Education

Storify: Too Much Evidence to Ignore

October 16, 2013

This week, New America's Early Education Initiative hosted an event reviewing the research on pre-K, published in a new report, “Investing in Our Children: The Evidence Base on Preschool Education," from the Foundation for Child Development and the Society for Research in Child Development.

Reporting Burden in Higher Education: The Case of the Clery Act

October 16, 2013
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Members of both political parties have decried two seemingly contradictory things in higher education. They want better information to inform students, families, taxpayers, and policy makers – but they also want fewer burdens on institutions, which some say increase costs, stifle innovation, and move schools’ focus away from the primary mission of educating students. While these are both laudatory goals, they appear, at face value, to call for action in opposite, conflicting directions. Students and institutions are left with the worst of both worlds—too much data, reporting, and burden and not enough usable information.

To escape this seeming contradiction between reporting burden and access to information, public discourse and debate should shift away from talking about burden in the generic, abstract sense to the specific ways in which it affects institutions and policy makers. So, let’s look at one of the most heavily cited sources of burden: consumer disclosures. In a 2013 GAO report, this category, which includes campus safety and security reports, was the most frequently cited as burdensome in interviews of experts and higher education officials.

The campus safety component of these disclosures stems from the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, first passed in 1990 as the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act. The law requires colleges to annually report campus security statistics, maintain a public log of recent crime, and provide timely warnings of ongoing threats to students.

The provision grew out of campus safety advocacy efforts led by Connie and Howard Clery, who founded Security On Campus, Inc. (now the Clery Center for Security on Campus) after the brutal and shocking 1986 rape and murder of their daughter Jeanne in her freshman dorm at Lehigh University. The subsequent investigation revealed lapses in security oversight by the university. Her murderer, Josoph M. Henry, a fellow student she did not know, was able to gain access to her dorm by passing through three automatically locking doors that had been propped open with boxes for convenience.  The Clerys also discovered that there had been 38 violent crimes on campus over the prior three years, but no laws at the time required the university to report them to students or prospective students.

After the passage of multiple state laws, the 1990 federal bill was introduced in Congress by Representative William Goodling (R-PA) in response to the Clerys’ advocacy efforts. In introducing the bill, Goodling testified: “This resolution will ensure the Department of Education gives priority status to this important responsibility [of protecting students].... Colleges are trying to hide [crime incidents] because they're in a very competitive business. There's no question they are putting students in danger if they try to cover up the crime that's going on in order to recruit students."  In 1998, Senator Arlen Specter (then R-PA) sponsored legislation tightening the reporting requirements and officially renaming it after Jeanne Clery. At the time of the bill’s passage, Specter spoke at a conference with the Clerys in which he emphasized the importance of campus safety and the lives that would be saved by the bill.

The evidence on whether the act has actually led to a decrease in campus crime in the decades since its passage is mixed. There were no reliable figures before the legislation, and the crime rate fell broadly across the U.S. over the same time period. And although a significant percentage of senior safety and security officials in one study said the law helped bring about improvements to their policies and procedures, most did not see the law as being specifically related to a decrease in crimes in and around campus.  More importantly, it does not seem like students and perspective students are actually using the specific reports and information the law requires. Previous studies and surveys show that the majority of students were not aware of the law and had not read the annual report that it requires, and only 10 percent of students said that they had factored campus crime statistics into their choice of school.

But colleges and universities that don’t meet the law’s stringent disclosure requirements do face significant penalties for violating the act. Each violation is punishable by a fine up to $35,000 per violation and possible loss of Title IV eligibility for the institution. In 1998, Eastern Michigan University was fined $350,000, at that point the largest-ever penalty for violating the law, for failing to quickly and accurately issue warnings after the murder of a student Laura Dickinson in her dorm room. Other institutions, including USC    , have been accused of reporting incidents inaccurately to lower the overall numbers of violent crimes appearing in the log and reports mandated by Congress.

The Clery Act was a strong response by lawmakers to a personal and shocking tragedy. Support for the bill was overwhelming – it passed the House without objection, and the Senate on a voice vote.  The law is not likely to disappear anytime soon – in fact, members have Congress have only piled on more and more requirements to the law. For example, the 1998 reauthorization required institutions to report off-campus crimes that occurred in close proximity to the institution. This led to concern from some institutions on where exactly to draw the line of “close proximity,” given that any tragic event near campus but outside the specified area could bring further negative attention to a school’s policies. Industry organizations also complain that the frequent changes to the law (four in 10 years following its passage) made it nearly impossible to systematically collect and accurately report the information.

