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