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Subcommittee Explores Ways to Improve Support for Disadvantaged College Students

The Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), today held a hearing to learn about efforts to improve higher education access and completion for low-income and first-generation students. Members discussed possible reforms to existing federal programs and how efforts at the institutional level can positively affect educational outcomes for disadvantaged students.

“This is a very personal issue for me. As someone who grew up in extreme poverty, I know firsthand what it takes to earn a degree in difficult circumstances as well as what that degree means for one’s opportunity for advancement,” Chairwoman Foxx said. “For many students, however, the idea of graduating feels like a distant dream. Higher costs, a confusing financial aid system, and insufficient academic preparation disproportionately deter low-income and first-generation students from accessing and completing a higher education.”

Addressing the challenges facing these disadvantaged students “requires a multi-faceted, comprehensive approach and commitment from multiple players,” advised Laura Perna, Director of the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Annually, the federal government invests more than one billion dollars in access and completion programs for low-income and first-generation students. Perna continued, “to maximize the return on investment in [these] programs, we need to know more about what components and services work, for which groups of students, in which context.”

Associate Vice Provost for Student Diversity at the University of California, Los Angeles, Charles Alexander, who oversees the university’s Academic Advancement Program (AAP), discussed his efforts to improve educational outcomes, urging institutions to build community partnerships and share best practices. Largely because of AAP’s ongoing efforts, Alexander testified, “African Americans and Latinos graduate at the highest rate ever … many AAP graduates continue their education by going into Ph.D. programs or professional degree programs … and a large number of AAP graduates focus their work on serving the poor and under-served.”

Chancellor of the Dallas County Community Colleges District (DCCCD) Joe May agreed with witnesses. Institutions should pursue “partnerships with other community organizations that are supporting the needs of similar populations,” he said. For example, the DCCCD’s efforts to share best practices within a state-wide organization, Texas Completes, “have led to an increase of 42 percent in certificates and an increase of 33 percent in associate degrees” since 2010.

“We have a responsibility to students, families, and taxpayers to ensure all of our investments in higher education deliver the intended results,” Chairwoman Foxx concluded. “As we work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, we want to … study the effectiveness of existing strategies so that more disadvantaged students can achieve the dream of a higher education.”

To learn more about the Education and the Workforce Committee’s efforts to strengthen higher education, visit /highered/.

To learn more about today’s hearing, read witness testimony, or to watch an archived webcast, visit


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