FCC Confirmations, Spending for College Course Materials

The Federal Communications Commission is up to its full complement of commissioners at last. Before recessing for its summer break, the Senate confirmed Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr as two new commissioners. Chairman Ajit Pai, who needs to be reconfirmed before the end of the year, will have to wait until the fall for his vote. FCC commissioners are appointed by the president (three from his party and two from the opposition) and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The president designates one of the commissioners to serve as chairman.

Rosenworcel and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn are now the two Democrats on the commission. Rosenworcel was originally appointed to the FCC by President Obama serving from 2012 to 2017. She has now been confirmed for a new five-year term. Rosenworcel is widely seen as sympathetic to the needs of education, having spent a lot of energy in her previous term around the issue of the homework gap—the problems students face completing homework assignments when they do not have Internet access at home.

Carr joins Chairman Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Reilly in the commission’s Republican majority. Carr has been the general counsel of the FCC. He will be filling the remainder of a term that will expire in 2018. He is an ally of Chairman Pai.

During the July confirmation hearings, Senators (especially the Democrats) grilled the three nominees about their positions on E-rate funding and program changes. While both Pai and Carr expressed general support for the E-rate, neither would say that funding cuts were out of the question. Rosenworcel affirmed that she would not vote for any reduction to the program’s funding.

In June, Funds for Learning reported that 87% of E-rate applicants surveyed said E-rate funding is vital to their organization’s internet connectivity goals. About 79% of school districts and libraries say they have faster internet connections because of E-rate. There’s little question that the E-rate works, though there is lots of room for greater efficiencies, which is one of Pai’s hot buttons. Given the way the FCC works, if any changes are to be implemented, it’s not likely to happen until the 2020 program year.

Two weeks ago, I commented briefly on the Education Market Association (EDmarket) announcing the results of the design competition for education session classrooms during the 2017 EDspaces Conference & Expo. The five winning firms will be building out classrooms that attendees can explore during their time at the conference. This week I came across some figures on school construction. In its 2017 “Facilities & Construction Brief,” School Planning and Management reports that the total value of educational construction work done in the United States is estimated to have exceed $88.9 billion dollars in 2016. This is the largest year-over-year increase since 2008. Renovations and modernization still predominate although the number of new buildings is on the rise.

The National Association of College Stores (NACS) published some interesting numbers on student spending on course materials. During the 2016-17 academic year, students spent an average of $579 on their required course materials, down $23 from the previous year’s $602. In 2007-08 students spent $701 on course materials. It appears, however, that students are finding ways to save money—renting, buying used materials, going digital—rather than reducing the amount of course materials they purchase. NACS says that students bought the same number of units in 2016-17 as they did the year earlier.

More students rented materials in 2016-17 that the year before (43% vs. 40%); More bought digital materials (23% vs. 15%). Print remains the most frequently purchased format. In fall 2016, when purchasing course materials, 74% of students reported buying new print, 70% bought used print, and 23% bought digital.