Yes We Must Coalition Testimony to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance

September 12, 2014

The Yes We Must Coalition is a 501(c)3 comprised of 36 independent, non profit colleges and universities across the country where the undergraduate enrollment is 50% or more Pell-eligible. We enroll more than 53,000 students. We organized in 2011 to collaborate with one another, be a voice for our students and to establish an identity for this important sector of higher ed.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer comments as your committee considers PIRS.

  1. College for our students is one part of their generally very complex lives. Our students integrate college with families, jobs, caring for others, serious economic worries and often health issues. They have not been on a path to college, often right up until the day they enroll. They have not been “prepared.” We believe these students deserve the opportunity of college as it can change their lives. We also believe that higher education needs to better “prepare” itself for low-income students.
  2. Many of our students are adults who often attend part-time at least during some of their college time. They transfer in and/or stop out. We do not see any of these statuses or patterns as the result of institutional failure. Measurement at the student level of the winding path they need to take is necessary. Several institutions may well be involved in the ultimate success of one student.
  3. We would like to see the use of a measure of institutional connection to underserved communities. Can we measure the outreach to communities that are underserved, the expenditure in time and resources as a percentage of operating budget? Are intentional messages and high touch attention directed at low-income students?
  4. Once they are on campus, what is the magnitude of the resources expended directly on the success of low-income students, as a percent of operating budget? Is the institution involved in collaborative cross-institution and cross-sector efforts to understand and improve outcomes for low-income students?
  5. We join the voices of caution that warn that the pressure on institutions to look better in ratings will result in reduced opportunities and investments in poor people. Our schools take a lot of chances with the students we admit. We want each one to succeed, but understand that may not always happen because of factors outside of our control. In addition, the structural changes necessary for low-income students to succeed in great numbers are not in place, in part because they are not yet well-researched and understood, in part because they require an investment of funds. How does the academy and all of education need to change? The gravity of inequity in education has yet to be met with a radical departure from antiquated systems that were never designed to serve poor people.
  6. Please do not create another tool that pits institutions, their boards and alumni in competition with one another. We need collaborative efforts to improve the systems.
  7. Members of the Yes We Must Coalition would be eager to react, as a test group, to any actual rating systems that are being contemplated in order to help avoid “unintended negative consequences.”

Thank you.

Gloria Nemerowicz
Yes We Must Coalition