April 3, 2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

Addressing College Affordability

Student loan debt is above $1.3 trillion in our country, with the latest data showing the number of those 60 and older with student loan debt in the U.S. has “quadrupled over the last decade,” with 73 percent of those older borrowers financing their child or grandchild’s education, as college affordability issues continue to grow.

In Michigan, a national report shows that while our state is ranked 15th for college affordability, we need to accelerate the number of college graduates entering our workforce.

How can we best tackle the college affordability gap to ensure opportunities for all?

We’re getting a closer look at specific challenges and barriers facing students, through the Institute for Higher Education Policy’s (IHEP) new study, Limited Means, Limited Options: College Remains Unaffordable for Many Americans.

The report was funded by the Lumina Foundation, that presented at Michigan College Access Network’s (MCAN) conference in Lansing last month.

The report used national data to develop 10 student profiles, to show examples of what students of different ages, family structures, living situations and incomes face in the college affordability gap.

The findings:

  • Out of more than 2,000 colleges, 48 percent of the colleges were affordable for only the wealthiest student who came from a family with an income over $160,000

  • Low and moderate-income students could only afford 1 to 5 percent of the colleges

  • Low-income students often need to finance more than 100 percent of their family’s household income to attend one year at a four-year college

  • Student loans aren’t enough. For the lowest-income student, 78 percent of the colleges were still unaffordable even when subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford Loans were included.

  • Low-income students, especially those who must financially support themselves throughout college, are less likely to graduate than their wealthier peers

As CMF reported in September, the cost of college is growing, and even with aid it’s not enough to meet the needs of vulnerable students.

While several states, including Michigan, are discussing the idea of free college programs, IHEP’s report calls for free college programs to be geared towards a “first-dollar” model instead of a “last-dollar” model.

The breakdown of free college models:

  • First-dollar free college models more specifically target funds to low-income students. First-dollar programs provide funding for a range of college costs, including room and board.

  • Last-dollar free college models cover costs after other state and federal aid is used. The study says for low-income students who may already have their tuition covered, this approach wouldn't provide them with much additional or equitable funding, instead it may benefit wealthier students. “What it does do is devote more resources to high income students who can already afford college,” Mamie Voight, vice president of policy research at IHEP said.

The report calls for lawmakers and stakeholders to push for policy changes that better support students in earning their college degrees.

Recommendations for college affordability include:

  • Strengthening direct investment in public colleges and need-based aid: Target financial aid and free-college programs towards students with the most need. First-dollar free college programs, instead of last-dollar models, “can act like need-based grants to help low-income students pay for tuition and living expenses.”

  • Doubling the maximum Pell Grant: Starting this fall the maximum award will be $5,920. Based on the data in the student profiles, doubling this grant amount would make hundreds of more colleges affordable for low-income students.

  • Legislation to improve cost transparency: Providing a bipartisan, net price calculator that easily stores information on all colleges and costs would help students make decisions and understand their options.

CMF has many members throughout the state focusing on college access as they participate in MCAN through their community foundations. As CMF reported last fall, several community and family foundations have scholarship models for students of color, low-income and/or first generation students.

Last year, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County launched a reverse scholarship program, a talent attraction and retention initiative, to help recent college graduates pay off their student loans if they return to the county to live and work.

We know our state has its sights set on reducing the equity gap in college enrollment and increasing degree attainment, as lawmakers continue to examine the recommendations of the 21st Century Education Commission, including universal access to community college.

Want more?

Read Limited Means, Limited Options: College Remains Unaffordable for Many Americans.

Join CMF’s College Access online community







Growing Green Jobs

We’re seeing green infrastructure take root in Michigan. Just last week, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) received grant money to transform a blighted neighborhood lot in Detroit’s North End into a rain water harvesting cistern and recreational area.

Green infrastructure comes in many forms including parks, greenways, natural areas in urban settings, rain gardens, green roofs, etc. and can help create more vibrant and equitable communities, through addressing social, environmental and economic issues.

Several CMF members are exploring green infrastructure projects in their communities, to benefit their community’s triple bottom line (social, environmental and financial).

Now we’re seeing a definite connection that may help communities address workforce development issues as well. A new report by Jobs for the Future, Exploring the Green Infrastructure Workforce, funded in part by The Kresge Foundation, is highlighting how leveraging green infrastructure can create job opportunities for low-income and entry-level workers.

Inside look at the workforce:

  • Jobs in green infrastructure could include roles such as construction workers, tree trimmers, roofers, greenhouse workers, landscapers, repair and maintenance workers and more.

  • These roles project healthy job growth by 2020 but not fast enough say some advocates, as green infrastructure is still an emerging practice

  • As the number and scope of green infrastructure projects grow, so will opportunities for developing the workforce

  • Barriers are low to enter the field as many of the jobs don’t require postsecondary degrees

  • The pay scale for these jobs can run anywhere from $21,000 to $55,000 but the median wage for a job related to green infrastructure is $15.78/hour.

Detroit, a city that’s working to address its shrinking workforce, is featured in the report as an emerging leader in green infrastructure for the city’s goal of investing $50 million in green stormwater projects by 2029.

The city, foundations and other stakeholders have leveraged many projects to transform vacant lots, plant trees and create natural spaces to reduce run-off.

Both Detroit and Ann Arbor were highlighted in the report for their projects and their potential green infrastructure workforce.

