Lately, news headlines have been packed with debates and discussions about the Common Core, new standards that will affect public K-12 policies as systems aim to more effectively prepare students for college. But do you know how the upcoming standards could ultimately affect financial aid policies in your state, and even at your own institution?
It’s a question that’s not yet been widely discussed, says Jacqueline King, the director of higher education collaboration at Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is developing an assessment system that will align with Common Core standards. But there are a few ways Common Core standards could trickle down to financial aid awarding procedures within states and even at individual institutions, King said.
With the caveat that, since each state has control over its own implementation of the standards, eventual changes to financial aid policies could vary, here are three ways King says Common Core could affect financial aid:
1. Eligibility: Common Core standards aim to prepare students better for college, thus cutting out the need for remedial coursework. Without having to use financial aid for those courses, recipients would likely remain eligible for funds through more of their work toward a degree, King said.
“That’s going to really help with those students not burning through eligibility,” she added.
In California, where schools have piloted another early college assessment, paired with special high school classes, the percentage of first-time freshmen who need remediation in college dropped from 56 to 43 percent between 2007 and 2013, King said.
2. State merit aid: Individual states could opt to use Common Core test scores as one component of the calculation used to determine who receives merit aid from state funds, King said.
“That’s probably the most obvious difference” Common Core could impose on financial aid, King said.
Delaware, Massachusetts, and New York already use older assessments to gauge eligibility for state merit aid, according to “Common Core Goes To College,” a policy report from the New America Foundation. Each will have to revisit the component once it adopts Common Core assessments – and other states should follow suit, report author Lindsay Tepe argued.
“Allowing students to demonstrate college readiness—and thus financial aid worthiness—with scores on Common Core assessments would provide many students with another avenue to gain financial resources,” Tepe wrote. “Further, aligning state financial aid qualifications with state high school assessments will help streamline a process that can be confusing for many students and families.”
3. Institutional merit aid: The same principle could apply to your institution’s own merit aid awards, if your school chooses to consider the assessment in its calculations. It could also manifest in admissions decisions, King said.
“When I talk to admissions folks, they say, if this is additional information that’s coming in about students, in particular if it’s coming in through relatively easy means, it would be another thing [to consider],” King said. “I would imagine you could say the same thing about financial aid.”
But variability lies not just in an institution’s decisions, King noted; states, which will own the Common Core data, will have to decide how to send information to their institutions.
“There are a lot of questions about how the data would move, and where it would be put once it gets to colleges,” said King, whose organization is working with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRO) to find solutions. Eventually, she noted, states will have to find a way to send their student data across state lines as well.
There is likely still time to tackle those questions. This fall, Smarter Balanced will set performance benchmarks, followed by its first operational in the spring of 11th graders in several states who will enter college in the fall of 2016.
Given the timeline and outstanding questions, NASFAA members should get up to speed on their state’s current positions on using early assessments for remediation exemptions and on data sharing, King recommends. Her organization currently has 22 states as members, and provides contact information for at least one higher education representative in each who can offer additional information, she said. The Associated Press has also compiled an update on each state’s current stance on Common Core standards.
Publication Date: 9/4/2014