Blog (Kelchen on Education)

Colleges Must Set Coronavirus Thresholds for the Fall

“Data determines dates.”—New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, seemingly every day since April.

As a New Jersey resident, I have grown accustomed to the governor making this point during most of his coronavirus press conferences. While I am happy that New Jersey is one of the few states in the country that has the virus under reasonable control at the moment (it was wonderful to get a professional haircut this week!), many state residents are frustrated that the governor has been less than transparent regarding the data points used to support reopening.

This finally changed yesterday when the governors of New York and Connecticut joined New Jersey in putting a 14-day (voluntary) quarantine in place for travelers from states where the coronavirus is deemed to be out of control. This is based on two data points: 10 positive tests per 100,000 residents and a 10% test positivity rate averaged over the last seven days. The governors have promised to update this list as conditions change across the country (assuming that states actually continue testing), and currently eight states are subject to the quarantine. If this continues, this creates more havoc for colleges looking to bring back students from other parts of the country.

Colleges desperately need to adopt this type of data-driven approach when planning for the fall. Most colleges are committed to having at least some classes on campus come August or September, and cases are spiking on some campuses during the summer. Nearly all colleges shut down on-campus operations in the spring before they even had a confirmed case on campus, and it is clear that many colleges at this point are comfortable tolerating at least some cases on campus. (The level of comfort in the fall will likely depend on whether colleges can get liability waivers from the state or federal governments, and colleges are pushing hard for that protection.)

If I was a college president, I would be crafting a plan that tied on-campus operations to data on coronavirus cases among the college community and in the surrounding area. Some of the metrics would include:

  • Number of known cases among students and employees
  • Number of known cases in the county
  • Capacity to quarantine on-campus students
  • Available space in local hospitals (beds, ICU space, and ventilators)
  • Fatalities could be a measure, but it is probably too gruesome to include even though all deaths may be impossible to avoid

This plan needs to be worked out in conjunction with the campus community and local health authorities and the numbers must be made available to the public. For example, a college could create a plan stating that if the surrounding area has 50% of ICU beds available, campus operations will continue as planned with social distancing. If 25% of beds are available, only the most essential courses could be on campus and residence halls would be emptied. And if just 10% of beds are available, the physical campus would be closed like what happened this spring.

By publicly releasing their plans, students can make more informed decisions about their fall plans among colleges that all promising the same experience at the moment. People who are more risk tolerant and want the traditional college experience could choose colleges that are more likely to remain open in spite of a higher number of virus cases. On the other hand, people who are more concerned about their health or their family’s health could choose a college that has pledged to move online more quickly.

Allowing data to determine plans may also provide colleges with some protection against calls to close as soon as the first few cases come to campus in the fall. If the agreed-upon plan focuses on hospital capacity or serious cases, a modest number of less severe cases may not be a reason to shift all operations online.

How Much Do Private Colleges Rely on Auxiliary Revenue Sources?

In my last post, I broke down four key revenue sources that colleges typically rely on to balance their budgets. Each of the sources (tuition dollars, auxiliary revenue, state funding, and endowment/donations) is likely to take a hit during the next academic year. But auxiliary revenue from sources such as housing, dining, and other on-campus events is most at risk. Even if many classes return to campus in the fall, it will be with fewer students on campus at any given point.

These auxiliary revenues are especially important for small, residential private nonprofit colleges. These are the types of colleges that I worry will close if they cannot return as normal in the fall, and colleges that house a larger share of their students on campus are at greater risk than colleges with fewer students living on campus. Some colleges will likely try to get closer to normal housing density by allowing multiple students in a dorm room and treating them as a family unit for health purposes, but this also requires additional testing, tracing, and cleaning expenses.

To get a sense of which private nonprofit colleges rely heavily on auxiliary revenue sources, I pulled data on gross (not net) revenue from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from Fiscal Year 2018. I created a spreadsheet with total revenue, tuition revenue, auxiliary revenue, and the share of revenue from tuition and auxiliary sources. Please note that there is some ambiguity in the definition of auxiliary revenue, so some of the differences across colleges could be driven by differences in how colleges classify revenue. The figure below shows the distribution of auxiliary revenue reliance among colleges that reported any auxiliary revenue in FY18.

To provide an example, the now-closed Green Mountain College in Vermont earned $15.41 million in total revenue in FY18, with $8.78 million (57%) coming from tuition and $4.69 million (30.5%) coming from auxiliary sources such as housing and dining. Only 40 colleges received more than 30% of their revenue from auxiliary sources, and these tend to be small liberal arts colleges or religious seminaries. Most colleges with on-campus housing received between 10% and 25% of their revenue from auxiliary sources, which is still an important part of the budget but not quite as crucial as smaller colleges.

You can download the spreadsheet here.

Higher Education Finance and the Fall Semester

Over the last few weeks, colleges have taken three different tracks regarding their plans for fall operations. According to a helpful tracker from The Chronicle of Higher Education, the most popular plan is to have as many classes as possible in person in the fall. Another group of colleges, including the California State University system and a number of leading community colleges, have announced plans to mainly operate online in the fall. The final group is either waiting to make any announcement or they have said that updates will come in the next few weeks.

I made my expectations regarding the fall clear last week in a Chronicle essay, as I have a very hard time seeing more than the most essential classes operating in person in the fall due to public health and logistical concerns. But since colleges (including my own employer) are determined at this point to operate in person, I am taking a look at the landscape of higher education finance across a range of scenarios in this post.

Revenues

Colleges typically rely on a combination of four revenue sources to fund most of their operations. Some colleges also rely on research funding (which probably will be stable next year) and hospital revenues (a major concern for a small group of universities), but I am focusing on the most common sources here.

