What Trump’s Proposed 2018 Budget Would Mean for Higher Ed


The Trump administration on Tuesday released its budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year. All told, the budget would cut federal education programs by more than $10 billion. The Department of Education’s total operating budget would be slashed by $9 billion, and spending on secondary-education programs would be redirected to school-choice initiatives — the chief policy goal of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.

President Trump’s budget would eliminate the public-service loan-forgiveness program, subsidized Stafford Loans, and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants; begin to phase out the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities; and allow the Perkins Loan program to expire. It would also cut spending in half on Federal Work-Study programs, slash the budget of the National Institutes of Health by a fifth, eliminate programs that foster foreign-language study, and reduce spending that supports international-education programs and exchanges, such as the Fulbright Scholar program, by 55 percent.

The administration’s budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins on October 1, is not the final version, and congressional leaders have already started railing against many of the president’s more drastic cuts, noting that Congress has the final say on appropriations bills.

“Congress will write the budget and set the spending priorities. Where we find good ideas in the president’s budget, we will use them,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chair of the Senate education committee, in a written statement. “We should not pretend to balance the budget by cutting national laboratories, national parks, and the National Institutes of Health,” he continued.

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, echoed that sentiment. “Thankfully, Congress has the ultimate responsibility for setting funding levels, and with the FY 2017 spending bills, it showed a willingness to reject similarly damaging proposals,” she said in a written statement. “Colleges and universities and their students will work with Congress to continue the historic, bipartisan support for federal student aid and research funding.”

Cuts in Student Aid and Loan Forgiveness

The elimination of the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and cuts in Work-Study would negatively affect low-income and first-generation college students, said Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network. ”The programs proposed for dramatic reductions or eliminations are all important building blocks that help our low-income, first-generation, and students of color access and complete a higher education. For these students, every dollar counts when piecing together a financial-aid package,” she said.

The elimination of the public-service loan-forgiveness program, she added, would make it more difficult for nonprofit organizations to recruit qualified staff members.

Critics of the public-service loan-forgiveness program have argued that it is too generous, and that it does not cap the amount of debt that can be forgiven. According to The Washington Post, at least 552,931 people are enrolled in the program, and the prospect that the Trump administration would seek to shut it down had sparked widespread fears among those participants, many of whom have made long-term career plans on the assumption that their choices would enable their student loans to be forgiven. The budget plan says, however, that all student-loan proposals, including public-service loan forgiveness and the elimination of subsidized loans, would apply only to loans originating on or after July 1, 2018, and current participants in the programs would be allowed to complete them based on current policies.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, admonished the administration for proposing to cut higher-education spending — and specifically the public-service loan-forgiveness program, which many public-school teachers are eligible for. “Ending the public-service loan-forgiveness program, in which half a million Americans are already enrolled, is unconscionable,” she said. “To pull the rug out from the tens of millions of PSLF-eligible Americans who are not enrolled, despite claiming student debt is an albatross around students’ necks, is the height of hypocrisy.”

Not everyone was displeased with the proposal to eliminate the program, though. Mary Clare Reim, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said the budget had promising reforms and was a step toward fiscal responsibility in the student-loan area. Eliminating the public-service loan-forgiveness program in particular, she said, would be a victory for taxpayers.

Cuts in Spending on Scientific and Medical Research

As with its preliminary outline in March, the administration’s full budget proposal represents a broad assault on federally sponsored scientific exploration, and it drew renewed criticism from college and university leaders and a bipartisan array of lawmakers.

The more-detailed plan issued on Tuesday would cut the budget of the National Institutes of Health by 22 percent, essentially repeating the position of its March outline, even though top administration officials hosted a White House meeting on May 9 at which they endorsed the idea that biomedical research has widespread economic and health benefits.

Tuesday’s plan also offered the administration’s first budget recommendation for the National Science Foundation, a one-year cut of 11 percent. The administration also proposed a 17-percent cut for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, a 70-percent reduction in research on energy efficiency and renewable energy at the Energy Department, a 44-percent cut in science and technology at the Environmental Protection Agency, and the elimination of the energy-innovation agency ARPA-E.

Even under Republican control, Congress has shown a willingness to push back on such proposals. In passing their final budget for the 2017 fiscal year earlier this month, lawmakers provided spending increases for several key science agencies, including a one-year boost of $2 billion for the NIH.

