In August, most colleges and universities around the country will begin fall classes. Freshman students will move into their dorms, many of them excited about the years ahead. For them, graduation is the furthest thing from their minds, and it should be. They’ve first got to worry about studying hard, learning and focusing on a career path. But the reality is, when they do graduate, many are going to be entering the workforce with an uncertain economic future and ever-increasing debt burdens. It’s critical that we start working on this problem so that college remains accessible for the next generation.
Since 2002, in-state tuition and fees at public four-year and two-year schools has risen by 51 percent and 35 percent, respectively. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the average student debt load for the class of 2012 was $29,400. Worse, this amount has increased on average 6 percent over the past five years, even as families’ incomes have been shrinking. Since education is one of the main paths to escape poverty, we must work to ensure tuition remains affordable and ensure students and families have as much information as possible about the college or university they are choosing.
This week, the House is considering a number of bills to help make college more accessible. First, the House will pass H.R. 4983, the Strengthening Transparency in Higher Education Act. This bill is meant to help make key information on a school readily available and in an easy-to-use format by creating a “College Dashboard.” The Dashboard for each university will contain information like student completion rates, average net price, average student loan debt, and student-to-faculty ratio, among other statistics. This will allow students and their parents to easily make apples-to-apples comparisons so they can make the best choice for their futures.
Next, the House will pass H.R. 3136, the Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act. This bipartisan bill creates demonstration programs to allow universities to give students credit for direct assessment and measurement of student learning, known as “competency-based education,” instead of for the amount of instructional time spent in the classroom, which is known as the “credit hours” system. By giving colleges and universities the flexibility needed to personalize the education of their students, we can reduce duplicative instruction and make college more cost-effective for students.
Finally, the House will take up and pass H.R. 4984, the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act. This bill ensures all students receive financial counseling through their college or university and also ensures specific attention is paid to low-income students so that they can better understand the terms and conditions of their Pell Grants. By increasing awareness among students and parents about the financial obligations they will face after their education, we can help ensure students are aware of not only what they can afford, but also what they are going to be expected to pay back after they finish their education.
In terms of the affordability of higher education, the State of Tennessee is taking the challenge very seriously and leading the way. Governor Haslam has made a commitment to higher education by enacting the “Tennessee Promise,” which ensures every high school graduate —regardless of their economic situation—will be able to receive two years of tuition at a community college in our state. This program is the first of its kind in the nation, and is exciting for the next generation of Tennesseans.
Education is crucial for success in the 21st Century economy. As a legislator, parent and grandparent, I feel that it is my responsibility to ensure we’re taking every possible step to make college attainable and affordable. As a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, you can rest assured I will continue to support measures to promote student success through commonsense reforms.