Blog Archives - The Campaign for College Opportunity

Michele Siqueiros on “The Years That Matter Most”

August 5, 2020
reposted from the Campaign for Free College Tuition blog

In 2019, when the college admissions scandal, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, came to light, like most Americans I was sick to my stomach. Abuse of privilege, wealth and power is not new. My anger wasn’t just directed at the families and the campus leaders that were engaged in the scandal, it was fueled by a frustration at how the least privileged, wealthy and famous among us, have to overcome a million hurdles in order to get to college, and when we do, we are made to feel as if we don’t belong. In response to that anger, I wrote this earlier post as a tribute to first generation students, me included.

Reading Paul Tough’s The Years That Matter Most reignited some of that same anger and frustration.

For me, college definitely mattered. As a first-generation college graduate, the daughter of an immigrant who only had 6th grade education, earning a BA and MA was my path out of poverty, and just as importantly, my opportunity into a career I love. College mattered so much, that for the past 16 years as the President of the Campaign for College Opportunity, I have fought to expand college access, protect financial aid, and champion the types of reforms that can improve outcomes and close racial/ethnic equity gaps in our community colleges and universities.

My mother worked as a seamstress earning just above minimum wage. She never had health benefits, or paid time off, or any kind of job security. We lived paycheck to paycheck, in a small one-bedroom apartment, where my bed was a pull-out mattress that came out every night and was put away in the morning. We had no safety net to catch us if we fell. I knew I wanted and needed more security than that. I was poor, but I grew up with everything I needed, food on the table, a roof overhead, and a strong powerful role model who loved me and nurtured my love for learning and devouring every book the public library allowed me to check out. Because of my experience I am guilty of embracing the idea that college is an effective panacea for a lot of our social ills and for the kind of social mobility that took me out of that one bedroom apartment and finds me today with a home and a mortgage I can easily afford. The research confirms the benefits of a college education, especially for low-income students.

But Tough’s book also finds that the following truths about college are also playing out in America and they are tougher to bear:

  • College perpetuates the existing inequality in our society by disproportionately serving the most well off;
  • Talented and brilliant low-income students are much less likely to enroll in college or graduate from college compared to mediocre low-performing high-income students;
  • Few low-income students are served by the wealthiest and selective colleges across America; In fact, more than two-thirds of undergraduates at Ivy League and other highly selective colleges are very rich, and fewer than 4 percent of students are poor;
  • The multi-billion dollar test prep industry (SAT/ACT in particular) help rig the system even further in favor of the rich; In Trough’s words, “certifying privilege rather than merit” and providing false signals for who is truly able to succeed or not;
  • Talented first generation and low-income high performing students struggle in college environments that are not welcoming;
  • Black students remain ridiculously underrepresented in higher education, especially Black students who are NOT wealthy, biracial or immigrants; And there appears to be a cap on just how many Black students are accepted into Ivy League colleges (8%);
  • Low-income students who do make it into the Ivy League, mostly come from high performing boarding or private schools; In other words, the Ivy League is hardly taking a chance on students attending regular public schools in America.
  • The business of running colleges makes wealthy tuition paying students a big draw for admissions offices; Imagine the perverse incentives of opening campuses during a global health pandemic. And the flawed U.S. News and World Report’s famous college rankings values the least important things about a college and creates perverse incentives for campuses who want to improve their ranking;

If that list is not depressing enough, recently Americans have been engaging in a discussion around the value of college that has grown more political and polarizing. Tough aptly points out how these discussions serve as a political distraction from better funding higher education, financial aid, and dealing with student debt and that those who attack the value of college the loudest, ironically all have a college degree.

Reading this book could leave you feeling pretty down, especially if like me you are busy championing college opportunity and the social mobility we know can come with it. But I found it as a clarion call to the urgent work that we must continue to fight for: Affirming our efforts to ensure colleges and universities drop the SAT/ACT from college admissions. Affirming our work to ensure more inclusive and diverse faculty, college leadership and academic senate bodies that make critical decisions on admissions, curriculum and create a sense of belonging on our campuses. And reaffirming in our successes to ensure a stronger focus on student centered pathways in and through college that eliminate problematic placement tests, ineffective remedial courses and instead recognize the talent and assets brought to campus by diverse students, and the necessary supports that must be prioritized to ensure they can succeed.

