Career and Technical Education: Does It Improve Student Outcomes?

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Fordham’s latest study, by the University of Connecticut’s Shaun M. Dougherty, uses data from Arkansas to explore whether students benefit from CTE coursework—and, more specifically, from focused sequences of CTE courses aligned to certain industries. The study also describes the current landscape, including which students are taking CTE courses, how many courses they’re taking, and which ones.

Key findings include:

  • Students with greater exposure to CTE are more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages.
  • CTE is not a path away from college: Students taking more CTE classes are just as likely to pursue a four-year degree as their peers.
  • Students who focus their CTE coursework are more likely to graduate high school by twenty-one percentage points compared to otherwise similar students (and they see a positive impact on other outcomes as well).
  • CTE provides the greatest boost to the kids who need it most—boys, and students from low-income families.

Due to many decades of neglect and stigma against old-school “vo-tech,” high-quality CTE is not a meaningful part of the high school experience of millions of American students. It’s time to change that.


(04.05 - Final) CTE Information Graphic (900px)

Data for the People Build Community Power


This repost is courtesy from Education Week.

(Editor’s note: The announcement that Education Trust-West and a number of civil rights and community organizations were founding a data hub in San Bernardino County, struck me as an important opportunity to increase the capacity for community voice in the California Local Control Funding Formula process.  Here, Ryan Smith, the organization’s executive director, expands on the value of getting actionable information to the people.)

By Ryan Smith

Recently, during a policy briefing in the Central Valley, a community leader asked if she could comment by telling a story.  She spoke of a small cadre of mapmakers from up north that would spend time making maps for communities with no input from the people who lived there.  Townspeople would openly complain: the map didn’t reflect the ground they knew—they had missed rivers, peaks, and other valuable landmarks in the community.  The mapmakers came back and told them “Our maps are right, it’s your ground that’s wrong.”

Point taken. Today, well-intentioned education policies still feel as if they’re being done to and not with communities.  Laws that start off as puddles in Sacramento can come down like waves to school communities, particularly communities of color.

LCFF Provides Unique Opportunity

The time is ripe to invest in bottom-up policymaking.  California’s move to the Local Control Funding Formula and the current redesign of our state accountability system provide a unique opportunity to accelerate meaningful engagement of educators, students, parents and community members.

Thumbnail image for SB Data Hub.jpgFurthermore, the recently-passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires robust information be publicly available and disaggregated by subgroups.  ESSA also calls for college enrollment data and any other available data deemed helpful to parents to be included on school report cards.  This information can shine a brighter light on student outcomes and empower families in their education decision-making.

However, ESSA is a vehicle for empowerment—but it doesn’t drive itself.  For local control to move past lip service, stakeholders must fully understand complex data, research, budgets, and policy and use this knowledge to make informed decisions.  Without an intentional focus and resources dedicated to data readiness, these efforts to meaningfully engage communities feel more like empty promises.

Bring Data To The People

Building community understanding of data utilization can start to bridge the gap.  When data are effectively understood and used locally, there are long-term benefits for transparency, efficiency, system performance, and student outcomes.  Although we’ve made progress making education data readily available, we’ve never done a decent job of helping education stakeholders actively use data to inform decision-making.  Stakeholders are too often forced to make decisions based on anecdotes, because they do not have access to high-quality, accessible information.

It’s time to finally bring data to the people.

This means the state must develop data systems that are cultivated with consideration for the community members who need this information.  California can’t afford to simply warehouse data in confusing and cumbersome ways.  Even as the use of technology increases, a vast digital divide exists in low-income communities and communities of color.  We have to meet communities where they are through the use of tools designed to develop community members’ awareness of how this information connects to their daily experiences.

