Member Feedback Informs Spending Bill Advocacy

By Allie Ciaramella, Communications Manager  

Two weeks ago we asked you: As key financial aid and college enrollment deadlines approach and pass, how is the U.S. Education Department’s recent guidance prohibiting institutions from sharing students’ FAFSA and ISIR data with programs – even when they have written consent – affecting your work and the students you serve? Degrees of Change was one member program whose response helped inform our advocacy to key elected representatives who ultimately opted to address the issue in their omnibus spending bill last week. It also featured heavily in an Inside Higher Ed article published Monday.

For its two college success programs, Degrees of Change has historically requested identifiable, student-level financial aid data from colleges for four main reasons: 1) to tailor scholar-specific program interventions based on financial need and research-based indicators of drop-out risk; 2) to audit financial aid awards to ensure that each scholar’s award meets the agreed upon awarding criteria established in the Act Six licensing agreement; 3) to evaluate the impact of different types of financial aid on scholar outcomes; and 4) to use Pell Grant eligibility as a consistent measure to code scholars as “low-income” for a variety of critical reporting purposes to stakeholders, funders and potential funders. 

"Without access to identifiable, student-level financial aid data we are unable to 1) use this information in our concern list algorithm to identify scholars most at risk to drop-out; 2) audit financial aid awards to ensure that they meet the criteria established by the program; 3) evaluate the impact of different types of financial aid on scholars outcomes; and 4) use verified income data to code students as “low-income” for reporting purposes," Director of Research and Evaluation Kelly Bay-Meyer said. "Given the hundreds of scholars that we support on campus each year; variation in how and when our 17 college partners provide financial aid data to scholars; and challenges that scholars have accessing this information, trying to collect this data from each individual student would be unrealistic and would likely be less secure than transferring this information one time per college using our secure data portal."  

We appreciate our members sharing such critical information and helping us show members of Congress why we need policies that support low-income students' access to and success in higher education!