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Schatz, Murphy, Himes Announce College Affordability and Innovation Act of 2015

Bill Will Hold Colleges Accountable For Reducing Costs

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and U.S. Representative Jim Himes (CT-4) announced the introduction of their College Affordability and Innovation Act – legislation that will make college more affordable for students across the United States by prioritizing innovation and tying federal funding for colleges to their ability to meet affordability and student outcomes goals. By encouraging colleges to innovate and by holding them accountable to the students they serve, the College Affordability and Innovation Act will help curb rising college costs, reduce reliance on costly student loans, and expand economic opportunity for all students.

While some colleges have implemented new and creative ideas to reduce costs, not enough colleges have put these ideas into practice. In fact, over the last 20 years, the cost of college has risen by 300 percent. The College Affordability and Innovation Act is an innovative new approach to cutting the cost of college.  The bill requires colleges to keep tuition under control, and award degrees that lead to jobs for graduates, in order to continue receiving federal funding.  It also incentivizes schools to create new models of education that reduce the time to degree so that students can graduate faster with less debt. 

“The rising cost of college is one of the biggest challenges for families,” said Senator Schatz.  “Today, students in Hawai‘i and across the country are too often loaded with debt after graduating, making it difficult for them to move up the economic ladder. Our bill will make sure institutions receiving federal funding are doing their part to make higher education more affordable and accessible for low- and middle-income students. By providing incentives for schools to improve quality and reduce the cost of college, we can expand opportunities for more people and make it easier for students to reach their full potential.” 

“I’ve heard from students and parents all across the state, and it’s clear that the most important thing Congress can do for them is pressure schools to bring down the cost of a degree," said Senator Murphy. “Our legislation will incentivize schools to create new, innovative programs to reduce the cost of school while improving the quality of the degree, and will set new standards for schools that receive federal funding so that they’re more accountable to students and taxpayers. Federal higher education policy should focus first on lowering the cost of college, and second on helping students borrow more easily.”

“Whenever I hold a town hall meeting, parents and students share their fears about how they are going to pay for college,” said Representative Himes. “It keeps them awake at night. The cost of higher education is straining finances, causing stress, putting a college degree out of reach for many, and burdening those who scrape together savings and loans with crippling debt.

Himes continued, “The College Affordability and Innovation Act will make college more affordable by promoting much needed innovation and holding institutions accountable to students and taxpayers. There is no silver bullet to fix these rising costs, but by incentivizing and monitoring colleges we can start moving in the right direction, and make the dream of higher education a reality for more Americans.”

To encourage colleges to innovate and be accountable to the students they serve, the College Affordability and Innovation Act does the following:

  • Creates a new evidence-based competitive pilot program to encourage innovation. Currently, there is little incentive for colleges to test ideas that may reduce the cost of college. This new pilot program would spark innovation by authorizing and funding a new evidence-based competitive pilot program to encourage institutions to develop programs that offer high-quality education, lower costs, and reduce the time for completing a degree. These programs would potentially include online courses, competency-based degrees, dual-enrollment programs, streamlined school/program transfers, and accelerated degrees. 
  • Implements rigorous evaluations for new programs. Under the bill, institutions that receive funding to implement new, innovative programs that reduce the cost of college would undergo rigorous evaluations of these programs to ensure that students are getting a quality education.
  • Creates new commission to recommend minimum accountability standards for all institutions that receive Title IV dollars. In order to ensure that all schools are delivering quality education for their students, the bill would create a commission of students, education experts, and stakeholders to recommend minimum standards for each undergraduate program in the United States to meet in order to remain eligible for federal funding. Those standards will focus on the access schools provide to low- and middle-income students, affordability, and value.
  • Rewards institutions that do best on new accountability measures.  Institutions that do best on these measures will receive funding awards to be used for additional need-based aid for students. Institutions that consistently fall below the minimum standards created by the new commission will be incentivized to improve by requiring them to improve over a gradual period or face a loss of Title IV eligibility.