Step forward, step backward

May 15, 2020

Greetings folks!

As usual, my tidings of good health and good humor. My dog Lucky and I continue to rough and tumble our way towards figuring each other out. Much as it is with the larger world, there are good days, there are trying days, there are steps forward, and there are steps backwards. But sometimes he asks for belly rubs, and he looks so silly and cute that I know we’re gonna get there. He is stubborn, like his papa…he wants to do things his way, just like his papa…and he will jump through hoops for hot dogs as long as he believes nobody is looking…just…like…his…papa.

In case you didn’t see it, Kevin Carey wrote this for the New York Times’ Upshot blog. One thing I noted is that in the last recession, state funding cuts were largely made up through tuition hikes. At that time, student debt was around $650 billion. It now exceeds $1.6 trillion. Students and families cannot finance another contraction of state funding.

SHEEO published their State of Higher Education Finances for FY2019 this week. Nationally, funding per full-time equivalent student (FTE) rose over 2018 levels, but it remained lower than funding levels seen prior to the Great Recession. The report gives a detailed look at where different states land on a host of measures. A couple of things stood out to me in terms of the California numbers.

  1. California is home to 15% of the nation’s FTE.
  2. Over the last five years, California has seen the greatest per capita funding increase in the nation (pages 53-54).
  3. California is one of just seven states that had met or exceeded pre-Great-Recession spending levels by 2019.
  4. California’s per FTE appropriation is above the US average (fig. 3.2), but when combining appropriations and net tuition revenues, California has the third-lowest dollar/FTE ratio. (fig. 2.2)
  5. This is in part because California’s net tuition per FTE revenue is the lowest in the nation, and tuition accounts for just over 20 percent of public higher education’s total revenue – the second lowest in the country (fig 2.6).
  6. California is on the higher end of the public higher ed support per capita measure (fig. 4.3)

There is a lot here, and so much more in the report! And all of it has implications for the decisions budget-makers will be considering in the coming months. It’s hard to know exactly what to make of it all, but, once again, signs point to the need for the federal government to fill what may be massive gaps. I think this is especially true here, where you consider point #6 – California taxpayers aren’t necessarily shirking their responsibilities. We want tuition to remain low to encourage students to attend, and, as noted, family/student debt cannot finance the system this time around. There is really only one source left…

Getting even nerdier, two articles from the most recent edition of the Review of Research in Education journal caught my attention. One looks at the use of quasi-experimental research designs (QED) in education. I have linked to a few articles in this vein, but this is probably a little more comprehensive than those. Remember, the gold standard way to figure out whether a program works is to randomly assign it to some students (treatment), while the other students get the business as usual (control). In medical terms, think trial drug vs placebo. For obvious reasons, that is hard to do in education. So, we look to other methods. QEDs take advantage of things out in the world that help eliminate selection bias. Sometimes things randomly happen to one neighborhood, but not to the other one right next door which is appreciably similar. In the remedial education space, a lot of studies have looked at students who were just below a cut-off and compared them to students who were just above the cut-off, because the difference of a point or two on those exams was basically statistical noise. This article goes over types of QEDs then examines the growth of this type of study in education, times when these are appropriate, and the implications for what gets studied in a world that prizes randomized control trials and QEDs.

The second Review of Research in Education article concerns an issue that is near to our Campaign hearts – race/ethnicity categories in data collection. This article discusses ways we might do a better job of collecting and capturing this information. Some of the recommendations are smaller, some I would say are quite far-reaching. I think one thing I hear quite frequently from friends in the data analysis world, though, is how frustrating the current data collection and reporting mechanisms are. I’m not sure I’ve given sufficient thought to how I’d change collection and reporting that I can say too much about the authors’ recommendations, but this is a great piece to read if you are thinking about these issues at all.

And finally, one from this week’s National Bureau of Economic Research set. The authors look at the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars, using years for which the need-based program was allocated using a random assignment. They find that employment among recipients was lower than control group peers in the first two years following their award. Employment was comparable in the following few years, but then dipped again in years six through eight when we would expect them to have completed and returned to the labor market. The group receiving the award had overall lower earnings for the eight-year span, but higher GPAs, concurrent with the hypothesis that receiving aid tends to substitute for employment and allows students more time to study. The employment issue in years 6-8 is trickier to explain. The authors offer two hypotheses: (1) grant recipients have less loan-debt and can be pickier about employment; and (2) recipients move out of state at higher rates than non-recipients (though this might be tangled up with the idea that high-GPA students move out of state at higher rates).

Stay healthy!

Vikash Reddy



Vikash Reddy, Senior Director of Policy Research

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Does Covid-19 Hurt College Dreams Too?

