Need-based aid is key to college affordability

Need-based aid is key to college affordability

New research led by Mike Mitchell of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that Louisiana continues to lead the nation in shifting the cost of college from state government to students and families.

Number of the Day

3.7 percent  - The national unemployment rate for September, the lowest level since 1969.  (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

New research led by Mike Mitchell of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that Louisiana continues to lead the nation in shifting the cost of college from state government to students and families. This shift is the result of deliberate policy choices and has been particularly hard on non-traditional students and those hailing from low- and moderate-income families. The face of the traditional college student is changing, but student aid is still targeted at the traditional 18 year old high school graduate. Louisiana’s GO Grant aid program is directly targeted at low-income and adult students. LBP’s Davante Lewis has more on how GO Grants works:

Each institution maintains its own Go Grants policy that determines which students can receive awards and the amount of their award. The Regents require colleges to prioritize awards for non-traditional students, such as those who are 25 and older, going to school part-time or going back to school after time off. In 2013, the Board of Regents adopted a new methodology intended to distribute limited Go Grant dollars more effectively. The new rules stated that students could receive a maximum of 60 percent of total “need” from all sources of gift aid, including TOPS, Pell, institutional scholarships and GO Grants. The rules also allowed institutions to cap the amount of individual Go Grant awards. The new rules meant that more students could receive grants, but reduced the amount of the individual grants. While the change benefited many students, it left a cost gap for students with the highest financial need.

Louisiana has to improve its financial aid programs to help close the cost gap. Wilborn Nobles of Times Picayune has more:

“Year after year TOPS is put on a pedestal and prioritized by lawmakers, even in dire financial times, but funding for GO Grants has been mostly flat, even as student financial needs have increased. This is unacceptable,” (LBP’s Davante) Lewis stated. Moller said TOPS has been “very effective” in paying tuition for those who qualify, but it doesn’t cover fees such as housing and books. Moller also said most TOPS recipients are skewing to the “whiter, richer” demographic of students than the state as a whole, which excludes “everybody else,” including many first-generation college students, people going back to college, people who are part-time students, and adult learners. “We’re not saying that you shouldn’t have a merit-based program, but we are saying that there are ways that you can make college more affordable for low-income and nontraditional students,” Moller said.


Louisiana unemployment remains high
The national unemployment rate hit its lowest level since 1969, according to data released Friday morning. But Louisiana’s unemployment rate, while low by historical standards, has creeped up recently and is among the nation’s highest. David Jacobs, writing in, looks at the issue and asks why Louisiana is an outlier.

“We’ve been a state that has been, for many, many years, not very diversified,” said James Richardson, an LSU economist who serves on the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference. “We really need to find those other industries.” … Some Louisiana residents don’t want to work for low wages and don’t have the education to land higher-paying jobs, said Jan Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project, which monitors how state policy affects low- and middle-income families. If you have children at home, the pay from a fast-food job might not cover your transportation and child-care costs, he said.“Certain people just aren’t going to work for $7.50 an hour,” Moller said. “It’s a poverty wage.”


Odds stacked against Louisiana
Louisiana has some disturbing statistics when it comes to child poverty, food insecurity and health outcomes, reflecting some of the major challenges Louisianans face. Environmental pollution is another issue that threatens the well-being of Louisiana residents, with a disproportionate impact on low-income citizens. James Gill in The Advocate has more:

Louisiana is always so desperate for economic development that a seriously elevated health risk is regarded as an acceptable trade-off. Indeed, our response to the contamination of the environment has been to beg for more of it through lavish industrial tax exemptions. Business and political muckamucks will crow every time a new plant sets up — nowhere near their salubrious neck of the woods, of course — while residents of the polluted zone evidently accept the stink and desolation for the sake of jobs. Official statistics suggest such sacrifices have not done the trick. Our state unemployment rate is the third highest in the nation at around five percent, and having a job may well not keep the wolf from the door anyway. Perhaps the working poor will always be with us, given the American disdain for government handouts, but prospects can be particularly bleak in Louisiana. Almost one in five of us lives below the poverty line — only Mississippi is worse off — and more that 17 percent of Louisiana households are deemed “food insecure” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nationwide almost 12 percent of households do not always have enough to eat, which seems a bit of a disgrace in a country as rich as this one.


Universal Pre-K works
In 2009 the District of Columbia enacted an ambitious full-day universal Pre-K program. The investment has paid off according to a new study by The Center for American Progress. The study illustrates how access to pre-K positively impacts both families, but and the local economy. Bryce Covert of has more:  

The study, authored by CAP senior policy analyst Rasheed Malik, found that after the city implemented its universal preschool program, the share of mothers with children under the age of 5 who participated in the labor force — who were either employed or actively looking for work — increased about 12 percentage points, to 76.4 percent. Ten percentage points can be attributed to the preschool program. That is a huge increase from one single policy change. These mothers now participate in the city’s labor force at about the same rate as mothers of kids in elementary school. Preschool also appears to have increased how much women worked. The share of mothers with young kids who were employed rose from 56 percent to 67 percent; the share of married women with full-time work increased, as did the share of unmarried women with part-time work. “When I started looking at the rates of moms with young children going into the workforce … it’s really stark,” Malik told Vox. “It [was] just chugging along at a pretty flat level, and then it just immediately shoots up. It’s the sort of thing where you’re like, ‘This is too good to be true or too big to be real.”


*Note* LBP is collecting stories about the impact of Medicaid and Medicaid expansion on Louisianans’ access to health care services. If you have a personal story to share, or if you work with Medicaid patients who would like to share their story, please reach out to Caroline Gilchrist via email at or by phone at 225-573-9996.


Number of the day
3.7 percent  – The national unemployment rate for September, the lowest level since 1969.  (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)