Tough ends the book reflecting on the GI Bill – the first big American investment in college and social mobility post World War II. It is exactly the kind of investment we need today. He reminds us that what we value is at the core of how we support (or do not) higher education, how much we force students to pay and how much debt we tolerate them to absorb. Through higher education we can proclaim that every talented American truly can live the American dream and go to college and exercise their full potential. Or we can continue to exacerbate inequality and leave millions of talented Americans behind simply because they are not White or too poor – and that is the continued Varsity Blues scandal in America.

Michele Siqueiros
Michele Siqueiros, President

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Back to Our [Regularly?] Scheduled Programming…

July 22, 2020

Per usual, a fire hose of content, but there has been some really good stuff that I’ve managed to get through in between my adventures with Lucky (who came home with me three months ago on Sunday!!!).

Vikash and his dog, Lucky

On the COVID-specific front, I would highly recommend these recent pieces:

Rob Kelchen writes about the upcoming fall for higher education in the Chronicle of Higher Education. This one will hit all four of the major sources of higher education revenue – tuition, state funding, auxiliary sources like housing, and endowment returns and gifts. The fall will be rough. We will see layoffs, declarations of fiscal emergencies, and colleges that are not well-positioned to weather this storm may close.

Kevin Carey also looks at the campuses in the middle of the financial pack. Harvard, MIT? They’ll be fine. Carey notes that only about 14% of Cal State students live on campus, while other colleges/systems can derive as much as 30 percent of annual revenue from auxiliary services (see Kelchen’s op-ed above). Both types of institution are in for a tough time, but likely for somewhat different reasons.

This is less about COVID and more about never letting a crisis go to waste. Also in the Chronicle, Anthony Carnevale, Peter Schmidt, and Jeff Strohl take aim at merit aid. The piece discusses ways we fund elitism and the elites at the expense of students and campuses that need resources. They see an opportunity to end “affirmative action for rich white people.” I have heard a lot of folks discuss the ways in which societies dramatically shift in the wake of events like this pandemic. Will we seize the opportunities these authors discuss? I hope so.

On the less COVID-centric front:

Two pieces related to less traditional forms of community college enrollment caught my eye. We think a lot about students who start at community colleges, but what about those who start at four-years and take CC courses along the way? My friends Vivian Liu and Maggie Fay have some cool research out looking at students who enroll in a four-year institution, but who also supplement that enrollment with course-taking at a community college. The find that around 8 percent of students who began at a four-year institution in their data also took community college courses during their educational journey. These “supplementally enrolled” students had higher STEM and total credits earned, higher bachelor’s attainment, and better employment outcomes. Community colleges are pretty awesome.

Elizabeth Meza and Debra Bragg investigated community college baccalaureate (CCB) degree students in Washington. CCB students have slightly higher employment outcomes and initial earnings, but it looks like the traditional BA/BS students catch up and overtake their peers within about three years (given the relative recency of these programs, longer-term effects are tricky to study). They also find gaps by race and gender. If I’m reading their table 5 correctly, the earnings gaps between CCB men and CCB women are FAR larger than the earnings gap among traditional degree-earners. Small sample sizes render analysis by race somewhat difficult, but the authors do document racial differences as well. I’m not sure what’s going on with the healthcare earnings by race – those rows are surprising to me.

On the financial aid/financial well-being front, Kasey Klepfer, Allyson Cornett, Carla Fletcher, and Jeff Webster write up results from a student survey regarding student financial wellness. I don’t know that anybody here will be surprised by any of their findings. Perhaps the magnitude will be larger than we expect, but we see a majority of students worry about how they’ll pay for college and living expenses at the same time. Many students are not sure how they will fund their next semester, and students (particularly at community colleges) need to work to support families. There is a lot in here. It’s worth at least reviewing the executive summary.

The Student Borrower Protection Center released a report about race and student debt. Here too, you already know the upshot: areas with high minority residents are seeing faster growth in student debt, delinquency, and default.