Tuition revenue: Basically all colleges have cancelled tuition increases for next year and are budgeting for providing additional scholarships for students to induce them to attend. But I’m more optimistic than many people about enrollment for the fall semester even if classes are online. When the economy is terrible, what else will students do? I do expect students to take fewer courses if classes are primarily online and shift to established online providers or local colleges, but tuition revenue may be less affected than other categories. International student enrollment—a key source of tuition dollars for large research universities like Purdue—will be disproportionately affected if colleges stay online.

Auxiliary revenue: This includes categories such as room and board, athletics, and facilities rentals. Going fully online for the fall brings this category down to zero, and even on-campus models with reduced residence hall capacity could cut auxiliary revenue in half. Big-time athletics programs may find a way to play football with no fans to salvage some revenue, but smaller colleges that rely on athletics to drive enrollment are in trouble.

State funding: A number of states, such as Missouri and New Jersey, announced cuts to the current fiscal year’s budget—which are especially painful near the end of the fiscal year. The magnitude of state budget cuts will depend on how much support the federal government provides to states, but cuts are likely to be painful nonetheless. It is also possible that some states levy additional cuts to colleges that remain online in the fall, as political pressure to reopen the campus is driving some of the current announcements.

Endowment and donations: So far, the stock market has stayed relatively strong, which is good news for endowments. But predicting endowment values six months from now is a fool’s errand with uncertainty about the future of the coronavirus as well as an impending presidential election (remember that?). Donations are likely to be driven by the economy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some donors shy away from giving if their alma mater stays online in the fall.

All of the key revenue categories that colleges rely upon will almost certainly take a substantial hit. Four-year colleges are likely to be affected the most by the loss of housing and dining revenue, while community colleges will take the biggest hit from state funding. Keep these revenue categories in mind when reading colleges’ preliminary plans for fall, as they are likely driving the announcements.

Expenses

And at the same time, expenses will increase in some key areas. Here are four main categories to consider.

Technology: Get ready to hear a lot about the hyflex course model, folks. This is a synchronous course model that allows some students to attend in person and some to attend online in a synchronous manner. It’s not necessarily a new model (I have used it in my classes on an as-needed basis for years), but the technological needs are greater when only a portion of the class is allowed to attend in person on any given day. Classrooms need cameras, perfect Internet connections, and microphones everywhere. Colleges will also need to provide home studio equipment for faculty who are quarantined or at high risk of serious harm from the virus, and those costs will add up. Computer viruses are also a major concern since technology has to work perfectly to keep students and faculty happy.

Cleaning costs and facilities changes: In-person classes will require a lot of face masks, Plexiglas, masking tape, hand sanitizer, and disinfectants. Housing and dining facilities, classrooms, libraries, and other campus spaces will require significant modifications this summer and regular cleaning. (What happens to bathrooms in residence halls?) I assume that colleges will be able to get all of the supplies that they need, but those are costs to budget for.

Testing and tracing: In a thoughtful essay in today’s Inside Higher Ed, Sen. Lamar Alexander expressed his optimism in getting 70 million K-12 and higher ed students back to school in the fall. Part of that optimism is driven by the expectation of 40 million to 50 million coronavirus tests being available every month come September. But this is not enough for frequent tests of everyone on campuses. Something like ten million students could potentially be attending classes in person in the fall, and let’s say that there are three million employees (don’t forget about adjunct faculty and cleaning staff). If colleges follow UC-San Diego’s plans to test everyone on campus once a month, that is about 13 million tests. Can higher ed get one-third to one-fourth of America’s test capacity when getting K-12 students back to the classroom is arguably more important? And can they afford to buy and administer this many tests along with contact tracing? How can colleges make time to test everyone in a rapid manner? These will be extremely difficult challenges to overcome.

Legal liability: Colleges have been hit with plenty of lawsuits from students who are unhappy about paying regular tuition rates for online courses. These lawsuits have been a nuisance at this point, but colleges are deathly afraid of lawsuits against them if someone catches the virus and becomes sick on campus. College leaders across the country have been asking for liability protection from state legislators and Washington, and it’s hard to see many colleges reopening campuses without this protection.

Colleges are in a very tough spot right now, as they have to do their best to secure their own financial health while also keeping their students, employees, and local community reasonably safe. College administrators across the country are weighing the costs of benefits of various operating scenarios under various levels of the virus. The worst-case scenario for colleges is to reopen in person in August and then have to close in September or October due to a local outbreak, but some colleges may take the chance if staying online in the fall would result in permanent closure.

Ultimately, I’m still not convinced that many colleges will be able to crack the testing nut in time to allow large numbers of students and employees on campus. I would love to be wrong, but the sheer costs of following safety procedures amid hesitance from many students and employees to return will result in most courses being online in the fall while trying to get a limited number of classes on campus that cannot be done as well online.

Some Thoughts on the Coronavirus Crisis and Higher Education

Today marks my 41st day of social distancing, and I have settled into a new normal of lots of phone and video meetings with students and colleagues, teaching via Zoom, and taking questions from a whole bunch of people about what the coronavirus crisis means for higher education. (Finishing this paragraph got put on hold to respond to some questions, but that’s the way things go right now. It’s an important part of my job!)

In my last blog post five weeks ago, I tossed out the idea of suspending federal student loan payments for a period of time. Since then, the CARES Act gave most federal borrowers a reprieve on their payments through September 30 along with providing emergency aid to students and colleges. The formula heavily favors full-time students and the Department of Education’s follow-up guidance excludes international students and makes it hard for students who did not file the FAFSA to get funds right now, but it at least helps many students and colleges in the short run.