While acknowledging the Trump plan is not likely to be accepted by Congress, research advocates slammed it as a misguided view of national priorities. The administration’s proposed cuts “would devastate America’s science and technology enterprise, and negatively affect our nation’s economy and public well-being,” said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Trump budget “would effectively cripple our nation’s scientific efforts, undermining our economic growth, public health, and national security,” said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities.

Year-Round Pells and Fewer Repayment Options

The administration’s proposal also includes support for year-round Pell Grants, which was revived in the congressional budget deal that covered spending for the rest of the current fiscal year. The budget would not, however, index Pell Grants to inflation, which would have raised its diminishing buying power, as many advocates had hoped. “While the return of year-round Pell will be a great benefit to students — most likely starting in summer 2018 — if lawmakers do not also take action to extend automatic adjustments and increase the maximum Pell Grant award annually, its purchasing power will continue to decline,” said Ms. Warick.

President Trump followed through on one of his campaign promises by proposing a single income-driven repayment plan, replacing the five current plans. Borrowers’ monthly payments would be capped at 12.5 percent, with any remaining balance being forgiven after 15 years of repayment for undergraduate borrowers and 30 years for graduate borrowers.

There is widespread support for consolidating the current menu of income-driven repayment plans into one or two options. However, Clare McCann, a senior policy analyst in New America’s education-policy program, said the terms of the plan proposed in Mr. Trump’s budget would create a dichotomy between graduate and undergraduate students. “It really balances the cost of shorter-term repayment plans for undergraduates on the backs of graduates,” she said.

The president’s budget is a messaging document, she continued. While it may be used as justification for later changes, she said it is highly unlikely all of the proposed cuts will be reflected in the budget eventually passed by Congress.

“Members of Congress always do and have made clear that they intend to follow their own process for this,” she said. “The implications of the cuts for their constituents would be severe.”


3 Tips for Understanding and Comparing Financial Aid Offers


(from the Dept. of Education blog)

Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to multiple schools. Now you need to determine which schools are most affordable so you can factor school cost into your decision. If you listed a school on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form and have been offered admission by that school, the school’s financial aid office will send you a financial aid offer. The amounts and types of aid you’re offered will likely vary from school to school, so it’s important to compare your financial aid offers. Here are a few tips and resources to make understanding and comparing your financial aid offers easier.

1. Know the different types of aid

The financial aid offer includes the types and amounts of aid you may receive from federal, state, private, and school sources. Types of aid include free money that does not have to be paid back (grants and scholarships), money you borrow and must pay back with interest (loans), and money you can earn working a part-time job to help pay for education expenses (work-study). You may see any combination of these types of aid in your financial aid offer. Learn more about the different types of aid. If you’re curious, you can also learn how schools calculate the amounts of aid they offer you.

2. Understand each school’s net cost

Net cost is an estimate of the actual cost that you and your family need to pay in a given year to cover education expenses for you to attend a particular school. It is calculated by taking the school’s cost of attendance and subtracting any grants and scholarships you’ve been awarded. The net cost is the amount you will have to pay out of pocket. The net cost is the dollar amount you’ll want to compare across different schools to determine which school is most affordable.

Thousands of schools use the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet to present financial aid offers. But, some schools use a different format to present financial aid offers, making it difficult to compare net costs across schools. To help with this, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) developed an interactive comparison tool to help you compare your financial aid offers.

3. Make sure you can cover the net cost

Because the net cost is the amount of money you’ll have to pay out of pocket, it is important to make sure that you have resources to cover the net cost. Scholarships, earnings from work-study or a part-time job, personal savings, gifts, and loans are resources you can use to help cover the net cost.

While loans can help cover your net cost, you should borrow only what you need. You don’t have to accept all of the loans you’re offered—and you don’t have to accept the full amount of any particular loan.

You may also be interested in 7 options to consider if you didn’t receive enough financial aid.

Things to remember when understanding and comparing your financial aid offers:

  • There are different types of aid—grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study.
  • The amounts and types of aid you’re offered may vary from school to school.
  • Calculate your net cost by subtracting the grants and scholarships you’ve been awarded from the school’s cost of attendance.

