Far too many students from under-resourced populations, including students from low-income backgrounds or those living with a disability, continue to face significant barriers to accessing and succeeding in post-secondary education programs.
Empowering these students to succeed in post-secondary education and beyond will require reimagining our higher education system
by more fully aligning it with workforce development and national service to create clear pathways into the workforce; providing relevant information and individualized, continuous support – beginning in the K-12 system and continuing through college graduation – to help students and families navigate post-secondary education and
the transition to the workforce; and, embracing new strategies that provide stronger linkages between post-secondary education and career, and which reduce the unsustainable financial burden too often shouldered by students.Federal policies must embrace innovation, promote competency, and reassert a focus on outcomes that reflect the needs of the full spectrum of today’s students, not just first-time, full-time students, as well as the demands of today’s economy. Such a shift in our mindset regarding higher education is critical if we are to reduce the number of students who are unable to complete their post-secondary program, who are buried under unsustainable debt, or who graduate but are unprepared for the rigors of the global economy. To meet these challenges requires new strategies to make post-secondary education more responsive to the needs of all students.
Policy Priorities for Reforming the Federal Higher Education System
The America Forward Education Task Force’s Higher Education Working Group has collectively developed its Higher Education Policy Platform for the 115th Congress that outlines those features we believe are critical to making our post-secondary system more equitable, efficient, and effective. These priorities are outlined below.
Provide actionable information for students and families on post-secondary outcomes, financial aid, and available support services, and accommodations
Information on costs, outcomes, supports, and accommodations at different institutions should be reported and presented in a manner that makes cross-institution comparisons possibly and easy to interpret.
Target Federal funding to develop and scale-up innovations that increase access, persistence, and completion in post-secondary education
Pay for Success and innovation fund approaches, as well as reforms in numerous federal aid, workforce development, and other education programs, could accelerate adoption of new approaches that support under-resourced students during the college application process, their post-secondary careers, and their transition to the workforce.
Invest in effective partners that provide critical expertise and capacity
New Federal policies should intentionally harness the power of effective partnerships to increase post-secondary access and improve outcomes for under-resourced students.
Focus on and emphasize public reporting of outcomes in federal higher education policy
Federal higher education programs have long been focused on access, rather than on whether students are achieving the skills and knowledge they need to obtain and retain employment. A concerted movement towards prioritizing both access and outcomes is just beginning and should be encouraged and accelerated.
Establish new certification options for students that map skills and experience with job placement
Post-secondary providers and employers should work together to create innovative credentialing and certification programs that reward the development of certain, in-demand skills that apply directly to areas of need in the economy.
Recognize the importance of well-prepared and well-supported teachers, principals, and other school leaders
Any reauthorization of the Higher Education Act should ensure that teacher preparation programs better prepare teachers to provide instruction to under-resourced students and school leader preparation programs better prepare school leaders to be strong instructional leaders, talent managers, and culture builders for all students.
Increase access to experiences that directly link classroom learning and credentials with careers:
Federal policy should encourage Institutions of Higher Education – including in partnership with nonprofits, 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 programs should include incentives for Institutions of Higher Education to be more focused on individual attainment of degree and certification programs.
Expand participation in Service Year Programs
Federal policies should promote the role of service year programs as an effective and mutually beneficial bridge to the full-time workforce or, if the service year takes place before college, as a bridge to college.