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Higher Ed Committee Offers Three Dozen Recommendations for Updating HEA

A new report from the "Higher Education Committee of 50" offered 36 recommendations for helping students overcome the obstacles preventing them from "enrolling in, paying for and graduating from college." Among them: allowing for the filing of multi-year FAFSAs; eliminating the ban on collecting student unit-record level data; and requiring the U.S. Department of Education to add a "dynamic, user-tested truth-in-lending calculator and annual debt letter to the advising process of prospective students and to, the federal web portal for borrowers.

The recommendations are heading to Congress to try to influence lawmakers as they work on updating and reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, with the goal of improving the experience of students and families in affording and attaining a higher education, while also protecting "the interests of taxpayers" and people who work on college campuses.

The committee (actually 47 people, not 50) consists of college presidents, enrollment managers, admissions staff, financial aid and bursar leaders, members of governing boards, students and other leaders from postsecondary institutions. Combined, they hold memberships in 140 different higher education-related professional associations.

The group was convened by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) and funded through a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant. NASFAA is a membership organization representing 20,000-plus financial aid professionals from almost 3,000 colleges, universities and career schools around the country.

The committee divided its work into four subgroups correlating with policy areas: access, accountability, affordability and transparency. Those subgroups reviewed the relevant literature, heard from experts and discussed and debated among themselves to develop their respective recommendations. Then NASFAA released draft recommendations for public comment, and the subgroup members reviewed the feedback, much of which was incorporated into the final recommendations, shared in the report.

Among the access recommendations was one to "support the expanded use of online instruction" for greater access and affordability and to improve and prioritize broadband internet services for online education and training. In the area of accountability, the committee suggested the use of College Scorecard data and other sources to measure student experience, progression and outcomes, as well as alumni success; when an institution comes with low scores compared to other similar schools, the report advised, it should undergo "an additional review by the regional accreditor." For affordability, the committee advised several changes to Pell grant rules and the use of Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) money "to move toward the goal of affordable textbooks and other course materials by 2030." The transparency recommendations included lifting the ban on the collection of student unit-record level data, along with the use of "consumer testing" to identify the language and strategies for making financial aid educational materials easier to understand.

"The 116th Congress provides a fresh new policy window to explore HEA reauthorization," the report concluded, adding that committee members would now be charged with taking the recommendations to "key stakeholders" to inform their discussions "and lay the groundwork for further exploration."

An executive summary and the full report are openly available on the Higher Education Committee of 50 website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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