Caruthers Principal Shares GEAR UP Journey



Marla Dominguez, Principal Caruthers Elementary, has been the principal for five years. She shares her GEAR UP story and passion for her profession with us.

Please tell us about the community. 

Caruthers Unified is located in the central San Joaquin Valley, approximately 15 miles south of Fresno. The District covers a large rural area (120 square miles) of approximately 2,500 residents, including the two small unincorporated communities of Caruthers and Raisin City. An additional 4,800 people live in the area surrounding Caruthers. Of our 1,442 students, 1266 or 89 % of them are LI and qualify for free and reduced lunch and 434 or 30 % are designated as EL students. Students in Caruthers benefit from the support they receive in a small community and are given the opportunity to participate in a variety of extracurricular programs involving athletics, community service and the arts.

The Caruthers community has taken huge steps in the support of our district. In the past 5 years the community has passed two school bond measures. Measure C for Caruthers High School and more recently Measure V for Caruthers Elementary. Both bond measures are the first in the history of the school district. CUSD students are also prepared to move on for future study. Over the past five years over 42% of Caruthers High School graduates have been eligible to attend a four year college or university.

Our school is a TK-8 and we do not have a lot of turnover, we currently have 875 students, so for a rural school we are rather large. Our community is a tight knit community that supports each other and we know our students and their families for many years.

Our students are respectful and they work hard…they are appreciative and grateful for what we do here at school, so are their families.

Our students and families sometimes move in and out, so it is not unusual to have a family move in, leave, and then come back.

Our schools create the community…we are unincorporated and there are no parks, police force, the school is the largest entity and we work together. The community supports the school and students and the school supports the community.

What’s your ‘GEAR UP story’?

GEAR UP was FANTASTIC! The grant was so well planned with events that really provided thought provoking and challenging perspectives. Our coaches were instrumental in helping to guide and offer resources to keep our school going in a forward path. GEAR UP took all these different schools and gave us a common ground and a network that was much larger than I have ever had access too. The best is that this made my school a better place for my students and their future.

What changes have you observed at Caruthers since becoming a GEAR UP school?

Our students are talking about life beyond high school. They talk about college and which college that they aspire to go to. They ask questions and are aware that they need to learn things now for their future.

Our families have also supported this movement…they are learning too.

We had a parent on our committee the entire grant cycle and this was extremely helpful. It was great to always have the parent perspective and perception there. It also was a key element in making this a part of the community, not just the school.

Share with us was key factors contributed to demonstrable change.

PIQE was one of the best key factors that came out of GEAR UP. We have had a large group of parents that have been empowered by knowledge and understanding of how schools work, expectations of their students and teachers. I have always said that when parents are asking questions you know what you are doing is making changes. I love that a large portion of our only Spanish speaking families feel a part of the school and have a voice.

The college walls, college weeks, all of these activities that are visual will continue year after year, but the sustainable items that go beyond GEAR UP that will continue to make change will be a College and Career Course that all 7th grade middle school students take, articulating with the Caruthers High School counselor on activities, students and transitions. These things are going to be embedded and will continue.

We now have a middle school counselor because of GEAR UP.

Our 7th and 8th grade students go on college field trips…when they go to high school they will have been on a Junior, State, UC and Private College…this is probably their first time but I hope it is not their last, we are planting the seed early.

Why did you become an educator? 

My story did not start out with dreams of becoming a teacher. I went to college to become a Physical Therapist and worked at a Physical Therapy Office for ten years. While waiting to get into the PT program I decided I would get a teaching credential because one of my friends kept telling me what a great teacher I would be. When I thought about what I did in the field of Physical Therapy, teaching all ages how to rehabilitate themselves from injuries or prevention, I thought…why not! I had a great deal of science background and loved sharing knowledge and it wasn’t until my final student teaching that I TRULY FELL IN LOVE with TEACHING. I have never looked back.

If you had advice to other principals as to how to change a school to support a college going culture, what would it be?

As administrators, we have to make it a priority because our time can be taken up by many issues, but you have to build a group of teachers, counselors and parents who believe in the same mission and make it a priority. I found that setting meeting dates at the beginning of the year and having our action plan with goals already gave us a clear direction and path. This work cannot be done by one person alone, but it must include the support of the administration.

Why is it important to start in middle school in preparing for college?

High school is TOO late. We have to start educating students earlier so they can plan, start thinking, have time to explore, and ask questions and set goals for themselves.

