Today’s Students face significant barriers to post-secondary access and completion, but there are also powerful examples of what works to effectively address and mitigate these challenges. By leveraging insights from local communities and local organizations, we can create pathways to and through higher education and into meaningful work for an unprecedented number of Americans. Here are seven powerful ideas that leverage social innovation. We encourage Congress and the Next President to champion these solutions.
Provide actionable information for students and families on post-secondary outcomes, financial aid, and available support services and accommodation
Today, information on costs, outcomes, and supports at different institutions is oftentimes either not reported, or presented in a disjointed manner that makes cross-institution comparisons difficult and adds to confusion. To address this problem, new Federal policies should require reporting in a consistent common format and create a simpler streamlined process for financial aid.
Target Federal funding to develop and scale-up innovations that increase access to, persistence through, and completion of a post-secondary education
A wide range of new approaches are emerging to support under resourced students through the college application process, provide integrated supports post-enrollment, accelerate time to completion strategies, and form tangible connections with career opportunities, among others. Pay for Success and innovation fund approaches could accelerate adoption of these approaches, as could reforms in numerous federal aid, workforce development, and other education programs. Allow the awarding of Title IV student aid to credits earned through innovative, evidence-based approaches like competency-based models, portfolio assessment and other prior learning assessment costs, which focus on subject mastery rather than traditional measures of seat-time.
Invest in effective partners that provide critical expertise and capacity
As in K-12 education, effective partnerships between post-secondary institutions and high quality community partners at the local, state, and national level are essential to providing supports for under resourced students as they progress through their post-secondary careers. Too often, however, such partnerships do not receive adequate support to expand their services, even when students are in desperate need of the resources they provide. New Federal policies should intentionally harness the power of effective partnerships to increase post-secondary access and improve outcomes among under resourced students. America Forward urges Federal policymakers to incentivize and support higher education partnership work; especially in service of addressing the additional barriers students with disabilities, students from low income backgrounds, and first generation college students face.
Establish new forms of credentialing and certification for students that map skills and experience with job placement
It is important that post-secondary providers and employers work together to create innovative credentialing and certification programs that reward the development of in-demand skills that apply directly to areas of need in the economy. The Federal government can take the lead in this effort by recognizing microcredentials in government agency hiring and supporting cross-sector collaborations aimed at skills development and recognition for specific subsets of Today’s Student population with skills they’ve gained outside the classroom, like returning veterans.
Increase access to experiences that directly link classroom learning and credentials with career
Increasing relevant, meaningful opportunities for students to explore careers in their fields of interest will lead to improved completion rates and increased employment after graduation. It is critical that Federal policy encourage higher education institutions – including in partnership with non-profits, community organizations, and businesses – to focus on providing hands-on learning experiences that get students out of the classroom and enable them to apply what they are learning to real-world challenges, creating strong linkages between classroom knowledge and career-focused applications.
Reform student aid programs to reduce debt burden
Federal student aid has been primarily focused on access to, rather than completion of, higher education credentials and degrees. Federal student aid programs should include incentives for institutions of higher education to be more focused on individual attainment of degree and certification programs. As part of this effort, financial aid should be flexible enough to meet unique needs that may arise throughout a student’s term, including being able to draw down student aid regardless of current award year limitations to account for anticipated and unanticipated costs of textbooks, transportation, housing, and childcare.
Expand Participation in Service Year Programs
Service year programs benefit communities while providing participants with opportunities for personal growth, as well as with tangible, transferable skills that are valued by employers. As we seek innovative strategies to help ease the transition between post-secondary education and the workforce, federal policies should promote the role of service year programs as an effective and mutually beneficial bridge to the full time workforce.