California Community College Student Financial Aid Administrators Association
Position on Student Success
The California Community College Student Financial Aid Administrators Association (CCCSFAAA) represents 500+ financial aid professionals at all 112 California community colleges. The financial aid offices at these community colleges delivered nearly 1.5 billion dollars in state and federal grant aid to their students in 2009-10 and the number is expected to rise even higher in 2010-11.
In this difficult economic time California leaders are struggling with many complicated funding decisions, not the least of which is higher education. There are many ideas being discussed. The California Community College League has released a study from the Committee on the Future and currently educational leaders are researching proposals as part of the Student Success Task Force. CCCSFAAA is encouraged by some of the proposals and concerned about others, fearing some ideas will result in unintended consequences.
Whatever changes are implemented, please keep in mind the findings of The Institute for Collage Access and Success. Their Green Light, Red Tape study indicated that another major resource challenge for the California community college involves their own financial aid operations, which have been historically under-funded and under-prioritized. Any proposed solution needs to be examined in relationship to how best to ensure student success. If we value higher education for Californians we will have to fund them adequately. Few, if any, of these proposals will result in dramatic changes in students’ success before the next election cycle, but we must make changes to secure California’s future.
The most important proposed area of change is how to restructure community college fee policy and Board of Governor Fee Waiver eligibility to save the state money. We believe the enrollment fee policy should be reasonable and predictable. We believe decisions related to fees charged at California community colleges should be removed from the process of balancing the budget. In recent years fees have risen in bad budget years and been reduced when revenues were better. Fees must be established based on California’s cornerstone belief that everyone should have access to higher education. We understand that our fees are much lower than the national average and that may need to be adjusted. Once adjusted, the fee structure should only increase based on economic indicators and not be connected to possible federal tax incentives. Students only receive the incentive if they enroll in college and then they receive the credit months later. Students, who do not attend college because of the cost, will never receive the tax credit.
We strongly oppose any attempt to eliminate the Board of Governor Fee Waiver program. We do believe some restrictions or changes could be made to strengthen the program and limit the costs.
First, we support a 120 degree applicable unit cap on BOG fee waivers eligibility. To support this across the community college segment would require a statewide data system so that students concurrently enrolled in more than one college, or students who move from one college to another, would not exceed the cap. Institutions must be allowed to have local authority to override this for high unit majors and dislocated workers referred to the community college for retraining. Students not granted an institutional waiver would not receive a BOG fee waiver and would be required to pay the differential fee after completing 120 degree applicable units.
Second, we support limiting BOG fee waivers for certificate and/or degree seeking students (including transfer students) who are enrolled in 6 units or more.
Third, we recommend shifting BOG fee waiver eligibility through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid from need-based criteria to one that looks at students’ Expected Family Contribution.
Fourth, we oppose connecting the federal financial aid Satisfactory Academic Progress standards to BOG fee waiver eligibility. We believe institutions already have a less restrictive Academic Standards process that must be enforced. Students who are on Academic Dismissal or Progress Dismissal should not remain BOG fee waiver eligible.
There are additional measures that we feel would increase student success and therefore better serve the California community college student:
We support a 120 degree applicable cap for state-subsidized education (and for BOG fee waivers as indicated above).
We support mandatory assessments and mandatory orientations provided institutions have local authority for exception.
We support stringent enforcement of Academic Standing policies.
We support a mandate requiring community colleges to monitor a student’s pace toward their academic goal and provide appropriate interventions to ensure student success.
We support AB 91 with the understanding that there must be a mechanism to increase funding for financial aid processing if we are projected to increase FAFSA processing by 25-50%. We believe that a pilot program will provide a testing ground for some of the theories. (PLEASE NOTE: The TICAS report looked at 2007-08 data. In 2009-10, CCCs increased federal Pell grant to students by 103%. Anecdotally we believe this is a result of changes Financial Aid offices made after the TICAS Green Light Red Tape report was issued AND economic conditions that pushed more students to apply).
We support a mandate requiring California community college students pursuing a certificate, degree or transfer begin their math and English sequence within the first year of college.
Recent studies have found that community college students may often be overwhelmed with too many options. We believe by providing more structure and a prescribed path, more students will successfully achieve their goals with less state subsidized units. Assessments, orientations and academic interventions for every certificate, degree or transfer seeking student will require resources which come with a cost. We believe that educating California’s most at-risk students is an investment in California’s economic future and as such should be adequately funded.