Nov. 27, 2006

Ehrenberg to serve on College Board panel studying student aid

Ronald G. Ehrenberg, director of Cornell's Higher Education Research Institute (CHERI), has been asked to serve on a College Board panel of higher education researchers to study student aid, the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) announced Nov. 21.

Ehrenberg is a member of the Rethinking Student Aid Study Group, an independent body assembled by the College Board that held preliminary meetings last spring and summer before the so-called Spelling Commission report was issued.

The report, named for Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, called for the restructuring of federal student-aid programs but provided few directions as to how. Ehrenberg said that his committee is concerned with, among other things, "how to improve both access and persistence. While there has been some narrowing in college-going rates between students coming from different family income groups during the last 25 years, college completion rate differences have not changed very much."

The group has been meeting recently to "examine whether the government's financial aid programs are fulfilling the goals that were set for the programs when they were created and to look for ways to improve them," the CHE article stated.

The panel's leaders -- Sandy Baum, a senior policy analyst at the College Board and an economics professor at Skidmore College, and Michael S. McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation -- emphasize that they are not starting with the assumption that the programs need a complete overhaul, as the commission has recommended.

"They have done a lot of good for a lot of people over a number of years," McPherson told the CHE. "Yet at the same time, nobody would think, I believe, that they have fully realized their promise."

The study group has begun its efforts by commissioning a series of papers that will examine the effectiveness of the student-aid programs. Some of the papers will focus on grants, loans and tuition tax breaks, while others will look at such broader issues as the role that the aid programs play in promoting college preparation and persistence and in helping nontraditional students.

The group will then make recommendations for policy changes and provide estimates of how much each of those proposals would cost.

Ehrenberg, who joined the Cornell faculty in 1975, has also served as director of the Institute for Labor Market Policies at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and as Cornell's vice president for academic programs, planning and budgeting (1995-98).