NASFAA's Altitude: Putting Grit in Its Place, Where Students Are Moving, the Limits of Financial Aid in SEM, and More

Welcome to NASFAA's "Altitude," a new-ish Today's News series that aims to provide a 30,000-foot view on the intersections of economics, public policy, management, and student financial aid. Look for an assortment of links, reactions, conversations, and other missives from NASFAA President Justin Draeger and others. It may be easier to say what this series isn't: a place to find answers to tough regulatory and implementation questions. We'll be trying out this series over the next few months, so please send us your comments and follow us on Twitter

By Justin Draeger, NASFAA President and CEO

Here’s what I’ve been reading over the past week: 

1. Putting Grit and Determination in Their Place: Memoirist Dr. Tara Westover, author of the best-selling book “Educated,” challenges the notion that grit and diligence were solely responsible for her incredible story, where she rose from her family’s rigid religious ideology and isolation to be educated at the world’s best universities. Where does she attribute her success? In part, a $4,000 Pell Grant and a country that funded students like her. 

  • "For kids today from poorer backgrounds, the path I took through education no longer exists," Westover writes. "The numbers are not imaginable — not if your parents are truckers or farmers or cleaners or cabdrivers, maybe the hardest-working people in our country. ... There is the one thing I learned when I cashed that [Pell] check: that people cannot always be resilient, but a country can."

2. Show, Don't Tell: One lesson presidential administrations need to internalize, according to David Leonhardt in The New York Times, is that the best way to improve the image of government is "not through soaring speeches by politicians," but by "making sure that government functions well." 

  • Implications for Student Aid: The student loan programs are plagued by complexity and discontent, which raises the question: How much of the growing discontent with student loans can be attributed to how poorly the system has functioned?

3. The Limits of Financial Aid Strategic Enrollment Management Plans: Higher ed folks talk often about the 36 million adults with “some college, no degree,” writes Goldie Blumenstyk in The Chronicle of Higher Education's “The Edge.” But what if returning for a degree isn't in some people’s best financial interest? 

  • Between the Lines: Blumenstyk summarizes a conversation with researcher Ben Castleman about the perils of blanket approaches to enrollment management for adults who aren't convinced returning to college is the best investment, particularly in an economy where wages are rising fastest at the lowest pay scales. But I also can't help but think about the limits of financial aid in strategic enrollment management models. Offering more money to students, without individualized communication, customization, and a solid understanding of what's keeping different students from enrolling is likely destined to fail.

4. Where People Are Moving: Sticking with the challenges of enrollment management, United Van Lines' annual index shows the top inbound and outbound states for moves in 2021.

    • The winners: South Dakota, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Florida. 

    • The losers: New Jersey, New York, Illinois, and California. 

  • Why It Matters: Demographic shifts have huge implications on college enrollments. In states that are facing declining populations and high school graduates, the most important attribute for college leadership will need to be adaptability. College leaders solely focused on growth might want to consider South Dakota, South Carolina, West Virginia, or Florida for future job opportunities. 

5. What Is a Rural-Serving Institution? That’s the question the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges has tried to answer in a new issue brief. Using an evidence-based metric, they identified 1,087 RSIs, which are smaller (by headcount) than their urban counterparts, but tend to enroll greaters shares of low-income students and Native American and Alaska Native students. 

  • Why It Matters: The purpose of financial aid is to ensure that no qualified student is denied access to a quality postsecondary education. Of the postsecondary schools in low-employment counties across the U.S., 83% are RSIs. These schools are too often overlooked as we debate public policy, and identifying who they are — and who they serve — is an important first step. 

6. Weekly Meditation: Our Reaction to Others’ Misery: Last month, the University of Michigan released 118 pages of messages between their former president and his romantic interest, who was also his subordinate. "The university was right to fire him," argues Jonathan Zimmerman in Inside Higher Ed. "But that doesn't mean [the university] should have trolled him, too" by releasing those messages. "The lovey-dovey details serve nobody's interest except our own sadistic desire to feel superior," he continues. 

  • Ouch! If that doesn't lead to some introspection about our own ability to feel empathy and examine whether we are taking pleasure in someone else's pain, what will?

  • In Summary: Zimmerman continues, "Social media has birthed a generation of e-sadists, all taking delight in putting others down." Preach, brother!


Publication Date: 2/8/2022

Peter G | 2/8/2022 9:48:28 PM

Re #4, this "report" comes out every year and there's always reason to take it with a large grain of salt. It's one company's data in a busy marketplace, and it's subject to a range of confounding factors, not least that it only recognizes certain types of moves.

When thinking about higher ed jobs in particular, as Dave Sheridan noted in his review of the Nathan Grawe book, it's not just how many are moving but who. What are the demographics of people who use movers/don't?

Likewise, where is the growth happening and what might that portend for higher ed next year or in ten years? For SD, based on BLS data it's mostly in mining/logging/construction (10% growth in 2021) and Leisure/Hosp (7.7%). Education & Health (-2.3%), Finance (-2.8%), and Prof & Business Services (-0.3%) all saw declines. That's a lot muddier picture than what United Van Lines might suggest. ;)

Ben R | 2/8/2022 10:40:50 AM

#3 highlights one of the big misconceptions that completion is the biggest contributor to underwater borrowing and non-payment of student loans. The argument is that it's universally better to owe more with a degree, ANY degree, than owe less without one, regardless of cost, quality of instruction, reputation of the school, or prospects of gainful employment.

This argument focuses on defaults while ignoring the underpayment of student loans at the upper end of the borrowing distribution (perpetual hardship forbearance and reliance on IDR). Would we tell someone who dropped out of the now closed ITT or Corinthian schools that they would be better off today had they just finished, even with more debt? Would we tell someone who is underemployed with $150,000 in loans they will be better off getting another degree in something that doesn't 'lead to gainful employment?

Success is graduating with minimal debt relative to potential earnings, not borrowing whatever it takes just to say you have a degree.

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