The right data matter as well. When it comes to school and district performance, we must resist the urge to artlessly data dump and call it a day.  Transparency is not providing teachers a one hundred page data binder or creating data dashboards that drown parents in fifty indicators of success.  The state has an obligation to provide the right, digestible data including summary measures that don’t mask how students achieve.  Let’s stay away from the dark ages when California’s accountability system painted a pretty picture that covered up distressing disparities in schools and districts failing our most forgotten students.

Invest in Community-Based Expertise

We must also partner with organizations that have a track record of authentically partnering with community members.  Groups like Californians for Justice, P.I.C.O., the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, and Californians Together work directly with students, parents, and community members to comprehend how to use data to hold schools accountable for success.  We’ve spent $40 million to get County Offices of Education up to speed on supporting LCFF.  Similarly, let’s invest in the groups with this type of community-based expertise rather than recreating the wheel.

We have to equip those on the frontline with more tools. Recently Ed Trust-West partnered with a number of advocacy and education organizations in San Bernardino to open a community-based data and research hub that will serve as a catalyst to build knowledge around budgets, data, and policy at the local level.  Our first step is facilitating data equity walks, a program designed to understand the disparities in the data we see in low-income communities and communities of color.

Let’s work toward democratizing data.  Measuring and understanding success in education is critical to all stakeholders.  Making sense of education information for the average citizen is big data’s last frontier. It’s time for policymakers to embrace the challenge and make sure that a system showing data of the people is also for the people.  The mapmakers who visited the Central Valley weren’t wrong to make maps—they just started and ended with their own view of the world.  Whether data comes in the form of a map or a pie chart, ignoring the local geography gets us nowhere.



2016 ‘Schools to Watch’ Model Middle Schools


State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Congratulates California’s
2016 “Schools to Watch™—Taking Center Stage” Model Middle Schools

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today announced that 13 high-performing California middle schools have been newly designated as model middle grades schools in the 2015–16 Schools to Watch™—Taking Center Stage (STW™—TCS) program.

Torlakson also announced that the sustained progress of 20 previously chosen STW™—TCS schools will allow them to retain their designation.

“These 33 schools excel at keeping students engaged and motivated during this critical juncture in a student’s school career,” Torlakson said. “I congratulate them for their efforts to exceed challenging goals, narrow the achievement gap, and set their students on a solid path toward high school and future success.”

The 13 newly designated STW™—TCS model middle grades schools are:

  • Alder Creek Middle School, Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, Nevada County
  • Curtis Middle School, San Bernardino Unified School District, San Bernardino County
  • Firebaugh Middle School, Firebaugh Las Deltas Unified School District, Fresno County
  • Lake Center Middle School, Little Lake City School District, Los Angeles County
  • Lindero Canyon Middle School, Las Virgenes Unified School District, Ventura County
  • Ross Academy of Creative and Media Arts, ABC Unified School District, Los Angeles County
  • San Gorgonio Middle School, Beaumont Unified School District, Riverside County
  • Serrano Middle School, San Bernardino Unified School District, San Bernardino County
  • South Pointe Middle School, Walnut Valley Unified School District, Los Angeles County
  • Sunnymead Middle School, Moreno Valley Unified School District, Riverside County
  • Vista Heights Middle School, Moreno Valley Unified School District, Riverside County
  • Willis Jepson Middle School, Vacaville Unified School District, Solano County
  • Yorba Linda Middle School, Placentia Yorba Linda Unified School District, Orange County

The 20 re-designated STW™—TCS model middle grades schools are:

  • Canyon Middle School, Castro Valley Unified High School District, Alameda County
  • Edna Hill Middle School, Brentwood Union Elementary School District, Contra Costa County
  • Fairmont School, Sanger Unified School District, Fresno County
  • Frank J. Zamboni Middle School, Paramount Unified School District, Los Angeles County
  • Frank Wright Middle School, Imperial Unified School District, Imperial County
  • Granger Junior High School, Sweetwater Union High School District, San Diego County
  • John Glenn Middle School of International Studies, Desert Sands Unified School District, Riverside County
  • Mistletoe Elementary School, Enterprise Elementary School District, Shasta County
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School, Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County
  • Pioneer Middle School, Tustin Unified School District, Orange County
  • Quail Lake Environmental Charter School, Sanger Unified School District, Fresno County
  • Reyburn Intermediary School, Clovis Unified School District, Fresno County
  • Sanger Academy, Sanger Unified School District, Fresno County
  • San Lorenzo Valley Middle School, San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District, Santa Cruz County
  • Scotts Valley Middle School, Scotts Valley Unified School District, Santa Cruz County
  • Sinaloa Middle School, Simi Valley Unified School District, Ventura County
  • Summit Intermediate School, Etiwanda School District, San Bernardino County
  • Thurston Middle School, Laguna Beach Unified School District, Orange County
  • Union Middle School, Union School District, Santa Clara County
  • Vanguard Preparatory School, Apple Valley Unified School District, San Bernardino County

STW™—TCS middle grades schools are high-performing model schools that demonstrate academic excellence, responsiveness to the needs of young adolescents, and social equity. These schools host visitors from California and around the world who are looking to learn practices they can use to improve their middle grades schools and close the achievement gap.

The STW™—TCS program is sponsored by the California League of Middle Schools (CLMS) External link opens in new window or tab. and the California Department of Education, in partnership with the California Middle Grades Alliance.

To earn this designation, schools must complete an extensive application that is reviewed by middle grades experts. In order to retain the designation, each school is re-evaluated every three years.

All of the schools will be recognized in Sacramento at the California Middle Grades Alliance annual luncheon February 25, 2016, and during the California League of Schools’ Annual Conference North, February 26–28, 2016.

For more information about the STW™—TCS program, please visit the CLMS High Performing Middle School Models External link opens in new window or tab.Web page.

# # # #

Tom Torlakson — State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5206, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100

Last Reviewed: Monday, February 8, 2016

GEAR UP Education Trust Award Success Story: Angela Sanchez

Angela Sanchez Profile

Angela is now a Program Analyst, College Readiness & Retention for the ECMC Foundation in Los Angeles.

Angela wasn’t even sure she was going to finish high school. Today, she is an undergrad and grad degree holder from her dream school (UCLA), a successful higher education professional, and is an inspiring example of focusing on college dreams early on.

Sanchez says that, without scholarship support, her life today would have been very different. The first scholarship she ever received was a GEAR UP Education Trust Award as a student at Toll Middle School in Glendale, CA, a California GEAR UP school.

Back in 2005, when she received the award, she already knew she was going to college but wasn’t sure how she was going to afford it. This award opened her eyes to the world of scholarships and financial aid, a pathway she followed successfully and is a debt free graduate degree holder as a result.

“An investment in a student is something that pays tenfold,” said Sanchez, a UCLA Alumni Scholar who has earned numerous other scholarships and awards for research, academic excellence and community service, including the Chancellor’s Service Award, the UCLA Distinguished Senior Award, the Carey McWilliams Award for Scholarly Distinction and a Strauss Foundation Scholarship, to name a few. Angela says “There is no greater gift than education.”

We asked Angela for some advice for our GEAR UP schools and teachers regarding best practices for supporting and inspiring students like her.  Of course her perspective was perfect:

Middle school students are at a tipping point age because high school is too late to start thinking about college. The key is to establish a college-going culture in middle school, and saturate every aspect of the student experience with future goals and college information. Saturation is key: college pennants, college fairs, anything that leads to conversations with students about college‘. You have to incubate early, make that connection early.

When Angela was in middle school she was vaguely aware her school was a GEAR UP school, but it was not until her social studies teacher Dr. Vandermey encouraged her to apply did she realize the opportunity GEAR UP affords. Upon receiving the notification that she was a recipient of the $2000 California GEAR UP Education Trust Award, she couldn’t believe it. The path to college had begun.

Angela talks about how her teachers had an impact on her future.

