Kudos to the U.S. Department of Education

Hold onto that blog entry title, folks — it’s going to be pretty rare around these parts. Two events this weekend justify the praise:

  1. The Saturday-morning release of institution-level data on loans, paybacks, income, and other data, including some data specific to Pell-grant recipients. Even more to its credit, the department made tools available so that other organizations such as ProPublica could create their own interfaces. This comes two years after announcing that the Administration wanted to create a rating-and-ranking system for colleges and universities. I was against it at the time, and I am delighted that not only did the Obama administration back away from the rating-and-ranking idea, but demonstrated how it didn’t need the “crack cocaine of today’s generation of education reformers” (my language from 2013). As Sara Goldrick-Rab noted, this data release is not a panacea, but it’s a great start.
  2. The clever shifting of FAFSA tax-record information today to a prior-prior-year basis — that is, students entering college in 2016 only need their or their parents’ 2015 taxes (which are already filed) rather than 2016 taxes, which would have been the case without today’s change. Why is it clever? It only required changing the timeline so that those who expect to be students in fall 2016 can start filing the FAFSA next month–previously, FAFSA (and student-need calculations) were only available beginning in January. Again, shifting the tax-year basis for student aid is a big step — and just one step — in addressing the nightmares many students face with financial aid. But it’s still a big step.
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