04.10.19

As Senate Works Towards Comprehensive Reauthorization of Higher Education Act, Senator Murray Outlines Vision to Create Culture of Accountability at Colleges and Universities

At HELP Committee Hearing, Senator Murray lays out her vision for a robust accountability system that ensures schools are responsible for student success

 

Currently less than 60 percent of students graduate within six years of enrolling, and that number is much lower for students of color, low-income students, and students starting school over the age of 20

 

Murray: “We must ensure that our reauthorization of the Higher Education Act includes an accountability system that is as nuanced as our schools and our students.”

 

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee delivered opening remarks at the Committee’s hearing on strengthening accountability to protect students and taxpayers. In her remarks, Senator Murray emphasized the need to strengthen existing law and use a risk-based accountability system to ensure students and taxpayers are protected from predatory actors. Senator Murray also urged the Committee to look at broader educational outcomes to ensure all schools are preparing all students for success.

 

The hearing comes as Senator Murray works on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA), an effort in which she is prioritizing education affordability, accountability, accessibility, and campus safety and students’ rights.

 

Key excerpts of Senator Murray’s opening statement:

 

“It is critical that all schools are holding up their end of the bargain, enrolling diverse students, and supporting all students to help them complete their education and be prepared for success after college.”

 

“Less than 50 percent of Latin-X students and just over 40 percent of black students, low-income students, and students starting school over the age of 20 will graduate. Students cannot begin to advance their careers or pay back their loans if they do not have a credential that opens the doors for them to do so.”

 

“The role of higher education accountability, quality assurance, and ongoing monitoring and oversight—doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of the federal government. It is a partnership between the federal government, states, and accrediting agencies. Each has an important role to play. Each must do their part. And there must be coordination between the three to ensure students are getting the very best education.”

 

“Schools must be enrolling all types of students—including from historically underrepresented backgrounds—and schools need to support students while they are in school so they are able to complete their degrees.”

 

Full text below of Sen. Murray’s opening statement:

 

“Thank you Chairman Alexander and thank you to our witnesses here today.

 

“I look forward to your thoughts and expertise as we negotiate a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

 

“During our discussion today—I urge you to keep in mind the other student-centered priorities we are focused on as we work towards updating our nation’s landmark higher education legislation: addressing the rising costs of college and exploding student debt, increasing access for historically underrepresented students, ensuring students are able to learn in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, and assault—and I’m pleased we were able to have a productive conversation on campus sexual assault last week.

 

“And today’s topic at hand—holding all colleges accountable for student success. 

 

“This is so important—not just because taxpayers spend close to $130 billion dollars in loans and grants every year, but because of the immense time and financial investments families and students are also making in their education.

 

“So it is critical that all schools are holding up their end of the bargain, enrolling diverse students, and supporting all students to help them complete their education and be prepared for success after college.

 

“Currently, less than 60 percent of students graduate with a certificate or degree within six years of when they initially enrolled in college.

 

“And these numbers are so much lower for students of color, low income students, and working adults.

 

“Less than 50 percent of Latinx students and just over 40 percent of black students, low-income students, and students starting school over the age of 20 will graduate.

 

“Students cannot begin to advance their careers or pay back their loans if they do not have a credential that opens the doors for them to do so.

 

“And so an accountability system must sharpen its focus on student outcomes, and in doing so, must recognize there are so many different types of schools—two-year, four-year, public, private, non-profit, for-profit, online, competency-based education, and more,

 

“Educating the most diverse group of students that include first generation college students, students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students, homeless and foster youth, working students, student parents, and more, we must ensure that our reauthorization of the Higher Education Act includes an accountability system that is as nuanced as our schools and our students.

 

“Additionally—the role of higher education accountability, quality assurance, and ongoing monitoring and oversight—doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of the federal government…

 

“It is a partnership between the federal government, states, and accrediting agencies.  

 

“Each has an important role to play. Each must do their part, and there must be coordination between the three to ensure students are getting the very best education.

 

“So—I want to dig into my vision for accountability in this reauthorization.

 

“It is important that we maintain and strengthen the current, existing law…

 

“The Higher Education Act has always used a risk-based accountability system to protect students and taxpayers from schools and programs that have traditionally shown more risk, such as those with profit motives or programs with alternative educational formats.

 

“This is especially important now—in this current moment…

 

“As numerous for-profit college chains have collapsed—including three in recent months—leaving students with worthless or nonexistent credits and degrees.

 

“But fraud and abuse are not the only reason for poor student outcomes in higher education…

 

“For example—many schools have been systematically underfunded and under-resourced—including due to our country’s history of discrimination…

 

“And many are unable to—or have yet to—succeed because there has not been an adequate focus on gaps in student outcomes and initiatives to improve overall student performance.

 

“So as we work towards this reauthorization—we should not only protect students from predatory or ineffective actors…

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“We must also look at broader educational outcomes to ensure all schools are preparing all students for success.

 

“Schools must be enrolling all types of students—including from historically underrepresented backgrounds…

 

“And schools need to support students while they are in school so they are able to complete their degrees.

 

“And—of course—students should be able to get a job with their degree or certificate where they both earn enough to manage their student debt and thrive in our diverse and changing society and economy.

 

“We need an accountability system that lifts up expectations for all schools and supports less resourced schools.

 

“Some schools want to invest in their students, but don’t have the resources to do so…

 

“While others may not be using what resources they do have in the most effective way.

 

“So we need to ensure schools are using data to better target their resources…

 

“And we need to provide schools with the tools they need to help students succeed—including financial aid, the ability to identify when students are falling off track early, career counseling, mental health services, and so much more.

 

“And finally—we must create a culture of accountability at all colleges and universities…

 

“The entire school—including those at the very top of the administration—must take responsibility for the overall college’s value to students and taxpayers.

 

“Before I close—I would also like to reiterate my concerns with Secretary DeVos and the Department’s ongoing deregulatory agenda and enforcement of current policies.

 

“Many of the rules she’s working to unravel go directly against the HEA’s history of a risk-based accountability framework.

 

“And we must remember that laws are only as effective as their enforcement.

 

“We’ve seen this Administration turn the other way when accrediting agencies fail to meet their responsibilities and by shrinking the Department’s enforcement unit staff.

 

“So with all that in mind—I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how we can improve higher education accountability and quality in this reauthorization.

 

“Thank you.”

 

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