Federal

Department Seeks Input on Higher Ed. Panel’s Suggestions for Change

By Alyson Klein — August 29, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Department of Education plans to seek public feedback on a sweeping report approved this month by a commission charged with making long-range recommendations for changes in the nation’s higher education system.

The department announced Aug. 18 that it would hold hearings around the country this fall to explore higher education policy, including suggestions put forth by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings established last year.

While the discussions may touch on other proposals, they are likely to be informed by the commission’s draft report, approved nearly unanimously at a meeting in Washington on Aug. 10.

The report calls for greater alignment between K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions, and an overhaul of the federal college financial-aid system, among other major changes.

Higher Education Recommendations

The Commission on the Future of Higher Education appointed by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has approved a draft final report recommending that:

Tuition Assistance: The federal government significantly increase the current $4,050 Pell Grant so that it covers 70 percent of the average tuition cost at an in-state, four-year public university.

Financial Aid: Colleges, states, and the federal government shift more resources toward need-based financial aid.

Cost Database: The federal government create a searchable database that would allow students, parents, and policymakers to compare information on college costs, admissions criteria, and possibly student learning outcomes at different institutions.

Testing: Colleges and universities be encouraged to offer tests to measure student learning and make the results available to the public.

Standards: States align high school graduation standards more closely with college admissions requirements.

SOURCE: Education Week

The department also may create as many as three committees that would include students, financial-aid administrators, state higher education officers, and business leaders to make suggestions on how to change higher education policy through the federal rulemaking process.

While some of the proposals in the higher education commission’s report, including a major expansion of the federal Pell Grant program, would have to be approved by Congress, others could be implemented administratively, a department official said.

Lone Dissent

The commission’s report calls for an increased emphasis on distributing financial aid based on student need and urges colleges to invest in mathematics and science education. It also encourages colleges to use new methods to meet the needs of a changing student population, which includes more mid-career students and older adult learners.

The panel also urges colleges and universities to use value-added assessments to measure students’ skills at the beginning and end of their college careers, and to make the results of those tests public.

Eighteen members of the commission, which includes college officials, business leaders, and state policymakers, voted to support those recommendations. The lone dissenting vote came from David Ward, the president of the American Council on Education, a Washington-based umbrella organization representing 1,800 postsecondary schools.

Mr. Ward said in an interview that he agreed with the general idea of expanding accountability in higher education.

But, he said, the “devil is in the details” with many of the recommendations. For example, he worries the language dealing with standardized tests could be interpreted to mean that federal or state governments should mandate such tests—a policy he would oppose.

Still, Mr. Ward called the report a “shot across the bow of higher education” and said that it would be a “huge mistake for universities to dismiss the findings of the commission.”

Charles Miller, a Houston investor and the commission’s chairman, said the panel would formally present the final version of its report to Secretary Spellings once it is printed, possibly in mid-September.

The report has already come under fire from some college groups. The American Association of Colleges and Universities, a Washington-based organization representing 1,000 liberal arts institutions, largely lambasted the report, particularly the proposal to move toward standardized tests for colleges. It said the report “combines a hollow concern for quality in undergraduate education with a practical encouragement of a cafeteria-style college curriculum.”

Results for K-12

While the commission’s report largely focuses on higher education, it encourages more cooperation with K-12 schools to ensure that students are prepared for college. It suggests that states revamp high school graduation standards to more closely mirror college-entrance requirements and employer needs.

The report also recommends that the 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress be revamped to better measure college and workforce readiness. In addition, the report endorses changing the way the 12th grade NAEP is administered to enable state-by-state comparisons, instead of the current national sample alone, which the commission said is “of little value.”

To make college more affordable to needy students, the report suggests that the entire federal financial-aid system be “restructured” to shift more resources toward need-based financial aid and reducing student debt.

It calls for the federal government to increase the current $4,050 annual maximum Pell Grant over the next five years so that it covers 70 percent of the average cost of tuition at a four-year, in-state public university. During the 2004-05 school year, Pell Grants covered 48 percent of that cost.

A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2006 edition of Education Week as Department Seeks Input On Higher Ed. Panel’s Suggestions for Change

Events

School & District Management Webinar Fostering Student Well-Being with Programs That Work
Protecting student well-being has never been more important. Join this webinar to learn how to ensure your programs yield the best outcomes.
Reading & Literacy Webinar 'Science of Reading': What Are the Components?
Learn how to adopt a “science of reading” approach to early literacy to effectively build students’ vocabulary and content knowledge.
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Effective Communication for School Leaders: A Forum
Join us for an afternoon of discussions on how school and district leaders can motivate staff, make the most of social media, and more.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Feds Emphasize Legal Protections for Pregnant or Recently Pregnant Students, Employees
The U.S. Department of Education has released a new resource summary related to pregnancy discrimination in schools.
2 min read
Young girl checking her pregnancy test, sitting on beige couch at home.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal Conservatives Hammer on Hot-Button K-12 Education Issues at Federalist Society Event
The influential legal group discussed critical race theory, gender identity, and Title IX.
6 min read
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at the Phoenix International Academy in Phoenix on Oct. 15, 2020.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was among a phalanx of conservatives addressing K-12 issues at a conference of the Federalist Society.
Matt York/AP
Federal Cardona Back-to-School Tour to Focus on Teacher Pipeline, Academic Recovery
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona will spend a week traveling to six states to highlight a range of K-12 priorities.
2 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona answers questions during an interview in his office in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, August 23, 2022.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona continues a tradition of on-site visits by the nation's top education official as the school year opens.
Alyssa Schukar for Education Week
Federal Biden's Student Loan Forgiveness: How Much Will It Help Teachers?
Advocates say Black educators—who tend to carry heavier debt loads—won't benefit as much.
5 min read
Illustration of student loans.
alexsl/iStock/Getty