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February 7, 2014

Proposed Bill Aims to Bolster Accountability

U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Patty Murray (D-WA) have co-signed a bill that would establish benchmarks for college access, affordability and outcomes.  Dubbed the “College Affordability and Innovation Act of 2014,” the bill also proposes the establishment of a competitive grant program to fund a series of pilot programs at a handful of institutions that wish to test innovative higher education programs.

Among the bills key proposals:

  • Establishes a 15-member commission on higher education accountability standards comprised of various stakeholders, including students, institutions, researchers, and consumer advocates.
  • Calls for the establishment of a set of minimum accountability standards that institutions must meet with respect to affordability, accessibility for middle and low-income students, and value in order to receive Title IV funds.
  • Stipulates that the accountability measures must at a minimum include the following three measures:

o   Average required cost of attendance

o   Percentage of enrolled students receiving Pell Grants

o   Student loan repayment rate

  •  The bill also mentions specific additional factors the commission should consider when evaluating the performance of colleges or universities:

o   Cost of tuition relative to administrative costs

o   Percentage of institutional aid awarded based on need as opposed to merit

o   Annual increases in tuition after taking into account all public subsidies

o   Enrollment of low- and middle-income, underrepresented minorities, and adult students aged 25 and older. 

o   If institutional policies on credit transfer meet industry standards

o   Student progress towards degree

o   Completion of a degree or certificate, including transfer and part-time students, or if applicable, transfer rates to a 4-year degree program

o   Retention rates

o   Full-time employment and graduate degree enrollment rates

So what’s the end game?  Assuming the bill was to pass and be signed into law in its current form, the newly established commission would have one year to submit its recommendations to the U.S. Department of Education, who in turn would have one year to formally establish institutional accountability standards that all colleges and universities must meet in order to continue to receive federal Title IV funds.

While we don’t believe it to be a magic elixir that will cure every ill of today’s debt-based education system, it would certainly be a productive step in the right direction.  To learn more about the bill and to track its progress in Congress, click here.

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