Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Celebrates 25th Anniversary

This week the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 25th Anniversary. President Obama, at an event honoring the Act, lauded the contributions of the ADA and highlighted that more people with disabilities are in the workforce today than at any point in the last 30 years because of this legislation.

Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. In 1986, the National Council on Disability recommended enactment of an Americans with Disabilities Act and drafted the first version of the bill, which was introduced in the House and Senate in 1988. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) authored what became the final bill and President George H.W. Bush signed into law on July 26, 1990.

The ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. In addition, the ADA requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.


Washington Public Four-Year Institutions Receive Federal Funds

The U.S. Education Department recently announced the award of $270 million to 968 institutions of higher education to provide thousands of students with academic and other support services they need to succeed in college through the Student Support Services (SSS) program.

Central Washington University, The Evergreen State College, University of Washington and Washington State University each received federal grant dollars aimed at helping increase the number of low-income college students, first-generation students and those with disabilities to successfully complete a program of study at the postsecondary level.

SSS is one of seven Federal TRIO Programs, which provide outreach and student services for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities, foster care youth or homeless children and youth—to help them progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to post baccalaureate programs.

National Center for Education Statistics Releases New Preliminary Data on Institutions, Degrees, Price & Enrollment

This week the National Center for Education Statistics Released new data on institutions and students.  The report Postsecondary Institutions and Price of Attendance in 2014-15; Degrees and Other Awards Conferred: 2013-14; and 12-Month Enrollment: 2013-14: First Look (Preliminary Data), uses data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) fall 2014 collection.

The report finds that:

  • In 2014-15 the majority of Title IV institutions were four-year institutions, with the next largest being two-year institutions and the remaining less-than-two-year institutions
  • Average tuition for full-time, first-time degree/certificate seeking undergraduates at public and independent four-year institutions increased between 2012-13 to 2014-15. Adjusting for inflation, tuition increased by approximately 3 percent at public four-year institutions for in-state and out-of-state students and by 3 percent for independent four-year institutions.
  • Institutions reported an unduplicated headcount enrollment totaling approximately 27.8 million students, with the majority (24.1 million) being undergraduates and the remainder graduate students.

U.S. House Committee Introduces Bipartisan Higher Education Reauthorization Legislation

Yesterday a bipartisan group of policymakers that serve on the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee introduced a series of bills to address the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The bills would make the Pell Grant more flexible, use prior year income in need analysis, provide counseling for students and increase transparency for students and families.

The Flexible Pell Grants for 21st Century Students Act (HR 3180) would allow students to receive additional Federal Pell Grant dollars during an award year beginning on or after July 1, 2017 in an effort to speed their time to degree/credential. The bill would also allow a student to receive up to a 150% of his/her scheduled award during an award year.

In addition, the group of policymakers reintroduced three bills from the prior Congress:

  • Simplifying the Application for Student Aid Act (HR 3177) would require the U.S. Department of Education to use prior-prior year (PPY) in the federal need analysis. According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) the use of PPY would offer more time for students and families to evaluate award offers from institutions and make an informed decision about where to attend.  Among the lead authors of this bill is U.S. Representative Denny Heck (D-WA).
  • Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act (HR 3179) would implement new requirements designed to ensure that students make informed decisions when accepting federal loans and Pell Grants. The bill would change the current requirement of one-time entrance counseling for student loans into an annual counseling requirement that must be completed before the student accepts the loan.  In addition, the content for existing counseling would be expanded to include more borrower-specific information, such as contact information for loan servicers, a summary of the outstanding balance of principal and interest due on the loans, and information on repayment plans available.  Finally, the bill would require annual counseling for Pell Grant recipients prior to the disbursement of a Pell Grant in an award year.
  • Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act (HR 3178) would eliminate the current College Navigator, the affordability and transparency lists, and state higher education charts released by the U.S. Department of Education that are associated with the Navigator. Instead, the Department would be required to develop a College Dashboard Website with institutional-level information related to basic institutional facts, enrollment, completion rates, costs, financial aid, and cohort default rates. The Dashboard would also be required to allow comparisons among institutions.

It is not expected that any of the bills will see movement in the near future. Congress will recess for the month of August. It is anticipated that reauthorization could happen later this fall.


New Data on Student Aid

This week the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) released the 2014 National Student Aid Profile.  According to the profile, the number of students applying for federal financial assistance increased by 62 percent over five years from 19.4 million in 2007-08 award year to nearly 31.4 million in 2011-12.  Students today rely more on federal financial aid to attend college than ever before.

The total amount of federal financial aid awarded (e.g. Pell Grant, work-study, and student loans) to students under Title IV of the Higher Education Act also increased. Over the last decade the amount of aid awarded increased by 140%.

Higher Education Looking Up

The future of higher education seems less grim according to Moody’s Investors Services.  This week the firm predicted that higher education will stabilize for the first time since the Great Recession, allowing for greater predictability in operating budgets.

Higher education’s upgrade to “stable” is a welcome change from 2013 predictions which labeled higher education’s future as “negative”.

According to Moody’s, tuition revenue growth prior to the recession averaged 7 percent; it is expected that the new normal will be around 3 percent. In addition, the firm predicts that federal research funding will see an increase of 1-2 percent, state money for public institutions will rise by approximately 3 percent, and patient revenue for university medical centers will grow 5-6 percent.

The firm is optimistic yet cautious, stating that one in five colleges will still experience weak or declining revenue, with small private institutions and smaller regional institutions feeling the greatest impact.

Course Material Costs on the Decline

The presumption that textbook costs are rising may not be so true. A recent study suggests that college students spent less on textbooks last academic year (fall 2014) than they did in 2009, even though students bought just as many course materials.

According to the study by the National Association of College Stores, the average student spent $563 on textbooks, a 20 percent decline compared to the 2007-08 academic year. College bookstores remain the number one destination for course materials.

The study suggests that this decline is the result of several factors, including the growth of the rental textbook market, growing faculty awareness of the cost of course materials, and the rise of open educational resources.