Conference Attendees on College Access Issues

Read what some conference attendees have to say about college access issues:

Paul Kohn

Paul Kohn

Paul Kohn, Dean of Admissions and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Arizona.

Enrollment: 30,000 undergrads and 9,000 graduate students

As a public university, we are concerned with the shift from tax-based support to alternative means of support. That raises an important question: how can we continue to maintain quality and provide access to all the people we want to educate if we don’t have the resources?

This conference will be particularly useful for us to get a sense of what is going on in California and the Western states. It will help us anticipate enrollment trends for the near term and to get a glimpse of what might be the situation in Arizona five or ten years down the road. California is often a trendsetter in terms of education innovations and demographics.

Despite the resource constraints, we have been developing innovations of our own to increase our enrollment, diversity and student quality. One example of that is the “MacBook Scholars” program, which has grown to provide 600 students with custom-designed portable computers. The idea behind that is to see whether technology can be used as a tool to increase the chance of student success, in particular among certain at-risk groups. The project is being done in conjunction with our retention services programs.

Madeleine Rhyneer

Madeleine Rhyneer

Madeleine Rhyneer, Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid at Willamette University  (Salem, Oregon)

Enrollment: 805 graduate students and 1801 undergraduates

The top issue on my mind is financial support for students. There are a lot of really great students whose families just don’t have the resources. In some cases, they were poor before the economic downturn and are still struggling, and in other cases families tried to save and then the economic downturn eliminated their financial buffer. It’s possible that some of these students will choose public schools over private schools, not necessarily because they are better – but because it’s a better economic fit.

Enrollment managers face similar challenges at public and private institutions. We need to think carefully about strategic objectives and how to husband resources to help students get the greatest value from their education. The bottom line is that when you invest in financial aid you are investing in the future and human potential – It’s about helping young people achieve their dreams.
I am looking forward to the kind of challenging and supportive conversational exchanges that CERPP conferences are known for. Higher-order thinking skills happen here but it’s also about challenging each other as an accountability group to make sure that words turn into action.

John Lehman

John Lehman

John Lehman, Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Services at Michigan Technological University (Houghton, Michigan).

Enrollment: 5,900 undergraduate and 1,200 graduate students

State-based aid is a huge concern for us right now. The State of Michigan has pulled back one entire program. We only have 20 percent of the need based aid we had one year ago. In Michigan, we have been going through this for years, but over the past year it has become even worse.

The state is seeing an exodus of people who are going to other states because the auto industry is in such bad shape. Thus, finding students is getting tougher, and as a result we are going for more of a national-based recruitment scheme versus a locally-based one.

We are also interested in learning from our colleagues in higher education as to how they are planning on using ARRA funds*. There are so many stipulations tied to the federal money, and we want to make sure that the funds can be of benefit to the students and the institution, while ensuring we keep with the spirit of the intent of the funds.”

*The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 includes stimulus funds to expand educational opportunities. For more information from the Education Department, go here.

Stephanie Sanders

Stephanie Sanders

Stephanie Sanders, Senior Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions and First Year Experience at The Ohio State University

I am very concerned about the disparities in K -12 education. We know that a college education is the key to upwardly mobility. Even as we in higher education focus on access, the often inferior educational opportunity available to low-income students limits their higher education access and options.

We have to find better ways of providing a solid educational foundation for all students regardless of family financial circumstances. Even as my own institution is developing innovative access programs, we can’t ignore the fact that there are too many students our programs won’t reach. Matters are only made worse by these tough economic times when many systems will face cuts. I most look forward to the discussions on developing a common set of state standards and K-16 alignment.

Michael Acosta

Michael Acosta

Michael Acosta, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Our Lady of the Lake University(San Antonio, Texas)

Enrollment: 1595 Undergraduates, 1065 Graduate students

Over 70 percent of our undergraduate students are Hispanic and a large number of them are the first in their family to go to college, so we are always looking at ways to address preparedness and determine the best methods and programs that might allow us to best serve that population. Historically, that’s been part of our character and our area of expertise.

One of the largest issues facing our university is the shift towards direct lending programs (in which money for financial aid goes to students through the universities rather than through banks). Some other private schools have decided to go ahead and implement direct lending programs, but while we have begun planning for a shift to direct lending, we are closely watching federal legislation in hopes that any federal mandates do not interfere with our ability to serve our students in an efficient and timely manner.