If you could be a principal of a GEAR UP school again, would you? What would you do the same or differently? 

ABSOLUTELY! I would set up and imbed ‘college-going’ activities and events early and then focus on instruction-which is what is going to make students successful in college. I would also explore workshops and trainings for my team on poverty and education, equality, and more of the issues that we didn’t have time to get into which our students are faced with daily and can affect their future.

I would want to set up a foundation so we can continue scholarships, educational trust awards, and invest in our students even earlier than middle school. These are things that I would still like to do even though I do not have GEAR UP, but I struggle like all others to balance and juggle all of the priorities and mandates that are on our plates in the education field. One day I know it will happen!

What else would you like to share about your GEAR UP journey? 

Thank you to all the people involved in GEAR UP, the journey was wonderful, but I know that this ride is not over. I challenge all of us to keep the work of GEAR UP a priority and continue to pave the path for our students to get to college and be successful. Thank you!



Closing Thoughts on California GEAR UP 2017

GU journey

Friends of California GEAR UP:  This is the final edition of our newsletter as we celebrate the end of the 2011-2017 grant cycle. Across the country, graduation ceremonies mark accomplishment and success – for students and the whole school community.  As another school year ends, we join our school leadership teams, families and friends in extending CONGRATULATIONS to the class of 2017!

Since 1999, the GEAR UP network has continued to thrive.  We have expanded our reach to share experiences, resources, lessons learned and success stories with the growing GEAR UP community.  Along with many other States, we have made application for a new grant that would continue this important work from 2017-2024 with announcements anticipated by Fall 2017.  The State grant will remain focused on ALL students and the development and sustainability of a college-going-culture.

In this issue, we share good news about exciting activities in school communities throughout California.  The stories, profiles and updates reflect the breadth of our work in collaboration with our program partners for schools, students, staff and families.

This year has been especially challenging for me as I will retire in June.  I have served as the Director of the GEAR UP program since 2001 and as an employee of the University of California since 1991.  It has been a wonderful experience, serving alongside those dedicated to social justice and equal access to high quality education for ALL students.  The work of GEAR UP in California through the State grant and 19 GEAR UP partnership projects will continue to grow strong, to mobilize and engage whole school communities and to ensure success for our youth.

It has been a great pleasure to know and work with the GEAR UP family and I will always remain committed to “Academic Excellence and College Access for ALL Students”.  There is still much to be done…


Shelley Davis, Director-California GEAR UP

Strong Finish in 2017!


63rd Anniversary of the Brown v. Board Decision


Today we rightly celebrate the milestone Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision issued on May 17th, 1954 striking down school segregation. Yet today also marks another anniversary – the annual issuing of statements reminding us that, decades later, we still have not closed the gaps in access and opportunity that segregate our students and limit their ability to learn. When asked about William Faulkner’s essay urging the nation to “go slow” on integration,Brown v. Board attorney and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall pointed out “They don’t mean go slow. They mean don’t go.”

In education, we are quick to celebrate successes, and we should – the educators who’ve dedicated their lives to this work and the students who’ve excelled deserve nothing less. But we are also quick to use time to defend the gradual pace of progress. It is indefensible that more than half a century after Brown v. Board, we continue to subjugate our Black and Brown students to schools that are more segregated than not. While we’ve taken the “for colored only” signs off the school entryways our Black and Brown students use, we still promote policies that de facto discriminate against these students daily. We must do better.

Nationally, we are at a crossroads as we consider the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the education civil rights law signed by President Obama. In California, we can choose the path of gradualism, or we can choose to live up to our professed values and do everything possible to eradicate the educational injustices that students face each and every day. If a group of parents in Topeka, Kansas had the strength and courage to do whatever it took to make schools better for their children in the face of fire hoses and police dogs, surely those of us currently working in education can pick up the pace.

This post was shared with permission from the Education Trust-West

Achievement Gap a National Crisis

There is a national crisis in American higher education, and it threatens to exacerbate the most pressing challenges facing our nation. Consider this sobering fact: For every 10 African-American students who enter college, only four will graduate. Just four in 10. That is a shameful record, and we cannot hope to address the underlying causes of social and economic inequality in our country if this trend continues.

College enrollment in the U.S. continues to stand at record highs.

