Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab is a sociology professor at Temple University and founder of the Hope Center for College Community and Justice. She is also the author of Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. Her work centers on improving access to higher education and she recently shared her insights on the challenges of college costs faced by today’s students.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length
So I recently had a student at Temple who had enrolled for the third time. He really enjoyed school and wanted to be there, but discovered that even while working and taking out loans, he still couldn’t afford to attend. His mother was diagnosed with cancer, so he was taking care of her in addition to his work and school responsibilities. And research shows that his case is not unusual. Today’s students are having to take care or parents, relatives, siblings, their children or even other people’s children while juggling college. This creates both time and financial pressures that make it difficult to complete a degree.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) was designed to determine the aid eligibility of students and reserve money for those who can demonstrate the most need. Why do you say that this model needs to be eliminated?
I believe that the FAFSA is the enemy of good equitable policy and doesn’t do a good job of determining a student’s true financial need. I had a student last semester who according to FAFSA doesn’t demonstrate need because his parents have the money to pay for college. But the FAFSA doesn’t take into account that his parents don’t speak to him after he came out as gay so he can’t pay for college without financial aid. There are unintended consequences to the assumption that we will promote equity by rationing money using an application. The solution is making public colleges and universities accessible to everyone like we do for high school, and operating under the assumption that everyone needs financial help. And for the handful that don’t, it’s worth paying for them if it means meeting everyone else’s needs.
What are some of the problems inherent in financial aid and student loans?
Financial aid does a bad job of distributing money, and student loans are punitive in the way that they are structured in that they are expected to be repaid at exactly the wrong moment. Graduates don’t appreciate the returns of college until a decade after graduation, but loans are due right away and the tiny grace period needs to be longer if we’re going to have this system.
I was fascinated by what you describe as miscalculations in financial aid packages. Why is it important to understand these in the conversation of college affordability?
Because it helps us understand that the real price of attending college is higher than what colleges care to admit. For instance, something like housing costs for community college students isn’t considered when calculating the cost of attendance just because community colleges don’t have residence halls. This leads to lower financial aid packages and a miscalculation in what it really costs to enroll.
What are your immediate solutions for solving the problem?
One of the things we can do right away is improve how colleges estimate living expenses. Students need to know what it’s going to cost to make better-informed decisions on the loans they’re going to take out. We should change expected family contribution to estimated family contribution. We can provide better clarity and transparency on how award letters are done. States can help by providing their institutions with budgets that cover two years, because if the colleges know their own finances then they can give more accurate numbers to students on what it will cost them to attend.
Students that work hard to earn an outside scholarship often find that this award lowers their financial aid package, meaning they don’t get to appreciate the full benefit of the scholarship. How can we change this?
So this idea of “displacement” where a scholarship award displaces a work-study, university grant, or student loan offer in their financial aid package has been a point of frustration for charitable organizations such as the Gates Foundation for many years. It’s based on the assumption that students don’t need any more money than what is calculated by FAFSA, and if they do then they’re just bad spenders. This is just wrong and in Maryland, an organization called Central Scholarship worked with state lawmakers to pass legislation forbidding public institutions from using scholarship dollars to displace other contributions. Perhaps they felt they couldn’t extend the law to include private institutions, and I think that’s too bad as the state does give those colleges money also.
What do you think about the proposed California Bill AB 943, which would allow community colleges to use up to $25,000 in support of emergency student aid?
Most students will run into financial trouble at some point when obtaining their degree, but few have wealthy families to turn to for help. Emergency assistance like the one proposed plays two roles: it helps cover unexpected expenses that might arise, and it also conveys to the student that someone cares. This assistance helps alleviate the trauma associated with something like a sudden $300 bill that might otherwise stop the student from graduating on time.
What role does philanthropy play when it comes to college affordability?
Right now we’re seeing philanthropy help feed college students who face food insecurity. Also, we wouldn’t have a good understanding of the number of homeless students were it not for philanthropic organizations conducting surveys. This type of research is something we would’ve never been able to do if we had to wait for government or university funding. So whether it’s a food pantry, or providing research funding, or supporting legislation advocacy work philanthropy is very worthwhile.
What has changed since you published your book in 2016? Where is there hope or progress for students?
I think there’s a lot more public awareness. The number of media pieces elevating student stories, in particular on the issues of student hunger and homelessness, has grown tremendously. The number of colleges saying they want to put programming in place to help has grown. There’s more policy attention at the state level – we have bills pending all over the country and that’s incredible. I’m also delighted to see growth in the number of researchers digging into these issues, and we’re going to learn a lot more as a result of their efforts.
Author: Miguel León is a Program Officer at the Michelson 20MM Foundation. His work focuses on student access and success as well as policy, government relations, and external affairs.
Michelson 20MM and its initiatives are made possible by the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson, M.D. and his wife, Alya Michelson.
In ‘Operation IP IQ’ Inventors Digest highlights Dr. Michelson’s storied career as an innovator, philanthropic endeavors, and mission to empower students and aspiring inventors with IP education through the Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property (Michelson IP).
Our mission at Michelson IP is to address critical gaps in the world of intellectual property education, and to empower the next generation of inventors and creators with the knowledge they will need to capitalize on their innovations. We’re thrilled to be recognized by Inventors Digest!
