uAspire commits to design and launch a policy and systems change engine that will harness college affordability expertise in order to influence grades K-12 and Higher Education leaders in conjunction with state and federal officers. Through partnerships, training, and convenings, uAspire will mobilize broad systemic change to eliminate financial barriers that increase student debt and inhibit American students from postsecondary degree completion.
1) Build a uAspire Policy Division: Establish a Policy Team and Strategic Plan to drive systemic change that will decrease student debt and increase degree completion for American youth. Define direction, set key priorities, and create a multi-year plan for uAspires policy & systemic change efforts.
2) Bridge Sectors to Accelerate Systemic Change: Strategically engage in partnerships across multiple constituents (research, practice, and policy) in order to mobilize leaders to make systemic change on critical college affordability issues. uAspire will convene and activate key stakeholders via partnerships with: Leading researchers and think tanks to better understand, document, and spread evidence-based approaches to enable more affordable paths to postsecondary degrees; Schools districts, nonprofits and CMOs to provide college affordability training to enable postsecondary administrators to design and deliver student programs, train staff and utilize data systems to acquire less debt and more degrees for their students; and policymakers and regulators, at the national, state, and local levels, to facilitate changes that will lead to more informed and improved policies and regulatory implementation.
uAspire is working to secure key collaborators to support this plan. ECMC Foundation, the Edwin Gould Foundation, Lumina Foundation, and MetLife Foundation are all early investors in the development of uAspires policy agenda, and 20 K-12 organizations have applied for uAspires Training Partnership Programs.
Most significant challenges include identifying how to build accountability in the public sector for affordable postsecondary education, an unpredictable political landscape in 2017, and securing resources for long-term sustainability.
Q1: July-Sept 2016
- Hire and assign staff to mobilize policy and systemic change
- Research highly regarded policy/practice think tanks to identify key elements of successful models
- Identify one to two college affordability policy priorities to address via publication strategy
- Complete formal MOUs with Training Partners for delivery of uAspire Affordability Fellow Program in 2016-17
Q2: October-December 2016
- Conduct interviews and background research to create a landscape analysis identifying potential partners, key leaders, institutions, collaborations, and systems to influence
- Begin pilot of two research/publication partnerships with leading researcher/think tanks with clear goals, deliverables, and systems-change impact
- Host three convenings with key academics, practitioners, thought-leaders, and/or policymakers aimed at informing and developing uAspires strategy, advancing its college affordability agenda, and inspiring the higher education field to act
- Launch new Affordability Fellows Program via coach assignment and course delivery
Q3: January-March 2017
- Develop policies for when/how uAspire will share its financial aid data analytics with external audiences to better inform policymakers and systems-change leaders
- Draft Policy Team Strategic Plan - define vision, strategy, and staffing plan for uAspires policy work through 2020
- Meet 50% of goal for outreach to policymakers and regulators
- Begin second semester of Affordability Fellows Program to drive financial aid award letter review and collection at 15 organizations across the nation; and
- Create and disseminate at least one publication on prioritized college affordability topics.
Q4: April-June 2017
- Share Policy Strategic Plan with key uAspire Board of Trustees members
- Complete outreach with key government policymakers or regulators
- Recruit new round of Fellows for the 2017-18 calendar year
- Host two convenings of key partners, practitioners, thought-leaders, and/or policy makers aimed at informing uAspires strategy, advancing college affordability agenda, and inspiring the higher education field to act
Now more than ever, a college degree can represent more of a lifelong burden than a lifelong benefit. As uAspire has expanded both geographically and programmatically, the rising costs of college and unprecedented levels of student debt have created a growing social problem that has disproportionately affects low-income students and families. Between 2004 and 2012, the number of student borrowers in the United States and the size of their loans grew by 70% (Brown, Haughwout, Lee, Scally, and van der Klaauw, 2014; Huelsman, Mark 2015). However, despite taking on more debt, only 9% of low-income students will reap the benefits of a completed degree, compared to 77% of individuals from the highest-income families; making these high-income students eight times more likely than individuals from low-income families to obtain a bachelors degree by age 24.Cahalan, Margaret and Laura Perna (2015). There is growing national attention in the media, in the 2016 Presidential campaigns, and through several White House initiatives regarding the issue of college affordability, and uAspire believes this is a critical moment for action. uAspire, a direct service leader to 10,000 students each year and a leader in training and providing professional development for more than 1,000 students every year, is uniquely positioned to leverage on-the-ground expertise to effect systemic change and to serve as a bridge between policymakers and the families, practitioners, and students that they ultimately impact.