A Case for a Dualistic Approach
The Wisconsin Hope Lab recently surveyed 43,000 college students nationally in 2018. 42 percent of community college students and 36 percent of university students who responded to the survey indicated they were at “low” or “very low” levels of food insecurity when asked to rate their status in the last 30 days based on a scale of four levels: very low, low, marginal, or high. 51 percent of community college students and 36 percent of university students were experiencing housing insecurity and low or very low levels. In addition, 12 percent of community college students and 9 percent of university students reported they were currently experiencing homelessness at the time of the study. Layered barriers—such as food and housing insecurity, unemployment, and financial instability—experienced by low-income students increase risks to degree completion, and while federal financial aid programs extend to college students, this demographic continues to lack access to these benefits. To illustrate, a February 2018 Young Invincibles analysis on the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits among college students found that only 3 percent of all college students actually receive the federal food assistance for which they are eligible. This number is starkly different from national percentages, where 85 percent of those eligible access SNAP benefits. Somehow, the overlapping systems in play—federal, state, local—are missing the mark for today’s students.
Challenges experienced by low-income students reflect the multi-faceted impact that systematic political and cultural barriers impress upon this demographic, indicating, in turn, the need for a multi-faceted approach to tackle the barriers. Young Invincibles’ report encourages a three-pronged approach to increase enrollment eligibility transparency and encourage student-based participation in SNAP at the federal, state, and institutional level. Similarly, NASPA’s Research and Policy Institute works to study the impacts of institutional policies directed at supporting low-income students through the Center for First-Generation Student Success and Student ARC, while simultaneously working to examine federal and state policy implications on higher education as a whole.
NASPA’s Student ARC explores how creating programs for emergency aid funding as one important way that institutions can connect students with immediate services they need and help them stay on the path to degree completion. The emergency aid conversation fits into a larger, complex policy conversation around meeting the needs of low-income students. This post provides a peek into the federal policy landscape to explore where federal and institutional policies meet regarding low-income students.
The Current Federal Policy Landscape
The 2018 federal fiscal year is quickly drawing to a close on the heels of mid-term elections, and the higher education community stands by as Congress considers legislation that may impact low-income students down the line. This week, Congress has successfully passed bipartisan fiscal year 2019 (FY19) appropriations legislation which is typically unprecedented within the confines of the yearly fiscal year deadline of September 30. Seen largely as a win for higher education advocates, specifically for expanding opportunities for access and success for low-income students, with some reservations, the bill includes, among other funding: a $100 funding increase for maximum Pell Grant eligibility; increased funding for college access, including TRIO and GEAR UP programs; $70 million increase to Perkins Career and Technical Education grants; level-funding for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program and Federal Work Study; and certain allotments for student borrowers, including funding to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.
While the House have made movement on the spending bill this week, Congress continues to lack movement on the farm bill, which is set to expire on September 30, and has pointed to an expectation to push the legislation forward during the weeks following the November 6 election. Should the legislation fail to be reauthorized before the new Congress commences in January, dozens of programs would be prevented from operating until the legislation were reintroduced through the new Congress. Currently, the House and the Senate remain divided on resolving differences in their disparate versions of the bill. Most concerning for low-income students, are those policy implications drawn from the House Farm Bill H.R. 2, the Agriculture Improvement Act, which a microsimulation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, revealed that nearly 2 million households currently receiving SNAP benefits would no longer be eligible.
Finally, midterm elections, which may signal a flip in party in both the House and the Senate, offers a new platform for Congress to consider reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The Democrat-led version of reauthorization released in July as the Aim Higher Act, provides a marker of legislation expected to be introduced should the House switch party control. In consideration of impacts on low-income students, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) has provided a thorough analysis of the bill’s potential impacts on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), federal grant programs, campus-based programs, student borrowers, and lender servicer transparency.
NASPA’s director of strategic initiatives, Amy Geist, will discuss how federal policy impacts campus policy on September 27, 2018 at 2:30 p.m. ET in the Policy Briefing Series: Let’s Talk about Emergency Aid: Creating Pathways for Student Success and College Completion. Please join us for the live briefing, or catch the recorded version if you are unable to attend (to be linked following the presentation). Look for future posts that connect federal and state policy impacts with that of institutional policy and as always continue to visit the NASPA RPI blog for timely higher education policy updates and send your questions, comments, and feedback to the Policy and Advocacy Team.
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