WASHINGTON, D.C. | January 28, 2014 -
This is the 12th hearing the committee has held examining a wide range of issues facing the higher education community. From simplifying federal student aid programs to increasing transparency, each hearing has provided a forum to discuss ways we can strengthen the nation’s postsecondary education system to meet the evolving needs of students and the workforce.
One of this committee’s top priorities for the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is improving postsecondary access and affordability. To achieve that goal, we must take steps to close the education achievement gap and increase postsecondary opportunity for low-income and first generation students.
Children from disadvantaged families often struggle to access important mentoring, tutoring, and other hands-on services designed to help encourage high school completion and the pursuit of postsecondary education. Sadly, these students are often unprepared for college academics, and require remedial courses that add to the challenges of completing a program. Too many disadvantaged students simply give up on even applying to college because they are confused by the application process, overwhelmed by the costs, or unaware of the available financial aid options, despite our best efforts to ensure the information is available and understandable.
Recognizing these challenges, the federal government has created several programs to help disadvantaged students access the support necessary to realize the dream of a college degree. For example, college preparation and retention programs such as TRIO’s Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Student Support Services provide a pipeline of support services that encourage low-income students to graduate high school and earn a postsecondary degree.
Additionally, the GEAR UP program helps middle and high schools with high numbers of at-risk students offer academic support, mentoring, career counseling, college visits, and other services designed to better prepare students for success in postsecondary education.
Taxpayers dedicate nearly $1 billion each year to support the TRIO and GEAR UP programs. But despite the expenditure of significant federal resources in these important initiatives, more must be done at the state and institutional level to prepare disadvantaged students effectively for college and the workforce. Additionally, it is important that we examine the current programs to ensure they are working as intended and meeting the goal of helping students make the best choices.
Fortunately, postsecondary institutions are already rising to the challenge. In my home state of North Carolina, for example, Fayetteville State University is pursuing strategies to assess students’ skill levels before they begin attending classes and use academic analytics to track students’ progress throughout their curriculum.
In New York, the College of Westchester provides students with a variety of support services, such as success coaches to mentor freshman and predictive toolkits that allow students to prepare for academic shortfalls and track their progress. Chicago’s DePaul University has taken steps to coordinate with local high schools to ensure students are on the right track for college, while also offering remedial education services. We have with us today representatives from each of these institutions who can share more information about the ways they are working to help disadvantaged students realize the dream of a college degree, and we look forward to their testimony.
We want all Americans to have the opportunity to earn a postsecondary credential, if they choose to do so. At this hearing today we’ll discuss additional steps which can be taken at the institutional, state, and federal levels to improve college access and completion for all seeking postsecondary education. A number of this subcommittee’s members have hands-on experience in higher education and mentoring programs. Recently, I met with Rep. Frederica Wilson about the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project she started during her tenure as a high school principal in Miami. I was pleased to learn about this program that pairs disadvantaged high school students with mentors to encourage them to graduate and pursue further education. Members have received a short synopsis of this program in their folders and I encourage them to speak to Rep. Wilson about her efforts.
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