Higher Education News
This week, I will be starting my 11th year teaching Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics, and I have seen during that time the importance of a rigorous high school experience in preparing students to succeed in college. That’s why I was excited to see the U.S. Department of Education’s recent announcement of $28.4 million in federal grants to help students access AP classes. These grants are used to help pay for low-income students taking advanced placement tests administered by the College Board, the International Baccalaureate Organization, and Cambridge International Examinations.
As the College Board noted in its 2014 AP Report to the Nation, students who experience success in an AP course are more likely to graduate college on time and earn higher GPAs. Beyond the numbers, I have seen the positive impact of rigorous coursework in the stories of my students.
One of my greatest joys each year is to receive emails, calls, and visits from former students, and they frequently note how well their AP coursework in high school prepared them for a collegiate learning environment. In addition, an overwhelming majority of my students have performed well enough on the AP exam to receive college credit, which, in turn, has given them increased freedom and a leg up in their collegiate studies.
I also know my students are uniquely fortunate, as my home state of South Carolina pays the fee for each student in an AP course to take the exam. The cost to take an exam is nearly $100, and, while the College Board provides a reduced fee for students with financial need, the cost for these students is still over $50. As a result, this fee becomes a major obstacle to accessing a rigorous curriculum for many students in the 38 states that don’t pay for AP exams.
Currently, over 20 percent of our nation’s school-age children come from households living in poverty, and, for these children, paying the fees to take even one AP exam is simply not financially possible. However, this inability to pay does not mean these children lack the ability to thrive and succeed in rigorous coursework. I have taught numerous students who were in poverty or homeless, and they excelled in their coursework and earned college credit via the AP exam just like their more advantaged peers.
By distributing The Advanced Placement Test Fee grants announced last week, the Department of Education is extending opportunity to thousands of students around our country.
In the 21st century, student access to rigorous coursework is an essential right to prepare students for the workforce, and programs like this one are an important step in the right direction. There is still more work required in order to provide students from underprivileged backgrounds with the types of academic supports and systems necessary to succeed in challenging coursework, but eliminating barriers to accessing rigor is an essential first step. The Department of Education’s efforts to provide that access to more students is exactly the type of initiative that will help us reach our nation’s common goal of producing “college- and career-ready” students.
Patrick Kelly is a 2015 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow from Richland County School District Two in Columbia, SC
The U.S. Department of Treasury recently released a report entitled “Opportunities to Improve the Financial Capability and Financial Well-being of Postsecondary Students.” I read this report because I am an intern in the office of Federal Student Aid at the Department of Education, and I am working on various projects related to financial literacy for college students. I actually found this report to be a worthwhile read as a college student embarking on the daunting journey of funding my college education and managing my money while in school.
Despite the heavy financial burden, most of us understand the necessity of a college degree. Report after report make evident that education is one of the most significant factors in upward economic mobility. Still, college students face not only education loans but also consumer debt. There are so many important decisions that college students have to make in support of the ultimate goal to become financially independent. And, as tuition, books, housing and more only rise, the dream of financial independence has only become more difficult, and stressful.
Although I am no expert in financial literacy and financial aid, learning about responsible borrowing, careful budgeting, and repaying loans on time has helped lower my financial stress. The following are some simple tips I’ve learned that can alleviate financial stress and help college students manage their money.
1. Borrow responsibly.
Federal Student Aid offers resources to help students understand the borrowing process.
First, know how to read the financial aid package your school offers you. Be sure you can differentiate among grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study offers. You can do this by talking to the staff at your school’s financial aid office. Next, talk to your parents or those contributing to your education. Review the financial aid offer from your school, and look at your family’s finances, to decide which aid to accept or turn down. This is important in calculating how much you need to borrow in order to afford your education. You do not need to accept the full amount of loan money that’s offered to you; and understanding that concept will leave you with less debt in the future.
2. Budget carefully.
Budgeting is vital to lowering stress. By adopting responsible budgeting habits, you’ll learn planning skills to help manage multiple priorities and prepare for the future. Healthy budgeting practices provide dual opportunities for money-saving and time-management techniques. Budgeting is a great financial foundation and can be a stepping-stone to handling greater financial responsibility, leaving lifelong benefits.
3. Repay on time.
Repayment is the final step of the student loan process and lasts long after you graduate. If you do your research, the repayment process can go a lot more smoothly.
One way to reduce your stress is to understand the different repayment plans. You might find that you meet the criteria for making payments based on your income. Use the Repayment Estimator to help you understand the different repayment plans and decide which one is best for you. Then contact your loan servicer to see how to apply for the plan that best fits your situation.
