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Committee Discusses Benefits of Innovative Partnerships in Higher Education

The Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), today held a hearing entitled, “Keeping College Within Reach: Improving Access and Affordability through Innovative Partnerships.”

“America is home to the greatest higher education system in the world,” Rep. Foxx said, noting our nation’s top-ranked research universities and diverse postsecondary opportunities. “However, our higher education system is not without its challenges. College costs continue to rise at an unprecedented rate. Changing demographics heighten the demand for more flexible degree programs and course schedules. And evolving technologies mean institutions must constantly modernize program offerings to ensure graduates have the skills necessary to thrive in today’s workforce.”

During the hearing, witnesses highlighted ways postsecondary institutions are forming innovative partnerships with private sector entities to help reduce costs, strengthen degree programs, and enrich coursework to better meet the needs of a changing student body. 

Jeffrey Docking, President of Adrian College in Michigan, explained how working with area businesses helped the small liberal arts school overcome steep declines in student enrollment and unprecedented operating deficits. “We looked for innovative partnerships with businesses that could advance the college’s education mission while cultivating talent needs in our business community,” Mr. Docking said. By offering students new opportunities to conduct micro-research studies with local business leaders, work with local doctors, and create business plans with nearby startup companies, Adrian College has doubled enrollment over the past eight years. 

Mr. Docking reported these business partnerships have also helped students graduate better prepared to join the local workforce by bridging the talent gap, which he described as “the gap between the skills business leaders say they need when they hire recent graduates and the skills these graduates actually bring to their new jobs.”

At the Georgia Institute of Technology, school leaders have joined with AT&T and Udacity to deliver the first fully-online Master’s program in Computer Science through the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) platform. The initiative will offer students the skills they need to compete in the 21st century workforce at a fraction of the cost of traditional on-campus programs.

“As the first in the world to try this approach, Georgia Tech intends to put real force behind the advancement of higher education through technology,” said Dr. Charles Isbell, Professor and Senior Associate Dean for the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. “And the program’s ultra-low cost, combined with its availability to students anywhere in the world through the Internet, promises to expand the global population of trained computing professionals.” 

While many institutions are eager to forge new partnerships with private entities, Laureate Education Chief Executive Officer of Global Products and Services Paula Singer noted federal regulations can prevent them from doing so. “Speed in innovation is also important to maintaining our institutions’ ability to compete in a global marketplace where institutions and students in other countries are increasingly able to leap-frog over our own,” Ms. Singer said.  “How regulators adapt and respond to existing and new forms of innovation in higher education will determine whether institutions are able to meet the rapidly changing needs of students in the U.S. and to remain competitive worldwide.”

Rep. Foxx concluded, “As policymakers, we have a responsibility to ensure such innovation can continue. By lifting burdensome regulations and simplifying the current complex statutory framework, more institutions will have the opportunity to innovate and meet the changing needs of our students and economy…. I hope we can work together through the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to continue these efforts to limit federal overreach and preserve flexibility in our modern higher education system.

To read witness testimony, opening statements, or watch an archived webcast of today’s hearing, visit


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