Dr. Kim Wilcox

According to the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. colleges and universities enrolled 20.5 million students last fall, an increase of 5.2 million students compared to 2000. This upward trend is likewise true across ethnic categories. Between 2000 and 2014 (the latest year for which we have national data on ethnicity), undergraduate enrollment among African-American students increased a phenomenal 57 percent, and enrollment among Latino students more than doubled.

But, as a college degree has become a prerequisite for getting into the middle class and beyond, enrollment is not enough. In the marketplace, job applicants with some or no college will lose out to a college graduate almost every time. Additionally, students who do not complete their degrees often face thousands of dollars in debt without the means to repay it.

USA Today reported last year that students who drop out of college are four times more likely to default on their student loans compared to those who graduated. If six in 10 African-American students aren’t completing their degrees, it doesn’t take much to see the ramifications for individuals, communities and the entire nation.

Fortunately, there is hope. A report issued earlier this year by the Education Trust, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for academic success, demonstrated that the derisible national data aren’t uniform across the nation’s colleges and universities. Some institutions have demonstrated considerable success in eliminating the achievement gaps across ethnic and socioeconomic designations. While the success stories are heartening, the report shows just how far we still must go. Out of 676 universities considered, only 55 had been able to completely eliminate the graduation rate achievement gap between African-American and White students.

As chancellor of one of the institutions highlighted by the Education Trust as a success story, I wanted to share a few strategies that have helped us eliminate graduation rate gaps across ethnic and socioeconomic categories.

First, we need data. Every two years, the University of California (UC) conducts the UC Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES), a comprehensive appraisal of our students’ experiences at UC. Thanks to the UCUES, we know that our African-American students spent more time working in paid employment outside of their academic interests, spent less time with their families and had more difficulties with food insecurity and finances. These insights are invaluable in building programs and initiatives that result in student success.

Second, universities must understand that cultural identity is a critical component of success. Affinity groups on college campuses provide homes away from home for students. Our African Student Programs office has been in operation for 45 years, connecting students to academic support, mentors and community organizations. Their success has been replicated across the breadth of communities on our campus.

Third, someone needs to be in charge of coordinating the promotion of student success for a diverse student body across campus units. UC Riverside was one of the first institutions to create an administrative position tasked with partnering with all campus leaders and constituents to promote diversity and inclusion.

Realizing student success requires a comprehensive and cooperative approach that deploys resources intentionally across the entire university. Creating that collaboration needs to be someone’s job.

Finally, universities must recognize that our campuses can be inhospitable, and sometimes hostile, to students on the margins of society. Even diverse institutions have to recognize that it is not how many students of color are on campus, it is how they are treated.

The research is clear. When universities do not actively promote a campus climate of inclusion and mutual respect, student success suffers. A few politicians and pundits can poke fun at “safe spaces” and “diversity coordinators,” but their superficial arguments belie their ignorance. Campuses that fail to adequately address concerns over campus climate will be left wondering why some students leave and never come back.

Our nation’s colleges and universities need to do better for the sake of all of our students. Addressing this crisis will require spending precious resources, but fortunately the examples of how to succeed are widespread. Now it is simply a matter of finding the will to make it happen.

Dr. Kim Wilcox is the chancellor of UC Riverside.

California graduation rates continue uptick, as achievement gap narrows


High school graduation rates in California climbed for the seventh year in a row, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, announced Tuesday. The class of 2016 had a record-high graduation rate of 83.2 percent, with significant gains for student populations that have historically lagged behind.

“Graduation rates have gone up seven years in a row,” Torlakson said in a written statement, “reflecting renewed optimism and increased investments in our schools that have helped reduce class sizes; bring back classes in music, theater, art, dance, and science; and expand career technical education programs that engage our students with hands-on, minds-on learning.”

The uptick this year is incremental  – only a .9 percentage point increase from the previous school year – but there been a major shift since 2010. In the seven years of consecutive increases, the graduation rate has increased by 8.5 points.

“It has been quite an impressive increase,” said Estela Zarate, professor in the department of educational leadership at California State University Fullerton. “Particularly if we look at English learners, Hispanic Latinos, and African American students.”