Despite the burden and mixed evidence on its utility to students and their families, then, the Clery Act seems deeply entrenched as a key reporting requirement. And yet, key higher education questions for students, families, and the nation – for example, accurate graduation rates, complete student debt figures, and students’ post-education employment prospects – still can’t be answered. And yet, lawmakers have resisted asking schools to report those outcomes, hiding behind the generic guise of burden.

The difference is that campus crime advocates like the Clerys have an evocative story, a powerful movement, and personal champions on Capitol Hill behind them. That combination was enough in this case to overcome the higher education lobby’s pleas for relief from reporting burden. Meanwhile, students’ voices and their families’ interest in the unknowable information about students’ outcomes are drowned out by lobbyists. That’s why the reporting requirements under the Clery Act will be reliably maintained – and other critical questions of the value of college have been shoved to the back.

Shutdown Got Your Data? Check Out Our Federal Education Database

October 15, 2013
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The federal government has been officially shut down for over two weeks now, and the impact has been real: furloughed employees across the country, Head Start programs shut down (and some reopened), and confusion and delays in many federal programs. But for education experts and data geeks, another issue has been highly inconvenient, if less severe: the disabling of federal education data websites.

Fortunately, Higher Ed Watch’s sister initiative, the Federal Education Budget Project, maintains one of the most comprehensive federal education databases in the country for every state, school district, and institution of higher education. The data are collected from state and federal sources and updated regularly. The higher education data cover more than 7,500 institutions and all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and include:

  • Tuition and fees, price, endowment, and net price for all and for low-income students;
  • Federal finance data on student loan recipients and disbursements for schools, as well as Pell Grant and other federal aid data;
  • Student demographics, including full-time, part-time, and graduate student enrollment, as well as racial subgroups;
  • Outcomes as defined by graduation rates, retention rates, student loan default rates, and repayment rates; and
  • The share of students receiving federal, state, and local financial aid, as well as the average award size.

Check it out now, and until the shutdown is over! For some background on the data and on other education policy topics, check out our Background & Analysis pages.

Shutdown Got Your Data? Check Out Our Federal Education Database

October 15, 2013
Publication Image

The federal government has been officially shut down for over two weeks now, and the impact has been real: furloughed employees across the country, Head Start programs shut down (and some reopened), and confusion and delays in many federal programs. But for education experts and data geeks, another issue has been highly inconvenient, if less severe: the disabling of federal education data websites.

Fortunately, Early Ed Watch’s sister initiative, the Federal Education Budget Project, maintains one of the most comprehensive federal education databases in the country for every state, school district, and institution of higher education. The data are collected from state and federal sources and updated regularly. The PreK-12 data for more than 13,700 school districts and every state include:

  • Federal funding information, like per pupil expenditures, Title I and IDEA allocations, and school lunch awards;
  • Pre-K information for state-funded pre-K, Head Start, and special education preschool grants;
  • Demographic information on enrollment and racial, economic, and academic subgroups; and
  • Achievement data for math and reading in 4th grade, 8th grade, and high school, both for state standardized tests and the NAEP exam.

Check it out now, and until the shutdown is over! For some background on the data and on other education policy topics, check out our Background & Analysis pages.

Shutdown Got Your Data? Check Out Our Federal Education Database

October 15, 2013
Publication Image

The federal government has been officially shut down for over two weeks now, and the impact has been real: furloughed employees across the country, Head Start programs shut down (and some reopened), and confusion and delays in many federal programs. But for education experts and data geeks, another issue has been highly inconvenient, if less severe: the disabling of federal education data websites.

Fortunately, Ed Money Watch’s parent initiative, the Federal Education Budget Project, maintains one of the most comprehensive federal education databases in the country for every state, school district, and institution of higher education. The data are collected from state and federal sources and updated regularly. The PreK-12 data for more than 13,700 school districts and every state include:

  • Federal funding information, like per pupil expenditures, Title I and IDEA allocations, and school lunch awards;
  • Pre-K information for state-funded pre-K, Head Start, and special education preschool grants;
  • Demographic information on enrollment and racial, economic, and academic subgroups; and
  • Achievement data for math and reading in 4th grade, 8th grade, and high school, both for state standardized tests and the NAEP exam.

