Riley Outlines Higher Ed. Proposal for House Panel
Promoting higher standards and achievement in higher education and reaching out to more low-income students will be among the Clinton administration's top priorities for the upcoming Higher Education Act reauthorization, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley told a House panel late last week.
The Higher Education Act authorizes funds for federal financial aid for postsecondary study, including Pell Grants for low-income students, college work-study programs, and two student-loan programs.
During a June 19 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training, and Life-Long Learning, Mr. Riley laid out the administration's broad proposals for the act's reauthorization, which Congress is scheduled to complete later this year.
In addition to expanding access to a college education by increasing the maximum Pell Grant from $2,700 to $3,000 per student, Mr. Riley said the proposal also focuses on improving the management and delivery of federal programs.
"The challenge in this reauthorization is to maximize the effectiveness of our investment in postsecondary education," Mr. Riley said.
The proposal includes an initiative aimed at increasing the college graduation rate for low-income students. Low-income students enrolled in college complete their studies at a rate one-third below that of their high-income classmates. Mr. Riley said the administration is considering offering rewards to institutions with large numbers of Pell Grant recipients who finish their educational programs.
"Such incentives would encourage institutions to retain low-income students through degree completion," he said.
But a spokesman for one higher education group said there may be pitfalls to such an approach. For such a proposal, "the devil is in the details," said David Merkowitz, the director of public affairs for the American Council on Education, a Washington-based umbrella group.
Such a program might end up penalizing the schools that most directly serve needy students, such as historically black colleges and universities, he said. Schools that serve a higher number of low-income students also tend to have higher dropout rates, he added.
"The schools are already doing a lot to help these students complete college," Mr. Merkowitz said. "I don't know that an incentive like this would do any more."
The administration is also looking into ways to provide a mentoring and academic-support program for disadvantaged middle school students. Such a program would provide information about college requirements, costs, and financial aid, while encouraging academic motivation and good work habits, Mr. Riley said.
Mr. Riley also emphasized that the portion of the HEA that includes programs related to recruiting, retaining, and training teachers needs to be pared down so that those programs gain funding. His comments echoed past criticisms that the hea's teacher- training sections have been loaded down with individual members' pet projects.
To improve the effectiveness of teacher training, he said, the administration is considering an initiative that would form partnerships between universities and colleges that have respected teacher preparation programs and other institutions that want to improve their programs.
Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who chairs the full Education and the Workforce Committee, expressed concern that such a collaborative program would fail to address teacher preparation programs that don't do a good job of getting prospective teachers ready for students.
"Mediocrity will only bring more mediocrity," he said.
The subcommittee will likely hold hearings on the HEA through July.