
Over the next decade, that number for federal grants increased only slightly ($1.5 billion in 1996-97). But private, independent colleges had increased their financial aid programs to $6.0 billion. Most recently, the federal grants program has increased to $2.9 billion. But the private, independent colleges awarded $19.3 billion in grant, more than six times as much grant aid as the federal government. Tuition fees have risen at private, independent colleges, but so have grants and financial aid.
Finally, there remains much confusion about the actual cost of an education. The total tuition and fee amount is typically reported and then it is inferred that all students are asked to pay this same rate. In fact, the actual amount that a student pays for college correlates with their family income. The lower the income, the lower the percentage of the total cost. On average, the actual amount a student is asked to pay (after financial aid is awarded) is less than 60% of the total cost for tuition, fees, room and board (59% at independent institutions; 67% at public institutions; 85% at for-profit institutions).
Over the past ten years, tuition rates at private, independent colleges have grown less than at public institutions. It is also important to note that graduation rates for all students are higher at private, independent colleges. And students at private, independent colleges graduate on average 10 months sooner than at public institutions and 89 months earlier than at for-profit institutions.
Access and affordability are real issues. But at least when we discuss these issues, we should have the facts!
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
This past week, the media has covered stories related to student debt and the challenges for recent college graduates. The student debt level in this country has risen to almost $1 trillion. Of equal concern, the delinquency rate on student loans has increased to 8.9%. Having written these past weeks about the issues of access and affordability, especially for first generation college students, I thought it might be helpful to clarify some of the data related to student debt.
Last week I shared a demographic profile of the incoming students to American colleges and universities. While this profile provided the “averages,” each institution has a somewhat different mix of students. In the case of institutions like Anna Maria College, our incoming students tend to reflect a higher percentage of first generation college students. The national average is close to 20% of incoming freshmen, AMC and other small colleges tend to enroll between 30-40%.
The fact that we enroll such a large percentage of these students may seem logical. Smaller institutions that provide a high quality education with a high degree of personal attention would seem to be the best environment for the first in the family college student. But the challenges for these students ever getting to college are daunting.
A recent study by the “Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development” reports that the percentage of young adults attending college if their parents have not attended previously is one of the lowest among developed countries (29% or 14th among 37 countries studied). According to this research, there are increasing challenges for these students in terms of “social and economic mobility.”
With the inherent disadvantages of being a first generation college student, it is even more imperative that colleges and universities provide every opportunity for success. Here are some key findings from recent research on this population.
Before they even consider enrolling in college, too many first generation college families believe that they will not qualify for financial aid, and, therefore, can not afford a college education. A sad statistic from the American Council of Education is that last year alone, 1.8 million low-income and middle-income families who would have qualified for financial aid at almost any college failed to even apply.
The key reasons for this inaccurate perception relate to education. Because these families are so unfamiliar with the college acceptance process, they wrongly assume that they are not eligible for aid and/or that the deadlines for applying have passed. While affordability issues are real for all families, colleges need to do a much better job in communicating early and often about how financial aid works, eligibility requirements and the impact of all forms of aid on the ultimate cost of attendance.
There is also growing evidence that colleges can not simply rely on the typical “cognitive variables” in assessing student ability (i.e., scores on SAT or ACT tests and high school GPA). While this conclusion really applies to the way we assess all incoming students, it is especially true for first generation college students who are too often identified as “at risk” and provided generic support and assistance programs and services.
Student assessment needs to be holistic and more accurately determine the needs of each new student both academically and socially. A student’s level of “confidence, resilience and drive to succeed” may have as much to do with college success as academic ability.
Finally, first generation college students may arrive on our campuses with both a “curriculum gap” and a deficit in “cultural capital.” The curriculum gap relates to the high school of attendance and the course of study taken before college. According to the Department of Education, only 45% of Hispanic students and only 59% of white students attend a high school that offers calculus. This doesn’t mean that they are not ready for college, but it might require academic preparation if they want to pursue a STEM discipline.
“Cultural capital” refers to the ability to “navigate the academic environment” and participate fully in class sessions. Too often these students are not able to self-advocate and are more deferential to both their instructors and their fellow students. Summer bridge programs and first year experience classes need to help to develop these “skills,” as well as preparing students to handle their academic responsibilities.
Every student deserves the opportunity and the support to succeed. Colleges need to do a better job of understanding the unique challenges facing first generation college students and provide programs and services that not only provide access … but also insure success!
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
With the new academic year well underway, The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published its annual “almanac” providing analyses of various aspects of colleges and universities in the United States. Typically, individual colleges review these data in light of their own college profile. I found the summary of freshmen at four year colleges most interesting.