Another thing to be aware of is that there are certain loan forgiveness options, including one for those who work full-time in public service. Knowing who qualifies and how to apply can ease the stress you feel about your debt as well.
Lastly, know that forbearance and deferment (ways to postpone or reduce your payments) are options if special circumstances arise. Understanding what’s best for your situation and applying in a timely manner is something you need to be aware of and talk to your servicer about.
As the report says, “Postsecondary education is essential to the economic health of our nation and to the economic opportunity of many Americans,” and each of our personal financial decisions contributes to that!
Megan McCusker is a sophomore at Loyola University Maryland studying History and Spanish. She served an intern for U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.
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Protecting students’ privacy and ensuring colleges and universities promote a safe and healthy campus for their students has never been more important. As Chief Privacy Officer at ED, I help to lead the Department of Education in overseeing the administration of FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). My office strives to provide helpful and meaningful guidance on student privacy issues and challenges that the field faces, and we’re asking the higher education community for input on protecting student medical records.
Under FERPA there are certain instances when schools can release a student’s information without their consent (known as exceptions). Recently, the Department has been asked if it is possible and/or appropriate for campus officials to share confidential medical records from on-campus services with university attorneys in the context of litigation between a university and a student. This type of sharing is potentially allowable under the “school official” exception to consent if the university attorneys have a “legitimate educational interest” in the records.
Institutions of higher education have a strong interest in ensuring that students have uncompromised access to the support they need, without fear that the information they share will be disclosed inappropriately. Providing on-campus access to medical services, including mental health services, can help promote a safe and healthy campus. The practice of sharing a student’s sensitive medical records with others not involved in their treatment may discourage the use of medical services provided on campus.
While state law plays a key role in setting the rules about disclosing medical information, we believe that HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, provides a helpful guide for those situations where federal law is controlling.
Under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, a covered health care provider, such as a hospital, may use or disclose the minimum necessary protected health information (PHI) for its own legal purposes related to its treatment or payment functions (for example, by providing the information to its own counsel to seek legal advice, or submitting briefs in a court action to which it is a party) without an individual’s authorization or a court order or other lawful process.
We think this standard makes sense, and that FERPA’s school official exception should be construed to offer protections that are similar to HIPAA’s. We want to set the expectation that, with respect to litigation between institutions of higher education and students, institutions generally should not share student medical records with school attorneys or courts, without a court order or written consent.
The only exception is if the litigation in question relates directly to the medical treatment itself or the payment for that treatment, and even then institutions should only disclose those records that are relevant and necessary to the litigation. To provide a clarifying example, if an institution provided counseling services to a student and the student subsequently sued the institution claiming that the services were inadequate, the school’s attorneys should be able to access the student’s treatment records to defend the school without obtaining a court order or consent.
However, if instead the litigation between the institution and the student concerned the student’s eligibility to graduate, the school should not access the student’s treatment records without first obtaining a court order or consent. Thus, I am issuing a draft Dear Colleague letter that provides guidance on this and related issues.
Considering the complex nature of this issue however, we are seeking public input on our draft guidance, as we believe that this input will result in a better product. To the extent practicable, we commit to making all comments public as they are submitted; though depending on the volume of comments, we may wait and publish all comments at the conclusion of the comment period. While we welcome input on all aspects of this letter, we are particularly interested in your views on the following matters:
- Whether this guidance would create any unintended consequences. For example, would this guidance in any way restrict the work of threat assessment teams, as we believe these teams are often the best method for schools and colleges to assess whether a given student constitutes a threat to him/herself or others?
- Recognizing that getting a court order or consent will create additional burden on institutions, is there a way to mitigate that burden without lessening the protections given to students?
- If this guidance is extended outside the postsecondary context to include K-12 and early childhood, what other factors need to be considered? For example, how would this guidance fit within the context of elementary and secondary school counselors, or disputes regarding special education services?
We welcome your input for 45 days, until October 2nd. Please send your comments via email to FERPA.Comments@ed.gov.
Kathleen Styles is the Chief Privacy Officer at the U.S. Department of Education.
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If you’re looking for another way to pay for college, Federal Work-Study may be a great option for you. Work-study is a way for students to earn money to pay for school through part-time on (and sometimes off) campus jobs. Work-study gives students an opportunity to gain valuable work experience while pursuing a college degree. However, not every school participates in the Federal Work-Study Program. Schools that do participate have a limited amount of funds they can award to students who are eligible. This is why it is so important for students to fill out the FAFSA as early as possible, as some schools award work-study funds on a first come, first served basis.