The higher education data cover more than 7,500 institutions and all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and include:

  • Tuition and fees, price, endowment, and net price for all and for low-income students;
  • Federal finance data on student loan recipients and disbursements for schools, as well as Pell Grant and other federal aid data;
  • Student demographics, including full-time, part-time, and graduate student enrollment, as well as racial subgroups;
  • Outcomes as defined by graduation rates, retention rates, student loan default rates, and repayment rates; and
  • The share of students receiving federal, state, and local financial aid, as well as the average award size.

Check it out now, and until the shutdown is over! For some background on the data and on other education policy topics, check out our Background & Analysis pages.

Tensions on Capitol Hill Driven by Spending Limits

October 14, 2013

Two weeks into a government shutdown, and only a few short days from reaching the federal debt ceiling, negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the White House have gone nowhere. But the debate is not primarily about defunding or delaying the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) anymore. In fact, Democrats seem to have co-opted the fight so they can argue against their greatest nemesis of late: sequestration.

With negotiations in the House of Representatives stalled, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell entered the arena last week to work out a deal. But though the negotiations are allegedly more productive in the Senate than the House, reports suggest they hit a roadblock this week over the spending level at which the government would be funded when it reopens. Democrats are insisting on higher spending levels, even as Senate Republicans have dropped most of their other demands. Meanwhile, Republicans would like to maintain the spending levels set after sequestration last year. (In the interest of full disclosure, Reid has denied that he wants to increase spending levels in this bill. Other Democratic leaders apparently disagree.)

First, some background. (You can find this information and many other details in a New America Foundation issue brief published in April, Federal Education Budget Update: Fiscal Year 2013 Recap and Fiscal Year 2014 Early Analysis.)

Sequestration, as we’ve written before, was the result of a 2011 law, the Budget Control Act (BCA). The BCA required a congressional “supercommittee” to hunt down and pass through Congress $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.

When the supercommittee inevitably failed, though, there was a failsafe in place. $1.2 trillion of that deficit reduction would be guaranteed through spending caps – and to a lesser extent, reductions in non-appropriations, or “mandatory” funding – enforced by sequestration. In fiscal year 2013, discretionary spending was cut midyear from $1.043 trillion overall to $984 billion through a sequester, which amounted to a 5.0 percent cut for most domestic programs, including most federal education programs. And, in fact, the cut should have been deeper (about 8.2 percent), but Congress (Democrats and Republicans) reached a last-minute agreement to push off some of the cuts to the following year. That means in fiscal year 2014, the spending limits is now $966 billion, lower than in 2013, but has not yet been enforced by sequestration.

However, throughout the start of the fiscal year 2014 budget process, the Senate has ignored that spending limit, despite voting for it in early January, arguing that enough deficit reduction has occurred and the harm to key federal programs does not justify the further costs. Instead, the Senate Democrats’ budget appropriated spending at the pre-sequester $1.058 trillion level, and the White House acted similarly to appropriate at $1.057 trillion in its fiscal year 2014 budget.

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So what does this all mean for the ongoing shutdown/debt ceiling negotiations?  Well, just as House Speaker John Boehner attempted to make Obamacare his last stand, Senator Reid has apparently made the higher, $1.058 trillion spending limit his last stand.

Both the House Republican and Senate Democratic temporary spending bills, as they were first introduced, continued appropriations at the fiscal year 2013 post-sequester level of about $986 billion. That funding level, however, exceeds the cap in place for 2014 and would trigger a second sequester in 2014, and neither the House or Senate bill included a provision to turn that off, ensuring that the further $18 billion in cuts owed to the Budget Control Act would come automatically in early 2014.

So it’s odd for Senator Reid to now insist on a higher spending level that restores all sequestration cuts – especially given that he didn’t insist on that when the Senate voted to lower the 2014 spending capin early 2013, or when he penned his own continuing appropriations bill a few weeks ago. In effect, this weekend he came out against his own temporary spending bill of a few weeks ago and a “bipartisan compromise” bill that his chamber passed that further reduced spending caps in 2014.

This is all another sign of the tensions in Washington that make any deal difficult. We’ve been writing for months that House Republicans and Senate Democrats are so far apart on spending limits, opportunities for compromise seemed virtually nonexistent. And indeed, those differences in top-level spending amounts have come back to haunt members of Congress in the current debate. Meanwhile, about 500,000 federal employees remain furloughed, along with thousands of contractors; schools and students remain uncertain about their status; Head Start programs are struggling to remain open; federal loans are frozen; and federally funded museums, monuments, and parks are closed. 

