New Legislation Holds Universities Accountable for Success in 2016

As college tuition rises, Congress is pulling in the reigns by creating legislation that will keep higher education institutions accountable.  Senator Tom Harkin proposed changes to the Higher Education Act late last year that will affect all colleges and universities nationwide.

With input from higher education groups, Harkin outlined reform measures that focus on creating a tighter system of accountability for colleges, which will require many of them to invest in more efficient school management software and training programs.  One of those measures is to offer incentives for schools that enroll more low- and middle- income students.  Part of the proposal is a “Pell Bonus” program that would provide extra funding to schools with higher low-income graduation rates.  The bill would also restore year-round Pell Grants and make it easier for students without a diploma to receive federal aid.  Advocates of Harkin’s bill say this will reduce drop-out rates and encourage more students to seek financial aid.  Critics of the bill say there is already too much of a financial burden from federal funding of student loans.

Every year, the federal government spends over $150 billion on student aid.  This is despite the fact that more than 1 million high school students don’t even apply.  The recent simplification of the FAFSA form could encourage more financial aid applications, which would certainly increase the amount of money shelled out by the federal government.  As more students become eligible for financial aid, the Department of Education will have to more carefully determine how federal funds are allocated to each college and university nationwide.

To address the problem of funds distribution, the DOE has created a new college rating system.  Under this system, more federal aid will be given to institutions that are deemed “high-performing.”  More than 7,000 colleges and universities will be assessed on areas such as degree completion, average tuition price, expected family contribution, percentage of students receiving federal grants, transfer rates, and loan completion rates.  The weighting of each area has not yet been determined.  But the idea is to flesh out the low-performing schools and bolster those institutions that help students find successful careers after graduation. 

According to the Associated Press, the new system will help students “shop for college the way they do for cars and refrigerators.”  Version 1.0 of the ranking system will be released before the 2015-2016 school year.  However, changes in federal funding will not take place into 2018.  With the average student currently leaving college $30,000 in debt, the new system and regulations will help graduates get more bang for their educational buck.