Four Ways Congress Can Help the New Traditional StudentSteve Gunderson | President, Association for Private Sector Colleges and Universities
Postsecondary education faces critical challenges in the coming years. These range from cost, access, technology and the skills gap to quality, productivity, accountability and globalization. To make matters even more vital, 65 percent of all new jobs will require some level of postsecondary education by 2020. Unfortunately, there seems to be no agreement as to what needs to be done — or by whom.
For the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) and our member institutions, financial aid is an important issue because of the integral role it plays in opening the doors of education for the students we serve. Our primary focus in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) remains on policies that particularly assist our students and families who would not have the opportunity to pursue higher education without federal student aid.
Ultimately, there are four initiatives that will help meet the challenge of educating our citizens by 2020.
1. Policies that facilitate credit transfer so degree completion is not delayed as a result of repeating coursework.
The majority of postsecondary students now attend more than one institution before completing their education. When students transfer, they face the nerve-wracking and uncertain task of having credits accepted by the new institution. The rejection of credits they have earned costs them in terms of time (needing to retake classes and delayed entry into the workforce) and money (in the form of additional loans and grants).
2. Access to year-round Pell Grants designed to help students complete their degrees faster so they can join the workforce sooner.
Many jobs don’t require a traditional four-year degree, and shorter-term training programs often provide the skills and certification necessary to move people from unemployment into work. Most of our programs (certificate and degree-based programs) run non-stop until the student completes the course, with no break for the summer. Yet federal funds aren’t available over the full calendar year to help students who would benefit from year-round programs. This initiative would enable non-stop funding for the short-term credential programs and all academic programs, so students can complete their course work as soon as possible and enter the workforce sooner.
3. Consumer information adjusted according to the risk level of the students served and put into context so students can see, realistically, how they may perform compared to their peers.
We believe in providing all students and their families with as much accurate information as possible to assist them in making the right academic and career choices for their future. For this information to be of real accuracy and value, it must compare students with similar challenges and/or risk factors with other students facing the same challenges and risks. No one should compare the outcomes of a high school graduate going to Princeton University full time with a first-generation adult, with children, returning to school on a part-time basis to pursue an occupational certificate program. We all support outcomes and accountability; we just want to make sure such evaluations are appropriately developed.
4. An easy-to-navigate federal student aid system, more specifically, one that standardizes terms and delivery of aid. It should also improve repayment options to ease financial burdens and recognize individual student circumstances.
The federal student aid system is too confusing for any student or family to understand and navigate. We need to move towards one grant program and one loan program for all students. In doing so, we need to develop both a delivery system and a repayment program that assist the student in managing their financial aid in the easiest possible ways with the goal of preventing student defaults.
Much like the loan repayment models used in Australia and as proposed in the Earnings Contingent Education Loans Act of 2012, a student’s monthly loan repayment should be calculated based on the student’s subsequent income. A manageable percentage could be deducted automatically from his or her earnings, similar to the Social Security or Medicare programs. And, as a student’s income fluctuates, the payment — as with other federal withholdings — would automatically change to remain at an affordable level, essentially eliminating the ruinous impact of loan defaults on students who simply do not have the ability to repay.
The challenges that lie ahead are merely opportunities waiting to be discovered. APSCU and its member institutions believe initiatives such as the ones outlined in this article could provide opportunities for millions of Americans seeking a career-focused education.
Read more about APSCU’s initiatives and proposals to Congress in APSCU’s Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
Author Perspective: Association