Four Things to Know about the Administration’s College Scorecard

The Obama Administration released its long-awaited college scorecard on Saturday. The scorecard is a departure from the Administration’s original plan to create a college ratings system, which received widespread concern from the higher education community when announced in 2013. The original plan sought to link colleges’ federal financial aid eligibility to their ratings over time.

Many higher education groups support the purposes motivating the scorecard—transparency as students and families consider their higher education options. But these groups also are concerned that the scorecard, as released on Saturday, does not paint an accurate nor holistic picture of college costs, quality, and earnings of graduates once in the workforce.

Here are four key points to know about the college scorecard:

There are no rankings. Colleges and universities are not ranked by their results on the scorecard. Rather, individuals can search by programs or degrees, location, size, an institution’s name, and the type of school, specialized mission, and/or religious affiliation.

There is a lot of data. The scorecard includes both a transparency tool for Title IV eligible students and a more in-depth dataset for analysts. Prospective students can view the average annual net cost of a college or university, its graduation rate, the average salary after attending, the percentage of students paying down their debt, typical monthly loan payment, demographic information on the student body, average standardized test scores for admitted students, and the institution’s most popular degree programs.

There is a fair amount of controversy over the data. The higher education community has voiced concern over some of the data sources and their reliability. Some metrics are limited due to the fact that they only track federal financial aid recipients.

Some specific examples of concern include:

  • The average annual cost reflects the net cost for federal financial aid recipients only, leaving out data for students that are ineligible for federal financial aid.
  • The graduation rate metric reflects only the six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students. No metric is provided for transfer students, part-time students, or students returning to school for the second time.
  • The salary-after-attending metric (measured after 10 years of entering the school) reflects only the median earnings of former students that received federal financial aid. There is a reason for this metric being limited: the current Higher Education Act prohibits the Department of Education from tracking data on all students—but higher education groups, such as the Association of Public Land-grant Universities (APLU), have publicly pushed for the creation of a student-level data system that would permit a more reliable metric to be established. Regardless, further critique over this metric is that reporting institutional wage data rather than wage data from individual programs/majors provides a highly misleading statistic.

Significant controversy exists, too, in the access and use of Internal Revenue Service personal data by the Department of Education.

Further changes are coming. While several higher education groups have cited a lack of transparency and external participation in the scorecard creation and review process, there seems to be some willingness to collaborate by the Department of Education on future changes to the scorecard. APLU has announced that the Department has publicly committed to include a link to the Student Achievement Measure (SAM) data as soon as practical—which will provide prospective students with data on progression and graduation outcomes for all students rather than a limited population. Schools will also have the option in the future to include a URL to their own metrics for inclusion in the scorecard.

The college scorecard certainly presents an additional resource for prospective students in their decision-making process. Understanding the limitations of the data, however, is key. It appears that more comprehensive information may be available in the future.

You can view the current scorecard here.

U.S. Senators Zero In on Higher Education Regulatory Costs

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, has committed to finishing a rewrite of the Higher Education Act by the end of 2015, vocalizing strong support of a plan backed by colleges and universities that would reduce the burden of federal regulation on higher education.

At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Vanderbilt University President Nicholas Zeppos said that complying with current federal rules and regulations cost his university nearly $150 million each year, or 11 percent of the university’s total non-hospital expenditures.

That figure comes from a new report illustrating the “jungle of red tape” American colleges and universities operate within.  The study was commissioned by Sen. Alexander along with Sens. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) and reinforces Sen. Alexander’s optimism that there will be a bipartisan effort to shape the act’s reauthorization to benefit both higher education and the taxpayer by providing appropriate, but not excessive, oversight.

Legislators plan to use the report as a “blueprint” to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

“I have talked with Secretary Duncan more than once about this effort, and he is eager to do his part to solve the problem. I look forward to working with him and with the President on eliminating unnecessary red tape, saving students money, and removing unnecessary regulatory obstacles to innovation in the best system of higher education in the world,” Alexander stated.

President Obama on Higher Education

Last night, President Obama delivered his State of the Union Address to the nation.  As anticipated, the President proposed several higher education initiatives as part of his domestic agenda, referred to throughout the Address as his “middle-class economics” plan.

Here are some of the President’s proposals that relate to higher education:

Free community college
The President proposed eliminating tuition for community college for students who attend at least half-time and maintain a 2.5 GPA.  If passed by Congress, the proposal is estimated to cost $60 billion over the next decade.  More here.

Tax code changes
The President is proposing a number of changes to the tax code.  Those specifically related to higher education include the consolidation of tax benefits through a streamlined, permanent American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) that would adjust with inflation.  Under current law, the AOTC is scheduled to expire after 2017.  This change would consolidate the Lifetime Learning Credit and the tuition and fees deduction into the AOTC and increase the refundable portion of the AOTC to $1,500.  Additionally, the proposal expands access to AOTC eligibility to part-time students and increases the number of years that families can claim the AOTC credit from four to five.  The President’s plan also calls for exempting Pell Grants from taxation and the AOTC calculation.

