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Schatz Co-introduces College Affordability and Innovation Act

 

Press Release

Murphy, Schatz, Murray, Sanders Introduce College Affordability and Innovation Act

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)
introduced the College Affordability and Innovation Act of 2014, new
legislation to make college more affordable for students across the
United States. Over the last 30 years, the cost of college has increased
by a whopping 300 percent, forcing some students to take on crushing
student loan burdens or putting a degree entirely out of reach for
others. Student loan debt is now the highest form of personal debt in
the nation, reaching over $1.1 trillion for 38 million student loan
borrowers across the country.

During last night’s State of the Union address to Congress, President
Obama reaffirmed the importance of reducing the cost of college in
order to expand economic opportunity for middle class and low-income
Americans. The College Affordability and Innovation Act aims to put an
end to these rising college costs and ensure students of all backgrounds
have access to quality education with less of a need to take out costly
student loans. The bill focuses on two principles that the
Administration has also prioritized in its work to expand economic
opportunity: innovation and accountability. While some colleges and
education experts have developed new and creative ideas to reduce the
cost of college, not enough colleges have actually put these ideas into
practice. Furthermore, the cost of college is now at its highest and
still continues to rise, and the federal government invests more money
than ever before in higher education. In spite of its investment, in
many ways schools are not held accountable to students and American
taxpayers.

“College affordability is one of the biggest middle class issues of our time – no generation escapes the issue,” said Schatz. “A
higher education is the best way to for people to  move up the economic
ladder.  The federal government should subsidize higher education, but
if we’re giving $140 billion in financial aid to institutes of higher
learning, we need to make college more affordable, not less.  Each
college can have whatever mission it wants, but if these institutions
want to receive federal dollars, our bill says that part of that mission
must involve affordability and access.”

“Over the past
decade, families in Connecticut have seen the cost of the things they
need increase faster than their wages. The cost of a college education
has soared to prohibitively high levels, preventing countless
prospective students from obtaining a degree, and the opportunities they
deserve. I’ve heard from students and educators all across Connecticut
and the message is clear: we need college administrators to wake up
every day thinking about how they’re going to bring down the cost of
college for students
,” said Murphy. “Our legislation will
incentivize schools to create new, innovative programs to bring down the
cost of college while improving the quality of a degree, and will set
new standards for schools that receive federal funding so that they’re
more accountable to students and the taxpayer. Reducing the cost of
college needs to be a top priority as we work together to increase
economic opportunities for all Americans. I look forward to working with
Senators Schatz, Murray and my colleagues on this legislation in the
months to come
.”

“At a time when we’re working to reduce
inequality and create paths to the middle class, I’ve heard from too
many students in Washington state who are struggling with student loan
debt, and even worse, from others who are hesitant to go to college
because the costs are simply too high. That’s unacceptable, and that’s
why I’m proud to co-sponsor this legislation,”
said Murray.
“In
the short term, this legislation incentivizes institutions to innovate
to reduce costs, and over the long term, it will give students the
opportunities and resources they need to make smart decisions on higher
education.”

To encourage colleges to innovate and be accountable to the students they serve, the bill does the following:

  • Creates a new evidence-based competitive pilot program to encourage innovation.
    Currently, there is little incentive for colleges to test ideas that
    may reduce the cost of college. This new pilot program would spark
    innovation by authorizing and funding a new evidence-based competitive
    pilot program to encourage institutions to develop programs that offer
    high-quality education, lower costs, and reduce the time for completing a
    degree. These programs would potentially include online courses,
    competency-based degrees, dual-enrollment programs, and accelerated
    degrees.
  • Implements rigorous evaluations for new programs. Under the
    Murphy-Schatz bill, institutions that receive funding to implement new,
    innovative programs that reduce the cost of college would undergo
    rigorous evaluations of these programs to ensure that students are
    getting a quality education.
  • Creates new commission to recommend minimum accountability standards for all institutions that receive Title IV dollars. In order to ensure that all schools
    are delivering quality education for their students, the Murphy-Schatz
    bill would create a commission of students, education experts, and
    stakeholders to recommend minimum standards for each undergraduate
    program in the United States to meet in order to remain eligible for
    federal funding. Those standards will focus on the access schools
    provide to low- and middle-income students, affordability, and value.
  • Rewards institutions that do best on new accountability measures.  Institutions
    that do best on these measures will receive funding awards to be used
    for additional need-based aid for students. Institutions that
    consistently fall below the minimum standards created by the new
    commission will be incentivized to improve by requiring them to improve
    over a gradual period or face a loss of Title IV eligibility.

The bill has been endorsed by the United States Student Association
(USSA), which represents more than four million students enrolled in
postsecondary education.  “Students can’t afford to continue taking on thousands of dollars in debt and enter a workforce with very low job prospects,” said Sophia Zaman, President of USSA.  “USSA
applauds Senator Chris Murphy and Senator Brian Schatz for leading this
effort to ensure that college becomes more accessible and affordable
without sacrificing the quality of education that the American public
deserves.”

The Hawai‘i Association of College Admissions
Counselors has also expressed support for the bill because of its focus
on helping students.  “We are excited that Senator Schatz is tackling the problem of rising college costs,”  said Nelson Chee, President Elect for HACAC.  “The
high school students we work with and their families are worrying more
and more about how they can afford to pay for a college education.  For
many this is a real barrier for them in taking that next step to higher
education.  Senator Schatz’s bill will refocus colleges on what really
matters – providing a good education at an affordable price to all
students.”

Complete College America, a nonprofit that works
with states to increase college completion, sees the bill as an
opportunity for students.  “To secure America’s future, many more
Americans must complete college — especially from groups too often left
behind on graduation day,”
said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.  “We
applaud Senators Murphy and Schatz and their colleagues for their
efforts to maintain access to affordable, quality higher education,
inspire innovative new strategies to boost college completion, and hold
accountable colleges and universities as full partners in this vital
effort.”

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