Monday, September 12, 2016
Paying the Price: A Review
- The financial aid system works on the assumption that money flows from the parent(s) to the student, rather than the other way around. But that’s not how the world works. For many low-income students, money flows from the student to the family. For them, the opportunity cost of college -- income foregone while they study -- is as relevant as the price. Abandoning their most important support network isn’t an option.
- The financial aid system works best when family income is relatively steady. But on the low end, it’s often volatile. Adjustments can be made, but they lag, and students need money when they need it.
- Low-end hourly jobs often require remarkable flexibility from the people who hold them. Inconsistent hours -- and numbers of hours -- wreak havoc with the best-laid plans.
- A student who’s struggling to keep her grades up while attending full-time and working two jobs might decide to drop a class or two. If she does, she stands to lose so much aid (especially through Pell) that she’s essentially penalized for being poor.
- Tuition is only one part of total cost, and at community colleges, it’s a relatively small part.
- The more complicated the aid -- the more strings attached, the more hoops to jump through -- the less effective it is in encouraging completion. The best aid is cash.
- Students are more loan-averse than they should be. As she puts it, “there is reason to think that until prices are reduced students from low-income families might be more successful in college if they were willing or able to borrow more.” (p. 94)
- Food insecurity is scandalously common. Six percent of the students in their sample reported recently going without food for an entire day due to money. (p. 128) K-12 has subsidized or free lunches, but with rare exceptions, higher ed doesn’t. Students who are hungry have a harder time staying focused.
- Much of the tuition increase of the past two decades comes from public disinvestment. Where tuition was once a minority of operating funds, it’s now usually the lion’s share. In that sense, “price” is rising much more quickly than “cost.”
- The way that many colleges calculate Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) counts a “drop” as a “fail.” To maintain SAP (and therefore aid eligibility) a student has to complete ⅔ of credits attempted. A “withdraw” is not a “complete.” A student could lose SAP with a GPA of 4.0, if that 4.0 comes with enough withdrawals. When students have outside jobs with fluid hours from week to week, they sometimes have to drop classes due to work conflicts. Those drops could imperil their aid, even if they keep their grades up in everything else.
- “Expected family contributions” effectively assume that divorced parents are amicable and collaborative. That is an implausibly optimistic assumption at scale.
- Low-income students often have older and less reliable cars. Car repairs can be devastatingly expensive. Unreliable transportation can manifest in spotty attendance, with academic consequences. Student needs money to get car fixed; student works more hours; academic performance suffers.
There is a huge disconnect there. That solves the smallest part of the problem, doing nothing about the need to support parents and siblings and children while trying to take classes.
People need money and stability. At some point, ya gotta start actually making change. #FightFor15 #SinglePayerNow