Political Waffling Drives Up Out-of-Pocket College Costs

By Staff

A report released this morning shows that state spending on public school (K-12) education isn’t back to pre-recession levels. Meanwhile, as Congress faces another looming budget decisions, many lawmakers are considering a proposal to leave education funding at sequestration levels. What, you may ask, do these things mean for college students? Basically, students will end up forking over more money out of their own pockets — or by borrowing money through student loan programs — in order to fund their higher ed dreams.

K-12 Cuts Burden Colleges, Students
This morning’s report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that most states’ per-pupil spending for public school students remains at levels lower than they were six years ago. This means that students may not be receiving the tools and resources they need in order to attend — and succeed — in college.

[Read how Elite Schools Are Failing Poor Students]

As a previous post notes, schools are already failing to offer lower-income, prospective college students the guidance they need to make informed decisions about college. For example, a New York Times article earlier this year quoted a high school guidance counselor as saying, “Who’s ever heard of Bowdoin College?”

On the other hand, colleges apparently didn’t know about the students either. The dean of admissions at Amherst appeared surprised to learn “That so many high-achieving, lower-income students exist.” The article was based on data collected during a nationwide study of high school students and guidance counselors. Students do not talk to people who know about such colleges.

To a certain extent, I am surprised that high schools are not more dialed-in to opportunities for their more successful students. It seems to be a failure of the public education system: they are failing to support and promote their own greatest successes… and continued reduction in funding is not going to help students find the right college opportunities.

Another problem with the lack of funding in K-12 public education is that many students are graduating high school unprepared to attend college — even if their high school grades seem to indicate otherwise. Placement tests at community colleges and public universities often result in students having to take remedial math or composition courses. The students have to pay for these classes but receive no college credit for them. Meanwhile, college resources are being used for these remedial courses, which diverts funding and energy away from the schools’ higher education missions. It’s a lose-lose for all involved when K-12 schools are not funded at a level which allows them to do their jobs in prepping students for college.

Budget In-Fighting Threatens Higher Ed Funding
In yet another replay of Washington posturing, federal higher education funding — including already-affected programs like Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG) and Work Study — is at risk of remaining at the level to which is was reduced by the sequestration in March of this year. This means that students who may otherwise have qualified for these aid programs will have to borrow money, pay out of pocket or drop out of school.

As POLITICO reported, Education advocates were furious about the House Republican proposal to fund the government after the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, a bill that would lock spending cuts at sequestration levels. “Education programs have already been cut multiple times in the past two and a half years,” the Committee for Education Funding wrote in a letter to Congress. “It’s time for Congress to reject these draconian cuts and replace the sequester with a balanced package of deficit reduction. … Instead of making it more difficult to improve overall student achievement, close achievement gaps, and increase high school graduation and college access and completion rates by enacting these drastic cuts, Congress should be investing in our future through education.”

They just might get their wish. A skirmish between leadership and hard-line conservatives over attaching a provision to defund Obamacare has left the House Republican leadership with few options to avoid a government shutdown. One path forward: Craft a spending bill that could get some Democratic support. POLITICO‘s Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan report on the mess: “Following Wednesday’s announcement that a House vote on a continuing resolution to fund the government would be indefinitely delayed, Senate Democrats are watching the House and wondering how Boehner and Cantor will get themselves out of this jam. … Unless they can squelch this latest rebellion, Boehner (R-Ohio) and Cantor (R-Va.) will have to go to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to ask her to help avoid a government shutdown.”