The achievement gap between Asian and white students on the one hand and African American and Latino students on the other has narrowed. The graduation rate for Latino students reached a record high of 80 percent, up 1.5 points from the year before and an 11.9 percentage point increase since 2010. For black students, the rate is 72.6 percent, up 1.8 percentage points from last year and 12.1 percentage points since 2010.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, rates went up 4.8 percentage points to 76.99, from a 72.23 percent rate in the 2014-15 school year. Graduation rates increased by 6.3 percentage points for English language learners and by 6.2 percentage points for African American students.

“If there’s a secret, the secret is out and it’s personalization,” said Frances Gipson, chief academic officer for LAUSD.

Gipson credits the introduction of individualized graduation plans for students starting at the middle school and graduation dashboard to keep students on track.

But observers and experts cautioned that increases in graduation rates mean little if students aren’t graduating ready for future opportunities.

“Yes, we should absolutely celebrate progress, but we have to go further to ensure that all of our students are receiving the opportunity to graduate college with options for a rewarding career,” said Ryan Smith, executive director of Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based non-profit.

“A high school diploma should mean that you are being given every opportunity to find a career of your choice and an opportunity to go to the college of your choice,” he said.

Many disparities still persist. Only 50.8 percent of foster youth, for example, graduate on time.

And some researchers are skeptical of the numbers. Morgan Polikoff, associate professor in the education school at the University of Southern California, would like to be able to examine what proportion of the graduates have actually passed the college prep courses, known as A-G classes, and how many relied on less rigorous credit recovery programs.

“That would give you a better handle on the likelihood that these changes and these gap closings are real or fictitious,” Polikoff said.

“We don’t want a bunch of students graduating high school who are not qualified and really shouldn’t be graduating high school,” said Polikoff, “because that would probably water down the value of that degree.”

And as a college diploma becomes even more necessary for most career paths, Zarate notes that the high school diploma no longer holds the same significance.

“I question what its impact will be in terms of achieving economic or social equity given that the goal post has shifted.”

The Gap Within the Gap

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 8.30.20 AM

(reposted from the Brookings Institution) 

Researchers and policymakers devote considerable effort to understanding gaps in academic achievement between low-income students and their better-off classmates.[1] And rightly so: the income-based achievement gap is a large and growing source of educational inequality in the United States. The test-score gap between high- and low-income students is 40 percent wider today than it was 25 years ago.[2]

One widely-used marker for poverty in schools is a student’s eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch. But while nearly half of students nationwide are eligible for subsidized meals, only a quarter of US children live in poverty. These two statistics make clear that eligibility for subsidized meals is a blunt measure of economic disadvantage. This rough measure may be perfectly appropriate for determining which children should receive school lunch subsidies, but it may be less useful for other purposes, such as measuring income gaps in achievement, determining the effectiveness of educational interventions targeted to low-income families, or steering resources toward the neediest children. Yet it is, for now, the only measure available to the many researchers and practitioners who work with administrative data to evaluate the effects of educational programs, measure gaps in student achievement, and steer resources toward the neediest children.

We use administrative data from Michigan to develop a more detailed measure of economic disadvantage. Our data contain information on the entire population of students in the Michigan public schools. We leverage the longitudinal nature of these data to document systematic variation in outcomes within the population of children who are eligible for subsidized meals. We do this by counting the number of years in which a given student qualified for subsidized meals, over multiple years of school enrollment.

In Michigan, roughly half of 8th graders are currently eligible for a subsidized meal; in math tests, they score about 0.69 standard deviations below those who are not eligible. By contrast, just 14 percent of 8th graders have been eligible for subsidized meals in every year since kindergarten. These persistently disadvantaged children score 0.94 standard deviations below those who were never eligible (and 0.23 standard deviations below those who were occasionally eligible). This gap is 40 percent larger than that measured using the conventional approach, which considers only current disadvantage.

Demographics differ starkly by these measures of economic disadvantage. In Michigan, 90 percent of those who were never disadvantaged are white, compared to 60 percent of those who were ever disadvantaged and 46 percent of the persistently disadvantaged. Students who had ever been disadvantaged by 8th grade were six times more likely to be black and four times more likely to be Hispanic, compared to those who were never disadvantaged. Students who were persistently disadvantaged by 8th grade were eight times more likely to be black and six times more likely to be Hispanic, compared to those who were never disadvantaged. The persistently disadvantaged are more concentrated in urban areas, while the transitorily disadvantaged are more concentrated in suburban areas.

