STRENGTHENING NORTH CAROLINA’S NEED-BASED STATE GRANT PROGRAMS TO SUPPORT STUDENT SUCCESS

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A Report From The Joint Steering Committee Of The North Carolina Student Aid Study Group

Links To Appendices

Financial aid can be one of our most effective tools to get more students to and through postsecondary education, but grant programs must be designed and delivered in ways that align with these goals.

In the report, Strengthening North Carolina’s Need-Based State Grant Programs to Support Student Success, you’ll find recommendations and a summary of the study group’s findings.

To move from recommendations to action will require continued refinement of these ideas, detailed policy development, and engagement with state policymakers.

Peter Hans
President, North Carolina Community College System
Co-chair, North Carolina Student Aid Study Group

Margaret Spellings
President Emerita, University of North Carolina System
Co-chair, North Carolina Student Aid Study Group

The North Carolina Student Aid Study Group, a joint effort of the University of North Carolina and the North Carolina Community College Systems, brought together higher education leaders, financial aid officers, and state policymakers to take a close look at the financial aid programs that serve the UNC System and NCCCS students. Between August 2018 and January 2019, the group took a close look at the primary state grant programs that serve public college students in North Carolina: the UNC Need-based Grant, Community College Grant, and Education Lottery Scholarship. Over the course of 7 months, the group assessed the strengths and weaknesses of North Carolina’s grant programs, heard from national experts about the lessons North Carolina can learn from research and experience in other states, and developed evidence-based reforms to enhance the effectiveness of state aid investments.

Sections

CHARGE – Goals, Principles, Key Questions

While student aid programs are central to the state’s commitment to college affordability, their design reflects the era in which they were first implemented, when the primary goal was to lower the tuition that a student has to pay.

Today, we know much more about how the design and delivery of student aid can influence college aspirations, enrollment decisions, and student success after recipients are enrolled in college. We also know that particular design features–like complicated application processes, poor timing, and insufficient flexibility–can work at cross-purposes to the goals of financial aid programs.

Meanwhile, both the UNC and North Carolina Community College Systems have new strategic plans that set aggressive goals for student access and success. The UNC System aspires to increase the number of low-income and rural students who earn a degree and to increase graduation rates overall. The NC Community College System has called for an increase in completion rates, better promotion of community college opportunities, and a rethinking of the process by which students apply to and enroll in their institutions.

Student aid can be a key tool in our efforts to accomplish these goals, but only if our programs are well-suited to the challenge. As such, now is an opportune time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our current approach to state-based aid and to identify evidence-based changes that can increase the productivity of those investments.

Are our grant programs designed to maximize access and success for all UNC System and community college students? How do students and families learn about these opportunities, and can the state do more to reach back into the K-12 pipeline to inform students about their options? Do the programs create incentives for timely degree completion? Are they designed to meet the needs of nontraditional students?

North Carolina Student Aid Study Group Charge

Adopted 9.10.18

PREAMBLE

The state of North Carolina invests hundreds of millions of dollars in student aid each year in service of its constitutional mandate to provide higher education “as free as practicable.” These investments help ensure that the price of attendance will not be a barrier to college enrollment and completion for qualified North Carolinians of all ages.

As the UNC System and North Carolina Community College System work to build from this strong foundation, both institutions are intensely focused on increasing postsecondary access and success. The centrality of those priorities is reflected in both systems’ strategic plans which emphasize increases in completion rates, improved access for key groups, and smoother transitions from K-12 to college.

Student aid is an essential tool in our pursuit of these goals. But to meet the challenge, our state aid programs must adapt. A growing body of research has provided many lessons on how student aid design and delivery can influence college aspirations, enrollment decisions, and student success once enrolled in college. We also know that particular design features–like complicated application processes, poor timing, and insufficient flexibility–can weaken and ultimately undermine the goals of financial aid programs.

As such, it is an opportune time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our current approach to state-based aid, and to identify evidence-based changes that can increase the productivity of those investments and their transformative impact for students.

The North Carolina Student Aid Study Group will bring together higher education leaders, financial aid experts, and state policymakers to take a close look at the aid programs that serve UNC and NCCCS students (the UNC Need-based Grant, Community College Grant, and Education Lottery Scholarship), identify lessons from research and other states about the optimal design of student aid, and develop evidence-based reforms to enhance the effectiveness of state aid investments.

GOALS

  1. Conduct a detailed assessment of the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement in existing state student aid programs and outreach efforts in the context of new goals and economic conditions.
  2. Examine lessons from rigorous research and from other states about the effective design and targeting of student aid programs and associated outreach efforts.
  3. Use the findings from 1 and 2 to develop a set of evidence-based reforms that can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the state financial aid programs and outreach efforts that serve UNC System and NCCCS students.