My geometry classroom had A-G requirements displayed prominently. That daily reminder contributed to the immersive college going environment that became normal for me. This should be normal for all students in middle school, especially for first generation students like me.

Angela strongly believes in building the relationship between student and teachers and breaking down walls that can remain throughout a students academic experience.

Teachers and students have to relate, teachers should give students the ability to build meaningful relationships so they can talk about things other than the lesson plan. Students don’t always have people at home that can support them in the same way as teachers are a tremendous college resource. If students don’t have a positive experience with their middle school its teachers early on, they are less likely to break down those walls later in their academic career, such as going to professors office hours, and potentially missing out on a successful college experience.

In November of 2007, Angela was coping with the reality that she and her father were homeless after being evicted from their Glendale home on her 17th birthday. Angela never wavered in her desire to do her very best in and out of school and to remain optimistic. That life lesson is one that Angela now shares with students who are experiencing homelessness.

“Education has always been important to me because it represented a springboard out of my current situation,” said Sanchez, who eventually completed high school with a 4.23 GPA despite not having stable housing between 2007-2009, she was accepted to eight colleges and universities in 2009. Her first choice was UCLA.

Angela graduated debt-free, and attributes that to her focus on finding scholarships and financial aid wherever she could. Being an outstanding student certainly helped her achieve competitive scholarships and grants, she attributes her awareness of how to find the awards to her early successes an ETA recipient. According to Angela “it opened an entire world to me”.

She used the ETA money for tuition, but says that one of the great benefits to this GEAR UP award was the flexibility of what the funds could be used for. Most grants and scholarships have a very narrow use, but the Education Trust Award funds helped her create a strategy to fully fund her education without gaps.

“Youths, no matter what their financial situation or living condition, need to see that they are entitled to quality postsecondary education as much as anyone.” said Angela.

“I really enjoy advocating for education and being a voice for students who are normally overlooked,” said Angela. She now shares a home with her father in Highland Park in northeast Los Angeles and plans to pursue an advanced degree in the future.

Angela was my delightful  luncheon companion at a major event in Los Angeles for Latino students and their families.  The subject of GEAR UP arose and Angela indicated that it had supported her financially in receiving her baccalaureate from UCLA.  When I inquired I learned that, in fact, Angela had been the recipient of an Education Trust Award from the California GEAR UP Program back in 2005.  She, along with over 5,000 of her counterparts, have, or are, achieving their higher educational goals through their participation as middle school students in the California GEAR UP Program.  Congratulations to Angela and all the other Education Trust Award members.

-Penny Edgert, Executive Director, California GEAR UP/ICC

“For students who come from backgrounds such as my own, who are often disadvantaged, underprivileged and overlooked, I’d like to see not only their acceptance, but their retention at universities,” she said.

She hopes this journey starts in middle school just like it did for her.

Angela was featured in the “Let There Be” UCLA centennial campaign.

Angela established the first university faction of the nonprofit ‘School on Wheels’ at UCLA, assisting K-12 homeless students with tutors and in navigating postsecondary education. Ms. Sanchez has created college admissions and financial aid workshops tailored to the students’ needs. In addition, she’s a recruitment, student training, donor and community relations, and development volunteer. She continues her work for student advocacy at ECMC Foundation, college access and student retention.

For more information on the California GEAR UP Education Trust Awards, please visit our website.

EdTrust West: New Community-Based Data & Research Hub in San Bernardino County


Ed Trust–West is excited to announce that we’re partnering with a number of civil rights, education, and social justice organizations to launch our first Community-Based Data & Research Hub in San Bernardino County. California’s move toward local control, the redesign of our state’s accountability system, and the implementation of the California State Standards provide a unique opportunity to help increase capacity of community stakeholders and support their current advocacy efforts through data, research, budget and policy analysis.