Here are some of my thoughts about what the coronavirus crisis means for higher education, based in part by some of the frequently asked questions that I receive.

(1) When will higher ed reopen? I’m not that kind of doctor. Most colleges are planning for summer classes to be held online, and a number of colleges have started to announce plans for the fall semester. But behind all of the public announcements, colleges are preparing for situations ranging from business as usual in September to a fully remote 2020-21 academic year. Colleges will not be able to operate in person without the approval of public health officials and/or governors, but I expect colleges to be cautious in their actions. It’s easy to say they will operate in person now, but the first college to announce firm fall 2020 plans will face additional scrutiny.

(2) What does this mean for institutional finances? As I told NPR earlier this week, “the math is not pretty.” Colleges rely on four main buckets of revenue: tuition revenue, state funding (public colleges), auxiliary enterprises such as food service and facilities rentals, and gifts/endowment disbursements (which are small at most colleges). Each of these buckets is at significant risk, and colleges are planning for reductions in revenue of at least 10% and potentially as much as 50% for the next academic year. Colleges have already brought hiring to a near-halt and many are implementing pay freezes and furloughs. I think that all employees should be bracing for a 10%-15% pay cut for the next two years, and colleges are thinking about how to maintain financial liquidity during these difficult times.

(3) Will students attend college? This is the big question right now. There is a lot of conversation about students taking ‘gap years’ to do something other than attend college online, but I’m skeptical that most students will follow through. Think about what the alternative is to attending college—it’s trying to get a job without having a college credential in a lousy labor market. This may be a popular thing to talk about in the New York Times, but the lack of better alternatives will lead many people to decide to attend college.

(4) What types of colleges deserve more attention right now? Not Harvard or anyone else with a multi-billion dollar endowment, please. It’s nice that they decided to give back their CARES Act allotment along with some other super-wealthy colleges, but let’s focus on where most students actually attend. Community colleges and online-focused institutions are probably best positioned to enroll more students, especially returning adult students that don’t even get mentioned in media coverage. I worry the most about expensive private colleges in rural areas and historically black colleges, as they face the double whammy of price-sensitive students and concerns about traveling far away from home. Public universities that rely heavily on out-of-state and international students also face a financial reckoning (the University of Michigan system anticipates a loss of up to one billion dollars), but they will end up surviving.

Finally, let’s not forget about certificate-granting institutions right now. Inside Higher Ed ran a piece today on beauty schools and barber colleges today, and based on reader comments, it seems like some people just learned that these are actual postsecondary institutions that can receive federal financial aid. (While I’m grateful for my wife giving me an acceptable quaran-cut, I miss my barber!) I have also had the pleasure of visiting certificate programs in fields such as culinary arts and truck repair, and these programs will be important to upskill people in a short period of time. Earnings from some of these programs are not great, but they are likely better than the alternative during a deep recession.

It’s Time to Suspend Federal Student Loan Payments

It is hard to believe that higher education was essentially functioning normally just two weeks ago. Then the novel coronavirus started to make itself known, with travel being suspended, in-person classes being suspended and then moved completely online, and now all on-campus operations are quickly grinding to a complete halt. Much of the American economy is also grinding to a halt thanks to social distancing practices and restrictions on certain sectors of the economy.

This sudden recession (depression?) has placed higher education under an incredible amount of strain, although our industry is far better off in the short term than many other service industries. This has also resulted in a number of proposed economic stimulus packages and other ideas to keep the economy moving. President Trump’s current higher education-related proposal is to unilaterally waive interest on student loan payments. But since this does not actually reduce payments (instead just allowing people to pay down more principal), the economic benefits of the proposal are likely to be zero if this plan survives potential legal challenges.

If the federal government wants to provide economic relief for millions of Americans who will likely be struggling with their student loan payments (or getting into income-driven repayment) over the next several months, my recommendation is relatively straightforward. Congress should seriously consider passing legislation to suspend all federal student loan payments for a period of six to twelve months. Just like the coronavirus is freezing the economy, freezing student loan payments would give Americans a chance to recover before either resuming normal payments or going onto income-driven repayment plans. A six-month halt would also give people time to navigate the complicated income-driven repayment system, which is likely to be overwhelmed in the short term.

To explain how this would work, consider a student with $15,000 in debt and six years of payments remaining. In the case of a six-month pause, the student would still have $15,000 in debt and six years of payments six months from now. Since this plan would not directly forgive any student loans, the taxpayer burden would be relatively small in the long term. The only cost would be that more struggling borrowers would enroll in income-driven repayment plans. I also would not count this six-month pause toward the required number of payments for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, as no payments would be made.

Hitting the pause button on student loans could be a good way to get more money in the hands of Americans in the short term while not resulting in a massive forgiveness of student debt. It is an idea worth serious consideration at this point.

A Few Thoughts after Teaching Online

On a typical Sunday evening in the middle of March, I am putting the finishing touches on my annual Net Price Madness bracket based on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Needless to say, that went out the window last week after the tournament was cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The virus has had a major impact on higher education, with seemingly most colleges suspending in-person operations on short notice. I’m also increasingly concerned about the financial implications of these closures for colleges, students, and employees alike.

As a department chair for this academic year, the resulting chaos in helping to make sure all classes can continue to operate while also taking care of a regular schedule of meetings and dissertation defenses made this the craziest week in my seven years as a faculty member. I also had to take my own seminar on dissertation writing online on both Saturday and Sunday on short notice. I have taught a few days of class online in the past, usually if there is bad weather or I am out of town for a meeting. But taking two full days of a class online in a synchronous format is something that I had not done before, so here are a few thoughts after teaching.

