The US Department of Education recently released its 2020-21 College Financing Plan template, formerly known as the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. The College Financing Plan is a standardized form used by participating institutions to notify students about their financial aid package. The department relied on input from financial aid administrators, students, parents, and other stakeholders to develop the new template.
I recently had the opportunity to represent NACAC at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE). Since 1988, this annual conference has served as the premier forum for members of the higher education community to discuss and work to create college campuses that are more equitable, accessible, and anti-racist.
NCORE was an incredibly valuable professional development opportunity. My participation in this conference helped affirm the importance of some of the work already underway at NACAC and sparked ideas for new avenues for advocacy. Here are some of the things that have kept me thinking in the weeks that have passed since the conference concluded.
Financial aid award letters have long been a topic of conversation within the college admission counseling profession, and as discussions about reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) intensify, Congress seems poised to join the conversation.
Last month, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced the Understanding the True Cost of College Act of 2019 — stand-alone legislation intended to be included as part of the larger HEA reauthorization.
If passed, higher education institutions would be required to use a uniform financial aid offer form containing standardized definitions. According to the bill’s sponsors, the move is intended to ensure colleges provide information to students and families in “a consumer-friendly manner that is simple and understandable.”
Nearly 150 high school counselors, college admission professionals, community-based organization leaders, and other advocates will arrive in Washington, DC this weekend for NACAC’s annual Advocacy Meeting.
During this two-day event, attendees will learn more about student-to-counselor ratios in their states, the status of state and federal financial aid, and the economic impact of international and DACA students. The event will also feature talks from a Virginia state legislator and from a staff member of the House Committee on Education and Labor.
On Monday, attendees will head to Capitol Hill to meet with their elected officials and Congressional staff to advocate for NACAC’s policy priorities, including:
- School Counseling. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) and NACAC recommend a student-to-counselor ratio of 250:1. In the 2015-16 academic year, the national average ratio was 470:1. Furthermore, public school counselors report spending only 21 percent of their time on postsecondary admission counseling. #NACACHillDay attendees will advocate for lower ratios, increased funding, and improved professional development for school counselors.
- Rigorous Curriculum. More than 80 percent of admission professionals say that a student’s strength of curriculum is of “considerable” or “moderate” importance in admission decisions. However, low-income students are less likely to have access to such curricula, and white students are nearly twice as likely as black students to be enrolled in at least one AP class. During their Congressional meetings, Advocacy Meeting attendees will advocate for all students to have equitable access to rigorous coursework in high school.
- Need-Based Financial Aid. For many students and families, affording college is becoming increasingly more difficult. State and federal disinvestment in higher education funding has placed the burden of paying for college more squarely on the shoulders of students. #NACACHillDay attendees will encourage their elected officials to increase funding for federal need-based financial aid and to support efforts to simplify the FAFSA.
- Student Protections. Some unscrupulous institutions of higher education – frequently, though not exclusively, those in the for-profit sector – employ predatory recruitment practices that target students who are often most vulnerable to such deceit. Students enrolled at for-profit institutions account for just over 10 percent of all postsecondary enrollments, but over 40 percent of student loan defaults. Despite these metrics, for-profit institutions still benefit from receiving tax-payer funded financial aid. Advocacy Meeting attendees will urge their Members of Congress during their Hill meetings on Monday to protect students and taxpayers by supporting efforts to reign in these unscrupulous institutions.
- Undocumented Students. Legal challenges to the September 2017 announced rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program continue to leave DACA-eligible and other undocumented individuals in limbo. Furthermore, undocumented students are ineligible to receive federal student aid – this lack of financial support often puts higher education out of reach for these students. #NACACHillDay attendees will encourage their elected officials to support legislation that would help make higher education accessible and affordable for these students.
The advocates in attendance will touch on these topics and other important issues, including international student mobility, school safety, and more. Be sure to follow @NACACWonk and #NACACHillDay for updates, and tune in to Facebook Live at 9:45 am ET for a live broadcast of the “Counselors and Financial Aid in Your State” panel, with NACAC research associate Pooja Patel and Stephanie Giesecke, the director of budget and appropriations at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.
Julie Kirk is NACAC’s government relations manager. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s the school climate for LGBTQ students in your state?
According to GLSEN’s recently released State Snapshots report, high schools in all 41 states and Puerto Rico are not safe for most LGBTQ students.
More often than not, LGBTQ students do not have access to important school resources, such as LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum or student clubs designed to support LGBTQ students. In most cases, LGBTQ students are not protected by supportive and inclusive school policies.
The Department of Education recently announced changes to FAFSA verification aimed to help make the process less burdensome.
In lieu of IRS tax return transcripts and verification of non-filing forms, the guidance allows institutions to accept copies of signed income tax returns and written statements of non-filing from students who are selected for FAFSA verification. The changes are effective immediately and apply to both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 cycles.
Preliminary findings from a survey administered by AASA: The School Superintendents Association show that many school districts plan to use funding from the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program to improve school counseling.
Amid ongoing uncertainty and what may feel like legal whiplash, supporting DACA students is as important as ever.