The final piece for today is from the American Enterprise Institute. Jorge Klor de Alva and Cody Christensen examine economic mobility, looking at graduates from four-year institutions who are now in their 20s and 30s (side note, I love it when I’m part of a dataset…). In their executive summary, they note there are a number of schools that “beat the odds,” in that their grads climb the economic ladder more quickly than we would expect given the demographics of their graduates. I’ll admit that I have not had the chance to properly read it, but my questions are largely around how well it compares to other studies of intergenerational mobility (like Chetty et al.). Also, they provide their dataset…I do hope to find some time to look at the California subset, but I don’t know when that’s going to happen.

Stay home and stay safe!

Vikash Reddy



Vikash Reddy, Senior Director of Policy Research

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After a Brief Hiatus…

June 18, 2020

It’s been a minute…not gonna lie, I’ve struggled to make progress on my reading list these last few weeks. I am grateful for you all, and for those seventeen subscription TV services that have provided me with endless content to binge when I haven’t felt like nerding out.

Last week, the Campaign released an update to our signature report Left Out: California’s Higher Education Governing Boards Do Not Reflect the Racial and Gender Diversity of California and its Student Body. I would encourage folks to take a look at the breakdowns within the full report, but here are some highlights.

Governor Newsom:

  • Governor Newsom made 11 appointments since assuming office in January 2019. Of his appointments, six were women and five were men. Of the six women appointed, three are Latinx, two are White, and one is Black. Of the five men appointed by the governor, all were White. The governor has not yet appointed any American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) or AANHPI to any of these higher education governing boards.

Bright Spots of Inclusion:

  • Women are well-represented in three of our four higher education governing bodies. A majority of the gubernatorial appointees on the CCC Board of Governors and the CSAC are women; almost half of the gubernatorial appointees on the CSU Board of Trustees are women;
  • CSAC appointees are 70 percent racially diverse—in part because of the representation from legislative appointees, who constitute a majority of the Black and Latinx Commissioners (four of seven);
  • The UC Board of Regents has become significantly more reflective of California’s diversity in the past few years. Of the 18 gubernatorial appointees, 44 percent are Latinx, Asian, or Black Californians.

Challenges to Inclusivity:

  • The CCC Board of Governors does not have a single Black male representative despite community colleges serving the vast majority of Black males in higher education in California. Less than a third of Board of Governors are Latinx, while nearly half the community college student body is Latinx;
  • Latinx make up 47 percent of the CSU student body but represent only 20 percent of the current gubernatorial appointed Trustees;
  • There is only one gubernatorial appointee that is Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander (AANHPI) on the CSU Board of Trustees and on the UC Board of Regents, even though AANHPI students make up 17 percent at the CSU and 38 percent at the UC;
  • Even though 19 percent of undergraduates in California are AANHPI and one in seven Californians identifies as AANHPI, there is only one AANHPI member on CSAC—a student representative—and no gubernatorial appointees serving as public representatives are AANHPI.

Clearly we have a lot of work to do. But our state’s students deserve leaders who reflect California’s remarkable population. This isn’t solely about the implications for policymaking. Our students should be able to look at the governing boards of their colleges and systems and find role models among their leaders.

There has been no shortage of education research content, as well, so here are a few highlights from the past few weeks.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has published a few studies that are worth highlighting. We’ve long talked about the importance of the teacher in the classroom, but this paper looks to measure the impacts of certain types of instructor-outreach to students. The authors look at a strategy of sending strategically timed emails to students with advice on how to succeed in the course, their current standing, and reminders of the professor’s availability. They find that the strategy improved perceptions of the instructor among students, but did not, on average, have much impact on outcomes. When they look beyond the averages, though, they do find evidence that this strategy actually did improve outcomes among first-year students who were under-represented minorities. In terms of cost, this one is relatively low. Faculty and instructor time is valuable, though, so an approach that targets the intervention towards this set of students seems like a sound one to me!

A study published this week looked at students enrolling in college-level courses in Florida after the state’s policy change allowed students with high school diplomas to bypass developmental coursework. The upshot? Following the reforms, students were more likely to take and pass college-level courses in their first year of studies. And the gains were bigger for Black and Latinx students. More evidence that supports giving students a chance to succeed.

An interesting working paper/white paper/paper I came across a few weeks ago finds a link between noise and cognitive function. I’m tempted to let the lawnmowers and leaf blowers of the amazing grounds crew here take the blame for the aforementioned decline in my reading volume, but I think the more important things to consider are what we do for students who are in schools near a major freeway or airport. Just some food for thought.