Mary Booker

Mary Booker

Mary Booker, Director of Financial Aid at Pomona College (Claremont, California)

Enrollment data: 1,520 undergraduates

We are having more conversations with families over whether or not they should be borrowing rather than using resources from their savings or monthly income to pay for college. There is a gap between what families are willing to pay for college and what they are able to pay for college. As a “no loan” institution we offer financial aid packages that include student employment and grant aid only. An unforeseen consequence of this move is the reluctance of families to use loans an available financial resource. We find ourselves guiding them to different options about the financial aid resources available to them such as monthly payment plans.

This raises the question of families and their preparedness to pay for college, and what role the institutions (college resources, federal and state resources, private foundations that provide scholarship assistance) should be playing to meet these needs. There is this notion that financial aid should make college more affordable. However, the definition of affordability has seemingly gotten lost over the years. Financial aid has evolved from being a need-based system to being more merit-based to becoming a hybrid of the two. It seems to some as if we are cycling back to a need-based system and that merits discussion as to what that means in terms of helping not just the needy but also the middle class.

In addition, as more students seek out four year degrees, there needs to be some serious thinking into how to this level of education to up-and-coming college students (who traditionally have sought out two-year programs) without creating even greater levels of debt burdens for them. Access and success in college is critical, but the burden of cost must be shared by everyone.

William Black

William Black

William Black, Senior Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at Temple University (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Enrollment: 27,000 undergraduates and 10,000 graduate students

One of the big issues that is on my mind is access to higher education opportunities – I know that is big on the Obama agenda. Higher education has a role to play in this, and it is fair to ask what colleges and universities can do better in relation to the new federal goals. At the same time, the federal government needs to be provide sufficient money towards improving the college readiness of students in K-12 . Without that complementary component, talking about access to college makes for good politics, but not necessarily good policy.

Another topic that merits discussion is financial literacy and finding ways to help parents and students make smarter choices about funding their higher education. For example, students may enroll for certain credit loads without taking all the credits they are entitled to take. They may do this because they are working at a job for 20 hours a week, but we know from research that working those kinds of hours tends to depress grade point averages. It also means those students end up paying more for their education over the six to eight years it may take them to graduate. That’s why I think people need better information about how to best evaluate and balance financing choices with the goal of graduating as quickly as possible.

Lindsay Hench

Lindsay Hench

Lindsay Hench, Senior Associate, Higher Education with the American Federation of Teachers

As an organization that represents the needs and concerns of faculty and staff members at campuses around the country, the AFT is deeply involved in professional and policy debates related to, among other things, college access, financial support of public institutions, student success, accountability and academic staffing.

We believe it is critical that the voice of front-line faculty be heard on questions such as these in the face of diminished budgets, more centralized management and greater government intervention in academic affairs. We are particularly concerned about the instructional staffing crisis that has developed in higher education, under which full-time tenured positions are steadily shrinking and the majority of faculty are left with unstable jobs, disproportionately low wages and little to no professional support.

I see this conference as an opportunity to learn more about current policy proposals on these issues and highlight the fact that excellence in higher education is coupled with – in fact, requires – both a strong, secure full-time tenured faculty corps and fair and equitable treatment of part-time/adjunct and other nontenure-track faculty who are dedicated to coming up with new ways to ensure student access and success.

Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson, Vice Provost at the University of North Texas (Denton, Texas)

Enrollment Data: More than 36,000 undergraduate and graduate students

President Obama’s “Race to the Top” and other ARRA related programs set opportunity and expectation for reforms in education. As a nation we are expected to have many more Americans with degrees and that means finding new ways to provide learning opportunities and new ways to ensure that increased learning occurs.

This is happening at a time when students themselves are asking for more options. Weekly we read about new programmatic approaches such as offering three year bachelor degrees, increasing the number of community colleges offering bachelor degrees, starting creative degree completion programs and incentives for college dropouts, and maximizing capacity use on campuses during the summer.

Meanwhile, higher education is being looked to and held accountable for increasing student graduation rates. Universities certainly play a key role, while there are limits, especially when there are so many factors affecting when and if a student graduates that can’t be controlled by universities themselves.

We are also keenly focused on the success of Latino students–especially this group’s college going rates and college readiness levels. This is a currently critical issue for many states, if not for the entire country.