11.28.17

Murray Highlights Need to Address Higher Education Challenges Through Comprehensive Reform to Best Help Today’s Students Open Doors of Opportunity

At FAFSA simplification hearing, Senator Murray highlighted a number of issues college students face to today, urged committee to take holistic approach in reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA)

 

Murray also cited the need for FAFSA simplification to be included in HEA reauthorization to help lower the hurdles students face to receive financial aid, including homeless and foster students

 

Murray: “This committee has a record of bipartisan solutions to big, complex problems and I’m confident we can find a bipartisan path forward to tackle these issues head on”

 

(Washington, D.C.) –Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee delivered the following opening statement today at a Committee hearing discussing simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Senator Murray highlighted the importance of a comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to adequately address all of the challenges college students’ are facing today.

 

Senator Murray laid out four key areas an HEA reauthorization will need to combat: the skyrocketing costs of college; college accountability and student success; barriers for working families, students of color, and first generation students to attend college; and threats to a safe learning environment.

 

Senator Murray also brought up concerns with Secretary DeVos’ implementation of the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, and urged Chairman Alexander to bring her in front of the Committee to explain why her Department is approving state accountability plans that do not comply with ESSA’s federal guardrails.

 

 

Key excerpts from Ranking Member Murray’s opening statement:

 

“However, navigating FAFSA is just one of many challenges today’s students are facing. And for them, these issues don’t come up one at a time, they are all wrapped together. College students taking on mountains of debt are concerned about finding a job after school, whether their school or program is safe, whether it’s preparing them for the workforce and is respected by employers—and so much more. So in order to best help our students, we have to make sure we are trying to solve the big problems along with the smaller ones impacting students and families. We need to tackle the issues that impact college students the most, and I believe—on this Committee that has done so much good work together—we can. That is why it is so critical we take a comprehensive approach to update our nation’s Higher Education Act.”

 

“We can work together to address issues like FAFSA simplification—and I know how important this is—but we must, at the same time, work to tackle the biggest problems this critical law aims to address. Because I believe in order to truly solve the challenges students face, we must address four major issues: the rising costs of college, schools and programs that are not held accountable for student success, barriers for working families, students of color, and first generation students to attend college, and ongoing threats to learning in a safe environment.”

 

“Now of course, simplifying the FAFSA should be part of our comprehensive reauthorization. I have heard from people across Washington state how complicated and difficult filling out the application can be, and I know my colleagues have heard the same thing. Simplifying FAFSA would help ease the burden of college costs for students who may be leaving money on the table. And by addressing concerns of students from nontraditional backgrounds, including homeless and foster students, we can help open the doors of opportunity to students who otherwise may not get the financial help they need. And all the front and back end hurdles of financial aid—security requirements, verification, and refiling the form each year—can create real barriers for the students who deserve our help. While it’s clear simplifying FAFSA would help students, it alone cannot solve the challenges that families around the country face in affording and accessing higher education.”

 

 

Full text below of Ranking Member Murray’s opening statement:

 

FAFSA Simplification Opening Remarks

Senator Patty Murray

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

**As prepared for delivery**

 

 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 

I would like to thank all of our witnesses here today.

 

I look forward to hearing from each of you on your experiences with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and your thoughts on how best to improve access to federal financial aid.

 

However, navigating FAFSA is just one of many challenges today’s students are facing.

 

And for them, these issues don’t come up one at a time, they are all wrapped together.

 

College students taking on mountains of debt are concerned about finding a job after school, whether their school or program is safe, whether it’s preparing them for the workforce and is respected by employers—and so much more.

 

So in order to best help our students, we have to make sure we are trying to solve the big problems along with the smaller ones impacting students and families.

 

We need to tackle the issues that impact college students the most, and I believe—on this Committee that has done so much good work together—we can.

 

That is why it is so critical we take a comprehensive approach to update our nation’s Higher Education Act.

 

Chairman Alexander and I have heard concerns expressed that pursuing a comprehensive approach to reauthorize this law would be too difficult. That in these partisan times, we won't be able to get it done.

 

Well, that's what we heard before about No Child Left Behind.

 

People said it was too toxic to touch, and that we would never be able to pass a true reauthorization.

