Finance-Related Terms Every Community College Trustee Should Know

Board Buzzwords - Fiscal and Financial

Finance-Related Terms Every Community College Trustee Should Know

ability to benefit (ATB)

In the context of postsecondary education, the ability to benefit applies to students without high school credentials and is a federal consideration for students to receive financial aid. There is new guidance on the ability to benefit from the Higher Education Act of 1965.


paying for a semester or quarter’s coursework, not individual courses or charges by credit. Typically, community colleges do not bundle their tuition charges as many baccalaureate institutions do.

capital projects

are projects that help maintain or improve a campus’ infrastructure. It can be new construction, expansion, renovation or replacement.

College Promise (The)

universal free college tuition for low income students, part of president Obama’s stated goal to make college both affordable and debt-free for students, particularly for those who normally would not be able to attend college and gain knowledge and skills required for 21st jobs. Some philanthropic foundations are supporting College Promise Success Initiatives to enable more colleges to supplement their Promise programs with more student success supports.  Many Promise programs vary in design and scope.

College Scorecard

is a national effort to help students navigate selection of their postsecondary education by providing a variety of information about individual colleges and universities including costs, earnings data, etc. The Scorecard’s intent was to make it easy for students to search for a college that is a good fit for them and to find out more about a college’s affordability. All debt data is now included.

default options

In the context of federal financial aid, the term refers to the multiple options to get out of default which refers to a person’s inability to pay their bills on time or default on paying back their financial aid.

disaggregated data

data collected in terms of student characteristics (age, race, gender, income, etc.) and not more general institutional data; breaking down information into smaller subpopulations.

economic mobility

the ability of someone to change their income or wealth measured over generations during one’s lifetime. Rising costs of education often prohibit mobility, a form of structural inequality. The biggest block to mobility is widening income inequality. Worldwide data is also available. Upward mobility has been declining in the US since the 1940s.

exigency or financial exigency

Usually as a last resort, colleges declare exigency to slash budgets to alleviate financial hardships, now brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Steps to curb costs include pay cuts, hiring freezes, layoffs, and eliminating colleges. Declaring financial exigency enables colleges to lay off tenured faculty members under American Association of University Professors (AAUP) guidelines. 

Exigency guidelines can also provide due process protections, like giving terminated faculty members the right to file grievances, as well as other provisions like adequate notice and severance pay. 

Declaring exigency is a powerful tool and effectively has leaders declaring that an entire college is at risk unless basic changes are made. During the coronavirus pandemic, some faculty believe some guidelines have been bypassed.


Free Application for Federal Financial Aid. Refers to the free federal application for students to complete to receive federal financial aid to attend college or graduate school.  Some states like Illinois are recently passing laws requiring high school students to complete the application before graduation.


Applied to all educational institutions that received federal funds, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy ACT is federal law designed to protect the privacy rights of student educational records.

financial literacy

calls to more thoroughly educate students about their finances and for colleges to be more transparent about college costs and debt. Some colleges are requiring financial literacy courses.  Similar requirements are also being suggested for high schoolers.

free college

publicly funded college costs. 25 tuition-free colleges are listed here. The pros and cons of free college are being discussed frequently. Some feel it is more than free tuition but rather a way to reassert the power of public goods in America. (See College Promise)


Full-time equivalent students is one of the key indices of measuring enrollment in colleges and universities. An FTE denotes the number of credits a full-time student would take, typically 15 credits per semester or per quarter; it also denotes a compilation of the number of credits part-time students take that are equivalent to those of a full-time student. Full-time equivalent students is one of the key metrics for measuring enrollment in colleges and universities.

impact investing for education

Education impact investing benefits both investors and investees.  To prepare undereducated and underprepared students to be ready for the 21st-century workforce, foundations like Lumina and Kresge are promoting impact investment in education, from K-12 to postsecondary. Education impact investment allows foundations more control over investment outcomes.

inclusive access

Inclusive access provides e-texts and online course materials as part of a student’s registration process. All students have access to materials prior to the first day of class. It is a cost-saving strategy  by some textbook businesses to save students money and is growing quickly around the country as a digital model for college textbooks.

knowledge economy

A key concept of the knowledge economy is that knowledge and education (often referred to as human capital) can be treated as a business product, as educational and innovative intellectual products and services can be exported for a high value return. The knowledge economy is a system of consumption and production based on intellectual capital. The knowledge economy commonly makes up a large share of all economic activity in developed countries. In a knowledge economy, a significant part of a company's value may consist of intangible assets, such as the value of its workers' knowledge (intellectual capital), but generally accepted accounting principles do not allow companies to include these assets on balance  sheets. The initial foundation for the knowledge economy was introduced in 1966 in the book The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker in which Drucker described the difference between the manual worker and the knowledge worker. The term was popularized by Peter Drucker as the title of Chapter 12 in his book The Age of Discontinuity.

opportunity zones

a national community investment tool that connects private capital with low-income communities across the country. The  Opportunity Zones incentive was established by Congress in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to promote investments in low-income communities nationwide and offers federal tax benefits for investors in low-income communities.  The opportunities zone map designates which communities are official opportunity zones.

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

A provision of the CARES Act which offers forgivable low-interest loans to small businesses facing uncertainty during the COVID-19 emergency, so businesses can retain workers, maintain payroll, and cover certain other existing overhead costs.


Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant: is a program designed to supplement Pell Grant funding for students with significant financial need. Financial aid administrators must prioritize PELL students when awarding SEOG. How financial need is calculated can be found in ACCT’s Financial Aid 101.

Stafford loan

Also known as the Federal Direct loan, the Stafford loan is the largest and most popular student loan program. The Federal Stafford Loans are low-cost loans borrowed by students to pay for their college education. There are two versions of the Federal Stafford Loan, subsidized and unsubsidized. The federal government pays the interest on subsidized loans during the in-school and grace periods, as well as other deferment periods, such as during an economic hardship deferment. The federal government does not pay the interest on unsubsidized loans.

Title IV

term that refers to federal financial aid funds. Federal regulations state that any federal funds disbursed to a student's account in excess of allowable charges must be delivered to the student (or parent in case of an undergraduate PLUS loan).