PRINCIPLES

  1. Student aid programs should be as simple, predictable, and transparent as possible to the end users.
  2. The state should work to ensure that prospective students and their families have opportunities to learn about student aid opportunities and postsecondary options early in their school careers.
  3. State aid should be targeted at those on whom it will have the largest effect on enrollment and success.
  4. State aid rules and procedures should encourage student progress and timely degree completion without compromising access.
  5. State aid rules and procedures should provide sufficient flexibility to serve the needs of different types of students.
  6. Potential reforms should focus primarily on making the most productive use of existing state investments.

KEY QUESTIONS

  • Are our grant programs designed to maximize access and success for all UNC and community college students?
  • How do students and families learn about these opportunities, and can the state do more to reach back into the K-12 pipeline to inform students about their options?
  • Do the programs create incentives for timely degree completion?
  • Are our student aid programs designed to meet the needs of nontraditional students?

NC Student Aid Study Group – Chairs and Representatives

Co-Chairs

  • Peter Hans, President, North Carolina Community College System
  • Margaret Spellings, President, UNC System

UNC System Representatives

  • Darrell Allison, UNC Board of Governors
  • Sandy Baum, Urban Institute
  • Imani Burwell, Advisor at Warren County High School, Carolina Advising Corps, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Chancellor Philip Dubois, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Rachelle Feldman, Associate Provost, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Louis Hunt, Senior Vice Provost, NC State University
  • Sharon Oliver, Director of Financial Aid, North Carolina Central University
  • Robert Rucho, UNC Board of Governors
  • Deborah Tollefson, Director of Financial Aid, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

NC Community College System Representatives

  • Kali Brown, Director of Financial Aid, Vance-Granville Community College
  • Pamela Harrell, VP for Student Services, Johnston Community College
  • Rosemary Kelly, AVP for Student Services, Fayetteville Technical Community College
  • Dennis King, President, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College
  • Lisa Koretoff, Director of Financial Aid, Guilford Technical Community College
  • Laura Leatherwood, President, Blue Ridge Community College
  • Daniel “JJ” McEachern, Dean of Enrollment Management, Central Piedmont Community College
  • Christopher Sabin, Director of Veterans Programs, Coastal Carolina Community College
  • Chad Williams, VP for Student Services, Randolph Community College

NCSEAA Representative

  • Elizabeth McDuffie, Executive Director, North Carolina State Educational Assistance Authority (NCSEAA)

Progress, Timeline & Meeting Materials

During five in-person meetings, the Study Group focused on content areas reinforced by findings from a survey of financial aid directors at UNC and NCCS institutions. (See Appendix A.) Financial Aid Study Group team members worked in Groups:

  • Targeting, predictability and simplicity
  • Outreach and accessibility
  • Optimizing aid for student success
  • Supporting non-traditional students

Timeline

August 2, 2018

Kickoff

Agenda and Materials

State Financial aid: North Carolina
Sarah Pingel, Ed.D., Senior Policy Analyst | Education Commission of the StatesSEP2018

September 10, 2018

Overview Of Existing NC Programs

Agenda

Meeting Briefing Book

The National Context for Student Aid Reform
Sandy Baum, Fellow, Education Policy Program, Urban Institute

Financial Aid 101
Elizabeth McDuffie, Executive Director, North Carolina State Educational Assistance Authority (NCSEAA) OCT2018

October 10, 2018

Targeting, Predictability & Simplicity;
Outreach & Accessibility

Agenda

Improving Outreach and Accessibility of Financial Aid Report Presentation
Dr. Oded Gurantz, Truman School of Public Affairs | University of Missouri

A Look at State-level Outreach Efforts in North Carolina
Mark Wiles, Director, CFNC Pathways, College Foundation of North Carolina

Improving Targeting, Predictability, and Simplicity
Sandy Baum, Fellow, Education Policy Program, Urban Institute OCT2018

October 31, 2018

Optimizing Aid for Student Success
Supporting Non-Traditional Students

Agenda

November 28, 2018

Review of draft recommendations
Technical analysis framework

Agenda

Group C: Optimizing Aid for Student Success
Group D: Support for Non-Traditional Students
Group A: Targeting, Predictability, and Simplicity (updates)
Group B: Outreach and Accessibility (updates)

Draft Recommendations 11/28/18

December 12, 2018

Review of financial modeling
Discussion of recommendations

Agenda

Draft Recommendations

Modeling the Impact of Proposed Recommendations
Sophia Laderman, Senior Policy Analyst, SHEEOMAY2019

May, 2019

Recommendations

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