An event held yesterday at The Newseum in Washington D.C. brought a panel of experts together to discuss the higher education reforms and innovations that should be considered as reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) approaches.
Hosted by National Journal and underwritten by the Lumina Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the “The Next America Taking Stock: 50 Years of the Higher Education Act” event encouraged interactive participation from those in attendance – both vocally, through a Q & A session, and on social media channels using the hashtag #NJNextAmerica.
Featured speakers included:
Mitchell set the tone for the event by reminding attendees of President Johnson’s promise and commitment to providing education to all Americans. He attributed several of the nation’s educational milestones — including the highest ever high school graduation rates and overall educational accomplishments of students of color, low-income learners, and students with disabilities — to the ongoing hard work of America’s educators, but reminded attendees there are still pressing issues to tend to.
Since President Johnson’s declarations, “we’ve made progress, but the task has never been more urgent, and our work is far from complete,” Mitchell said.
When pressed on issues he felt would be relevant during reauthorization Mitchell listed items including: continuing to simplify loan programs and access to federal student aid, protecting the Pell Grant Program and its purchasing power, and further exploring something similar to President Obama’s Free Community College program, possibly at the state and local level. He also indicated the Postsecondary Institutional Ratings System (PIRS) is still on track for its 2015 academic year release, and that the Department of Education (ED) is reviewing feedback received during their December 2014 request for comments – which NASFAA submitted comments for.
Echoing some of Mitchell’s points, Sen. Alexander expressed a need to make the FAFSA less daunting, touting his bipartisan Financial Aid Simplification and Transparency (FAST) Act, released in January, which proposed a highly simplified application in which the required data (identifying information, family size, and income) could be accommodated by a postcard. Simplifying the application will cast a wider net and increase aid given to students, Alexander said. He also discussed the white papers his office released earlier this year on accreditation issues, deregulation, and data transparency and the re-introduction of year round Pell (which NASFAA has proposed as a Pell Well).
After Mitchell and Alexander spoke, and answered audience questions, the event held a response panel to discuss the aforementioned priorities. Panelists included:
One pressing issue, Kelly said, is how to improve college accountability and risk sharing.
“The current way we hold colleges accountable is through the Cohort Default Rate (CDR), which measures the percentage of students that default in a three-year window after they finish school,” Kelly said. This measure of institutional performance is less meaningful because students are able to sign up for income-based repayment and other protections, which do not give an accurate picture, Kelly argued.
“Colleges should be put on the hook financially for some amount of the risk of default,” said Kelly who suggested giving colleges the authority to devise a plan of execution however they see fit, as long as they accomplish what they are being held accountable for.
When asked, Smith agreed that “risk-sharing” is an important component of reforming higher education because it means “schools have some skin in the game.” Looking at the repayment rates in addition to the CDR rates could be an effective measurement tool in assessing institutional performance, Smith added.
Although this particular method to increase access to student aid was not supported by the entire speaker panel, the consensus was that a change needs to occur in order to reach more students.
On the whole, the forum of key stakeholders agreed that in order to keep America in the lead worldwide for post-secondary college degrees, competition and innovation need to be improved domestically.
Publication Date: 6/10/2015