(1) I am glad that I bought a Zoom license. While my university provides two free options for video courses (Microsoft Teams and Blackboard Collaborate), they simply don’t match the ease of use of Zoom. We were able to easily share screens throughout the weekend, and nobody had any problems with connectivity. It felt more like a coherent experience as a result, which is important given that I had not had any of the students in a previous class.

(2) Lecture notes become an even more important resource. I always put copies of my lecture notes on Blackboard before I teach, but that was crucial for a class held live via video. This way, I could share the notes on the screen and students could follow along easily. It also saved them from having to see my oversized face for most of the weekend, which is an enormous benefit.

(3) Flexibility is crucial. I taught a class of K-12 school and district leaders over a weekend, so I did not have to worry about anyone not having access to a computer with a webcam. (That puts me in a privileged position.) But my students kept getting calls from their districts about contingency plans while I was also getting communication from my university about next steps. Attendance policies should be out the window at this point as we do whatever we can to help students learn. I ended up changing the timing and delivery mode of the final presentation to better meet students’ needs.

(4) There will be trial and error in teaching online. I think this weekend went pretty well given everything else that went on, but I’m still pondering what types of changes to make when I teach my next eight-hour class in two weeks. If you have any recommendations on what to do, I’m all ears at this point.

(5) Take care of yourself. I know that I can’t keep up this week’s pace of work for too many weeks, as this was legitimately a 75-hour work week. So as soon as I could after classes ended, I went out for a long run (a social distance run?) on my local trails—keeping far away from any other people. I am able to mostly—if not entirely—work from home over the next few weeks, so that should help me sleep well, eat well, and be outside while maintaining plenty of social distancing.

 

What Happened to Colleges at Risk of Closing?

The issue of college closures has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, as evidenced by this recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece summarizing the growing field of researchers and organizations trying to identify colleges at risk of closure. I am one of those people, as I am working on a paper on this topic that I hope to release in the spring.

In doing my research for the paper, I stumbled upon a piece that I wrote for the Chronicle back in 2015 and completely forgot about. (The joys of writing short pieces and blog posts…sometimes I forget what I wrote about several years ago!) In that piece, titled “Where 3 Accountability Measures Meet, A Hazardous Intersection,” I used a brand-new data source from the U.S. Department of Education combined with two other existing measures to identify private nonprofit and for-profit colleges that may be at high risk of closing. The metrics were the following:

(1) Whether the college was on Heightened Cash Monitoring in the first-ever public data release in April 2015.

(2) Scored in the oversight zone or failed the financial responsibility test at least once between 2010-11 and 2012-13.

(3) Had a three-year cohort default rate above 30% (subjecting the institution to extra oversight) at least once between the 2009 and 2011 cohorts.

While 1,150 private colleges that tripped at least one of the three metrics in my 2015 analysis, 26 colleges (six private nonprofit and 20 for-profit) tripped all three metrics. Now with five years’ worth of hindsight, it’s a good time for me to look at how many of these colleges are still open. I determined whether a college was open based on if it did not appear in Federal Student Aid’s database of closed schools that is updated on a weekly basis and if there was evidence of it being open based on a Google search.

The results of my investigation are the following:

College Name (* indicates nonprofit) Status as of Feb. 2020
Academy of Healing Arts, Massage & Facial Skin Care Possibly open, but website redirected
Allen University* Open
American Broadcasting School Closed June 2018
American Indian College of the Assemblies of God* Merged with another college in 2016
Antonelli College Open
eClips School of Cosmetology and Barbering Open
Everest College Closed July 2016
Fayetteville Beauty College Closed March 2019
Florida School of Traditional Midwifery* Open
Hairmasters Institute of Cosmetology Open
Helms Career Institute* Closed December 2015
Hiwassee College* Closed May 2019
Institute of Therapeutic Massage Open
Los Angeles ORT Technical Institute* Open
Mai-trix Beauty College Possibly open, but website redirected
National Institute of Massotherapy Closed June 2017
Northwest Career College Open
Oklahoma School of Photography Closed June 2017
Omega Studios’ School of Applied Recording Arts & Sciences Open
Professional Massage Training Center Closed July 2015
South Texas Vocational Technical Institute Open
Star Career Academy Closed November 2016
Stylemasters College of Hair Design Open
Taylor Business Institute Open
Technical Career Institutes Closed September 2017
Texas Vocational School Open

To summarize, 13 of the 26 colleges that triggered all three accountability metrics in 2015 were clearly open as of February 2020, with two other colleges potentially being open but having no clear Internet presence to support their existence. One college merged with another institution, while the other ten closed between July 2015 and March 2019. Of the ten colleges that closed, two closed in 2015, two closed in 2016, three closed in 2017, one closed in 2018, and two closed in 2019.

At the suggestion of Kevin McClure of UNC-Wilmington, I added an indicator for whether a college was private nonprofit (*) after I initially posted this piece. Of the six private nonprofit colleges, three remained open, two closed, and one merged. So the closure rate was about the same across both sectors.

This quick retrospective shows mixed implications for federal accountability policies. While less than half of the colleges that the federal government identified as being of the highest risk to students and taxpayers clearly closed within five years, this closure rate (especially among for-profit colleges) does suggest some predictive power of federal accountability policies. On the other hand, half or more of the colleges remained open despite all odds. This highlights the resilient (stubborn?) nature of some small private colleges that are determined to persist and improve their performance.

Again, stay tuned later this spring for a more thorough analysis of factors associated with college closures!

