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More Financial Aid Will Yield More College Graduates

More Financial Aid Will Yield More College Graduates

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Last year, student loans were the target. Now, US Department of Education Deputy Secretary Tony Miller wants to overhaul financial aid in its entirety. The goal: To not only make college and university studies accessible to students, but to encourage students to obtain degrees.

Degree completion has been a focus ever since the Obama Administration challenged Americans to help the United States reclaim its top worldwide ranking in the number of college and university degree holders. The difference in academic achievement between Americans and residents of other countries could have cost the American economy more than $2 trillion in output in 2008, according to research from McKinsey & Company, which also cited hundreds of billions in economic losses as a result of achievement gaps having to do with ethnicity, income levels and school systems.

To reach the Obama Administration’s goal by 2020, Miller said, three in five young adults have to obtain a college or university degree as compared with the two in five who do today. He spoke at a Federal Student Aid conference in November and suggested that financial aid be strengthened in ways other than adding money to the tuition assistance that’s available. He also cited a McKinsey & Company report noting that the Obama Administration’s goals can be reached if colleges and universities increase their average degree productivity, measured by cost per degree, instead.

State governments, colleges and universities and education groups are doing their part. A university in Colorado is offering scholarships to former students who never completed their bachelor’s degree programs. The program is known as a “CU Complete,” and students can receive up to $1,000 in scholarships, with amounts depending upon the academic credits they need to take. The Daily Camera newspaper recently reported that more than 375 students have been contacted over the past 1.5 years as part of “CU Complete,” and that the university has awarded some $23,000 in scholarships to 23 who enrolled.

The non-profit College Board provides examples of policies in states such as Kentucky and Michigan, which respectively provide adults with financial aid information and as much as $5,000 in financial aid to complete two years of studies at community colleges; Virginia, where students receive $1,000 incentives to transfer to a four-year college or university to train for in-demand careers after obtaining an associate’s degree at a two-year college; and Oklahoma, where low-income students as part of a Promise Scholarship program agree to maintain a minimum 2.5 grade point average in demanding high school studies and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The group, Excelencia in Education, is working to increase the number of Latinos with college and university degrees. The group notes that the country’s near-49 million Latinos make this demographic group its largest racial or ethnic minority and cites one report suggesting that nearly 25 percent of men and women who are college or university aged in 2025 are to be Latino. In Florida, Excelencia in Education has recommended getting information about higher education – and how to pay for it – out to new mothers in hospitals and students in middle schools.

Miller suggested that financial aid administrators consider that their job responsibilities involve more than providing students entry to colleges and universities – that they involve helping students succeed. He provided examples of scholarships that, through their stipulations, affect graduation rates. HOPE scholarship programs that provide full in-state public college and university tuition to Arkansas and Georgia residents with minimum 3.0 grade point averages increased continued studies toward a bachelor’s degree by as much as 10 percent, he noted. West Virginia, in creating its Promise scholarship program, made it so that students have to take enough per semester courses so that they graduate on time, Miller noted.