US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Hearing: “Attaining a Quality Degree: Innovations to Improve Student Success”

Thursday, October 31, 2013

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“Today’s hearing is the second in our series to examine critical issues in postsecondary education as the Committee looks to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.  The topic we’ll discuss today is of great interest to policymakers and the public: innovation in higher education.  Though we’ve spent time previously in this Committee discussing the role of innovation, much of that conversation has centered on college affordability.  While college affordability is of paramount importance to the Committee and is sure to be discussed today, I’d like to spend this hearing examining an equally important and related subject: the landscape of innovations in higher education that are increasing student learning, engagement and degree completion. 

“It’s no secret that a highly-educated workforce is necessary for the United States to compete in our increasingly knowledge-based global economy.  If our nation is going to educate more students and, by the year 2020, reclaim its status of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world, we need to do more to ensure that students are persisting toward and attaining quality degrees.  So a key question is:  what can colleges and universities do to maximize learning and supports to ensure students are getting through on-time or faster and earning a meaningful credential? 

“Today’s panel explores efforts in progress at the institution and system-wide level, both high and low-tech, to increase student success in higher education.  These innovations can inform our committee’s work in designing federal policy, and determine the role the federal government can play in promoting effective change to help America regain and retain its global leadership.

“Too often, good innovation can be siloed—either within an individual classroom, college, or system.  A key focus of today’s conversation will be to discuss what we can do to allow proven innovations to be replicated or scaled up.   Our panel of experts will walk us through the impetus for the changes they’ve developed, and the impact these innovations are having on their students’ learning experience and success in completing a degree.  They’ll brief us on approaches that are providing clearer pathways for students to earn a credential, transforming the classroom experience so that it’s more engaging, as well as delivering and assessing coursework.  They’ll also describe how they are using data in meaningful ways to better counsel students on their course decision-making process, as well as how to modify remediation strategies to ensure students are well prepared for the classes they’re taking. 

“As I said at the start of this series of hearings focusing on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, this is no time to be complacent with the status quo.  The stakes are too high.  We all need to take a tough look at reimagining how our higher education system can work better.  But I would also caution that we should not waste time entertaining innovation for the sake of innovation. Our aim should be to explore proven ways of promoting innovations that ensure students are getting the most out of their college experience.          

“Students are entering higher education at various points in their life. Many students enter when they are 18 years old, and often into traditional four-year degree programs, and we should encourage that for all young people.  The opportunity to attend college right after high school allows young people to benefit not only from the educational aspects of the college experience, but also the social and developmental aspects.  However, we can no longer ignore the fact that, increasingly, students are entering higher education when they are older, after they have been working a few years.  Many of these folks are looking forprograms that can meet their needs, and this often entails attaining 2-year degrees or certificates to help them advance in their careers. 

“The makeup of this panel is indicative of the very broad scope of our higher education system and how that system needs to continue to innovate to meet the disparate needs of all the students they serve at whatever point those students enter our higher education system.  We all understand that a one-size-fits-all approach simply will not do.  We are witnessing the emergence of many new, innovative models, and this is a great strength of America’s system.  While I am proud that we have such a diverse system, we must ensure that all current and future models are rigorously focused on student success and degree attainment. 

“I look forward to working with our distinguished ranking member, Senator Alexander, and my colleagues on both sides of aisle to ensure that our higher education system remains affordable, accessible and results-oriented, both for students and taxpayers.”            

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