Movement in Washington D.C. on Higher Education

Last week marked some movement for higher education in Washington D.C.

Higher Education Act

The U.S. Senate committee on education formally began the process to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. The Higher Education Act is the primary federal legislation which governs federal student aid and higher education.

Senator Harkin – Chairman of the Committee – identified his plan for reauthorization. The Committee will hold a total of twelve hearings – eleven more to come – focused on fact-finding over the next several months with the intention of producing draft legislation by early 2014.

On Thursday of last week the Committee held the first of the twelve hearings. The hearing focused on the complex system oversight for higher education in the United States which consists of regulations from the U.S. Department of Education, state regulators, and accrediting bodies.

The plan to produce draft legislation by early 2014 is optimistic given that it took five years longer to complete the last reauthorization in 2008. In addition Senator Alexander – the senior Republican on the Committee – has asked staff to consider drafting a new Act from the beginning potentially complicating the proposed timeline.

U.S. Department of Education Begins Process for Additional Accountability for Institutions

Last week the Department announced it had begun the process for gathering feedback and input on how to develop metrics for the institutional rating system announced by the Obama Administration earlier this year.

The Department is expected to produce a draft rating system by mid-2014 with a final version out by December of the same year. The long-term goal is to develop a rating system by the 2015 academic year and persuade Congress to link that system to federal student aid dollars by 2018.

The head of the Department – Arne Duncan- provided a small preview into what the rating system may look like.  Duncan promised that the system would take a holistic approach to judging institutions on areas of access, affordability and student performance. With the broad goal being to determine “how many students at an institution graduate, at a reasonable cost, without a lot of debt, and get a job that enables them to support themselves and their families.”

Potential metrics that may be considered include the percentage of students receiving Pell grants, the average amount of tuition, scholarships and loan debt; graduation and transfer rates; the salaries of graduates; and the extent to which graduates pursue advanced degrees.

Duncan also shared that the Department will begin with metrics that have data that already exists.

The Department has already begun the feedback process meeting with student advocacy groups last week which kick-off what the Department refers to as a series of discussions with higher education stakeholders in the coming year.

New Leader at the U.S. Department of Education

Late last week the U.S. Department of Education announced that Jamienne Studley will join the Department as a deputy under secretary of education.

Studley will oversee the Department’s second-term higher education agenda.  She is expected to focus on a range of issues including accreditation and college pricing and play a key role in the Obama Administration’s proposed rating system.

Studley is the former president of Skidmore College and a one-time Education Department general counsel. She comes to the Department from Public Advocates Inc a consumer law and advocacy group. She has served since 2010 on the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity which advises the education secretary on accreditation issues.

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