This study about the Economic Impact of Access to Four-Years is also from NBER. I like this piece for two reasons. First, the University of Georgia has a minimum SAT score for admissions. I do NOT like that policy, but this allows the researchers to use a “regression discontinuity design” (see previous blog posts about quasi-experimental methods for more, but the gist is that there really isn’t much difference between students just above and students just below the cut-score – this being particularly true for a blunt instrument like the SAT. As such, they can compare students who were admitted to those who didn’t qualify). They find that, by age 30, students who had access to the university out-earned their peers by 20 percent. The gains were higher for students from low-income families.

The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice put out this report on basic needs insecurity among students who themselves are parents. The report details that around 20% of college students today are responsible for the care of a child. Among this set, more than half reported food insecurity within the prior month, and almost one in five reported being homeless in the prior year. Aside from the basic humanity of supporting students with children, there is the reality that mothers with degrees contribute more tax dollars to the state and use less in public assistance over their lifetimes than mothers without college degrees. The report is worth a look.

Stay strong!

Vikash Reddy



Vikash Reddy, Senior Director of Policy Research

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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

Quarantine Day [n+1]

April 14, 2020

Before we get to the ed policy, the data indicate that California’s rate of COVID growth is relatively slow compared to other locations. The Mercury News says the number of cases doubled in a week, but New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has talked about case numbers doubling in the space of a few days in his state (That was several days ago…I gather things have slowed dramatically since then, which is welcome news!). I haven’t done a deep dive on that data, but signs suggest that the things we are doing in California are working! Also, seismologists have said that the Earth is vibrating a little less than usual with so many of us at home – I heard one newscaster compare the Earth’s vibrations to what we see on Christmas Day. So, pat yourselves on the back. But also, remember that flattening the curve has two impacts: (1) it reduces the height of the peak, which helps ensure case volume doesn’t overwhelm capacity at local hospitals; and (2) it pushes the peak outwards, which gives healthcare systems additional time to prepare and maybe get some more Personal Protective Equipment on hand before the peak…so the curse of doing this right is that we may have to do it a little longer. I really wish there was a way to beat this thing that still allowed us to see each other face to face.

Okay…now for what you came for:

I often like to joke with younger millennials (technically, I’m a millennial myself…but I’ve always better identified with the term “Xennial”) that the touch-screen computers in their pockets have the capacity for real-time two-way audio transmission. Well, according to the New York Times, we’ve been spending more time on the phone with each other. Sure, some of this is for work. I think this week we’ve all either written or read some version of, “I don’t think a Zoom is necessary, let’s just hop on the phone.” But if you’re feeling to urge to call your mom or your old friend from elementary school, you’re not alone.  I’m one of those people making random calls this week. I highly recommend it.

  • The folks at EdBuild have a map that details district poverty and per-pupil spending. They’ve added the New York Times data for COVID cases. In the coming years, there will be lots of research around COVID’s differential impact along demographic lines. I don’t know that this map allows us to draw conclusions, but it’s a place to start. And you all know how I feel about maps and data visualization!
  • PPIC’s blog has been pretty on point through the pandemic. Jake Jackson (who serves on our Policy Research Advisory Board) and Hans Johnson discuss implications of closing campuses for students who live in university housing. They also note that, within 24 hours of its establishment, the California College Student Emergency Support Fund had some 65,000 students on the wait list, indicating a huge demand for basic aid by California college students.

