Tuition for public colleges should stay relatively flat for at least two more years, and some experts worry that the updated federal aid rules will leave states unable to manage their colleges effectively.
The Government Accountability Office issued a new report on Monday finding that many federal guidelines around student aid left gaps for states to manage their higher education budgets, making it more difficult for states to raise tuition beyond what the market could afford.
Additionally, “Students enrolled in career and technical education (CTE) programs where states are paying up to three times the amount of other students have been unable to use the federal aid intended for non-instructional activities because they cannot immediately transfer the aid to other institutions.”
The bipartisan request by members of Congress to study several of the guidelines was a request CNN had made last year to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“While we appreciate the commitment states have made, states cannot be expected to pay out-of-pocket expenses for university programs that they have not yet implemented,” the GAO report reads.
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Some higher education experts, however, say the report leaves a cloud of ambiguity in the guidance, painting a misleading picture.
“These are report language, and these are report recommendations that have not been adopted by the Departments,” said Jordan Friedman, an education policy expert and founder of Degrees4All.
“Since most of the recommendations of the GAO recommendations are not fulfilled by the Departments of Education and Labor, many of these recommendations will not be implemented, but they (the GAO) continue to be disappointing reports,” Friedman said.
A representative for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos did not respond to a request for comment.
Read the GAO’s full report
The Department of Education said in a statement: “We’re committed to promoting opportunity for college completion by focusing on outcomes that matter most to students. To drive student success, we’re focused on preparing students for careers, sharing best practices, and reducing burdens on students and institutions.”
The report did not identify the students directly, but said that their ability to repay federal student aid is affected when they switch from an in-state public four-year public university to a public postsecondary institution where the student will be located for less than three years.
The report said that while the Department of Education suggested students who are on provisional student aid through a public university do not need to inform their new school, the Department of Education does not require colleges to report loan repayment data to the federal government for that student.
“The new guidance issued by the Department of Education today will remain a drag on those institutions that do not adjust their data quickly to reflect what students change to state-operated schools,” Brian Turmail, an associate vice president for higher education at American Council on Education, said in a statement.
Turmail added that the report’s new draft recommendations seem to be more aligned with legislators’ concerns, and will result in higher tuition costs for some students, while freeing up funds for the colleges that have recently become state-operated.
“This is very troubling for students,” Turmail said.
In an email, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the national professional association for public and community colleges, said it “strongly agrees” with many of the GAO’s recommendations, adding that they are necessary as states and colleges work to increase student completion rates.
A representative for the Education Department said: “We are in direct communication with stakeholders to implement their recommendations.”
The GAO emphasized that these recommendations should be put into effect only when the cost of obtaining an education is consistent for students who switch to state schools and federal aid is available for these students.