Why Public Service Loan Forgiveness Should Become a Monthly Benefit

It’s safe to say that the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program for federal student loans has run into a number of obstacles over the last few years. In order to qualify for PSLF, borrowers must currently make 120 monthly payments while enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan and working for a qualified nonprofit organization. The balance of the loan is then forgiven after the PSLF application is approved. To this point, just over one percent of PSLF applications have been forgiven, although I expect that rate to increase over time as more borrowers fix paperwork issues and/or make more payments.

Setting a whole host of logistical and implementation issues aside, there are two other problems with the current PSLF program. The first is that requiring borrowers to make 120 payments while working for a qualified nonprofit can severely restrict someone’s career trajectory, as borrowers may feel trapped in their current job until their PSLF application is approved. This can also stop people from going into public service because the promise of forgiveness is too far away to be real.

The second problem is that the average amount forgiven is sizable as benefits disproportionately go to people with expensive graduate degrees. The average balance forgiven under PSLF is just over $63,000, and the average outstanding balance of people who have indicated interest in PSLF by filling out an employment certification form is nearly $90,000. Having this type of loan forgiveness increases the risk of a Republican Congress or White House killing the program entirely, as President Trump has repeatedly proposed.

One potential way to address both of these concerns is to make PSLF a monthly benefit instead of giving borrowers a lottery ticket for potentially massive loan forgiveness after ten years. I have had the pleasure of working with the Bipartisan Policy Center over the last couple of years on higher ed policy issues, and last week they released a set of 45 bipartisan proposals for Higher Education Act reauthorization. One of the proposals from their blue-ribbon panel was to turn PSLF into a benefit of $300 that borrowers would automatically receive each month for up to five years of working in public service. This would significantly limit the overall benefit that borrowers receive (a total of $18,000), but it would help borrowers manage their principal upfront while also directing more resources to students with less debt (and likely less income).

If Higher Education Act reauthorization is to move forward in Washington—and that is an enormous “if” at this point—the idea of frontloading PSLF benefits deserves serious discussion. The monthly/annual amount forgiven and the number of years of forgiveness are certainly up for debate, but the key idea of making benefits immediately tangible while limiting back-end forgiveness makes a lot of sense.

My 2020 Higher Education Finance Reading List

I am excited to teach a graduate-level class in higher education finance to my Seton Hall students for the first time since the fall of 2017. Since the field is moving quickly and the course covers a large number of topics, I don’t use a textbook for the course. (Saving students some money is also an added bonus!) I posted my reading list for the fall 2017 class, and I’m happy to be sharing the updated list for this course.

Here is the reading list I am assigning my students for the course, which is my best effort to capture the current state of knowledge in higher education finance. I teach students who are primarily administrators and practitioners, so I especially value articles that are clearly-written and explain research methods in a concise manner. I link to the final versions of the articles whenever possible, but those without access to an academic library should note that earlier versions of many of these articles are available online via a quick Google search.

 

The higher education finance landscape and data sources

Lumina Foundation video on how the federal government distributes financial aid to students: https://www.luminafoundation.org/looking-back-to-move-forward-4

Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., Saez, E., Turner, N., & Yagan, D. (2017). Mobility report cards: The role of colleges in intergenerational mobility. Working paper. (link)

Madzelan, D. (2013). The politics of student aid. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute. (link)

Schanzenbach, D. W., Bauer, L., & Breitwieser, A. (2017). Eight economic facts on higher education. Washington, DC: The Hamilton Project. (link)

Recommended data sources:

College Scorecard: https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/ (underlying data at https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/)

Equality of Opportunity Project: http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/college

IPEDS: https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/use-the-data

NCES Data Lab: https://nces.ed.gov/datalab/index.aspx

ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer: https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/

Urban Institute’s Data Explorer: https://educationdata.urban.org/data-explorer/colleges/

 

Institutional budgeting

Anguiano, M. R., & Rodriguez, J. (2017). Redesigning a budget model with a grassroots approach. Planning for Higher Education Journal, 45(3), 134-144. (link)

Barr, M.J., & McClellan, G.S. (2010). Understanding budgets. In Budgets and financial management in higher education (pp. 55-85). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. (link)

Rutherford, A., & Rabovsky, T. (2018). Does the motivation for market-based reform matter? The case of responsibility-centered management. Public Administration Review, 78(4), 626-639. (link)

Seton Hall’s FY 2018 Forms 990 and 990-T to the Internal Revenue Service: https://www.shu.edu/finance-division/index.cfm

The College of New Jersey’s FY 2018 audited financial statements: https://treasurer.tcnj.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/90/2019/03/FY-18-Audited-Financial-Statements.pdf

Credit rating reports for The College of New Jersey: https://treasurer.tcnj.edu/reports/rating-agency-reports/

Information on The College of New Jersey’s budgeting cycle: https://treasurer.tcnj.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/90/2018/09/TCNJ-Budget-timeline-Aug-2018-PDF-1.pdf

 

Policy analysis and higher education finance

DesJardins, S.L. (2001). Understanding and using efficiency and equity criteria in the study of higher education policy. In J.C. Smart & W.G. Tierney (Eds.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research, Vol. 17 (pp. 173-220). Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers. (link)

Heller, D. E. (2017). Financial aid research: The nexus of academic, practitioner, and policy work. Journal of Student Financial Aid, 47(3), 97-104. (link)

Ness, E. C. (2010). The role of information in the policy process: Implications for the examination of research utilization in higher education policy. In J. C. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research, Vol. 25 (pp. 1-49). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer. (link)

Toutkoushian, R., & Raghav, M. (forthcoming). Estimated profit: A look at the excess revenues of private four-year nonprofit postsecondary institutions. Education Finance and Policy. (link)