Tired of Federal Gridlock? Take a Look at Education Reform in the States

October 14, 2013

As the government shutdown continues (with no end yet visible), it’s easy—and wholly understandable—to get cynical. If we can’t manage basic stuff like funding the federal government, it’s hard to expect any sort of meaningful, exciting, education (or otherwise) policy reforms. In times like these, it’s good to keep an eye on the states.

So, if you’re looking for evidence for the potential of new education policy reforms, take a look at the National Governors Association’s recent report, “A Governor’s Guide to Early Literacy: Getting All Students Reading By Third Grade.”

Zero Education Debt: The Promise of Income Share Agreements

October 8, 2013
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Last Friday, the New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program, in partnership with the Lumina Foundation, hosted a “Zero Education Debt” event. Panelists looked at the concept of Income Share Agreements (ISA), a new financial vehicle in which a student completes school with no loans and no debt, but instead agrees to pay an investor (or the government) back a set share of his income for a set number of years.

We started off the event with comments from Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation. Merisotis helped contextualize the topic with a much larger question: how to provide students with access to a high quality, low cost education. New America’s Alex Holt then presented a theoretical framework of Income Share Agreements and where they fit into the existing higher education financial system.

Panel One: Implementing Income Share Agreements

Our first panel focused on practitioners – people who are attempting to implement these plans. The panelists included people implementing plans both in the private market and also via the government. The discussion was lively, with John Burbank, Executive Director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, defending the proposed Oregon Pay It Forward program that he helped to develop. That plan would be a publicly funded one – the first in the U.S.

Others on the panel discussed alternate arrangements for private Income Share Agreements. We had representatives from the major existing private ISA providers: Dave Girouard of Upstart; Tonio DeSorrento, formerly of Pave; Miguel Palacios of Lumni; and Gordon Taylor of 13th Avenue Funding.

Panel Two: Are Income Share Agreements Viable?

The second panel, moderated by Zakiya Smith of the Lumina Foundation, had a more focused policy perspective. Michelle Asha Cooper of the Institute for Higher Education Policy started the session off with a healthy dose of skepticism towards these plans, pointing out that the higher education policy community tends to “become fixated on the next big thing” and offering some concerns of some unintended consequences.

Miguel Palacios, professor at Vanderbilt and cofounder of Lumni, and Alex Holt of the New America Foundation both had a more optimistic outlook towards ISAs, arguing their potential to inject consumer certainty and price signaling into the higher education market. Rohit Chopra of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau added the unique perspective of a regulator in the space, asking some very useful questions for the audience and the panel to think over.

Given the lively debate from the panels and terrific questions from the audience, we hope this will be the first of many discussions on the topic of Income Share Agreements. Check back with the New America Foundation’s Ed Money Watch and Higher Ed Watch blogs as the debate continues.

House Republicans Fight to Keep Loophole in For-Profit Colleges’ 90/10 Rule

October 7, 2013

Update 10/15/2013 2 PM: This post was edited to reflect that the proposed reform would include Tuition Assistance in the 90 percent calculation, not the 10 percent.

Congress failed to reach an agreement on funding the government for fiscal year 2014, which began on October 1, 2013, shutting down the federal government. That high-stakes budget battle has overshadowed a different disagreement between the House and Senate that could have a big effect on education benefits for members of the military – and for-profit colleges.  

The disagreement is on the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, one of the annual bills that funds the DOD. The House passed the bill back in July and sent it to the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bill on August 2 – but included a change to an existing test for colleges called the 90/10 rule.

The 90/10 rule states that private for-profit colleges must get at least 10 percent of their total revenue from non-federal sources, namely tuition collected from the student or his family. Failure to do so can result in losing access to Title IV funds. The 90 percent includes federal Title IV aid – Pell Grants, federal student loans, and more. It does not include nearly $12 billion spent annually on servicemembers’ and veterans’ education benefits through the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), nor does it include more than $25 billion annually lost to tax expenditures.

The new proposed language in the DOD fiscal year 2014 bill would change some of those exclusions. Military education assistance for spouses of servicemembers or off-duty training and education for servicemembers themselves would be included in the 90 percent calculation. Additionally, for-profit colleges couldn’t use any of that Tuition Assistance (DOD) funding to advertise, recruit, or market to students.

All in all, the provision is pretty limited. The Department of Defense spends only about $517 million per year on these benefits, a small share of the DoD budget or even of federal higher education funding. VA benefits, the much larger pot of money that includes the Post-9/11 GI Bill, among other education provisions, would not be affected by the new NDAA provision.