By Michele Siqueiros, President
May 12, 2020

There is no playbook for how to best respond to a global pandemic, and while it is virtually impossible to predict the lasting impact that COVID-19 will have on our students and the State of California, the Campaign for College Opportunity is pivoting our work to ensure students remain front and center. As one of the state’s leading racial equity advocates in higher education, we want to ensure vulnerable students still get to college, that they aren’t knocked off their college paths, and that state leaders understand that investing in higher education is critical, especially in times of crisis.

We do not know when this pandemic will end or how severe the economic fall-out might be. But we do know that our community colleges and public universities produce the health workforce that is essential in responding to this pandemic. We also know that those who will weather the storm best are college graduates.

The Campaign continues to work tirelessly toward ensuring greater racial equity in higher education by demanding that education leaders work to close the gaps in college preparation, access, and success for all students. If anyone doubted the inequality of opportunity that exists in our nation, this pandemic has spotlighted it. For many students, especially low-income and first generation students, as well as students of color, the abrupt move to online distance education is impossible without access to basic technology, educational software and broadband internet service. This crisis makes it clear that all students in the 21st Century must have access to a laptop and broadband internet; it is more important than pen and paper. Read more

Your Lucky Day

May 4, 2020

As a proud new puppy parent, I was told to include any reading on dog training that I would recommend. Those are below.

Don’t worry, though, my kindle, iPad, laptop, other laptop, and phone still provide me with education policy reading. Without further ado, here’s what I’ve been reading:

Friends and former colleagues at the California Policy Lab have some analyses of initial unemployment insurance (UI) claims from the past few months. I include this because I think it’s really important to consider this data as we look to find the right lessons from previous recessions. Of the more recent UI claimants, something like 90% indicate they expect to return to work with their former employer. Whether these responses are driven by eternal-springing-hope or by credible promises from employers is (I think) an open question, but we should consider this in the context of how much we might expect enrollments to surge. (To be clear, I expect enrollments to surge, but this recession is going to be weird…and I think enrollment patterns will also be weird.)

On the topic of enrollment surging and lessons from prior recessions, some friends and former colleagues at the Community College Research Center (CCRC) put this post together. It is worth a read, though again, I think we need to be careful in how we apply those lessons.

Some folks I know put out this working paper discussing colleges’ decisions to close. They find that, by and large, college leaders’ decisions to close seemed independent of campus infrastructure like residence hall capacity, hospital affiliation, or medical degree offerings (i.e. schools with med schools didn’t act differently than those without). They do find, however, that state government orders were important, but so too (and here’s the FASCINATING PART) were the decisions of high-profile private universities. The sociologists call it mimetic isomorphism. The rest of us would say we’re all just tryna be Harvard.

Here are a few non-COVID-related pieces!

The folks at CCRC have a blog post out about IPEDS classifications. This is probably more relevant to data analysts who use IPEDS data, but if you are ever reading a study that uses IPEDS data, look to see whether the authors use the IPEDS classification for two-year vs four-year. IPEDS classifies institutions that grant bachelor’s degrees as four-year institutions. Now that more than a few community colleges are offering bachelor’s degrees, using the IPEDS definitions will lead to a substantial level of mischaracterization. Using the IPEDS definition, for example, would lead you to believe that enrollment among Latinx students at four-year institutions was reaching levels seen in public two-year colleges. Using Carnegie classifications or the list that CCRC has posted demonstrates that community colleges still enroll substantially more Latinx students.

The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration partnered with New America Economy to put out an analysis of how many undocumented students are pursuing higher education in the US. They estimate there are roughly 450,000 undocumented students in our various systems, representing about 2% of students. Of those, only about 214,000 are DACA eligible. California is home to the largest number of undocumented students, but undocumented students are a slightly higher share of the student population in Texas than they are in California. I have some things to say about the use of pie charts to compare populations, but force yourself past that and you’ll find some interesting information.

ThirdWay published a report on the potential unintended impact that Promise Grant/free community college programs might have on high-achieving middle-income students. The researchers interviewed students who could have attended a four-year institution, but who chose the community college route instead. A major factor was the lower cost of the free community college. Given that students who start at a four-year college are more likely to earn their four-year degree, programs that attract students away from four-year towards two-year colleges might not be operating optimally. As they say in the report, “For a middle-income student who is well-qualified to attend a four-year college, taking the community college pathway reduces their chance of earning a bachelor’s degree by 20 to 40 percentage points.”

