Driving Change in Higher Education.

Policy Update

News You Can Use: 09/25/15

FAFSA infographic A Small, but Important, Step Towards FAFSA Reform

No one likes filling out the FAFSA, but recent changes by the Obama administration will make the financial aid application process less painful for students. On September 14, President Obama announced changes to existing policy that will allow students to access and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form in October rather than January of the year in which they enter college. In addition, several questions about family income will be removed and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will provide income data to determine eligibility. These seemingly small changes will help students make wise financial decisions regarding their higher education and lessen the burden of applying for aid. 

The federal government and colleges use the FAFSA to determine eligibility for a variety of need-based aid programs, including Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), and federally subsidized student loans. Previous policy only permitted students to access the FAFSA application in January, limiting the amount of time available to students to weigh their grant and aid eligibility against the costs of attending college. Beginning in October 2016, students will have early access to the FAFSA form and many questions about family income will no longer be necessary – rather than rely on colleges to verify financial information provided by students, the FAFSA will use the financial and tax data provided by the IRS to determine aid eligibility. 

These changes will benefit students nation-wide. Student and higher education advocacy organizations have pushed for FAFSA reform for years, noting that the complicated application is burdensome to students and can be a barrier to first generation and low-income students that may not have access to any services to help fill out the form. These barriers translate into available grants going unclaimed. According to the U.S. Department of Education, during the 2011-12 academic year, 2 million students who would have qualified for Pell Grants received no funding – simply because they did not fill out the FAFSA form. A streamlined, simplified process will make the FAFSA more accessible and mean that more students will have access to need-based funding in the future.  

To learn more about efforts to reform the FAFSA application, visit the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Post Secondary Success Initiative

MN SELF Loan website exposes student data

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education (OHE) says that student data was exposed because of a coding error in the SELF Loan website. The compromised data includes names, social security numbers and email addresses. At this point OHE is still determining how many accounts were affected, but that at this point there is no evidence of hacking. It doesn’t look like the data was downloaded at all and was only viewable on the site. The error was discovered by a student who saw names and other private data on the site and notified OHE. More information on the glitch will be available this week. Read more about the SELF Loan data exposure here.

The Chronicle of Higher Education asks, students, recent graduates, parents and experts, “How much student-loan debt is too much?”



Click here for an interesting infographic that asks what is the most that you should borrow for a bachelor’s degree?


Governor Dayton's picks for MnSCU student trustees


Governor Mark Dayton made his selections for MnSCU two-year student trustees. Kelly Charpentier-Berg & Maleah Otterson, two students active on their campuses and in MSCSA, were Dayton's choices to serve two-year student terms on the MnSCU Board of Trustees. Join us in congratulating Kelly and Maleah.

The politics of tuition rates

A recent study by Kent State University Professor C. Lockwood Reynolds shows that over the past half century, there is a connection between gubernatorial election years and lower tuition rates. The study found that tuition is 1.5% lower in gubernatorial election years than other years. Reynolds concludes that lower tuition rates, which are normally announced for the coming year close to election time, are an easy way for a sitting governor to show voters that the state is in good shape and headed in the right direction. Interestingly the study found that tuition was held even lower when the governor won the upcoming election by a wide margin, which seems to suggest that the incumbent governors were trying to help lawmakers in their own political parties win their elections more than they were trying to help themselves. The pattern holds true for governors from both political parties. Read more about the connection between election year politics and tuition rates.

Affordable Care Act and student workers

The Affordable Care Act is making many colleges and universities examine the number of hours they allow students to work on-campus jobs. Starting in 2015, the law requires that businesses with over 99 employees provide health insurance to at least 70% of employees that work over 30 hours a week. Many colleges and universities are starting to limit student workers to 30 hours rather than taking on the cost of providing health insurance. Complicating matters for institutions that might consider offering coverage is the difficulty of predicting the number of students who might sign up for insurance because a large number of student workers are eligible to stay on their parents’ insurance plans through age 26. There are several proposed bills that would exempt colleges and universities from having to cover full-time students. The issue has also led to increased discussion of the impact of working over 30 hours a week on students. Read more about the Affordable Care Act and its effect on student workers.

Column highlights MSCSA’s new cabinet & community college enrollment gains

A recent column by Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change, wove together the biographies of MSCSA’s new cabinet and figures from various studies to tell the story of increased enrollment at two-year colleges in Minnesota. The article cites an Office of Higher Education publication that shows increased enrollment at two-year institutions from about 60,000 in 1980 to around 120,000 in 2012. Also, the article points to a recent Georgetown University study that projects that 74% of jobs available in Minnesota through 2020 will require some education beyond high school. Read more and share why you chose to attend a two-year college in the comments here.

Proposed changes to PLUS loan standards 

The Obama administration is proposing changes to the PLUS loan program that would ease the credit requirements for families seeking a loan. The proposed changes include spelling out the fact that accounts more than 90 days delinquent will be considered as “adverse credit” that hurts a borrower's chances of receiving a loan, exempting up to $2,085 in delinquent debt from counting against a potential borrower and reducing the credit period that is looked at from five to two years. The Department of Education estimates that the changes in policy would expand PLUS loan access to an additional 371,000 borrowers. Critics are concerned that expanding the Parent PLUS loan to more borrowers would saddle more low-income borrowers with a debt that they will have difficulty ever repaying. Read more about the Obama administration’s proposed changes to PLUS loan standards.


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