Student leaders across the U.S. are concerned that the high cost of college may limit students’ career development and that the federal financial aid programs are not making the impact they could, according to a recent report from the National Campus Leadership Council (NCLC).
For the report, NCLC surveyed student body presidents from more than 250 U.S. colleges and conducted roundtable discussions in 15 cities with more than 200 student leaders and close to 100 business leaders and employers. The report focuses on the perception student leaders have about student success and federal financial aid programs, as well as policy changes to strengthen college access, degree attainment, and job preparedness.
Overall, the survey and roundtable discussions indicate “a troubling knowledge gap about financial aid and misalignment of classroom and extracurricular incentives,” NCLC said in the report.
To begin with, the report shows that student body presidents think that post-graduate success is hindered by the high cost of college. Fifty-eight percent of student leaders surveyed said that “the most negative consequence of high college costs is limited college access,” and 38 percent said that addressing these high costs should be a top priority for federal policymakers.
Among the students who participated in the roundtable discussions, 61 percent said that adequate amount of financial aid can have a positive impact on job preparedness through internships and other activities outside of the classroom. However, the need to work to pay for tuition often limits these activities, NCLC noted in the report.
Seventy percent of student leaders said they use some form of federal financial aid, with the survey results indicating that students who use the programs are 46 percent more likely to feel knowledgeable about them. For example, 40 percent of the student body presidents received the Pell Grant and of them 56 percent said they consider themselves to be knowledgeable about the program. Similar trends are seen among the student leaders who use Federal Work-Study (FWS) and Stafford Loans. Fifty percent of student body presidents said that their fellow students were “somewhat informed” about the Pell Grant, FWS, and Stafford Loans.
Student leaders with federal loans were also more likely to plan to use income-based repayment (IBR) in the future, including 63 percent of Stafford Loan borrowers. Stafford Loan borrowers were also more likely to say they are knowledgeable about IBR than those without federal loans.
However, “a large gap remains in ensuring more student leaders can educate their student bodies about IBR,” NCLC said in the report, adding that “relatively few” student body presidents said they were aware of IBR (58 percent) and federal education tax credits (35 percent). About one-third of student leaders who have heard of IBR feel knowledgeable about its policies, and only 12 percent of those who have heard of the tax credits feel knowledgeable about them. In addition, 56 percent of student leaders said students are poorly informed about IBR, with 21 percent claiming that the average student has no knowledge of IBR at all.
According to NCLC, the student leaders included in the report “have two clear priorities,” which are to reduce college costs and to address student loan debt. Among the leaders who said they were knowledgeable about the financial aid programs, a significant majority said they support greater investment in the Pell Grant (99 percent) and FWS (94 percent).
More than half of the student leaders said that monthly student loan payments are the biggest threat to students’ financial futures, and many support policy changes that would lower interest rates and implement stronger borrower protections. Fifty-five percent of student leaders who said they were knowledgeable about IBR said they support automatic enrollment in such programs and most oppose placing a cap on how much outstanding debt can be forgiven at the conclusion of the repayment process.
While the student leaders were able to provide suggestions for better financial aid policies, only one in four reported feeling like they had any influence on higher education decision makers at the federal and state level. They also largely believe that the federal government has the greatest control over student loan debt (69 percent).
Higher education policymakers, therefore, “must reimagine how [they engage] with student leaders as policy advocates and community figures,” NCLC said. “If the higher education community better equips student leaders with information, those leaders can help strategize and implement new methods to increase participation in underused programs like IBR and federal tax credits.”
Publication Date: 7/27/2015