Cole Bill Will Expand Opportunities in Higher Education, Increase Access for Students, Witnesses Testify

September 12, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Testifying today before the U.S. House Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness, witnesses explored how H.R. 3039, the Expanding Opportunities in Higher Education Act, would strengthen higher education by removing outdated barriers and expanding opportunities for students. The legislation, authored by Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), is part of comprehensive efforts by House Republicans this year to renew and reauthorize the Higher Education Act, and ensure that every American who strives for the dream of a higher education has the opportunity to achieve it.

“With the passage of the Higher Education Act in 1965, the federal government made great gains in affording our nation’s students the opportunity to pursue postsecondary education. In our knowledge based economy, it is more important than ever to remove road blocks to innovative ideas and methods of providing education to students seeking to pursue their dream of access to, and completion of, a postsecondary education,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the subcommittee.

“We must promote advancement in distance education, clarify the treatment and classification of educational institutions and simplify the methods used to determine a student’s financial need for student aid purposes,” continued McKeon. “H.R. 3039 strives to accomplish this by improving access, expanding opportunities and removing unnecessary and outdated barriers within the Higher Education Act, all while maintaining the integrity and security of the student aid programs. This legislation strengthens and extends student support programs and enhances the ability of minority serving institutions to meet the needs of their students.”

The bill includes several reforms that, taken together, work to increase flexibility and remove barriers that are preventing institutions from meeting their full potential to serve students. In addition, the bill places a priority on meeting the unique needs of minority serving institutions, giving them the freedom to develop technology and provide new learning opportunities for their students, as well as eliminating roadblocks in current law that make it unnecessarily difficult for these institutions to participate in the essential federal programs targeted toward minority serving institutions.

A primary purpose of H.R. 3039 is to ensure that the institutions seeking to serve students, and particularly needy or nontraditional students, are treated fairly and equitably under the Higher Education Act. For that reason, the bill removes arbitrary distinctions in current law that are applied to different types of institutions, and works to ensure evenhanded treatment of all schools as they assist students in reaching their educational goals. David Moore, Chairman and CEO of Corinthian Colleges, testified on the implications these reforms will have for both institutions and the students themselves.

“The Expanding Opportunities Act would strike the sections in the Higher Education Act that continue to provide for disparate treatment of for-profit institutions as compared to public and non-profit institutions… these changes represent further steps in a direction that Congress began five years ago in the last reauthorization in recognition of changes that were occurring in higher education. Those trends have continued and accelerated so that it increasingly makes little sense to perpetuate distinctions that are rooted in history. Changing student demographics and the goals of our society for postsecondary education support the additional steps that the Expanding Opportunities Act would now take,” said Moore.

“As the National Center for Education Statistics reported recently, today’s undergraduate population is different from a generation ago. The ‘traditional’ undergraduate – an individual who earns a high school diploma, enrolls full time in college immediately after finishing high school, depends on parents for financial support, and either does not work during the school year or works part time – is now the exception rather than the rule. In 1999-2000, just 27 percent of undergraduates met all of these criteria. Thus, 73 percent of all undergraduates were in some way ‘nontraditional,'” continued Moore. “These students are older, have family and work responsibilities, and are concerned with preparation for entry into the work force or advancing their careers.”

The Expanding Opportunities in Higher Education Act also seeks to encourage innovation as a way to help students as they work toward postsecondary education. In that spirit, the bill removes outdated restrictions on distance education which prevent institutions from making the most of online learning opportunities. Particularly for the nontraditional student population, distance education offers students both flexibility and freedom, noted witnesses. David Moore also discussed how all removing these barriers will help students.

“As the Web-Based Commission found, online learning is one of the most promising developments to have occurred in higher education over the past decade. It leverages the power of technology to enrich learning and create new educational opportunities. A substantial and growing body of research demonstrates that online instruction produces quality learning outcomes comparable to, and perhaps even better than, traditional education programs. Literally millions of students, especially working adults, will have higher education opened to them,” said Moore.

H.R. 3039 also places a strong emphasis on assisting minority serving institutions, providing them with the flexibility and freedom they have requested to better serve their students. These reforms complement the significant funding commitment of the Republican-led Congress in recent years. In fact, since Republicans took control of Congress in 1995, funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) has increased by 96 percent, and for Historically Black Graduate Institutions (HBGIs), the increase is 172 percent. Even more striking, Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) have received an increase of more than 750 percent in just eight years. This unprecedented financial commitment will be enhanced by the reforms included in H.R. 3039, noted McKeon.

Dr. Antonio Flores, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), expressed his organization’s support for H.R. 3039.

“Chairman McKeon and distinguished members of this House Subcommittee, I applaud your commitment to the enhancement of HSIs and Hispanic higher education. Your championing of this national priority clearly demonstrates foresight and wisdom because the very future of our nation hangs in the balance,” Flores declared in testimony submitted to the committee.

Dr. Flores testified on the role of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) in higher education, as well as how the reforms in H.R. 3039 will benefit these institutions. He also explained the importance of serving the Hispanic population in America’s postsecondary education programs: “As the youngest, fastest-growing, and now largest ethnic population in the nation, Hispanic Americans are mindful of their enormous historic role in advancing economic prosperity and social progress. The more Hispanics are called to assume leadership roles in government, the military, the business community, and civic life in general, the more their higher education is a requirement.”

The Expanding Opportunities in Higher Education Act, Republicans noted, includes multiple reforms for minority serving institutions, with two particularly important provisions targeted toward Hispanic Serving Institutions. The bill would remove a two-year wait out period between grants, which will allow institutions to continue to receive federal grants without interruption as they serve students. In addition, the bill simplifies an outdated eligibility requirement that has been difficult for HSIs to navigate as they seek to participate in HEA programs.

Rep. Tom Osborne (R-NE) noted that funding for HSIs has increased dramatically in recent years, more so than any other program in the Higher Education Act. Funding for Hispanic Serving Institutions has grown from about $10 million when Republicans took control of the House to nearly $95 million in the House-passed spending measure for FY2004, Osborne noted. The FY 2004 education spending bill passed by House Republicans in July would add more than $1 million in additional funding for HSIs for next year, on top of these increases, Republicans pointed out.

The Expanding Opportunities in Higher Education Act includes a provision, offered in July by Reps. McKeon and Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), to explore how the federal student aid system could be simplified and streamlined to make it easier for students and families to receive federal student aid. This year, the federal government is investing roughly $90 billion in higher education, with the core of that investment being direct financial support to students in the form of grants, loans, and various other financial aid programs. This student aid is distributed based upon student and family financial need, in order to ensure that federal resources are fairly and appropriately focused on those most in need of assistance.

George Chin, director of student financial assistance at the City University of New York, explained that the need analysis formula, which has been largely unchanged in more than two decades, could be improved to be more user-friendly for parents and students, while also being more responsive to their financial needs. “Given the aged framework of the current formulas, it is appropriate and necessary to … comprehensively review the need analysis formula and the associated application design and process to facilitate easier and better student access to the financial aid programs,” said Chin. “It is difficult to disagree with an effort to seek simplification, ease the process for students, and communicate better with students to assure them of their potential eligibility for Federal Pell Grants. We hope the result of the study maintains fairness, equity and effectiveness for the use of the student aid programs.”