President Obama called for the consolidation of education savings incentives— redirecting those savings to increase the AOTC.  Specifically, the President’s plan rolls back tax cuts for 529 education savings plans that were enacted in 2001 for new contributions.  He also called for repealing tax incentives going forward for the Coverdell education savings program.

Other tax code items in the State of the Union that relate to higher education include:

  • Eliminating taxes on student loan debt forgiveness under Pay-As-You-Earn and other income-based repayment plans.  Currently, borrowers who choose to repay their student loans with Pay-As-You-Earn may face a tax bill when they qualify for debt forgiveness after twenty years of repayments.  The President’s plan proposes eliminating taxes on student loan debt forgiveness under Pay-As-You-Earn.  The Pay-As-You-Earn program essentially limits student loan payments to no more than 10 percent of discretionary income and provides qualification for loan forgiveness after 20 years.
  • Repealing the student loan interest deduction for new borrowers.  The President’s plan repeals the student loan interest deduction for new borrowers only—maintaining the deduction for current borrowers.  According to the White House, the deduction “provides very limited assistance ($100 on average) to a broad group of borrowers,” and many eligible borrowers fail to claim it.  The President’s plan would direct savings from this proposal to his proposed increased American Opportunity Tax Credit.

The Tennessee Delegation Responds

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions issued the following statement:

“Unfortunately, much of what I heard from President Obama tonight are partisan proposals that don’t have any chance of becoming law – and that he intends to pursue despite the message the American people sent him in November by electing a Republican Congress.  We need to hear more about proposals that Congress might actually work on with the president: to expand free trade so we can sell more Tennessee products overseas, simplify student aid forms so more community college students can take advantage of Tennessee Promise, preventing cyberattacks and fixing No Child Left Behind.  I’d like to hear talk more about 21st-century cures, helping to get treatments, medical devices and medicines through the U.S. Food and Drug administration more rapidly, which would help virtually all Americans. This is something that both Republicans in Congress and the president believe is important.”

Republican Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated:

“Tennesseans are ready for both the Congress and the White House to govern responsibly and finally focus on growing our economy, repairing our fiscal house and strengthening our nation’s role in the world. It is my hope the President will recognize that the only way to solve some of the big issues we face and create a stronger, more prosperous nation for future generations is to roll up his sleeves, provide leadership and work with this new Congress. If he does that, I think we can begin to deliver real, long-lasting results for hardworking American families.”

For a more comprehensive roundup of responses, click here.

White House Picks UT to Lead National Composites Manufacturing Institute

Watch the announcement by clicking play on the video below.

President Obama will announce today that the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will lead the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, or IACMI, a $259 million public-private partnership. The Institute reflects a $70 million commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy and $189 million from IACMI’s partners.

Supported by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, IACMI joins four other institutes backed by the Obama administration in a recent push to accelerate advanced manufacturing.

The selected team, a 122-member consortium, connects the world’s leading manufacturers across the supply chain with universities and national laboratories pioneering advanced composites technology development and research.

Established as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) in Tennessee by the UT Research Foundation, IACMI has received a $15 million commitment from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development as part of an effort to facilitate breakthroughs in manufacturing and materials.

“This project places the university and its partners in a unique position to strengthen Tennessee’s economy,” said UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. “We are very honored to have been selected for this role in shaping the future of composites manufacturing through IACMI. This will build upon our deep collaborations with our consortium partners and spark innovation and growth within our nation’s industries.”

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President Obama Unveils Free Community College Proposal

President Obama announced last night on social media his plan to make community college free for “everybody who is willing to work for it.”  The plan, named “America’s College Promise,” is largely inspired by the Tennessee Promise passed last session and proposed by Governor Bill Haslam.  The President will be making a formal announcement regarding the proposal today at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee.

To become law, the plan would have to win Congressional approval.  The estimated cost, according to Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz, is roughly $60-billion over ten years.

The White House has stated that if all states participate, an estimated 9 million students could benefit.  A full-time community college student could save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year if they attend at least half-time and maintain a 2.5 GPA.

Under President Obama’s proposal, federal funding would cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college. States that choose to participate would be expected to contribute the remaining funds necessary to eliminate community college tuition for eligible students. States that already invest more and charge students less could make smaller contributions, though all participating states would be required to put up some matching funds. States would also be required to continue existing investments in higher education; coordinate high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions to reduce the need for remediation and repeated courses; and allocate a significant portion of funding based on performance, not enrollment alone (performance-based funding was enacted in Tennessee in 2010).

States will have flexibility to use some resources to expand quality community college offerings, improve affordability at four-year public universities, and improve college readiness, through outreach and early intervention.

For more information, you can view the White House Fact Sheet here.

To watch the President’s announcement today at 1:20 p.m. EST, click here.