For example, there is a real point of tension between financial resources and degree aspirations. Over 75% of the incoming freshmen self-report that they plan to earn a Master’s Degree (43%) or higher (35%). Understanding the increased competitiveness in the global economy and the rising demands for advanced skills and knowledge, these degree aspirations are both realistic and laudable
In fact, just over 72% of these new students say that “the chief benefit of a college education is that it increases one’s earning power,” and almost 86% say that “getting a better job” is also very important. As a proponent of the inherent value of a liberal education to the overall quality of life and society, I find some solace that among the list of important reasons for attending college, “learning more about things of interest” (82.9%) and “become a more cultured person” (50.3%) were also among the top seven reasons identified.
However, almost half of the freshmen report their family incomes to be less than $75,000. With the rising cost of higher education at both public and private institutions and the constant threat to federal and state financial aid programs, affordability will become an even greater issue and clearly impact the opportunities for graduates to pursue necessary and desired advanced degrees.
These analyses typically reveal a more balanced picture of the political views of students than the public perception. As in past years, most freshmen identify themselves as “middle of the road” (47.4%). Just over 30% self-identify as “liberal” or “far left.” Just over 22% say that they are “conservative” or “far right.”
It is less surprising that these young people are more socially liberal. Over 60% believe abortion should be legal and almost half believe that marijuana should be legal. In fact, a majority of freshmen support the right of same-sex couples to adopt, the need for a national health care program for all, and the importance of addressing global warming. Only 30% believe that spending on the military should be increased.
Regarding religious preference, the largest group self-identify as Roman Catholic (26%). The second largest group says that their religious preference is “none” (24.5%). Remember, these are all freshmen in all types of four-year colleges and universities. When combined, various Protestant denominations account for just over 40% of the freshmen.
While freshmen report that over half of their parents hold a college degree or higher (Mother – 56.8%; Father – 54.2%), almost 20% identify themselves as first generation college students. This is one of the statistical areas where a college like Anna Maria differs from the national profile (as you would expect, our percentage of Catholic students is also significantly higher). At AMC, we enroll almost twice as many first generation students than the national average. And this population requires special attention and has unique needs.
If we want our students to graduate and be able to achieve their educational goals of advanced degrees, helping first generation college students is key. And next week, I will share what the research says about their needs and how colleges like AMC address them.
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)
In the past several weeks, I have written on two occasions about big-time collegiate athletics in light of the Penn State scandal. With the start of the Fall semester and the return of collegiate athletics, I hoped that sportsmanship and the model student-athlete would take center stage. I was wrong.
Last week, two reports were in the news … one local, one national … one sad, one stunning! The local and sad story was the release of the report on the Boston University hockey program. Hockey is to BU what football is to Penn State. The report indicated a pattern of inappropriate student-athlete behavior that was persistent because of a lack of institutional oversight and action.
This is a sad story to me because while I do not know the former or current president of Penn State, the president of Boston University is a respected colleague. He is a man with a strong academic vision who leads BU with a commitment to excellence and integrity. But the fact seems clear that BU hockey has been out of control. And so, the negative sports culture in colleges and universities has come to light again.
But more stunning to me are the results of an investigative study conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. The publication studied the contracts of college and university presidents, who lead institutions with the largest athletics departments. And the findings were almost unbelievable: “Of the presidents and chancellors who oversee the 25 biggest athletic departments, not a single one has contract language related to oversight of athletics.”
This is true for Florida State, Michigan, Wisconsin, etc. And it is true for Penn State, Ohio State and North Carolina … all of which have received significant sanctions from the NCAA for problems with their athletic programs. Even if such responsibility for oversight was not a president’s responsibility in the past, one would assume that after the Penn State scandal, Boards of Trustees would make this a priority. Our assumption would appear to be incorrect.
The study by the Chronicle is very disconcerting. It found that presidential contracts at major universities are not devoid of goals and accountabilities. But these relate to financial management, fund raising, government relations, strategic planning, and facilities. The only mention of athletics that The Chronicle found in the 25 institutions with the largest athletics departments included presidential perks like free tickets.
It gets even more disturbing. The report states, “They (presidents) are afraid of the consequences. One president told The Chronicle he wouldn't want detailed language about athletics in his contract because he doesn't want to be held responsible for the behavior of students or others who are beyond his control.”
Who is beyond the control of the president? Isn’t the president ultimately responsible for student behavior?
It is hard to imagine this problem getting fixed any time soon if this is a prevalent viewpoint. And this viewpoint seems widespread. For example, the 2009 Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics conducted by the NCAA reported that of the 120 institutions in the Football Bowl Subdivision, “nearly three-fourths of those interviewed believed they had limited power to effect change on their own campuses in athletics financing and the larger problems related to it.”
This report went on to say, "The real power doesn't lie with the president. Presidents and chancellors are afraid to rock the boat with boards, benefactors, and political supporters who want to win, so they turn their focus elsewhere."
There are a great many outstanding leaders in higher education. But presidents of all institutions must be willing to lead the entire institution. This is far more important than how good the seats are at the football game!
(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)