The Dispatch
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A newsletter about role of higher education in society — plus Open Campus developments.

For this first Dispatch of 2024, I wanted to take a look at what’s coming down the pike in admissions in the coming months. I talked to a few smart people — here’s what’s on their minds: 

How financial aid offices handle the FAFSA rollout

With the new FAFSA now available for families to fill out, the attention turns to the counselors who will guide them through the process and to the financial aid officers who will package offers.

A few things to keep an eye on: 

  • Colleges aren’t going to receive FAFSA data until later this month. Students won’t begin receiving aid offers until February/March at the earliest. (Brandeis University reminded parents of this in a recent email.)
    • That’s a concern for Danny Tejada, founder of the college-counseling service We Go to College, who worries about the impact of delayed financial aid packages. Students and families may not have time to fully consider their options by May 1. “I wish colleges would reconsider the enrollment deadline as a collective,” he told me.
    • Food for thought from James Murphy, deputy director for higher education policy at Education Reform Now: How will under-resourced institutions, and those that rely on part-time workers to package aid offers, deal with this new timeline? Delays in getting out financial aid packages could hurt a college’s yield rate, he told me. And, without all the options necessary to make an informed decision, frustrated students could pick colleges that aren’t affordable for them, or choose not to go to college at all. 
  • Paying for college is a major stressor for families. A messy financial-aid process could deepen the already rampant distrust between Americans and higher ed, Marie Bigham, founder and executive director of the advocacy group ACCEPT, told me.
  • Some colleges have moved institutional financial aid deadlines to accommodate families — including Beloit College, Barnard College and Lafayette College. (Thanks to Danny and others who are publicly flagging these messages from colleges.) 

++Amy Moronaat our partner Signal Cleveland andJason Gonzalesat our partner Chalkbeat Colorado have explainers out this week on the FAFSA changes.

Questions remain about race-conscious ruling effects

This is the first admissions cycle following the Supreme Court’s ban on race-conscious admissions. I wondered whether we’ll learn anything this spring about the decision’s impact on selective colleges.

That seems unlikely at this stage. That is, “unless institutions are forthcoming. And that would be surprising,” Murphy told me. 

For example: Murphy said it’s unlikely that colleges will include the racial makeup of their new students in any class profiles they make public.

An eye on enrollment

A California Community Colleges billboard on a San Francisco bus stop. (Photo: Semantha Norris/Calmatters)

We’ll continue to watch how colleges grapple with lagging enrollment. Our local reporters are covering this from multiple angles. Adam Echelman at our partner CalMatters wrote over the summer about the ways community colleges are trying to attract new students, from new billboard ads to drone displays. And Emma Folts at our partner PublicSource recently explored the enrollment challenges facing small private colleges in the Pittsburgh area. 

  • Effects of direct admissions: This is something Murphy is keeping an eye on this spring. Will efforts like Common App’s — in which pre-screened students who haven’t applied to an institution get an acceptance letter saying they have a guaranteed spot —  boost college-going? Of course, the nudges students receive will work best if they are backed up with financial aid, Murphy said. 

Join us for a conversation about rural higher ed

Stan Delaney, a local farmer, surveys his family’s land in north Issaquena County, Mississippi. (Photo: Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today)

On Jan. 22, we’re hosting a virtual conversation about perceptions of higher ed in rural America. Nick Fouriezos, our staff reporter covering rural issues, will moderate a conversation with two of our local reporters: Molly Minta from Mississippi Today and Sneha Dey from The Texas Tribune.

Join us at 10 a.m. CT. Register here.

++ Sneha wrote an explainer on Texas’s new community college funding model, which is meant to, in part, even the playing field between rural and urban institutions. 

++ A quick update on our network: We’ll now be working with The City to cover the City University of New York system. We’re excited to work with two of their reporters: Jonathan Custodio, who covers the Bronx, and Haidee Chu, who covers Queens.

Elsewhere on Open Campus

David Carrillo talks to his Intro to Macroeconomics class at Adams State University. (Photo: Rachel Woolf for Chalkbeat)

From Colorado: Charlotte West, our staff reporter covering prisons, and Chalkbeat Colorado’s Jason Gonzales visited a distinct class: David Carrillo is an incarcerated adjunct professor with Adams State, teaching other incarcerated people college-level courses. It’s a unique role now, but one that could become increasingly common around the country. 

++ In her newsletter this week, Charlotte explores the effects of education on clemency decisions. Carrillo was recently granted clemency and will leave prison later this month. 

From California: notable stat in this story from Adam Echelman at Calmatters: “Latino students represent nearly half of community college students but less than 20% of tenured or tenure-track faculty are Latino. The same disparity holds true for Latino administrators.”

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