Conducting Experiments

DC Shuttle …

Department of Education expands experimental sites initiative. The U.S. Department of Education announced that it will be testing the idea of awarding student financial aid for more nontraditional programs. This will allow funding for competency-based programs, prior-learning assessments or programs that blend direct assessment and credit-hour coursework. Under the experiment, the amount students earn in aid will not rely solely on the amount of time spent in the classroom, but rather on how much they are learning and contributing.  The plan is part of the recent experimental sites initiative, which is a collaboration of ideas from the Education Department and a group of higher education institution leaders to help benefit nontraditional students, such as veterans, those who struggle academically or students from low-income families. “This initiative will enable institutions to try some of their best ideas and most promising practices to provide more students with the opportunity to pursue a higher education and become equipped for success in today’s workforce,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

House approves competency-based education bill. The House of Representatives passed two bills as part of efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. The Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act of 2014 (H.R. 3136), which was passed unanimously, (first by voice vote, and then recorded at 414 to 0) would allow the Department of Education to waive certain financial aid requirements and set in place federally supported competency-based learning programs, which measure students’ level of knowledge and mastery of skills rather than classroom hours earned. As passed, the bill would provide federal funding to up to 30 experimental competency-based education programs. Many members expressed support for such programs because of what they can offer to nontraditional students. “Our veterans return from duty with particular skills, and we should reward them for that by allowing them to earn credits for the skills they’ve already received,” said bill sponsor Matt Salmon (R-AZ).

House Approves bill to streamline information provided to students. The House passed by voice vote the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act (H.R. 4983). The bill would redesign the way the government distributes information about higher education costs to prospective students. Among other things, it requires the secretary of education to develop a College Dashboard website and keep it up to date with various information on participating higher education institutions, such as the average net price per year for undergraduate students and the average student loan debt incurred throughout enrollment. The bill would also require schools to report and publish the ratio of full-time instructors to part-time instructors teaching classes.

President signs Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (H.R. 803). According to the White House, the law will “improve business engagement and accountability across federally funded training programs.” It is intended to create economic opportunities for middle-class Americans, and will ensure that federal agencies use specific job-driven criteria to ensure that federal funds are used more effectively. The bill, which has supporters in both parties, was first introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx, (R-NC). It passed the Senate by a vote of 95-3 on June 25 and the House by a vote of 415-6 on July 9.

New report on Common Core. The New America Foundation published a report that urges public schools and colleges to communicate and cooperate better with each other on defining what it means to be “college ready.” Common Core Goes to College: Building Better Connections between High School and Higher Education, authored by Lindsey Tepe, assesses the current landscape of the transition between high school and higher education, and asserts that there is room for improvement in aligning the two to help students succeed once they get to college. The 25-page report scrutinizes the many different assessments students undergo on the path from high school to college, such as exit exams, ACT and SAT and placement exams, and suggests that they should do more to benefit students. “If passing a state’s college- and career-ready assessment does not indicate that a student meets the state’s minimum eligibility requirements for higher education, it will undermine the standards as a true proxy for college readiness,” Tepe said. “Further, we should streamline our confusing financial aid process by aligning state financial aid qualifications with state high school assessments.”

We publish the DC Shuttle each week featuring higher ed news from Washington collected by the New England Council, of which NEBHE is a member. This edition is drawn from the Higher Education Update in the Council’s Weekly Washington Report of July 28, 2014.

Founded in 1925, the New England Council is a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth and a high quality of life in the New England region. The Council’s mission is to identify and support federal public policies and articulate the voice of its membership regionally and nationally on important issues facing New England. For more information, please visit: www.newenglandcouncil.com.

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