The demographics available in state administrative data systems are limited. We turn to nationally-representative, survey data to shed further light on demographic differences between children who are persistently disadvantaged, transitorily disadvantaged and never disadvantaged. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999 (ECLS-K) includes information on household income and subsidized-meal eligibility.

In the ECLS-K, about half of 8th graders in 2006-2007 were ever eligible for subsidized meals (similar to Michigan) and about 10 percent of 8th graders were eligible in each survey wave of the ECLS-K (again, similar to Michigan).[3] As in Michigan, persistently disadvantaged students in the ECLS-K are much more likely to be a racial or ethnic minority (73 percent compared to 46 percent among transitorily disadvantaged and 11 percent among the never disadvantaged). They were also much less likely to live with both parents at the start of the survey (51 percent compared to 65 percent among the transitorily disadvantaged and 91 percent among the never disadvantaged) and much less likely to have a parent with any college experience (29 percent compared to 56 percent among the transitorily disadvantaged and 85 percent among the never disadvantaged).

An indicator for eligibility for subsidized meals is often included as a control in a regression that includes other student information, such as race, ethnicity, sex, and school characteristics. For quantitative researchers, a key question is therefore whether these other observables “explain” the larger achievement deficit among persistently disadvantaged students. If other observable characteristics can explain the differences, then an analyst need only include these variables in the regression in order to eliminate biases that may otherwise be induced by unobserved heterogeneity within the population of currently disadvantaged students.

We find that other observable differences between the persistently disadvantaged and other students do not explain their larger test score deficit. When we control for race, ethnicity, and gender, as well as their interactions, the gap between the never disadvantaged and the persistently disadvantaged (0.76) is still nearly 40 percent larger than the gap based on standard measures of contemporaneous eligibility (0.55). Comparing children only within the same school (by controlling for school fixed effects) reduces gaps further, but the within-school gap between the never disadvantaged and the persistently disadvantaged remains 40 percent larger than the gap based on the standard measure of contemporaneous eligibility.[4]

In Figure 1, we plot the relationship between scores and the number of years spent in economic disadvantage and 8th grade scores. There is a negative, nearly linear relationship (this pattern holds after controlling for student demographics and school fixed effects, as described above). A natural interpretation is that this is an exposure effect, with each additional year of disadvantage further reducing scores. However, this linear relationship is nearly identical in 3rd grade, before children have been differentially exposed to five more years of economic disadvantage.

Figure 1. Each additional year of disadvantage is associated with a roughly constant increase in the achievement gap


What explains this pattern? The number of years that a child will spend eligible for subsidized meals appears to be a reasonable proxy for her current level of income. When in kindergarten, the children in ECLS-K who will be persistently eligible have an average family income of $18,000. For the transitorily eligible it is $31,000 and for the never eligible $71,000.  That is, family income in a given year is negatively correlated with the number of years that a child will spend eligible for subsidized meals.

Our results imply that the number of years that a child spends eligible for subsidized meals can be used to proxy for household income. While still a crude proxy, this proposed measure captures greater variation in economic resources and educational outcomes than does the dichotomous variable currently used by researchers, which measures a child’s current eligibility for subsidized meals.

Our proposed measure can be used to estimate heterogeneous effects in program evaluations, to improve value-added calculations, and to better target resources. Two classrooms may have identical numbers of currentlyeligible children but different numbers of persistently eligible children. A value-added measure that does not account for these differences will be biased against teachers of the most disadvantaged children. Our measure of persistence can also be used in program evaluation, in order to estimate heterogeneity in causal effects or as a control to reduce omitted variables bias.

Our proposed measure can also be used to better target resources toward the most disadvantaged children. Many federal, state, and local programs distribute money based on the share of a school’s or district’s students eligible for subsidized meals. In Michigan, schools that have identical shares of students who are currently eligible for subsidized meals vary considerably in the share of students who are persistently eligible (Figure 2). By taking these differences into account, practitioners and policymakers can better target resources intended to support the most disadvantaged children and their schools.

Figure 2. School-level share of eighth graders currently disadvantaged versus share persistently disadvantaged


The authors did not receive financial support from any firm or person with a financial or political interest in this article. They are currently not officers, directors, or board members of any organization with an interest in this article.

Footnotes available here.