08.05.15

Murray: Congress Should Break Down Barriers That Hold Students Back; Ensure All Students Can Succeed in Higher Education

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered remarks at a hearing on Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Opportunities to Improve Student Success. In her remarks, Murray said she would continue to be focused on making sure more students from all walks of life have clear pathways to success in higher education, and she called for removing barriers that hold many students back, including rising college costs and financial aid policies that only serve to punish, rather than reward and support. Murray also highlighted ways to improve student success, including ensuring students graduate high school college-and-career-ready, improving data on student outcomes so colleges and universities can help students effectively, and incentivizing institutions of higher education to develop stronger support systems for students.

 

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s opening statement:

 

“As we work together to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, there are a few principles I am going to be focused on to make sure that more students can pursue their degree. I am going to continue to look for ways to make college more affordable and reduce the crushing burden of student debt. As we discussed last week, I will be especially focused on making sure students have access to a safe learning environment. And more students – from all walks of life – should have strong, clear pathways into and through higher education. Creating pathways for student success is what we’ll be focused on today. And it’s clear that there is lots of room for improvement.”

 

“Students today face many barriers to completing their degrees and credentials. But there are several policies we can pursue to improve those completion rates. For one, in high school, we need to make sure they can graduate college-and-career ready. I’m glad that earlier this month the Senate voted to pass a bipartisan bill from Chairman Alexander and I that would be a strong step in the right direction to do just that.  Today, many students drop out because they worry about mounting student debt, or they have family or work responsibilities that make it impossible for them to continue earning their degree. So, we also need to provide adequate financial aid and lower costs to help improve student success.”

 

“…we also need better data on student outcomes from colleges and universities if we’re going to help students effectively. It is hard to believe, but higher education data ignores part-time students, transfer students, adults who are returning to school, students in remediation, and Pell Grant recipients.  We should know how these students are doing to make sure we’re making effective policy decisions based on solid evidence.”

 

“I’m very concerned that some of my colleagues have suggested penalizing financial aid recipients and students from low-income backgrounds, by tightening eligibility and other requirements in a misguided effort to try to motivate their success.  Recent research suggests the exact opposite – students don’t succeed when financial aid policies only serve to punish, rather than reward and support.”

 

“For first generation college students, for students from low-income backgrounds, and for students who are struggling in college, we need to incentivize institutions of higher education to have support systems in place. That includes structured pathways toward earning a degree, so students see a clear route to graduation. It includes programs for college mentoring and advising, so students stay on track. And it includes individualized counseling for students who need extra help.”

 

Full text of Senator Murray’s opening statement:

 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 

“Higher education is critical to ensuring the economic strength of our middle class, and I believe it is a critical part of building an economy that works for all families, not just the wealthiest few.

 

“Let’s remember that in the years ahead, more and more jobs will require education beyond high school, so we have an economic stake in helping as many students as possible go to college and complete their degrees. That’s how we’ll remain competitive in the 21st century global economy.

 

“As we work together to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, there are a few principles I am going to be focused on to make sure that more students can pursue their degree.

 

“I am going to continue to look for ways to make college more affordable and reduce the crushing burden of student debt. As we discussed last week, I will be especially focused on making sure students have access to a safe learning environment. And more students – from all walks of life – should have strong, clear pathways into and through higher education.

 

“Creating pathways for student success is what we’ll be focused on today. And it’s clear that there is lots of room for improvement.

 

“Federal data show that just 60 percent of first-time students, who attend full-time, complete their four-year degrees within six years. Even fewer students complete their degrees on time.

 

“Many of the other 40 percent of students likely dropped out without the advantages of a college degree, while oftentimes trying to pay off student debt. And many students at community colleges struggle to make it to graduation or successfully transfer to a four-year program.

 

“And while college completion rates for students from more affluent backgrounds have increased over the past 40 years – the same is not true for students from low-income backgrounds.  Just 9 percent of people from the lowest-income bracket graduated with a college degree by the time they reached age 24.  That’s only up from 6 percent in 1970.

 

“Students today face many barriers to completing their degrees and credentials. But there are several policies we can pursue to improve those completion rates.

 

“For one, in high school, we need to make sure they can graduate college-and-career ready. I’m glad that earlier this month the Senate voted to pass a bipartisan bill from Chairman Alexander and I that would be a strong step in the right direction to do just that.

 

“Today, many students drop out because they worry about mounting student debt, or they have family or work responsibilities that make it impossible for them to continue earning their degree. So, we also need to provide adequate financial aid and lower costs to help improve student success.

 

“And we also need better data on student outcomes from colleges and universities if we’re going to help students effectively.

 

“It is hard to believe, but higher education data ignores part-time students, transfer students, adults who are returning to school, students in remediation, and Pell Grant recipients. 

 

“We should know how these students are doing to make sure we’re making effective policy decisions based on solid evidence.

 

“I’m very concerned that some of my colleagues have suggested penalizing financial aid recipients and students from low-income backgrounds, by tightening eligibility and other requirements in a misguided effort to try to motivate their success.  Recent research suggests the exact opposite – students don’t succeed when financial aid policies only serve to punish, rather than reward and support.

 

“For first generation college students, for students from low-income backgrounds, and for students who are struggling in college, we need to incentivize institutions of higher education to have support systems in place.

 

“That includes structured pathways toward earning a degree, so students see a clear route to graduation. It includes programs for college mentoring and advising, so students stay on track. And it includes individualized counseling for students who need extra help.

 

“When students have access to a support system, evidence shows that they are much more likely to complete their degrees.  I’m looking forward to hearing from Dr. Richburg-Hayes on how increasing access to student services can help students, including the highly-regarded CUNY ASAP program.

 

“To me, improving outcomes at colleges and universities is an important piece of our work to grow the economy from the middle out, not the top down. And the success of students today will help guarantee that our nation will be able to compete and lead the world in the years to come.

 

“So, I look forward to hearing testimony from all of our witnesses here today. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”