January 29, 2009
College and university endowments plunged an average of 23 percent between July 1 and November 30 in 2008, with many sustaining further losses since then. While almost everyone who's been reading higher education news or attending college knows that endowments have dropped, the depth and the breadth of the damage has largely been left to the realm of speculation.
Endowment losses had become a hot topic at some schools, including the one my youngest sister attends, even before the release of this study. Undergraduate students previously unaware that colleges even have investments are worrying about the (admittedly slim) chance of their schools' investment funds disappearing, taking their scholarships, their degree programs, or their favorite instructors with them. While such drastic cuts have not been made, schools are facing very real struggles to preserve their staff, their services, and their endowments in the face of a still-deepening recession.
The extent of losses varies, as does the extent of reactions to losses. Several universities have instituted hiring freezes, while others have resorted to layoffs or mandatory unpaid furloughs. Brandeis University and the University of Pennsylvania have both made unpopular moves to cut budgets. Penn has done so by cutting 18 campus museum staff positions, and Brandeis has announced plans to close the institution's art museum entirely and sell its collection. Some state universities battling shrinking endowments and drastic cuts to state funds have been forced to look at double-digit tuition increases.
Still other schools are making almost opposite responses. Some institutions are looking into freezing tuition or increasing it by small amounts, such as Princeton University, which has announced a tuition increase of only 2.9 percent for 2009-2010. Others are hiring new faculty as planned or launching additional searches, hoping to attract stronger talent. Many schools are also increasing student financial aid to help families hit hard by the recession. Even schools making budget cuts are reluctant to touch financial aid, recognizing its importance. However, fears remain that students who need money for college may be unable to find it from their schools. Whether these fears are justified remains to be seen, though many hope that the proposed economic stimulus package will allow schools to continue to fully fund or even expand essential programs.
March 12, 2009
More students are completing the FAFSA early for 2009-2010 according to data collected by the Department of Education. By the end of February, more than 3 million students had filed their FAFSA for the next academic year, an increase of over 20 percent from the first two months of 2008. As application deadlines approach, this flood of applications could slow, but right now it looks like there will be more demand for financial aid in the coming school year.
Federal student financial aid is becoming an increasingly attractive means of paying for college. For starters, federal aid is up for 2009-2010--in the case of Federal Pell Grants, way up. A combination of factors has boosted maximum grants to $5,350 in 2009-2010, while simultaneously raising the minimum award to $976 and the maximum qualifying Expected Family Contribution to $4,671. Low interest rates and expanded federal loan cancellation and consolidation options are also making federal student loans more appealing.
Meanwhile, several other payment options aren't doing so well. Private loans became harder to obtain in 2008, and also saw fairly substantial interest rate increases. College savings plans, such as 529 plans, took big hits in the stock market, and even some prepaid tuition plans are struggling to guarantee payouts for upcoming years. College endowments have also been affected by financial troubles, and some endowed scholarships may be reduced or unavailable for the coming academic year.
However, this doesn't mean the FAFSA is the only option for student financial aid. Most states are maintaining funding for their scholarship programs, many colleges are increasing aid where possible, and scholarship opportunities are still out there--though many deadlines are approaching--for students who are willing and able to take the time to do a scholarship search and complete some scholarship applications.
March 26, 2010
It would seem there are a substantial number of students in California that are relying on local community colleges to provide them with the education they need. Fortunately for them, nearly all of California’s community colleges are willing to dip into their reserves to enroll these unfunded students. Still, though, many of these schools have waiting lists in the thousands as the price of higher education rises and there just aren’t enough paid-for chairs to go around.
Of course, this also raises the issue of whether the number of students being added to the classrooms will have a detrimental impact on the quality of education students can expect to receive at one of these colleges. For example, College of the Sequoias has increased their average class size by about 20% (from 26 to 31 students per class) in addition to using almost $2 million from its reserves to accommodate some students who would probably have had to wait until next year (perhaps longer) to enter college otherwise and whose prospects of employment would not have been very good, either.
With unemployment as high as 18% in the surrounding region, College of the Sequoias’ president Bill Scroggins feels it is his duty to do all he can to make sure as many of these folks as possible have the opportunity to receive a post-secondary education. In Mt. San Jacinto College’s immediate surroundings the unemployment rate is at 15% and, consequently, more than 25% of its students are unfunded. While these schools have not yet furloughed faculty or cut their pay, many other budgetary cuts have been made, such as eliminating travel and conference budgets. Clearly these are short-term solutions and a more permanent solution will need to be found, but at least some of the unfunded students are being taken-in and given an opportunity to get the education they will need in order to work toward their desired career.
Apparently, while California’s economy is running at a high deficit, there are these small bastions of efficient colleges who managed to put away some of their assets for a few years’ worth of rainy days. Hopefully the economy that surrounds them will turn around before their reserves are depleted and the would-be students in the surrounding communities find themselves entirely dependent upon state and federal funding.
March 30, 2010
A new survey looking at entering community college students' opinions on the obstacles they face during their first year found that those students need more guidance to succeed as they transition from high school to higher education.
The study, released yesterday, was the ongoing Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE), which was first given to poll students in 2006. Since then, more than 91,000 students have been polled, with the results used by community colleges to improve preparedness programs and tactics to help new students achieve. The survey this time around looked at data from more than 50,000 students at 120 participating community colleges in 31 states and the Marshall Islands.
The survey looks to examine the first three weeks of new community college students' experiences at their respective colleges. Most of the respondents felt their colleges were doing a good job with the welcome wagons, and making them feel comfortable in their new surroundings. But others still felt more could be done to help them prepare for college, and to navigate administrative processes that seemed complicated at times. The findings included the following:
According to an analysis of the survey from Inside Higher Ed yesterday, the results point to the missed opportunities that face students and administrators on a daily basis on community college campuses. When students were asked to elaborate on their answers using short answers, some said they were forced to make decisions on choosing college courses, for example, with little guidance from their counselors, something they could well enough do on their own. The article also pointed to contradictions in the study; for example, students responded that they enjoyed the access they had to college staff members, but still felt unprepared to navigate college processes.
The providers of the survey suggest more needs to be done to engage students, and that administrators should take regular looks at their processes to make them even more easy to access by students who may need more help as first-year community college students.
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