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Four Things to Be Thankful For in Education This Year

Dec 31, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Education.org Columnist | 0 Comments

2013 brought a lot of news—both good and bad—for education. Some of it was bad; in a series of very high-profile government standoffs, President Obama was forced to continually pull back his federal tuition support initiatives designed to make life easier for college students. However, there are a few things college students should be grateful for this year, including:

That the government shutdown didn’t last longer

The government shutdown, during which all government programs came to a halt while Congress had a high-drama budget showdown, lasted a harrowing eighteen days. The shutdown had a severe impact on federal programs that college students depend on. These include Head Start, which did close temporarily in many states; delays to tuition aid through the Federal Work-Study program and other programs; and a halt on sexual assault investigations that took place on college campuses.  Pell Grants and other more high-profile federal programs were generally not affected, but if the shutdown had lasted longer, they easily could have been.

The new health care law

The Affordable Care Act is not without its flaws—and its effects on college health care plans are still difficult to determine. However, new rules mean that colleges will now have to offer more comprehensive plans to college students—and that students are eligible to stay on their parents’ health care plans for much longer. Since students often struggle to find coverage immediately after graduation, these measures could be a major benefit to those students who fall under that age by the time they graduate.

Market-based student loan rates

In the summer of 2012, the federal interest rate on the most low-interest student loans—those for the neediest students—was set to rise from 3.4% to 6.8%. After a very high-profile standoff, the government reinstated the lower interest rate for another year.

This year, the government implemented a system tying federal student loans to market forces, with a cap to keep the percentage from getting too high. Students are locked into the rate they have when they originate the loan, and interest rates for next year are projected to be at around 4.75%. True, it’s not an improvement over the 3.4% government rate—and tying the interest rate to the market makes it more volatile and less easy for students to predict.

However, it’s better than the alternative—a rise to 6.8%. This measure is also designed to prevent another showy government standoff every year over this issue—which is a good thing for people on both sides of the issue.

The rise of MOOC’s

True, the “rise” of Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOC’s) isn’t exactly meteoric. This year, The American Council on Education approved five Coursera MOOC courses for college credit—a move expected to drive adoption of these programs among colleges nationwide. Some colleges did start to offer these courses, such as Colorado State University—but students haven’t exactly been stampeding to sign up. At Colorado State, no students signed up for the MOOC class it offered for twelve months after the school started offering it—despite the reduced price of $89 for three college credits, rather than the usual $1,050.

Still, the fact that some MOOC courses are now approved for college credit is a big leap forward for online education. While the adoption of MOOC’s has been slow, they are clearly moving more into the mainstream—and it’s quite possible similar online education programs could drive reduced tuition costs for students all over the world.

There’s still a lot of work to do in education to make traditional and accredited online colleges affordable and accessible for students all over the country. However,  2013 saw a few good things along with the negative news—and hopefully, these are a sign that higher education is moving in a positive direction.

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