“In the age of local control, we must help communities make certain that local systems do what’s best for California’s Black, Brown, and poor students,” said Ed Trust–West Executive Director Ryan Smith. “We must commit more support and resources to those on the front lines – community-based organizations, parents, teachers, and students – to realize the true vision of equity for all students. The San Bernardino Hub serves as an important first step to achieve more meaningful and effective local decision making.”

To support existing efforts throughout the state, Ed Trust–West will first focus on San Bernardino County, collaborating with community-based organizations to create data and research tools that bolster existing advocacy efforts. This project would not be possible without our partners – a big thank you to Congregations Organized for Prophet Engagement (COPE), Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC), ACLU of Southern California, Youth Action Project, Inc. (YAP), BLU Educational Foundation, San Bernardino Branch NAACP, LULAC of the Inland Empire, DELAC of San Bernardino City USD, San Bernardino City USD African American Advisory Council, and the Latino Education & Advocacy Days (LEAD) Organization

“We are thrilled to work with our partners and The Education Trust–West as they reinforce our community efforts for San Bernardino’s low-income students and students of color. This Hub will be a powerful tool in engaging decision makers and strengthening our work serving students and the broader community,” said Reverend J. Samuel Casey, Executive Director of COPE.

Last week, Ed Trust–West kicked off this collaboration by providing a Data Equity Walk and presentation on the state of educational equity in San Bernardino, hosted by the LEAD Program at CSU San Bernardino. Check out pictures here.

We are also excited to announce that Marcelino “Mars” Serna, an Inland Empire native, will serve as Ed Trust–West’s Southern California Regional Manager supporting this hub. Mr. Serna most recently served as the Coordinator of Family and Community Engagement for Fontana Unified School District. He has over 29 years’ experience working in the public sector. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration from California State University, San Bernardino and his Master’s Degree from University of Redlands in Management.

View full presentation here. 


‘DREAM loan’ funds college for unauthorized immigrants


Officials at California’s four-year public universities are reaching out to an estimated 10,000 undergraduate students who might qualify for a special loan aimed at reducing their tuition — a program that further distinguishes the state as a national trendsetter in providing services to unauthorized immigrants.

The California DREAM low-interest loans are designated for unauthorized immigrant students enrolled at University of California or California State University campuses. The program was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, but funding didn’t become available until now.

It’s the latest in a series of measures that the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Brown have approved in their push to help unauthorized immigrants integrate into mainstream society.

They have ushered through legislation that enables this population of Californians to obtain driver licenses, eliminates the word “alien” when describing unauthorized immigrants in the state labor code and expands access to health care for children of such parents.

Critics said these actions only spur more illegal immigration, hurt law-abiding taxpayers and reward individuals who should not be granted any privileges because they have violated this country’s rules.

The California DREAM loan program’s initial $7 million allotment — $5 million for the UC and $2 million for CSU — will be distributed to eligible applicants in the following weeks. The state provided half of the sum and the two university systems covered the other half. The loans are for the 2015-16 academic year, and they’re retroactive to last fall.

The UC system will divide the $5 million among its nine undergraduate campuses, with the amount for each school based on the number of qualified students there, UC spokeswoman Claire Doan said.

She estimates that UC San Diego has about 200 unauthorized immigrant students.

The Cal State system will take a similar approach with its campuses, which include San Diego State University and Cal State San Marcos. About 250 students at Cal State San Marcos are eligible for the loan, according to a spokeswoman for the school.

Each qualified student can borrow up to $4,000 for this academic year at an interest rate of 4.29 percent. Once they graduate, borrowers must begin repaying their loan after a six-month grace period.

Future funding is contingent on money being available from the state budget, according to school administrators.

Supporters of the loan program said it could erase significant financial barriers for unauthorized immigrant students, who cannot receive federal grants or federally subsidized loans.

“It helps alleviate the burden for undocumented students, many of whom are often forced to take quarters/semesters off or take on outside jobs to offset the cost of tuition,” Doan said.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, creator of the California DREAM loan program through Senate Bill 1210, said: “I’m very proud of the fact that California has always led when it comes to providing much-needed resources for our undocumented student population — understanding that they are here, that this is their home and that many of them were brought here not out of their own volition.”