In Detroit:

  • It’s estimated there are more than 102,000 workers employed in occupations that could be linked to green infrastructure jobs.

  • There were 11,700 job postings for green infrastructure-related jobs in 2015.

In Ann Arbor:

  • It’s estimated up to 4 percent of the workforce is potentially involved in green infrastructure with as many as 9,500 workers employed.

  • There were 1,200 job postings for green infrastructure-related jobs in 2015

  • There are incentives for residents to install and maintain green infrastructure on their properties and the county helps residents install rain gardens.

While Michigan cities like Detroit and Ann Arbor are working to embed green infrastructure in their communities, how can we also help develop the green infrastructure workforce?

The report recommendations include:

  • Create and support structured connections and collaboration around workforce opportunities through cross-sector partnerships. Philanthropy can help convene stakeholders in this effort.

  • Support education and training for jobs that install, maintain and inspect green infrastructure systems.

  • Employers, policymakers and stakeholders can encourage diversifying the green infrastructure workforce.

While we seek ways to stimulate this emerging industry to address workforce development, our aging infrastructure, health and environmental issues, CMF members continue to leverage partnerships and collaboration to activate green infrastructure initiatives.

The Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation is deeply involved in green infrastructure work and is currently supporting the development of a database to map and track such projects in Detroit.

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced earlier this year it’s supporting green infrastructure at its new headquarters in the Woodward Grand redevelopment project, capturing rain water to service restrooms and supply a roof top garden.

Want more?

Read the full report.






Tackling Risks in Philanthropy

At a time of a changing policy landscape, shifting funding streams and the potential effects of tax reform on the horizon, how can philanthropy best serve our communities and increase our impact?

“Our ability to achieve greater impact depends, in part, upon our willingness and our capacity to protect our grants and investments from unexpected disruption. In other words, in order to maximize impact, we must tackle risk,” a statement from the Commons, a diverse group of foundations, nonprofits and other organizations said.

The Commons along with Open Road Alliance, The Rockefeller Foundation and Arabella Advisors shared Risk Management for Philanthropy: A Toolkit, to provide best practices for taking, mitigating and managing risks in philanthropy, to help funders of all sizes identify their grantees’ and their organizations' relationships with risk.

The toolkit defines risk as, “the likelihood that an event will occur that will cause some type of undesirable effect.” Risk falls into four categories: financial, reputational, governance and impact.

The toolkit encourages funders to use the resource to scope where their organizations fall in the spectrum of risk appetite, so they’re able to effectively communicate that with staff and grantees.

It’s important to have transparent conversations internally and externally.

A survey of funders and nonprofits found that grantees reported 87 percent of the applications they fill out don’t ask for risk assessments.

The toolkit describes next steps for transparency and incorporating risk management into your grantmaking:

  • Draft a risk profile and share it with staff, you could also share it online and on grant applications. It could include your organization’s risk appetite, goals, categories of risk that concern you and circumstances where you’re comfortable with failure.

  • Convene regular conversations with board and staff about failures, mistakes and successes.

  • Include risk in your RFP and monitoring and evaluation processes. Asking a risk-related question of potential grantees in an RFP encourages transparent conversations about risk and may provide insights as to whether the applicant would be a good fit as a grantee.

  • Create opportunities for program officers to have candid conversations about risks. Offer incentives to your staff members for taking smart risks and leverage failure as actionable learning opportunities.

  • Discuss risk management in annual performance conversations with staff.

While these steps can foster shared learning and transparency with potential grantees, funders should also have funding put aside for unforeseen circumstances. The toolkit cites that the survey showed only 17 percent of funders put aside contingency funding.

Once you understand where your organization falls in the spectrum and there’s a framework in place to deal with unforeseen circumstances, funders also want their governance to use best practices in risk management.

Risk management in governance practices include:

  • Establish a committee that meets on an as-needed basis, when an urgent issue arises and requires immediate action. 

  • Consider granting your executive director and/or program directors authority over some contingency funding: It creates risk ownership within the staff.

  • Develop processes to reflect on risk: Have post-mortem discussions with grantees about what could or should be done differently in the future.

These processes and recommendations are just some of the tools that can foster more effective, transparent relationships with grantees and encourage collaboration for impact.

The toolkit shares, “Research shows that one of the primary barriers to successful risk management is a lack of transparency and trust between funders and nonprofits.”

Risk management is also an evolving process and journey for organizations, depending upon where they fall in the spectrum and the goals they have for the future.

Want more?

Check out the toolkit.

Discuss your organization's risk appetite (page 13).






Our Common Future: Call for Session Proposals

In October, CMF, Independent Sector (IS) and Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) are coming together for a joint-conference, Our Common Future: Building Tomorrow, Together.

It will be an immersive, collaborative and action-oriented experience in the heart of the Motor City.

The conference will offer a mix of CMF member-only conversations, a special family foundation track for CMF members and collaborative social sector programming.

The programming is being developed by your CMF peers, the conference host/program committee, CMF’s affinity groups and through a national call for proposals.

As we co-build this exciting conference lineup with the host/program committee, IS and MNA, we want to hear from you! Do you have a session idea to inspire leaders and changemakers from across the charitable sector?

Our Common Future is accepting session proposal ideas until May 1, submit your idea here.

Conference online registration is expected to open this week, we hope you join us October 25-27 in Detroit for Our Common Future!

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