 

Federal sources of revenue

Bergman, P., Denning, J. T., & Manoli, D. (2019). Is information enough? The effect of information about education tax benefits on student outcomes. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 38(3), 706-731. (link)

Cellini, S. R. (2010). Financial aid and for-profit colleges: Does aid encourage entry? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 29(3), 526-552. (link)

Gibbons, M. T. (2019). Higher education R&D funding from all sources increased for the third straight year in FY 2018. Washington, DC: National Science Foundation. (link)

Kelchen, R. (2019). An empirical examination of the Bennett Hypothesis in law school prices. Economics of Education Review. doi: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2019.101915. (link)

Mok, S., & Shakin, J. (2018). Distribution of federal support for students pursuing higher education in 2016. Washington, DC: Congressional Budget Office. (link)

 

State sources of revenue

Doyle, W., & Zumeta, W. (2014). State-level responses to the access and completion challenge in the new era of austerity. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 655, 79-98. (link)

Kolbe, T., & Baker, B. (2019). Fiscal equity and America’s community colleges. The Journal of Higher Education, 90(1), 111-149. (link)

Ortagus, J. C., Kelchen, R., Rosinger, K. O., & Voorhees, N. (2019). Performance-based funding in American higher education: A systematic synthesis of the intended and unintended consequences. Working paper. (I will be able to share it soon!)

State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (2019). State higher education finance: FY 2018. Boulder, CO: Author. (link)

Webber, D. A. (2017). State divestment and tuition at public institutions. Economics of Education Review, 60, 1-4. (link)

 

Higher education expenditures

Archibald, R. B., & Feldman, D. H. (2018). Drivers of the rising price of a college education. Minneapolis, MN: Midwestern Higher Education Compact. (link)

Cheslock, J. J., & Knight, D. B. (2015). Diverging revenues, cascading expenditures, and ensuing subsidies: The unbalanced and growing financial strain of intercollegiate athletics on universities and their students. The Journal of Higher Education, 86(3), 417-447. (link)

Commonfund Institute (2018). 2018 higher education price index. Wilton, CT: Author. (link)

Hemelt, S. W., Stange, K. M., Furquim, F., Simon, A., & Sawyer, J. E. (2018). Why is math cheaper than English? Understanding cost differences in higher education. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 25314. (link)

Hurlburt, S., & McGarrah, M. (2016). Cost savings or cost shifting? The relationship between part-time contingent faculty and institutional spending. New York, NY: TIAA Institute. (link)

 

College pricing, tuition revenue, and endowments

Baum, S., & Lee, V. (2018). Understanding endowments. Washington, DC: Urban Institute. (link)

Burd, S., Fishman, R., Keane, L., & Habbert, J. (2018). Decoding the cost of college: The case for transparent financial aid award letters. Washington, DC: New America. (link)

Goldrick-Rab, S., & Kendall, N. (2016). The real price of college. New York, NY: The Century Foundation. (link)

Jaquette, O., Curs, B. R., & Posselt, J. R. (2016). Tuition rich, mission poor: Nonresident enrollment growth and the socioeconomic and racial composition of public research universities. Journal of Higher Education, 87(5), 635-673. (link)

Kramer II, D. A., Ortagus, J. C., & Lacy, T. A. (2018). Tuition-setting authority and broad-based merit aid: The effect of policy intersection on pricing strategies. Research in Higher Education, 59(4), 489-518. (link)

Ma, J., Baum, S., Pender, M., & Libassi, C. (2019). Trends in college pricing 2019. New York, NY: The College Board. (link)

 

Financial aid policies, practices, and impacts

Anderson, D. M., Broton, K. M., Goldrick-Rab, S., & Kelchen, R. (2019). Experimental evidence on the impacts of need-based financial aid: Longitudinal assessment of the Wisconsin Scholars Grant. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. doi: 10.1002/pam.22190. (link)

Baum, S., Ma, J., Pender, M., & Libassi, C. (2019). Trends in student aid 2019. New York, NY: The College Board. (link)

Bird, K., & Castleman, B. L. (2016). Here today, gone tomorrow? Investigating rates and patterns of financial aid renewal among college freshmen. Research in Higher Education, 57(4), 395-422. (link)

Nguyen, T. D., Kramer, J. W., & Evans, B. J. (2019). The effects of grant aid on student persistence and degree attainment: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the causal evidence. Review of Educational Research, 89(6), 831-874. (link)

Schudde, L., & Scott-Clayton, J. (2016). Pell Grants as performance-based scholarships? An examination of satisfactory academic progress requirements in the nation’s largest need-based aid program. Research in Higher Education, 57(8), 943-967. (link)

 

Free college

Deming, D. J. (2017). Increasing college completion with a federal higher education matching grant. Washington, DC: The Hamilton Project. (link)

Goldrick-Rab, S., & Kelly, A. P. (2016). Should community college be free? Education Next, 16(1), 54-60. (link)

Murphy, R., Scott-Clayton, J., & Wyness, G. (2017). Lessons from the end of free college in England. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution. (link)

Perna, L. W., Leigh, E. W., & Carroll, S. (2018). “Free college:” A new and improved state approach to increasing educational attainment? American Behavioral Scientist, 61(14), 1740-1756. (link)

Map of college promise/free college programs: https://ahead-penn.org/creating-knowledge/college-promise

 

Student debt and financing college

Boatman, A., Evans, B. J., & Soliz, A. (2017). Understanding loan aversion in education: Evidence from high school seniors, community college students, and adults. AERA Open, 3(1), 1-16. (link)