Lara, D-Bell Gardens, has helped advance immigration-related legislation for several years, including passage of Assembly Bill 540. That law allows non-resident college students who meet specific requirements, including unauthorized immigrants, to pay in-state tuition and fees instead of the far-higher expenses for out-of-state students.

Students who fall within the parameters of AB 540 are eligible for the California DREAM loan program.

Opponents of the program said it wrongfully rewards people who shouldn’t be in the United States in the first place.

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington, D.C., said the program’s funding should instead be used to help law-abiding families in financial need.

“There are a lot of people in California who are struggling. Their kids want a good education. Even with the availability of federal loans, it doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of these many families,” he said.

Robin Hvidston, executive director of the Claremont-based group We the People Rising, said public money is being abused.

“These taxpayer-funded loans should be available to veterans who have served this nation. Why not aim this program to specifically help American foster care children? This is discrimination against U.S. citizens who are not able to partake in the program,” Hvidston said.

At least 18 states have policies that permit unauthorized immigrant students to pay in-state tuition rates, according to an October report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Sixteen of those states, including California, have done so through legislation.

In addition, California is one of five states that allow such students to receive state grants for higher education, the legislatures group said.

It’s unclear whether any other state besides California has a higher-education loan program for unauthorized immigrants.

Zenén Jaimes Pérez, policy analyst for United We Dream, the country’s largest immigrant youth-led organization, said California has set a national precedent in establishing rights for unauthorized immigrants.

“When I travel to other states, a lot of folks are wondering, ‘How do we get to where California is?’” he said.

The movement supporting “DREAMers,” as youths living in the U.S. illegally are often called, took off more than a decade ago and has grown to become a focal point of the immigration debate.

They’re currently part of the spotlight on a case involving the U.S. Supreme Court, which is preparing to review an injunction blocking President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration. That measure would provide a temporary waiver from deportation for up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants and expand a program that granted various rights to “DREAMers.”


Article originally found in the San Diego Union-Tribune

GEAR UP Leadership Day in North State is a Hit


(original article appears in the Red Bluff Daily News)

Corning, CA. Nearly 800 Tehama County eighth-graders were invited Thursday to join the third annual Leadership Day at the Rolling Hills Casino event center, with five local schools participating.

This seven-day college preparation workshop event, put on by the Tehama County Department of Education, California GEAR UP — Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs — Tehama County high schools and College Options, has continued to engage students with workshops to help guide them through the next four years and beyond.

The Rolling Hills Casino Foundation and Expect More Tehama were two groups that made the Leadership Day a possibility, said Karissa Morehouse, who is Education Talent Search director of Tehama County and with College Options

The schools that participated Thursday were Richfield School, Tehama eLearning Academy, Lincoln Street Independent School, Reeds Creek School and Vina School.

A few Mercy High School students participated as well by talking with the eighth-graders and sharing their own insights and experiences to help the students with the transition to high school, Morehouse said.

One workshop, the true colors personality assessment, had students choosing a particular card with a picture and a photograph that best suits their personality traits. The students were able to share what makes them unique and discuss that with a group of other students, Morehouse said.

Learning all the classes needed to prepare for college was another workshop that provide the students with a beaded key chain to remind the students of the core A-G classes needed.

Another workshop helped students identify what they are doing now to prepare for college with a bingo game.

The goal of the workshop was to show how the items on the bingo sheet can be attributes the students can continue to strengthen for the preparation of college.

One student said he gained a better understanding of what to expect in high school and how to prepare for college, his adulthood and his future careers. His favorite subject is math and he hopes to graduate high school near the top of his class.

At the end of Leadership Day the students got together and wrote their goals on a paper that was shaped in a thought bubble. The students will keep one with them to remind themselves of those goals and the other will be given to their teachers for them to understand the goals of their students, Morehouse said.

