NAICU Washington Update

House Hearing on “Strengthening America’s Higher Education System”

April 09, 2015

A recent hearing held by the House Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee focused on strengthening America’s higher education system, and covered several topics that are likely to be debated during reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Witness testimony touched on issues as broad as college costs, innovation, and accountability while Members’ questions covered a wide array of topics, including FAFSA simplification, deregulation, year-round Pell, debt and the economy, competency vs credit hours, measuring the success of graduates, and prior-prior year.

Considerable attention was paid to the remarks of Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and former governor of Indiana by Members of the subcommittee. Gov. Daniels received the lion’s share of Member questions and cited Purdue as an example of an institution taking the necessary steps to combat rising college costs, including implementing a trimester schedule, investing in competency-based education, and “flipping the classroom” as paths for cost-cutting and instructional improvement. He supports several current financial aid reform proposals, including FAFSA simplification, using “prior-prior year” financial data, and reinstituting summer Pell. He also noted that “[t]he most costly federal regulations stem from the current financial aid system.”

Michael Bennett, Associate Vice President Financial Assistance Services at St. Petersburg College, who was representing the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators at the hearing, expressed the need for caution as policy makers moved to remedy shortcomings with the student aid system. Bennett noted that states and institutions would need more information than adjusted gross income and family size in determining their aid eligibility. He also stated that limiting the FAFSA to those two elements would cause states and institutions to develop their own financial aid forms – which would result in a more complex situation for students. He urged the subcommittee to simplify the loan repayment options, provide institutions the discretion to limit borrowing in certain cases, and be allowed to require students to have additional financial counseling.

David Bergeron, from the Center for American Progress (CAP), heralded the increase in the college-going population in the past 30 years, but argued that more needed to be done to increase the number of students who complete college. CAP argues that it is critical that states stop divesting in higher education and proposes a Public College Quality Compact through which federal funds would be allocated to states based on their success with low- and middle-income students and military veterans. CAP will soon be unveiling details of its College for All proposal designed to make college more affordable for students, including generous provisions for loan repayment.

Christine Keller of the Association of Public Land Grant Universities (APLU) testified on the importance of having more meaningful data, suggesting that it could be provided through two of APLU’s initiatives: the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) College Portrait and the Student Achievement Measure (SAM).

NAICU President David Warren submitted testimony to the hearing record concerning proactive efforts undertaken by private, nonprofit colleges and universities via NAICU’s University and College Accountability Network to provide useful consumer data and qualitative information for prospective students and their families.

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