These next few are not COVID-related, but they’re still depressing. Sorry…

  • The folks at Ed Trust put out a piece looking at coupling graduation rates with loan default rates to define the College Success Rate. This has the effect of lowering cohort success rates in general, as the methodology essentially down-weights the grad rate by the default rate. When disaggregated by race, we see a college success rate for Black students that is 28.8 percentage points lower than that of their White peers. This is compared to 18.1 percentage points when looking at 6-year grad-rate alone. The Latinx-White gap is also wider under this measure than the traditional 6-year rate by about three percentage points.  Unfortunately, this shouldn’t really surprise us. We already know that both graduation rates and default rates exhibit racial gaps in the same direction, so multiplying them together will exacerbate it. It is, however, a clean way to capture multiple pieces of information in one metric. The upshot? We need better data to properly capture success rates defined this way, since current reporting requirements leave us unable to see whether there is a racial gap in default rates at the institutional level. Whether we make this an accountability metric or choose not to, I think we can learn a lot about two institutions with similar graduation rates by comparing them on a measure like this. I think the equity implications of disaggregating the measure are also critical.
  • In the peer-reviewed bucket, I would recommend an article published in this week’s Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis journal on affirmative action policies. The authors look at public institutions in states that instituted affirmative action bans (like Prop 209) in the nineties. They note that, in the wake of these bans, many public universities turned to strategies like giving additional consideration to socio-economic status or top X% plans in order to maintain racial diversity. They find that among the public four-year institutions comprising the sample, there is some evidence that there have been very modest improvements in the representation of underrepresented minority students in the applicant pool. The gaps have widened, however, in terms of admission and enrollment. These results hold true when you cut the sample down to only flagship universities, and also when you cut the sample to include selective publics (which includes five or six UCs). The authors also document little progress in underlying social conditions.

One of my weird coping mechanisms when I get a little down is to look through images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Not really sure why, but I find it soothing. Well, Hubble sent back a doozy (see below) this week. At first glance, it’s a fairly ordinary galaxy. On closer inspection, we find something extraordinary – there are two spirals within this galaxy! Also, this thing is “powered by a supermassive black hole.” Pretty cool! They say the devil is in the details, but I find that’s often where the beauty is too.

Galaxy NGC 2273
Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Greene

Until next time!
Vikash Reddy
Vikash Reddy, Senior Director of Policy Research

What Day Is it?

April 6, 2020

Figuring out which of the 937 tabs on my browser are worth sharing has been really difficult. I had a few pieces ready to send your way, but the past few weeks made me question whether I wanted to share things like the Education Commission of the States’ analysis of gubernatorial education priorities, released March 15. It’s still good and useful research, but we’ll see how much of that agenda those governors get to. More broadly, we’re certainly cursed with a life in interesting times. In conversations with colleagues and counterparts, it seems like researchers are trying to figure out which parts of our research agendas are more important than they were before, and which pieces may need to change. It will be interesting to see where the scholarship goes over the coming years.
In terms of things to share, I’m kicking this one off with the 30 tips for WFH that Campaign Executive Vice President  Jessie Ryan recommended to the team. I’d like to highlight a few selected suggestions:

    2) Use a calendar — I’ve found this helpful, both for delineating work time vs me time, and for helping me remember what day of the week it is…(Is today Friday? I think it’s Friday, but does that make yesterday Tuesday?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

    7) Potato chips are not lunch — I’ve never felt this seen by an entry in a listicle…It’s like they know exactly why I created that MS Teams Group wherein our team documents our lunches…Who said social distancing meant eliminating social accountability?

Now for some ed policy reading recommendations:

EdSurge has a page up called Sustaining Higher Education in the Coronavirus Crisis which centralizes all sorts of resources for students, institutions, other higher ed organizations, researchers, and the general public. One piece that caught my eye was Four Concerns — and One Cause For Hope — As Coronavirus Closes Community Colleges.
Congress passed a $2 trillion (yes, that’s a ‘tr’…), dubbed the CARES Act. Inside Higher Ed had a write up on it. The Campaign’s very own State & Local Policy Director, Jake Brymner, has summarized it as follows:

  • Overall, the “CARES Act” includes $30.75 billion for an “Education Stabilization Fund” for states, K-12 districts, and postsecondary institutions.
    • $13.5 billion for grants to states, which will then distribute 90% to K-12 schools. The allowable use of funds is fairly broad and allows schools the discretion to utilize dollars received towards addressing their unique needs, sanitizing facilities, or purchasing educational technology.
    • $14.25 billion for postsecondary institutions
    • $3 billion to be distributed across states with discretion for Governors to allocate to K-12 or postsecondary institutions based on impact by the coronavirus to ensure their continued functionality and ability to serve students (without any other restrictions on how the institutions would utilize those funds).
  • Within the $14.25 billion for postsecondary institutions
    • Funding will be distributed based on a formula that is weighted towards institutions serving Pell Grant recipients. 75% of funding is distributed on the basis of the number of Pell Grant recipients enrolled, with the other 25% based on overall enrollment. Students that were previously fully online are excluded from this calculation to avoid a disproportionate amount going toward private for-profits.
    • Allowable uses of these funds are fairly broad and permit institutions to put these dollars towards any costs associated with changes to the delivery of instruction as a result of the coronavirus
    • However, institutions shall put no less than 50% of funds received towards emergency financial aid grants to students to defray costs associated to the disruption created by coronavirus
  • The “CARES Act” includes a “maintenance of effort,” provision, requiring that states allocate the same or greater levels of funds towards K-12 and higher education as the average amount spent over the past three fiscal years
    • However, the Secretary of Education would have authority to waive this requirement based on any “precipitous decline in financial resources,” which seems likely
  • Under the “CARES Act,” institutions  are given flexibility on Pell Grant/Title IV regulations so that courses interrupted by the coronavirus are not continued in calculation of Satisfactory Academic Progress or towards any calculation of a student’s lifetime cap on Pell Grant eligibility.
    • This will help avoid a scenario in which a student needs to return their grant dollars due to withdrawing or dropping a course, as well as any negative impact on a student’s ability to receive a grant in future academic terms.

