Call to expand state financial aid

Student studying
New academic research suggests that ensuring that adult students are more eligible for financial aid programs is key to achieving postsecondary credential objectives. Photo: Pxhere.

New research reveals that states should do a better job of including adults in financial aid programs to reach attainment goals. The data also recommends ensuring aid programs are goal-driven, data-informed, student-centered, timely, flexible and broadly inclusive of students from all walks of life, while also realizing the costs students still must pay beyond financial aid.

During a Nov. 15 meeting of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, lawmakers heard from two analysts who described the current problems for state aid programs and how to improve the reach and effectiveness of this money for Washington students.

Education Commission of the States (ECS) recently convened a group of state financial aid leaders to brainstorm what key principles should be included when redesigning these programs.

Karole Dachelet, ECS Policy Analyst, said the commission recommends that state financial aid programs include two-year public community colleges and technical schools, and that awards: are based on financial need, include those with part-time enrollment, does not restrict benefits within years of high school graduation and allow for an application deadline after Aug. 1.

“You want to have financial aid programs that are set up to allow the student to be successful and …individual situation and outcomes to be considered,” said Dachelet.

Wyoming was cited as a model, with its program that allows students’ financial aid to be awarded before other aids, allowing students to additional funds for living expenses after covering tuition and fees.

Such programs should be goal-driven and data-informed, she continued, with a clearly defined intent: “A lot of the financial aid programs may have been designed with a focus on access, so we see a lot of activity and interest considering a successful outcome being completed…driving at access and not completion.”

Finally, programs should be timely, flexible, and support students in a variety of contexts and backgrounds, while being broadly inclusive – including allowances for part-time and flexible enrollment, and adult learners.

Sarah Pingel, Senior Policy Analyst for ECS, said that Washington and other states should pay attention to students’ out-of-pocket expenditures for attending college even after financial aid, including room and board, living expenses and books.

Nationally, the general trend is that the net price increases as household income increases, and two-year institutions general are lower than four-year institutions. Washington experiences the same tendency, however the four-year trend tends to be lower than the national average across all five income groups.

A Washington family in 2016 with an average income between $48,000 and $75,000 has an average net cost of $9,365 to $9,864 after receiving financial aid for two-year and four-year public institutions, respectively, while families earning $110,001 or more paid $12,814 to $15,667 out of pocket.

If all states graduated 100 percent of high school students, and 100 percent of those students received college credentials, every state would still fall short of its 60 percent attainment goal by 2025, she told lawmakers, and said Washington should ensure adult students are eligible for aid as needed. Data suggest that 60 percent attainment is what states need to remain economically competitive.

“The math does not work in any state to meet that attainment goal without the effective integration of recapturing or capturing first time students later in their life to participate in postsecondary education,” said Pingel.

She added that a large portion of state programs have requirements – such as limiting awards to windows of time around high school graduation – which make it difficult for adult students to become eligible. It can be hard for those students to demonstrate their merit-based capabilities and attain full-time enrollment when returning to school later in life.




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