Educational Researcher published a piece about how to interpret effect sizes in education research. Sometimes researchers have an easily interpretable and comparable piece of data, like the number of dollars people earned last year. Sometimes they have similar data, but data that can’t really be compared apples to apples. How do we evaluate two programs when one was evaluated using one test, and the other was evaluating using a different test? Essentially, we convert them to a common scale, but then must report the differences in “effect sizes”. This one is a good primer on how to interpret those, and includes important caveats – like correlation does not equal causation, even though we are talking about “effect sizes”…

On the puppy side of things, I highly recommend Training the Best Dog Ever. One of the co-authors trained Ted Kennedy’s dogs and the famous Bo Obama, though she has since passed away. It is all about using positive reinforcement, which definitely takes patience and commitment. I hope that it will help me help this dog find that puppy joy. Another one that I came upon is called On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals. I have never had a dog before, so I am less familiar with Lucky’s body language and what it means. It turns out that his yawns aren’t telling me he is sleepy when we’re out on a walk and another dog is approaching. Also, this one is for my co-worker, who thinks it’s hilarious that he still spends time wandering around the apartment dragging his leash. Lucky has already come a long way – he has started to ask me for belly rubs this morning! It might take me longer than the five weeks prescribed in the book, but I’m gonna have the best dog ever!

Lucky the dog
Vikash Reddy and puppy, Lucky

Happy reading!

Vikash Reddy



Vikash Reddy, Senior Director of Policy Research

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California Must Further the CARES Act Relief for Community College Students

April 29, 2020

Last month, Congress passed the “CARES Act” to help the country respond to the coronavirus pandemic and provide much-needed financial relief to those impacted, ultimately approving over $2 trillion in federal spending– the largest single amount ever approved. As the saying goes, “extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.”

As the coronavirus continues to prey upon human life and public health, it has also upended the education of millions of current college students, as well as many of the jobs they or their families rely upon to cover their expenses. Students have not only lost their incomes or family support, but many have been forced to move abruptly or absorb new costs as their courses shift to online formats, requiring a computer and reliable internet connection for participation. While the coronavirus is creating new challenges for all students, it is also exacerbating inequities that already existed in college affordability and how financial aid is distributed; issues discussed in our recent publication, Financial Aid in California.

The CARES Act included over $30 billion in financial assistance for K-12 schools, college students, and the postsecondary institutions serving them. A share of CARES Act funding will be sent directly to California public colleges and universities based heavily on the number of Pell Grant-receiving students they enroll. Collectively, California public colleges and universities will receive over $1.3 billion in federal support, however, this does not mean that these dollars are sufficient to the needs of students, nor will be distributed equitably. The University of California (UC) campuses serving undergraduates will receive just over $259 million, the California State University (CSU) another $525 million, and the California Community Colleges (CCC) will see $579 million.

Already, it is clear that major gaps will remain even after this necessary infusion of resources from the CARES Act. When comparing how much funding each system can expect relative to the number of students they serve, the inequities become stark. There are over 2 million students enrolled in the CCC system, about 453,000 at the CSU, and fewer than 224,000 at the UC. Because the 115 colleges in the CCC system serve many low-income students who do not receive a Pell Grant, they did not generate funding through the CARES Act proportional to their need. So even though the CARES Act requires that a minimum of half of all funding campuses receive under the law be directed towards students through emergency aid grants, this will not go far enough, especially at California’s community colleges. On a per-student funding basis, the UC ($1,160.52) and the CSU ($1,160.75) will receive very similar levels of federal support, while the CCC ($264.82) will get less than a quarter on every dollar relative to their four-year university partners.

This has dire implications for the level of student support that can be expected at each system, especially our community colleges. Despite serving 7 of 10 California undergraduate students, community colleges will receive closer to 4 of 10 federal CARES Act dollars (42%) sent directly to California public colleges or universities, further exacerbating the lack of state financial aid support for community college students. Our community colleges serve the most diverse student body of all higher education systems in California, so this inequity has an even greater negative impact on Black, Latinx, and Native American students – who represent over half – 1.1 million – of enrolled CCC students.

In the past week, another major gap emerged in who will benefit from emergency aid, as the Trump Administration announced that they will restrict colleges and universities from using any CARES Act funding from being awarded to undocumented students or those with legal status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. A recent study by the President’s Alliance on Immigration and Higher Education estimated that there are over 454,000 undocumented students enrolled in colleges and universities across the country, with 92,000 in California alone. These students – many from families that have lost work and cannot access public assistance –face steeper costs as any other student do, but are left out from the emergency aid being offered to their peers.

As policymakers in California consider how they can help ensure colleges and universities remain accessible – particularly when many displaced workers will be seeking opportunities to re-skill as they look for new employment opportunities – we must account for insufficient aid at our community colleges and for undocumented students.

