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Stormy weather

February 18, 2014
Kimberley Buster-Williams

Kimberley Buster-Williams

Like the weather, things in enrollment management are global, can change quickly and can be unexpected, especially in the state of Illinois.

When asked about snow totals for December 2013’s Winter Storm Electra, a meteorologist replied, “There remains some uncertainty as it relates to the exact track of this storm, including critical details on the position of the rain/ice/snow line.”

Depending on the time of year, my response is much the same when I am asked about enrollment projections for new or continuing students. Like a meteorologist, I look at various models, student migration patterns, and metrics and try to anticipate what’s coming. I use prediction tools that have improved over time.

Recent storms in consumer disclosures

This year, I’ve tracked and responded to numerous enrollment management storms, especially those related to disclosures. Like many in higher education, I see more consumer disclosure on the horizon, especially since student loans have eclipsed credit cards as a top source of U.S. household debt, second only to mortgage debt.

Below are a few examples I shared in a recent article published in Recruitment and Retention.

  • Changes to the DoD’s Memo of Understanding

This spring, the Department of Defense (DoD) issued a new rule for its memorandum of understanding (MOU), which colleges and universities must sign to participate in DoD’s Tuition Assistance program.

The revised MOU incorporates changes based on the Obama administration’s “Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members,” an executive order signed in April 2012 to protect veterans from deceptive recruitment practices.

  • The limitations of the federal Financial Aid Shopping Sheet

Photo of a guest check padIn an issue related to the “Principles of Excellence,” many military students in particular are finding the federal Financial Aid Shopping Sheet confusing. The sheet, which is intended to help students understand attendance costs, does not itemize military benefits or institutional aid.

The sheet also displays estimated book, personal, and transportation charges in a way that implies that the institution charges for those items. In addition, it does not allow us to provide instructions or information about any of the aid programs.

Currently, the shopping sheet is not mandatory for all students although legislation has been proposed to make it so.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced and reintroduced legislation in May 2012 and July 2013 to standardize financial aid offer forms. The Understanding the True Cost of College Act, which has 15 co-sponsors, proposes a standard financial aid award letter that is similar to the White House shopping sheet, but would be required of all colleges receiving Title IV federal student aid.

  • A new federal direct loan provision

In July 2012, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) was enacted. MAP-21 adds a new provision to direct loan statutory requirements that limits a first-time borrower’s eligibility for direct subsidized loans to a period not to exceed 150 percent of the length of the borrower’s educational program.

Why is this a storm? The 150 percent limit represents a significant change to the terms and conditions of a student’s direct loans. Unlike cumulative GPA and pace requirements, there is no warning semester for maximum time frame.

Get ready: Storms on the horizon

A revived “Know before You Go” Act

Photo of hands pawing through files in a cabinetThe Student Right-to-Know Act was enacted in 1990 and requires an institution that participates in any student financial assistance program to disclose information about graduation rates to current and prospective students.

To make the disclosure requirement more stringent, in 2008 U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced Senate Bill 2098, called “The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act.” A couple of versions of the Wyden bill have appeared, but have not been enacted.

A current version includes reporting requirements to state agencies so that the states can produce and publish longitudinal data available to the public. This act would require additional disclosure, especially as it relates to job placement after graduation.

Continued changes regarding undocumented students

The DREAM Act continues to be an area of interest for many and, over the last couple of years, the idea that Congress should provide legal immigration status for young adults who were brought to the United States by their parents has garnered bipartisan consensus.

Each year, approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools.

Photo of a young girl looking at a DREAM Act bannerWith no solution on the immediate horizon, President Obama announced in June 2012 that his administration would stop deporting undocumented children who match certain criteria proposed under the DREAM Act.

As politicians continue to debate immigration reform, August 2013 marked the one-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

As Roberto Gonzales of the Immigration Policy Center explains, “While not granting a path to legalization and citizenship, DACA provides an opportunity for a segment of the undocumented immigrant population to remain in the country without fear of deportation, allows them to apply for work permits, and increases their opportunities for economic and social incorporation.”

The Immigration Policy Center is carefully watching DACA implementation.

My tips for EM storm chasers

The following will be important to successfully managing upcoming enrollment management storms at NIU:

Tracking the issues that affect enrollment management can indeed be like tracking severe weather, with one key difference. Enrollment managers have to do more than predict – they must execute.

Let’s hope for fruitful recruitment season and a speedy return to spring.

Kimberley Buster-Williams is acting associate vice president for Enrollment Management and director of Admissions at NIU. She is a member of Recruitment and Retention’s editorial board.