On the wall behind the workshop groups where quotes from celebrities showing how far you can go with positivity and urging that with the right resources you can be successful in anything you want.


California GEAR UP Core Values


 California GEAR UP – Core Values 

We are proud to share our Core Values: principles we have been cultivating and working on since 1999 and it was through the extraordinary organizational work of our teams that we have published them all in one guiding document.

California GEAR UP is committed to the principles of social justice, equity, and community combined with passion for teaching, learning, and positive impact on students’ lives.

Professional Standards

• We are responsible and accountable to our schools, communities, stakeholders and funders to ensure sustainability of our goals and objectives.

• We take a purposeful and professional approach with all stakeholders, and remain committed to high-quality, professional service.

• When we model these standards, we ultimately increase the likelihood that these practices will sustain.


• We serve as a catalyst to develop meaningful relationships and support learning opportunities for students and adults alike.

• We share time and expertise to further our educational mission.

• We engage constituents, analyze needs, and embrace ingenuity.

• We practice with passion, reserve judgment, and exude respectful service to peers, schools, and communities.


• We open our minds to new learning and effective practice.

• We are unafraid to wonder and be vulnerable.

• We listen with the intent to understand, rather than respond.

• We respect differences and embrace diversity.

• We take responsibility for our own growth and assume goodwill.


More Changes to FAFSA List

FAFSA list graphic

(from Inside Higher Ed)

States worry that a Department of Education plan to curtail their access to data from the federal student aid form will cause headaches for state aid awards.

The U.S. Department of Education is planning to further restrict how it shares information about students’ college preferences, but some state officials are concerned the changes will make it more difficult for them to award funds from state financial aid programs.

The department has already stopped providing colleges with the entire list of institutions that students express interest in attending when filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA. That new policy, which took effect Jan. 1, was a response to concerns that students may have been disadvantaged by colleges knowing the other colleges to which a student was also applying (and where those institutions ranked on the student’s list.)

State agencies that award financial aid, however, continue to have access to the full list of colleges a student provides on the FAFSA, including the ordering of those institutions. But the Education Department now plans to change that, a department official confirmed in an email to Inside Higher Ed.

Starting on the FAFSA for the 2017-18 academic year, the department will stop providing state agencies with the order in which students list colleges, the official said. States will continue to receive the full list of colleges that students share on the application, but the Education Department will first randomize the ordering of the institutions.

State officials have found that students are most likely to attend the college they list first on the FAFSA. Many state agencies use that information to plan how much state financial aid money they expect to dole out. And others use the information to start packaging state financial aid awards.

The Education Department has previously acknowledged that states use the FAFSA lists for such purposes. The current FAFSA, for instance, warns students that “the order in which you list schools may affect your eligibility for state aid.”

Without access to the list of colleges students provide on the FAFSA, in the order listed by the student, state officials say they will be left in the dark about which students are planning to enroll at colleges for which they may be eligible for state aid.

The National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs sent a letter to the Obama administration last year urging officials to reconsider their plans.

“No longer providing states with the schools listed, or no longer providing the schools in the order listed by the student, is anticipated to have costly and confusing impacts to both states and students,” the group wrote (italics from the original).

In Pennsylvania, for instance, about 80 percent of state grant recipients attend their first-listed institution on the FAFSA, according to Keith New, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, known as PHEAA, which administers the program. For those students, PHEAA automatically calculates their state award — which ranges between roughly $100 and $4,000 — after receiving the information from the FAFSA.

New said if the Education Department curtails PHEAA’s access to students’ FAFSA list information, the agency would have to reach out to about 130,000 state college or university applicants rather than automatically calculating their awards.

“The burden will be placed on the students to provide the name of their school to us a second time. It’s certainly going to be a big communications issue and it would add complexity,” Keith said. “The potential is significant for students, especially those who may already be at risk, to fall through the cracks.”