Here are 8 things you should know about the Federal Work-Study Program:
Accepting the federal work-study funds you’re offered is just the first step. In order to receive those funds, you need to earn them, which means you need to start by finding a work-study job. Some schools may match students to jobs, but most schools require the student to find, apply and interview for positions on their own, just like any other job. It is important that students who are interested in work-study or who have already been awarded work-study contact the financial aid office at their school to find out what positions are available, how to apply, and how the process works at their school.2. Not All Work-Study Jobs are on Campus
The availability of work-study positions includes community service options with non-profit employers, which means some work-study jobs are available for off-campus work. An example might be reading or tutoring for elementary children at local public schools. If you are curious about securing a community service work-study position, contact the financial aid office or the student employment center at your school.3. Work-Study Funds Are Not Applied Directly to Your Tuition
Unlike other types of financial aid, work-study earnings are not applied directly to your tuition and fees. Students who are awarded work-study receive the funds in a paycheck as they earn them, based on hours worked, just like a normal job. These earnings are meant to help with the day to day expenses that students have and are not meant to cover large costs like tuition and housing.4. Work-Study Jobs May Be Limited
You may still be able to work on campus without work-study if your school does not have enough work-study funds to cover all on-campus student employees. Many campuses offer jobs for students with or without work-study. Check with the student employment office on your campus to find out what is available.5. Federal Work-Study is not Guaranteed from Year to Year
There are several factors that can determine whether or not you receive work-study from year to year. These include your family income or financial need, whether you used the work-study funds that were offered to you in a prior year, or how much work-study funding your school receives that year. Contact your school for specific awarding criteria if you are interested in work-study. Typically, students who file the FAFSA early (in January/February prior to the academic year) and answer on the FAFSA that they are interested in Federal Work-Study will have a higher chance of being awarded funds from the program.6. Pay May Vary
Work-study jobs vary in qualifications and responsibilities, so the pay will depend on the job that you are hired to do. Pay may also depend on your school’s policies and/or the minimum wage requirements in the state.7. Work-study Earnings Are Removed From Your FAFSA Calculation for the Next Year
One of the benefits of earning income through a federal work-study position is that those earnings do not count against you when you complete the next year’s FAFSA. Be sure to answer the question regarding how much was earned through work-study on your FAFSA accurately. If you do not know the answer, you can contact the financial aid office at your school for help. Some schools will send you a notice in early spring regarding your earnings from the last calendar year to help you file your FAFSA.8. Hours Worked May Vary
How many hours you work each week will depend on the type of job you get and your employer’s expectations. Most student employment positions, however, will work around your class schedule and only require between 10-20 hours/week, but again – that can vary!
Chandra Owen, Training Coordinator in the Office of Financial Aid at Michigan State University, Justin Chase Brown, Director of Scholarships & Financial Aid at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Karla Weber, Senior Advisor in the Office of Student Financial Aid at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
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Recently, ED invited student athletes from Urban Squash to speak about how they can use sports for leadership development and academic success. The organization is a youth development program that combines the sport of squash with academics, mentoring, community service, and college placement for public school students in under-served communities.
Unanimously, the students expressed that being involved in the sport has made them more confident to speak up, taught them what it means to respect and help each other as a team and inspired them to make changes in their community. They also spoke about the difference it made to their academic and personal growth and how empowering it was to be part of something, “larger than ourselves.”The student athletes encouraged everyone – regardless of neighborhood or background – to get involved with community building opportunities inside and outside of school. These activities are not limited to sports teams. They identified programs in their neighborhoods geared to support youth such as non-profit organizations, community service, internships and even employment opportunities.
While most of these programs welcome students with open arms, the students acknowledged the challenge that often goes along with finding out about these opportunities. To promote accessibility and diversity in these programs, they recommended expanding outreach to a more diverse population.. As a sport that is still largely outside the mainstream, the issues of awareness and diversity are even more pressing in squash.
Ultimately, these afterschool associations serve as a cultural program to connect different students and inspire them to advance their goals. It also gives them a chance to learn from each other by working in a team with diverse backgrounds and interests. Program participants are committed to making the most out of these educational opportunities – both on and off the court – to better themselves and their communities. As one student explained, “We are student athletes but the student part comes first”Squash is an indoor racket sport played by more than 15 million people in 153 countries. Until recently, it was played almost exclusively at prep schools, elite colleges, and exclusive clubs in the United States. Thanks in large part to programs like Urban Squash the sport has become more popular in recent decades. Because of its strong link to top-tier educational institutions, it has become an effective after-school program “hook.”
Hannah Pomfret was a 2015 summer intern at the U.S. Department of Education.
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