And because there are no publicly available data that provide the institution-level breakdown of the dollar amount of DOD and VA benefits spent, it’s impossible to know exactly how many schools might be affected. A paper published by financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz this summer used national averages to estimate that adding in DOD and VA benefits would add about 2 percentage points to a school’s 90/10 amount (for example, a school that received 88 percent of benefits from federal Title IV sources under the current system would receive 90 percent when military benefits were added in. Click here to search for a school and see its 90/10 percentage, alongside other data).Those effects could be more or less severe, depending on the school’s reliance on military student benefits.

Kantrowitz also suggested the effects of banning the use of federal money for marketing would be far more drastic. Since the largest for-profit schools spend about 20 percent of their total revenue on advertising and recruitment, he argues it would effectively increase the threshold for schools to 80/20. Again, though, the largest for-profit schools may not be a good sample to judge the effects on all schools subject to 90/10 – for some schools, it could be far less than 20 percent, or for some schools, even more.

Last week, four Republican members of the House – John Kline, Chair of the Education and Workforce Committee; Jeff Miller, Chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee; Buck McKeon, chair of the Armed Services Committee; and Bill Flores, chair of the Economic Opportunity Subcommittee on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee – sent a letter to key members of the House Appropriations Committee disparaging the Senate provisions. They asked that the new restrictions be removed before the defense appropriations bill passes the House again.

Their reasoning?

The marketing provision implies schools are “preying” on unsuspecting members of the military and their families, and the 90/10 rule is both unproductive and unable to account for the fundamental differences between Title IV and military education benefits.

They aren’t the first to suggest concerns with the 90/10 rule, writ large. The rule is intended as a kind of rough, imperfect metric of quality – schools that aren’t able to garner at least 10 percent of revenue from non-federal sources have presumably been labeled by the market as not worth paying for. But it can have other, unintended effects, mainly discouraging schools from serving low-income students or compelling them to raise tuition. Since the 90/10 rule includes no measure of outcomes or of how well the school serves those students, it may just be leading to the exclusion of students who can’t contribute the school’s 10 percent of non-federal revenue. (Incidentally, better data in the form of a student unit record data system could allow for better quality measures and make the 90/10 rule irrelevant.)

But including military benefits within the 90/10 rule is a no-brainer, whether or not the rule is revised to avoid these unintended consequences or to incorporate additional quality measures. The question at hand is whether students and families are willing to shell out for a particular school at which many students receive federal aid – at least 10 percent of the school’s total fiscal intake. DOD and VA benefits, as federal benefits for students, fall squarely on the 90 percent side of the equation. Failing to include them creates a perfect loophole for exploitation of servicemembers and veterans by schools that can’t otherwise meet a basic financial test.

The Federal Education Budget Project, Ed Money Watch’s parent initiative, maintains a comprehensive database that includes data on the 90/10 rule for all institutions of higher education subject to the rule, as well as other cost, finance, demographics, and outcomes data. Click here to search for your school or here to download the institution-level research file.

Amid Financial Collapse Detroit Builds a Promising Early Learning Model

October 7, 2013
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This guest post was written by Paul Nyhan, a journalist and early education expert. He writes about early education at Thrive by Five Washington.

In the next few months, guest blogger Paul Nyhan will provide a window onto four places around the country where federal grant programs, including Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, the Social Innovation Fund, Investing in Innovation, and Promise Neighborhoods, are triggering changes in early childhood systems. In this post, the second in Nyhan’s series, he explores how Detroit is using a Social Innovation Fund grant to help improve early learning. The first post in the series was "Washington Races Forward In First Year of its Early Learning Challenge Grant."

Detroit may be bankrupt, but it is also home to an early learning model that was promising enough to win a Social Innovation Fund grant in 2011 to figure out just how effective it is.

It began five years ago, when the United Way for Southeastern Michigan started building its Early Learning Communities platform. The intent was to nearly double the percentage of low-income children ready for kindergarten in Detroit. But the effort had been slowed by challenges documenting which parts worked and by a lack of money to pay for expansion.

Then two years ago the group won a $4 million Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant to do both. The grant allowed the United Way to be a middleman and a mentor. It started by awarding smaller grants to 11 non-profits that formed a web of nearly every aspect of early learning in the city, from family, friend, and neighbor child care to nutritional counseling. Then it helped these groups develop tools to measure, evaluate, and replicate what they were doing.

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