 

They said we should focus on the low-hanging fruit, and leave the rest for another time, another Congress.

 

But thankfully, Chairman Alexander and I pushed those naysayers aside, we got to work, and we got it done.

 

So I am hopeful, and confident, that we can work together on a comprehensive approach to reauthorizing the Higher Education Act this same way.

 

There are simply too many important issues facing students and working families when it comes to accessing affordable, high quality education.

 

We need to take a holistic approach to higher education reform, to build a system that helps the most students.

 

We can work together to address issues like FAFSA simplification—and I know how important this is—but we must, at the same time, work to tackle the biggest problems this critical law aims to address.

 

Because I believe in order to truly solve the challenges students face, we must address four major issues: the rising costs of college, schools and programs that are not held accountable for student success, barriers for working families, students of color, and first generation students to attend college, and ongoing threats to learning in a safe environment.

 

Now I want to go into each of these areas a bit—because they are so important.

 

First, we need to address the skyrocketing costs of college and find ways for more students to be able to graduate without debt.

 

And we must consider the full costs of college beyond tuition—including food, transportation, housing, textbooks, and child care.

 

Second, we need to make sure colleges and workforce training programs are producing good outcomes for students and preparing them for the jobs of tomorrow—and are being held accountable when that isn’t the case.

 

This must include providing students with the information they need to make smart choices about their future before they enroll in classes with an expensive price tag. 

 

Third, we need to improve historically underrepresented students’ ability to access and succeed in higher education.

 

And finally, we need to ensure every student has the ability to learn in a safe environment—free from discrimination and violence.

 

This must include doing more to combat the national epidemic of campus sexual assault and beginning to address dangerous hazing practices.

 

Now of course, simplifying the FAFSA should be part of our comprehensive reauthorization.

 

I have heard from people across Washington state how complicated and difficult filling out the application can be, and I know my colleagues have heard the same thing.

 

Simplifying FAFSA would help ease the burden of college costs for students who may be leaving money on the table.

 

And by addressing concerns of students from nontraditional backgrounds, including homeless and foster students, we can help open the doors of opportunity to students who otherwise may not get the financial help they need.

 

And all the front and back end hurdles of financial aid—security requirements, verification, and refiling the form each year—can create real barriers for the students who deserve our help.

 

While it’s clear simplifying FAFSA would help students, it alone cannot solve the challenges that families around the country face in affording and accessing higher education.

 

So while this hearing is a good first step, I hope we can continue this conversation with a comprehensive solution in mind and have hearings on a variety of the issues impacting students and their families.

 

This committee has a record of bipartisan solutions to big, complex problems and I’m confident we can find a bipartisan path forward to tackle these issues head on.

 

Our students are counting on it.

 

And before I close, Chairman Alexander, I want to make one final point.

 

It is so important that I need to mention it before we get too deep into this issue.

 

One of the largest hurdles to passing any new bipartisan education laws is how Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education are currently picking and choosing when to follow laws written by this Committee and passed by Congress.

 

Right now, for example, Secretary DeVos and her Department are blatantly violating the current K-12 law we updated two years ago—they won’t follow the very statutory language this Committee settled on.

 

You and I worked together on the Every Student Succeeds Act.

 

We reached an agreement that gives states flexibility, while including clear requirements for states.

 

The requirements on states are in black and white in the law and have nothing to do with regulations. 

 

And I am deeply troubled that violations of the law are being ignored by the Department of Education.

 

For example—the law requires in statute that states identify three distinct categories of schools for improvement: the bottom five percent of schools, all schools where one subgroup of students is consistently underperforming, and schools where any subgroup is performing as poorly as the bottom five percent—but plans are being approved that violate this. 

 

And there are more examples I am happy to talk through.

 

Chairman Alexander, if the Department is ignoring the agreement we made in the law and just choosing to implement whatever it feels like—which I believe they are in their approval of state plans so far—then this Committee needs to hear from the Secretary about how she intends to follow the laws that Congress agrees to, especially as we begin reauthorizing HEA.

 

I am confident that we can address this issue, and I hope we can hear from the Department soon and then we can begin addressing the critically important issues in higher education.

 

Thank you.

 

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