Panel: Re-Examining Higher Education Policies In the Wake of the Great Recession

Saturday, November 10, 2012: 1:45 PM-3:15 PM
Carroll (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizers:  Benjamin Castleman, Harvard University
Moderators:  Michal Kurlaender, University of California, Davis and Angela Boatman, Harvard University
Chairs:  Jacob Vigdor, University of Washington

The Great Recession has prompted heightened scrutiny of public investments in a range of higher education programs. Congress and attorneys-general in at least twenty states are investigating the for-profit sector for its recruitment of vulnerable student populations, many of whom have assumed tens of thousands of dollars in federal and private loan debt to obtain a degree of questionable value. As both federal and state governments grapple with the reality of looming budget shortfalls, policy makers have also advanced proposals to cut funding for the Pell Grant and state grant programs. In March 2011, the United States House of Representatives passed a Continuing Resolution to cut $5.7 billion in Pell Grant aid; cuts to state merit-based grant programs have concurrently been debated, or are already underway (Supiano, 2009; Tomsho, 2009). Dwindling budgetary resources have also sparked debates at both the federal and state levels about the structure and funding for remedial education. For instance, education officials in California have implemented a range of initiatives to reduce the time students spend in remedial courses, in order to accelerate students through the higher education system and concentrate expenditures on students with the greatest probability of earning a degree (Yamamura, 2012). This panel discusses new research findings on the tuition-setting policies of for-profit colleges and universities; the impact of need-based grant renewal on whether students earn a college degree; and the effect of initial assignment to remedial courses on whether students matriculate and on student learning outcomes. The final paper on our panel explores the reliability of postsecondary records from the National Student Clearinghouse, a data source commonly used to evaluate higher education policies. Paper 1 provides evidence that the number of institutions in the for-profit sector is double the number recorded in official counts, and moreover that for-profit institutions that participate in student aid programs charge tuition that is 75 percent higher than comparable institutions at which students cannot apply for aid. Paper 2 finds that eligibility to renew a need-based grant at the end of the freshman year of college increases the probability that students will earn a bachelor’s degree within five years by 4 – 6 percentage points. The paper also provides suggestive evidence that eligibility to renew a need-based grant leads to positive impacts on students’ academic performance in sophomore year. Paper 3 provides evidence that initial assignment to remediation has a diversionary effect on students’ college trajectories. Students just below the remedial cut-off enroll and persist at the same rates as students just above the cut-off, but take remedial courses rather than college-level courses. Paper 4 utilizes postsecondary attainment data from two sources, the NSC and transcripts from Michigan public colleges and universities, to examine measurement error in the NSC data. In summary, at a time when policy makers face tough decisions about where to devote increasingly scarce resources to improve college outcomes, our panel provides valuable new information about the scope, impact, and evaluation of key higher education policies.

Development, Diversion, or Discouragement? A New Framework and Evidence On the Effects of College Remediation
Judith Scott-Clayton, Teachers College, Columbia Univ. and Olga Rodriguez, Community College Research Center

Data Watch: Using National Student Clearinghouse Data to Track Postsecondary Outcomes
Susan Dynarski1, Steven W. Hemelt1 and Joshua Hyman2, (1)University of Michigan, (2)University of Connecticut

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