Gonzalez, J., Ahlman, L., & Fung, A. (2019). Student debt and the class of 2018. Oakland, CA: The Institute for College Access and Success. (link)

Houle, J. N., & Warner, C. (2017). Into the red and back to the nest? Student debt, college completion, and returning to the parental home among young adults. Sociology of Education, 90(1), 89-108. (link)

Kelchen, R., & Li. A. Y. (2017). Institutional accountability: A comparison of the predictors of student loan repayment and default rates. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 671, 202-223. (link)

Ritter, D., & Webber, D. (2019). Modern income-share agreements in postsecondary education: Features, theory, applications. Philadelphia, PA: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia Discussion Paper 19-06. (link)

Scott-Clayton, J. (2018). What accounts for gaps in student loan default, and what happens after. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Evidence Speaks Report #57. (link)

 

Returns to education

Deterding, N. M., & Pedulla, D. S. (2016). Educational authority in the “open door” marketplace: Labor market consequences of for-profit, nonprofit, and fictional educational credentials. Sociology of Education, 89(3), 155-170. (link)

Doyle, W. R., & Skinner, B. T. (2017). Does postsecondary education result in civic benefits? The Journal of Higher Education, 88(6), 863-893. (link)

Giani, M. S. (2016). Are all colleges equally equalizing? How institutional selectivity impacts socioeconomic disparities in graduates’ labor outcomes. Research in Higher Education, 39(3), 431-461. (link)

Ma, J., Pender, M., & Welch, M. (2016). Education pays 2016: The benefits of higher education for individuals and society. Washington, DC: The College Board. (link)

Webber, D. A. (2016). Are college costs worth it? How ability, major, and debt affect the returns to schooling. Economics of Education Review, 53, 296-310. (link)

 

The financial viability of higher education

Ducoff, N. (2019, December 9). Students pay the price if a college fails. So why are we protecting failing institutions? The Hechinger Report. (link)

EY-Parthenon (2018). Transitions in higher education: Safeguarding the interests of students. New York, NY: Author. (link)

Massachusetts Board of Higher Education (2019). Final report & recommendations. Transitions in higher education: Safeguarding the interest of students (THESIS). Boston, MA: Author. (link)

Sullivan, G. W., & Stergios, J. (2019). A risky proposal for private colleges: Ten reasons why the Board of Higher Education must rethink its plan. Boston, MA: Pioneer Institute. (link)

Tarrant, M., Bray, N., & Katsinas, S. (2018). The invisible colleges revisited: An empirical review. The Journal of Higher Education, 89(3), 341-367. (link)

The 2019 “Not Top Ten” List in Higher Education

Yesterday, I unveiled my seventh annual list of the top ten events in American higher education in 2019. Now it’s time for the annual list of the “not top ten” events—which are a mix of puzzling decisions and epic fails that leave most of us wondering what people were thinking. (Catch up on my previous lists here.) Enjoy the list—and I always welcome your thoughts!

(10) Fellow professors, maybe don’t stick to your day jobs. Since most full-time faculty members are on nine-month or ten-month contracts, many of us need to supplement our salaries with additional income to plug the gap. I’m fortunate to be able to do this through research grants and consulting projects that are in my areas of expertise. I’m all for professors (including Elizabeth Warren) doing this as long as it doesn’t violate faculty contracts. But keep it legal, folks. A professor with expertise in organized crime got charged with money laundering the same day as two chemistry professors got national attention for running a meth lab out of their university lab. Maybe try to find a source of outside income in a different field?

(9) Administrators, also maybe don’t stick to your day jobs. Remember Michael Cohen? In an era full of high-profile political events, it’s pretty easy to forget the person who was President Trump’s lead attorney before Rudy Giuliani. Cohen paid Liberty University’s chief information officer John Gauger between $12,000 and $13,000 to rig online polls on behalf of Trump, and this may have been less than the $50,000 he was allegedly promised. To top things off, he started a “WomenForCohen” Twitter account that barely cracked 50 followers at the time of this writing. This likely isn’t an illegal activity as long as the income was reported, and Gauger still works at Liberty. By the way, here is some of the goodness shared by that Twitter account.

(8) Micromanaging parents reach a new level. Staff, faculty, and administrators have long complained about “helicopter parents” or “snowplow parents” that try to micromanage their child’s life and get rid of any obstacles in their way. (Never mind that most of today’s students don’t have parents with this type of economic or cultural capital.) Since these parents are generally harmless to the broader campus community, a report that a marauding parent got the attention of university police got my attention. A mother sparked a campus police advisory at Towson University in February after she approached multiple women in an effort to get a date for her son. Getting a date in college is hard enough, but I doubt that getting a mother involved would increase the probability of romance.

(7) A wizarding school rented space from the College of William and Mary, but couldn’t conjure up the money to pay the bill. Colleges have worked hard in recent years to better use their facilities year-round in an effort to increase revenue. The College of William and Mary thought it had a great financial opportunity in 2017 when it signed a $110,396 contract to host a wizarding school (SACS accreditation probably not pending) for four weekends. But the fantasy camp for adults only paid $46,900 of the bill, leading the college to sue in May. The parties settled in August for $70,000, raising serious concerns about the financial viability of the wizarding world.

(6) A number of universities made mistakes in submitting rankings data, and the mistakes always seem to make them look better. U.S. News and World Report takes a lot of grief from the higher education community about its rankings, but they also perform a valuable public service by collecting data points from colleges and programs that the federal government does not. Nearly 20 colleges are currently listed on the U.S. News website for having submitted erroneous data as of late, and each data point in question improved the ranking. (A great topic for researchers or journalists to explore: How did these incorrect numbers get submitted?) As a heavy IPEDS data user, I hear about mistakes that colleges tell me about when I dig into the numbers, so interpret that self-reported dataset with appropriate caution.