Related to the CARES Act, the American Council on Education used IPEDS data to simulate how much money individual institutions are likely to get from the bill’s provisions (h/t to Campaign SVP Audrey Dow for this lead). Things always seem easy until they don’t. The Act says funding will be distributed by counting FTE Pell recipients and FTE non-Pell recipients. In the words of ACE, “There is no such thing – at least in federal databases – as FTE Pell recipients, and consequently FTE Pell non-recipients.” As such, they have to make a few assumptions. They also note that ED could choose an entirely different methodology – and if IPEDS doesn’t match other administrative data, these projections will suffer as well. But still, a useful tool.
There’s a really interesting paper in this week’s set from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The paper looks at sticker price vs. net price, and the impact of increases in tuition at public flagship universities. The authors find that, even when there are state or institutional aid policies in place that would render a tuition increase meaningless for a given student, that student is still less likely to apply to the university. Essentially, even though the tuition increase would be covered by additional aid, students are less likely to apply. Additionally, tuition increases at public flagships tend to drive higher-achieving students to private institutions. So pretty important things to think about as system and state leaders are considering both tuition and aid.
The graph in this Washington Post article caught my eye. The figure, taken from this Manhattan Institute Report (not one of my regular sources, I know, but a good data viz is a good data viz, right?) shows the trajectory of a typical middle-class income, as well as the amounts spent on housing, healthcare, vehicles, and education. Around 2018, those four categories combined started to exceed income for the average middle class family, such that a family would need 53 weeks’ worth of income in order to cover these expenses for the year (which is a problem for two reasons…one of which is that there are only 52 weeks in a year). The major drivers appear to be housing and healthcare, but educational expenses have risen, and they constitute a high enough share of expenditures that they warrant inclusion in the analysis.  If you’re wondering about food, clothing, and other expenses, you’ve spotted the second problem. Those aren’t included. In years gone by, families would spend what they had left on the various other categories, and maybe even save a bit. Now…forget saving. We also know that a substantial amount of the debt assumed by families is education-related. At some point, when I can get to getting through it, I plan to share some thoughts on Indebted by Caitlin Zaloom (Anybody interested in book-clubbing this book should let me know!).
There’s a new report from Third Way about measuring the personal return on investment to higher education. They propose something fairly simple, a price-to-earnings premium calculation that tells us how many years it will take to recoup the net cost of pursuing an education. And they do it without the econ jargon like “opportunity costs” and “discount effects.”
Finally, MDRC has a handbook out for community colleges related to encouraging summer enrollment. They did some evaluations of programs that (1) provided information to students about summer enrollment, and (2) provided information coupled with a ‘last-dollar’ tuition grant. Interestingly, both interventions raised summer enrollment, though the intervention with the grant component showed a stronger effect (the literature on behavioral nudges has definitely grown over the past few years, but my sense is that this set of studies is among the few to find robust effects for information-without-tuition-assistance). The handbook references that research, but it refers folks back to publications by Mike Weiss, Senior Associate at MDRC, from last year. This piece is probably better suited for campus administrators who are thinking about strategies to increase summer enrollment – though we shall see how much they can do this year vs. next.
This one was long…you should probably go for a walk and get some fresh air.
See you next time,
Vikash Reddy
Vikash Reddy, Senior Director of Policy Research