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Advocacy and Government Relations — December 2013

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This month on Capitol Hill, ADEA Advocacy and Government Relations (AGR) portfolio members attended several key hearings on student aid, a topic of great interest to the dental education community due to its impact on students. On November 13, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a full committee hearing titled Keeping College Within Reach: Simplifying Federal Student Aid, and on November 14, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a full committee hearing titled Ensuring Access to Higher Education: Simplifying Federal Student Aid for Today’s College Student.

Several witnesses testified before the committees concerning Pell grants, loan programs, loan repayment, tax credits, work-study programs, information for students and guidance and completion.

Throughout the two days of testimonies, several themes emerged: making the aid process simpler with particular focus on changing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, providing affordability and access for low-income, high-achieving students and giving students individualized guidance.

Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) opened the Senate hearing noting that, “students from rich families are seven times more likely to have earned a bachelor’s degree by age 24 than those from poor families…estimated that, over the past decade, 4.4 million college-qualified low- and moderate-income high school graduates did not attend four-year colleges, and an additional 2 million did not attend college at all.” The reason, he said, are affordability and access issues.

Dr. Bridget Terry Long, Academic Dean and Xander Professor of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, provided testimony based on her research and other source data, and made several recommendations, including minimizing the burden on families to complete the FAFSA, proactively disseminating clear information to families early and often and expanding the Work Study Program at colleges serving many low-income students.

Kristin Conklin also provided testimony in presenting the American Dream 2.0 Report, released in January by Washington, D.C.-based HCM Strategists. The report makes three overarching recommendations: make the aid process simpler and more transparent; spur innovation that can lower costs and better meet the needs of today’s students; and ask institutions, states and students to share responsibility for producing more graduates.

HCM Strategists estimate the savings from these changes would fall between $37 and $72 billion over 10 years. Conklin said that by 2018, 45% of jobs will require some sort of post-secondary credential, yet currently nearly half of all students start college but fail to earn any credential within six years.

The report was the result of a coalition of leaders including Mark Morial of the National Urban League, former Indiana Governor and Office of Management and Budget Director and current Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, former Congressional Budget Office Director and current Urban Institute CEO Bob Reishchauer, and Eduardo Padron of Miami-Dade College.

Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) referred to FAFSA as a lot of pages of “well-intentioned clutter” and suggested that we simplify the application while staying away from ideological differences.

Witness Dr. Judith Scott-Clayton, Assistant Professor of Economics and Education at Columbia University, also presented results of her research. She asserted that money matters for college access and that program complexity undermines aid effectiveness. She echoed what others said in helping students on an individualized basis.