Similarly, Tennessee officials said the department’s plan to randomize the FAFSA list would complicate how they dole out state awards, including the popular Tennessee Promise program, which allows students to attend community college without paying tuition.

Tim Phelps, associate executive director of the Tennessee Student Assistance Commission, said the state typically packages an award to the first institution that is eligible for state aid that a student provides on his or her FAFSA list.

Without access to the complete FAFSA list information, he said, the commission would have to wait until students directly provide them with the name of the colleges for which they are seeking state aid.

“It’s adding another barrier that students would have to cross, in order to continue to be eligible or to become eligible,” Phelps said of the department’s plan.

The department’s initial move to curtail colleges’ access to the FAFSA list was announced last August after concerns that some colleges were using the lists of colleges students provide on the FAFSA in ways that could harm students’ admissions or financial aid prospects.

“We had learned, from a number of places, that some schools — not most but more than we would like — use those data for purposes totally inappropriate, and in some cases, unlawful,” Jeff Baker, a department official, said at a federal financial aid conference last month. Inside Higher Ed reported in 2013 that some colleges were denying admission and possibly reducing financial aid to students based on the FAFSA information the department was sharing with colleges.

But state officials contend that their use of the FAFSA college list, by contrast, benefits students by streamlining the process for students to apply for state-based loans and grants.

“It tries to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Phelps of the Tennessee aid agency. “It really muddies the water for our programs.”

The FAFSA for the 2017-18 school year, for which these changes would take effect, will be published and available starting this Oct. 1 under the Obama administration’s new, earlier timeline for federal financial aid.

School Success Stories: Using Tech to Support Students

jefferson heartGUOne of our amazing schools, Jefferson Middle School, has a story to tell. We caught up with Darlene Pope, teacher and GEAR UP Leadership Team Member, who shared with us some of the technology she uses in her class to support her students and stay in touch with families.

Zoom video conferencing (and it gaining in popularity across many fields, not just education) is free up to 40 minutes, but I have a subscription. I meet every Wed evening in a virtual online face to face session with students and parents. I meet for an hour. I answer clarifying questions. I can have up to 20 people in my virtual meeting. We kind of look like the Brady Bunch. Check it out at
Remind is awesome. It is how I communicate with parents and students. This is how I alert parents their student has missed an assignment and how I send homework tasks to my classes. I can also text with students about homework. It is a free and digitally safe texting tool. I can even attach documents,
Darlene was considerate enough to sit down with us and answer more questions about how she uses these resources.
  1. Does the entire school use either of these tools? If not, how many teachers do?

No the entire school does not use these tools, but it takes time for it to catch on. However, about 10 teachers are using Remind and I have as a goal getting more on board. I am the only one experimenting with Zoom. I use it as a tool for student support and parent communication as well as conferencing. It allows me to share my desktop, record a session and have about 25 people in on a single conversation. Students pop in and out to ask a question and get clarification.  I can envision it as a way to flip a classroom or as a way to hold class in the event that class is canceled.

  1. How did you hear about them?

I learned about Zoom through my work with CTQ and the NEA. I facilitate online learning with cohorts of teachers who are designing and implementing teacher leadership projects. I learned about Remind from a teacher at our high school several years ago.

  1. What is the response from parents?

Parents love both of these tools. It provides them an easy way to stay in touch. Remind even has an translation feature! I can send a doc via Remind as well. Zoom allows me to see into the home environments of my students as well. They parents who use it are most appreciative.

  1. How many parents do you engage with each tool?

Remind about 90% of my students’ families. Zoom is a much smaller group. Probably only 15%, but this will increase as I modify my parent info presentation to include a demo of this.

We thank Darlene and all the awesome teachers at Jefferson for their forward thinking and deep passion for doing what it takes to ensure ALL students have access to a great education.

Will these resources and Darlene’s experience with them inspire you?