WASHINGTON, D.C. | February 7, 2017
These are exciting times in higher education. Institutions across the country are providing their students new opportunities to earn a degree. As a result, we are seeing more diversity on campuses, and the idea of a “traditional student” has been turned on its head. Today’s students come from a wide range of backgrounds. They are at various stages in their lives and careers. And they have new, unique, and changing needs.
Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed in recent years is the importance of a higher education. A postsecondary degree or certificate is still vitally important to helping individuals pursue successful and fulfilling careers. It is also essential in helping many men and women achieve their own dreams and goals and earn success in their lives.
Thankfully, today there are more opportunities for more individuals to pursue higher education than ever before. However, America’s higher education system is also facing a number of significant challenges.
For one, the cost of college is going up. Since 2005, average tuition and fees have increased by 25 percent four-year private nonprofit institutions. At four-year public institutions, they have increased by more than 40 percent.
What do we have to show for that rise in costs? Have graduation rates gone up?
Actually, it is estimated that among students who started colleges in the fall of 2010, only 55 percent had earned a degree or certificate by 2016.
We’ve worked in recent years to make changes that will strengthen America’s higher education system and help ensure a college degree is accessible and affordable. It’s clear that more has to be done.
Fortunately, with reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, we have an opportunity to do just that — advance bold, responsible, and meaningful reforms. We also have a strong foundation already in place.
Through years of hearings, roundtables, meetings, and legislative action, this committee — including many of the members here today — developed a set of principles that will guide the work ahead.
The first is empowering students and families to make informed decisions. Choosing a college or university is an important decision that will have a lasting impact on a student’s life. It’s vitally important that individuals have the information they need to choose the right school and make decisions about how to pay for their education.
The second principle is simplifying and improving student aid. There are currently six different types of federal student loans, nine repayment plans, eight forgiveness programs, and 32 deferment and forbearance options — each with its own rules and requirements. The current system is too complex, and it leaves students and their families confused about their financial options and responsibilities.
Third, we must work to promote innovation, access, and completion. For years — and particularly in the past eight years — the federal government has tied states and institutions up in red tape. That red tape has made it more difficult for students to complete their education quickly and affordably. It has also gotten in the way of innovation that would make it easier for students to pursue and earn a college degree. It’s time for the federal government to get out of the way.
The fourth and final principle is providing strong accountability and a limited federal role. Today, institutions are subject to a great deal of federal reporting requirements and regulations. In fact, rules and regulations across the federal government currently impose an estimated $27 billion in compliance costs on colleges and universities. Unfortunately, those costs are often passed on to students in the form of higher fees and tuition.
We need to repeal unnecessary reporting requirements and address many of the harmful and misguided regulations imposed by the former administration. However, we should do so while also delivering strong, commonsense accountability in federal programs.
It’s clear that we have our work cut out for us, but inaction is not an option. Today marks the beginning of the next phase in our effort to strengthen America’s higher education system for students, parents, institutions, and taxpayers. I look forward to the important work that lies ahead. Let’s get to work.