Defining College Affordability Matters More Now, Than Ever: Part III | Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Defining College Affordability Matters More Now, Than Ever: Part III

Student Success Matters

Ultimately, the test of affordability is in student success.  If students do not complete their course of study, it is unlikely that that they will deem their experience as “affordable.”  Assisting students financially is fundamental, but providing the supports necessary to succeed academically and reach the finish line is also critical.  We highlight here a sampling of on-campus efforts (as well as at the Council on Postsecondary Education) that contribute to student success – and ultimately affordability.

Northern Kentucky University – Summer Spark Program

Summer Spark is a 5-week summer bridge program initially established to support incoming first-year, first generation students with a high school GPA between a 2.5 and 3.5 who were less likely to persist to the second year compared to their peers. These students were provided the opportunity to earn college credit for prior learning; interact with faculty, staff, and fellow students; and engage in programming to ensure a successful transition to college, including completion of their first general education course.  Summer Spark activities are all provided at a significantly reduced cost.

In the first two years of the program, fall-to-fall student retention rates for Summer Spark participants have been significantly higher than the rest of their peer group.  For 2017 participants, retention rates were 76.9% compared to 63.8% of all other first-generation students.

Survey data from program participants indicate improved study habits, increase in academic confidence, and greater integration into the campus community.

In 2019, based on its success, Summer Spark expanded to all incoming first-time, full-time students. Participation in the program doubled and is expected to continue to increase.

Morehead State University – Student Retention Initiatives

Morehead State has several initiatives mitigating financial need as a barrier to postsecondary success.

  • Student Hardship Assistance Resource Emergency (SHARE) program provides financial assistance for students experiencing financial hardship as a result of an emergency or life-altering situation. Assistance varies depending on the situation and does not require repayment. Common expenses covered include medication, rent, personal safety, or replacement of necessities due to fire or natural disaster.
  • Eagle Emergency Loan Fund provides short-term, interest free loans to students who are facing financial barriers that interfere with their retention – such as transportation, child care or unplanned educational expenses.
  • The Eagle Essentials program is a basic needs store providing students with non-perishable food items, hygiene products and school supplies at no cost.
  • In its 2nd year, the Earn-to-Learn (ETL) program provides on-campus employment opportunities to low-income and underrepresented minority students. Students are placed in campus-based positions throughout the academic year for 10 hours per week. Approximately 100 students per semester are served through ETL. Campus employment serves to support student retention and increases connection to the institution.

Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) – Student Success Initiatives

KCTCS employs a number of strategies to address both academic and non-academic barriers to student success for a student population that is – relative to 4-year university students – more likely to be first- generation, be academically underprepared, have dependents at home, have lower incomes, and be older than 25. Some select example include:

  • Seeking to increase timely degree completion, the 15 to Finish Scholarship provides a $500 award if students successfully complete 15 hours in a semester and enroll in 15 hours the following semester. Over 1,500 students have benefitted from this incentive.
  • Addressing workforce needs and adult student schedules, Owensboro CTC’s Tech X program offers accelerated learning opportunities leading to industry-recognized credentials, as well as coaching on financial aid and job placement. Two course tracks provide flexibility to a non-traditional student population. The daytime track meets 8 hours per day, 3 days per week for 7 months; and the evening track meets 4 hours per day, 4 nights per week for 9 months.
  • Project Go provided $2,000 seed grants to each college to establish food pantries and community partnerships.
  • The HUB (Helping Students Utilize Benefits) at Jefferson CTC connects low-income students to available campus and community resources, including public assistance programs.
  • Hazard CTC host a Tuesday Night Live program that provides dinner and childcare while classes are in session.
  • GED Plus – a partnership between KCTCS and KY Skills U – allows students to earn their GED and a college credential concurrently, and tuition-free through the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program.

University of Kentucky – LEADS Initiative

As part of The LEADS Initiative (Leveraging Economic Affordability for Developing Success), researchers at UK learned that retention rates were significantly lower for students with $5,000 or more in unmet need, regardless of academic performance.

To test intervention strategies, a pilot program provided one-time grants to groups of students with $5,000 or more in unmet need and – through predictive modeling – were expected to benefit the most from additional assistance.

Results from program have been dramatic.  Fall-to-Fall retention rates for 2016 and 2017 cohorts were 18.1% and 17.1% higher than predicted if the students had not received a grant.  Additionally, students were required to receive financial literacy and counseling as part of their aid package increasing their capacity for future success.

With such positive outcomes from these efforts, students continue on a path to a degree and the university retains the revenue generated by the students that otherwise would have been lost had they stopped out.

Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) – Financial Aid Data Portal

CPE has added recently new, interactive data portal detailing financial aid information by institution and sector.  This type of data transparency is critical in larger communication efforts with policy makers and the public about efforts to improve affordability.

Back to the Beginning – Why does Affordability Matter?

As we saw exploring the trends in Part I of this post, if Kentucky wants a big, bold future – rooted in innovation and equity – postsecondary education must be affordable.  Our ambitious goals as a state will be more difficult to achieve without clear strategies to assist students facing financial barriers to postsecondary success – whether real or perceived.

Making high-quality, postsecondary education accessible and affordable to all students is a moral imperative.  And it must be anchored in sound data and public policy decisions.  Pushing ourselves as a state to do better, be purposeful, and concerted in our efforts is critically important.  Defining affordability is one way to push.  It would inform policy, help guide investment decisions, and increase transparency to students and families. The interactive model discussed in Part II of this post is just one example of a way to have that difficult discussion.

There were many questions raised during our work that deserve further exploration and consideration. I’ll end with a few of these to rattle in your brain.

  • Does a measure of affordability have a place in Kentucky’s performance-based funding model for postsecondary institutions?
  • Is the structure of Kentucky’s state financial aid program as effective and efficient as it needs to be in supporting students with greatest need?
  • What is best communication strategy for promoting the value of postsecondary education or rather how should the “value” of a postsecondary education be measured?
  • How should equity be measured when considering affordability?
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