By Allie Bidwell, NASFAA Senior Reporter
With the many challenges facing higher education today, it’s important to ensure different perspectives are all brought to the table to look for solutions. In late 2017 NASFAA was awarded a grant to convene a group of campus leaders tasked with developing policy solutions that will help surmount obstacles preventing students from enrolling in, paying for, and graduating from college.
In a Monday morning session, a panel of leaders came together to discuss the work of the grant, provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to facilitate the Higher Education Committee of 50. The group is comprised of college presidents, enrollment managers, admissions staff, financial aid and bursar leaders, members of governing boards, students, and other leaders from all sectors of postsecondary institutions.
“If I were to summarize the public perception, it’s that higher education institutions … not your own, not the one you attended, but all the rest of them are part of a growing problem, not a solution,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “We know there are innovative things happening, we know there are challenges too. We want to show institutions are actively trying to tackle these issues.”
During the session, representatives from each of four subgroups — Anne Cartwright (transparency), Bob Collins (affordability), Dan Mann (access), and Stephen Payne, NASFAA staff liaison filling in for committee member Angela Johnson (accountability) — discussed what progress they’ve made so far on each topic. Each member also presented a list of questions open to attendees to provide feedback. If you weren’t able to make it to the conference but want to give feedback, email [email protected].
One area that may be ripe for ideas or policy recommendations that are appealing to both political parties is transparency, according to Cartwright. She said the subgroup has seen that there doesn’t exist a good, central source for data, but at the same time, there is “a flood of information” from many different sources that makes it “confusing and burdensome to collect and provide information.”
“We want to figure out ways to provide the right information at the right time,” she said. “We want to get it to [stakeholders] at the right time in a way they can use it, and preferably in a way that minimizes reporting burdens.”
The feedback questions for the transparency subgroup included:
How can we improve transparency (through creative, practical, other solutions)?
How can we best communicate to students and families the information they need to know when they need to know it? Examples?
What additional information should we be collecting about students and institutions? How?
What existing data-collection/reporting/disclosures are ineffective or your biggest pain points?
How can we streamline consumer information?
According to Mann, the group has struggled because the topic of access can be so broad and touch on many different sectors. For the purposes of the Higher Education Committee of 50, the access subgroup will focus only on higher education, not K-12 education, only undergraduate programs, and only on pre-college and the first year experience. The group defined access as “the ways in which educational institutions and policies strive to ensure that all prospective students have equal and equitable opportunities to take full advantage of postsecondary education.”
Members of the access subgroup will focus their efforts in three areas: reducing and removing structural barriers to higher education, improving access to information and awareness of college options, and improving the first-year experience.
The feedback questions for the access subgroup included:
How has access changed/evolved over the last 50 years?
What access changes/challenges do you envision for the future?
What policy recommendations (actionable items) would you suggest for reducing/removing structural barriers to higher education?
Similarly, Collins noted that affordability can be a widespread area, and can mean different things to different people.
“Affordability is an individual perspective,” he said. “Everyone is going to look at it differently. That’s the challenge we have with affordability.” The group decided to define affordability as “the alignment between the student’s desired educational goal and total costs, funding mechanisms, time to completion, and long-term improvement in that individual’s quality of life attributable to their postsecondary education.”
“It’s important to respect the diversity and the roles of the members of the subgroup,” Collins said. “Sometimes we as financial aid administrators have blinders on.”
The subgroup will also answer questions about and look for areas of improvement in issues such as financial literacy, affordability in a broader context (Affordable for who? Low-income students? Middle class? Everybody?), and affordability in the context of a “time horizon” (before college, during college, post-college).
The feedback questions for the affordability subgroup included:
Do you think your college is affordable?
If you had a magic wand to fix anything, what would you do to address college affordability?
Payne, speaking on behalf of the accountability subgroup representative Angela Johnson, said there is consensus right now that accountability is important and that institutions are currently accountable in some ways — but that there is work to be done to improve on current accountability efforts. At the same time, there is significant interest among lawmakers for “new frontiers in accountability,” he said.
“If we can shape that conversation, we’ll be better off for it in the long-term,” he said. The accountability subgroup will focus its efforts in three areas: student loans, the student experience and progression, and outcomes and alumni.
The accountability subgroup is looking for feedback in general.
If you were not able to attend the 2018 National Conference and want to submit feedback to the Higher Education Committee of 50, email [email protected].
Publication Date: 6/25/2018