HEA: Equity Must Be At the Core of the Higher Education Act
At The Education Trust, we believe equity must be at the core of any accountability policy. So, as Congress works to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, we will work to ensure that efforts to incentivize and hold campuses responsible for student outcomes prioritize the experiences of students of color and low-income students. This message was at the core of Ed Trust board member and Lehman College President José Luis Cruz’s testimony this morning before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on accountability in higher education.
Cruz stressed the glaring — and growing — gaps in college completion and the crucial role that institutional decisions and investments play in increasing completion and closing gaps. In an economy where two-thirds of new jobs require some form of postsecondary education, a college degree provides the surest path to upward social mobility. Policies, therefore, should provide incentives and supports for campuses to graduate more students, especially low-income students and students of color.
Among Cruz’s recommendations for advancing equity and improving student outcomes:
- Implement outcomes and evidence-based policies that encourage college completion behaviors. Incentives such as year-round Pell grants and financial aid that can be applied to non-tuition create a context where students can afford to take more credits per semester and increase the likelihood of completion.
- Include and prioritize equity-focused metrics. Financial incentives to hold campuses responsible for student outcomes can encourage the wrong behavior. Such policies can have negative impacts on issues of equity, as campuses become more selective in order to improve their outcomes. This, however, does not mean we should shy away from accountability or completions. Instead, we must include equity metrics that reward campuses for enrolling and graduating low-income students and students of color.
- Insist on an ongoing and consistent commitment to protect students and taxpayers from fraud and abuse. The guardrails that protect students must be maintained and strengthened to ensure that low-income students and students of color are not victimized by predatory actors.
Meaningful, equity-focused accountability has the potential to refocus our higher education system on its most important purpose: successful outcomes for students. As Congress works to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, Ed Trust looks forward to working with policymakers, advocates, and institutional leaders to advance access, affordability, and completion for all students.