(5) Pro tip: Don’t get caught in a wiretap discussing “strong-ass” offers to athletic recruits that go well beyond the cost of attendance. There is plenty of money sloshing around big-time college athletics right now, and star basketball recruits are particularly valuable because of the influence one player can have on a team’s success. This year did not bring a full resolution to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball programs, as USC received notice of NCAA allegations just last week. But the most egregious example of trying to pay college athletes under the table came from LSU coach Will Wade, who was caught on a FBI wiretap referring to an offer to a family as being “strong-ass” and “a @#%$# hell of a @#%$# offer.” Wade was suspended during the NCAA tournament last spring, but kept his job and LSU has not yet faced sanctions. Now Wade gets the full-on Burt Macklin treatment from opposing teams’ fans, which seems fair.

(4) I got blocked by Dave Ramsey on Twitter for bringing research to bear on student loan debt. I’m not exactly the most confrontational person on social media, and I have never interacted with the talk radio host who is particularly well-known in the parts of rural America that I grew up in. But I did an interview with Money magazine in April in which I noted his advice that students should avoid all educational debt by working their way through college is likely to hurt more students than it helps. Then this happened, so one of his social media folks must have been frantically blocking everyone mentioned in the piece.

I do get asked quite a bit about how much students should borrow for college, so I wrote up some of my general thoughts on the topic in a blog post. The answer varies considerably across students and credential levels, but nuance apparently doesn’t do as well on the talk radio circuit. (If you’re reading the blog post, Dave, hi and no hard feelings. I’m always happy to talk about what the research on student debt says.)

(3) Utica College stopped the publication of a list of colleges at risk of closure by threatening a lawsuit. As I wrote about yesterday, college closures have gotten a lot of attention this year. In addition to the Massachusetts effort to identify colleges at risk of closure, other researchers have been trying to work on this sensitive topic. (I hope to release a paper on factors associated with college closures next year.) The college advising company Edmit planned to release a paper predicting when individual colleges would close based on their financial characteristics. (As a disclaimer, I have done some informal advising for Edmit, with my compensation being a t-shirt.)

The report’s release was scuttled after a college sued, and this college was later publicly identified as Utica College. Yet other private-sector efforts to identify financial risks, such as the annual Forbes list of colleges’ financial health grades, have not been stopped. Forbes gave Utica a grade of “D,” while the Department of Education gave Utica a passing score on its latest financial responsibility measure. My advice to colleges: be ready to push back against lousy methodology—and I will join you in that fight. But fighting any efforts to provide financial transparency will backfire, and analysts are probably lining up now to dig into Utica’s finances.

(2) Wealthy families have been giving up guardianship of their children in an effort to game the financial aid system. State governments face many challenges in running financial aid systems. One major challenge is that since states generally have balanced budget requirements, running out of financial aid dollars before the end of the fiscal year is a real concern. At least ten states were forced to reject at least half of all eligible students due to a lack of funds, with this disproportionately affecting students planning to attend community colleges.

To make things worse, some wealthy families found a way to hack the financial aid system. By giving up guardianship of their high school juniors, parents allowed their children to become independent for financial aid purposes—thus getting far more in need-based aid from the state government. A ProPublica investigation found dozens of these cases in one suburban Chicago county, which means that dozens of students with actual financial need got squeezed out of grant aid. This may not be a widespread practice, but it’s another black eye that the admissions and financial aid communities really did not need right now.

(1) Wayne State University takes the prize as the most dysfunctional college in America. For years, my gold standard for dysfunction had been the City College of San Francisco, which was nearly shut down by its accreditor for governance squabbles between faculty and administrators (before Rep. Pelosi tried to shut down the accreditor). I have used this example when teaching about the organization and governance of higher education to show what happens when leadership is deadlocked.

Enter Wayne State. Michigan is one of the four states in which university trustees are elected by voters, and the Board of Governors has eight members (most boards at public colleges tend to have an odd number of members to avoid deadlocks). Wayne State’s board has been divided right down the middle for the last year, and absolutely nothing has gotten done. Four board members voted to fire university president Roy Wilson last month, but this did not appear to meet the quorum requirement. The pro-Wilson board chair resigned last week, and her replacement appears to also support Wilson—keeping the deadlock in place. The level of hatred between the two camps has only grown over time (as evidenced below), and the university’s accreditation could be at risk. Time to throw the entire board out and start over?

Not-so-honorable mentions (athletics division): Florida State’s athletics department photoshopped a Nike glove onto Martin Luther King, Jr. in an effort to generate social media content, Washington State’s football coach called his players “fat” and “dumb”, Indiana U of Pennsylvania forgot to bring its uniforms to a basketball road game, Alabama student calls in a bomb threat to protect a friend who was going to lose a large bet.

Not-so-honorable mentions (non-athletics division): Natty Light got lots of PR for talking about the student debt of their target demographic, interim Michigan State president John Engler resigned after he said that sexual abuse victims enjoyed the spotlight, UT-Dallas was busted for having phony academic programs, someone bought Daniel Webster College without remembering the devil is in the accreditation details, Alabama was embroiled in a messy feud with a donor, anyone who thinks most faculty make $200,000 per year for less than a full-time job (hint: they don’t).

With this post, I am stepping away from my blog for the remainder of 2019 (barring some major policy event). I will be back in early January to share the reading list for my spring 2020 higher education finance class. In the meantime, have a wonderful and restful holiday season!