For the full article, please click here.
The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property, an initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, addresses critical gaps in intellectual property education to empower the next generation of inventors. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. To learn more, visit 20mm.org
By Jelani Odlum
Did you know that a team of high school students from Elizabethtown, Kentucky developed a wearable personal monitor and safety system for industrial workers? Or that another group from Salem, Oregon invented an adaptive drinking cup for people suffering from dysphagia, a swallowing disorder which often affects stroke victims? Both of these impressive teams of young inventors were assembled and coached thanks to the InvenTeams initiative, a Lemelson-MIT program that is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by the School of Engineering at MIT. This unique and hands-on program awards up to $10,000 to teams of high school students to invent technological solutions to real-world problems of their own choosing.
EurekaFest at MIT, which took place this year from June 19-20, is the annual culminating event for InvenTeams from across the US to gather and showcase their working prototypes to the greater community. I attended EurekaFest to present to students and educators on the background of the Michelson IP initiative and the intellectual property education resources available to them. Throughout the event, I had the pleasure of speaking to students, educators, and community partners who were passionate about expanding upon and amplifying STEM and invention education.
A high point of EurekaFest was the InvenTeams presentations, where student teams explained the background of their invention process and shared their prototypes with the audience. If I left with one takeaway, it would be how serious these students took up the challenge and calling to use the resources and guidance of the program to address real problems within their communities.
There was the InvenTeam from Casa Grande, Arizona that developed a fire defense system and foam coating for homes that prevents the spread of wildfires in high-risk fire regions. Another team from Canfield, Ohio built a danger alert system for schools based on electromagnetic locks and lighting indicators, to provide a layer of safety during potential school shootings – an issue dear to the members of the team I spoke with during the showcase. Many students discussed how they engaged not only among their team members, but within their school ecosystems and local business communities to explore problems and collectively brainstorm solutions.
This is the power of invention education. EurekaFest is a shining example of what’s possible when we invest in our students and empower them with the skillset and the confidence to become local changemakers. Congratulations to the 2019 InvenTeams!
For more on the student inventions, visit the InvenTeams webpage.
By Ryan Erickson-Kulas
Last month the Michelson 20MM Foundation was able to attend the 19th annual Online Teaching Conference hosted by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. Educators from throughout the nation gathered to learn about the latest practices and innovations around online teaching!
Open Educational Resources
As a former educator, I know how important it is for faculty to have access to resources that allow them to bring knowledge to their students. For community college faculty, one great tool can be open educational resources. Open educational resources (OER) are freely licensed materials that reside in the public domain, and can include textbooks, full courses, tests, software and more. For faculty who are teaching online OER provides digitally focused materials that lead to increased student outcomes. Studies have attributed a 12.3% grade increase to the use of OER for Pell eligible students. An additional benefit of OER is that they are free which proves highly impactful as a recent study shows 7 in 10 students in California community colleges have experienced food insecurity, housing insecurity, or homelessness during the previous year.
As a foundation we were able to present in two separate sessions around the increased adoption and usage of OER. On the 2nd day of the conference Edwin Hernandez and Jenifer Vang, two of our Student Advocate grantees, spoke about the incredible work they are doing to create a toolkit for students to lobby faculty and administration to make the switch to OER. The finished product will be released in the fall and will serve as a great resource for California State University and California Community College students as they inform faculty on the benefits of switching to OER.
On the third day of the conference, our OER and Innovation Fellow, Dr. Barbara Illowsky, also presented her work with the California Virtual Campus – Online Education Initiative (CVC-OEI) in creating over 35 Canvas course shells for OER textbooks. Dr. Illowsky shared how these shells can be modified to fit an individual’s instructor needs. The session also emphasized how the issue of textbook affordability is an equity issue for students. It helps them stay in school and work toward degree completion by eliminating the financial concerns around getting educational materials.
The Michelson 20MM Foundation and its initiatives are made possible by the generous support of Gary K. Michelson, M.D. and his wife, Alya Michelson.
To learn more about our work in textbook affordability and the other initiatives of our foundation please sign up for our mailing list via the form below.
The Michelson 20MM Foundation will be awarding our 4th Spark Grant to The Education Trust-West, a nonprofit that advocates for educational justice and the high academic achievement of all California students, pre-k through college; particularly those of color and living in poverty.
The grant will fund the development of a California Digital Financial Aid Awareness Toolkit. The toolkit will highlight best practices and strategies for high school and district administrators, counselors, and teachers, in order to drive increased rates of completed financial aid applications, specifically for low-income students and students of color.
The toolkit is directly related to last year’s passage of AB 2015 (Reyes), which requires all high schools to ensure that each of their students receive information on how to properly complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California DREAM Act application (CADAA) at least once before they enter 12th grade. This year AB 1617 (Reyes), builds on the prior bill, by requiring that schools ensure each 12th grade pupil completes and submits a FAFSA or CADAA starting in 2021.
Through a partnership with the California Student Aid Commission the completed toolkit will be distributed to all high schools throughout the state directly impacting over 400,000 students, including 221,547 low-income students of color.
We will be conducting Phase 2 of the Michelson Spark Grant program starting August 5th. To learn more please visit our webpage or sign up for notifications via the form below.