Adult-focused Recommendations for Overhauling Student Funding Models

Lumina Foundation recently released a series of commissioned papers on student financial support. The papers propose diverse recommendations for overhauling funding and financial aid systems to reduce the monetary barriers to credential completion. We have provided brief summaries of recommendations made by a few of the authors who included a focus on how their ideas might affect adult learners.

Authors from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research recommend improving coordination between federal agencies working on early childhood and education issues to expand access to child care for students. Additionally, they recommend broader efforts to ensure that students receive all of the public benefits to which they are entitled, citing projects such as the Benefits Access for College Completion pilot being carried out by CLASP and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). This can help reduce the financial burden on low-income students, especially adults, who are enrolled in postsecondary education.

Colleagues from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education recognize that most state financial aid systems are designed with a “traditional” student in mind – a dependent who attends a single school – when in fact adult learners make up an increasing proportion of the student body. With this in mind, they propose a “Shared Responsibility Model” in which the cost of attendance is divided between students, a family contribution (that would come from the student if he or she is independent), federal and state programs, and institutions.

Such a system would be flexible enough to account for the inherent differences between independent adult students and their dependent counterparts. A student’s expected contribution would be based on a limited number of hours worked at a given wage. As an example, Oregon (which has implemented a similar model) sets the expected student contribution at 90 percent of what a student would earn working a minimum wage job for 15 hours per week.

The expected family contribution for would be based on income levels, so low-income independent students would not be penalized by having to contribute both the "student" and "family" portion. Independent students with higher incomes, however, would be expected to contribute in this category as well.

Authors from George Washington University point out that much of the current discussion about income-based repayment systems ignore the needs of adult students. Particular to adults, they note that older students have less time remaining in the workforce to pay off loans. Rather than just an income-based repayment system, they propose an income-based loan system. The authors argue that basing loans on students’ projected income would prevent them from borrowing more than they would be able to repay. The authors also argue that loans limited by students’ projected income would provide a strong incentive to institutions to hold tuition prices to a level that would be able to be repaid.

Their recommendations would add this feature to income-based repayment schemes, which would also include loan forgiveness for events beyond the control of students, such as economic downturns and shifts in workforce demand. The concept would be applicable to older students seeking loans to finish their college credential.




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