We must also press for further federal support for higher education more broadly and anticipate the impact of decreased tax revenue on state funding for higher education. The Campaign for College Opportunity has joined partners in urging Congress to support state budget investments in higher education, and such funding could then allow California to target assistance to campuses based on the number of students they enroll who receive state-based financial aid, like the Cal Grant or Promise Grant (formerly the BOG fee waiver). While the CARES Act will help colleges, universities, and students manage the immediate challenges presented by coronavirus and rapid shift to online learning, we must do more to ensure that students can access financial help to cover unanticipated costs as they consider whether to return to campus (or the virtual classroom) this Fall.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.” 2020 can certainly be characterized as extraordinary times. Now, we need extraordinary measures from our federal, state, and campus leaders to help keep higher education accessible and affordable for our most vulnerable students.

Read our publication: Financial Aid in California

Jake Brymner
Jake Brymner, State & Federal Policy Director

Exogenous Shocks

April 21, 2020

I usually start writing these things on Monday morning when I get the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) weekly bulletin. As I scan that, I open an e-mail draft and start dropping in studies…then spend some time here and there cleaning up the writing. Well… there were 20 studies in last week’s NBER bulletin, of which three were relevant to my interests. Usually there are about a half dozen, of which maybe one is something I want to spend some time with. Somebody should study the ways in which NBER output responds to exogenous economic, political, or health shocks… In any case, my reading patterns last week were different.

Here are some things I’ve been reading:

MDRC’s newsletter on Friday had two good pieces. One is on ways in which community colleges are considering equity in CTE programs. They also drew attention to resources for students who are trying to choose where to go to college next year. This is a difficult decision process under the best of circumstances, but this moment has made that decision all the more fraught for our high school seniors. Originally, these resources were developed to address challenges of “under-matching” – the problem where high achieving students enroll at institutions that don’t match their preparation. Often, it’s an information problem. For example, talented students from low-income families know less about their financial aid options. Obviously, there are lots of things that contribute to undermatching, but that one is a pretty classic example. As such, this is not a How-To-Make-A-Choice-During-COVID guide, but it struck me as something that might be helpful to share!

Two NBER papers looked at computer assisted learning. The upshot? One study found that students participating in a computer-assisted learning setting out-performed their peers, but they find the impact of the technology itself was negligible to null. The other points to better results from an approach that blends computer-assisted with traditional in-person delivery.

SIDE NOTE: I think it is incredibly important to separate online learning from what is happening right now, so please resist the urge to apply too many lessons from the literature about online education to the Spring of 2020. Reaching for the longer-term lens, though, even traditional face-to-face courses have been adopting some electronic features. This might be as low-touch an online repository for course documents or as involved as online discussion boards to supplement class. I dare say some of the tools we were forced to adopt for the moment will find uses in traditional classrooms, and that is where I think this literature becomes more helpful. We may well have a chance to rationally rethink certain elements of face-to-face instruction. Will we take it?

I didn’t know whether to cry or just knowingly nod when I saw this recently published study about doctoral dissertation research. The authors find that, over the past 30 years, demographically underrepresented students were more likely to innovate in their research than demographic-majority students, but those innovations are less likely to yield fruit in the form of academic positions than the innovations of their majority peers. This one hurt on a personal level, even if my own dissertation likely didn’t meet their definition for “innovative,” (I examined and explained something that I thought was mis-understood, but I wouldn’t say “second-order social influence – one that operates through another entity” rises to the level of new theory or terminology). The personal gut punch wasn’t even the worst part about this one. The playing field is not level, even for those who earned that ultimate degree…they outdid their peers, but they do not get the jobs. Keep this one in your arsenal any time anybody tries to talk about meritocracy and the pipeline to faculty positions. We are failing to recognize some of our brightest scholars, and I tired of it long ago.

Another of the NBER papers looked at returns to grad school. Not surprisingly, the authors find that returns to grad school largely depend on the field. One interesting, at least to me, thing they note is that returns to grad school vary by undergraduate major – as in the return on getting an MBA will be different for people with different undergraduate majors.

The folks at Just Equations released a report a few weeks ago, Go Figure: Exploring Equity in Students’ Postsecondary Math Pathway Choices. They conducted focus groups at three institutions (two CCs, one CSU), and they selected institutions that they knew had done work to improve math pathways recently to find out how students are getting information and selecting their math pathways. Generally, they find that students use multiple sources of information in selecting courses and often come across information that is inconsistent, and that a large amount of counseling is path-specific, leaving undecided/undeclared students without access to a complete advising experience. Also, eliminating the placement test was a great step, but first-generation students and students with low math confidence might under-place if not properly advised. The authors follow that up with a number of recommendations. They have a webinar on 4/28 to talk about the report, and I will be participating in their discussion. I look forward to digging in, and I encourage folks to register and join us on the 28th!

That’s all for now,

Vikash Reddy
Vikash Reddy, Senior Director of Policy Research