Financial Aid Fix May Reverse College Dropout Crisis

4798An influential group of college presidents, civil rights leaders and advocates sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is highlighting what it calls a growing higher education dropout crisis and seeks to fix it in part by linking financial aid with successful graduation.
"Education is an economic issue," Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and a member of the coalition, said in a statement. "We have to build a more equitable system of higher education to make us more competitive in the world economically."

The group's report, released Thursday and called "The American Dream 2.0," said 46 percent of America's college students and 63 percent of African American students don't graduate college within six years. Changing the $226 billion financial aid system may help improve that, the report said.

College tuition has been rising faster than inflation as states have cut contributions to higher education. Over the last decade, students have doubled total annual borrowing, from $56 billion to $113 billion in constant dollars. Many students default on the crushing debt and drop out of school. The growing inaccessibility of college, and the huge dropout rate, "is eroding the American Dream and weakening our nation's ability to compete," the report said.

The report recommends customizing financial aid to better serve part-time and other non-traditional students, and tying aid to a school's outcomes, such as graduation rates, instead of just enrollment. It points to states that include Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington that "are aligning the way they fund colleges with expectations for more student success" and outcomes that are geared toward boosting populations that have been historically underrepresented in college.

"At times over the last two decades it seems like we've been more comfortable doing nothing than doing something when it comes to improving federal financial aid," said Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation and a member of the group that produced the report. "But given the fiscal realities and the national imperative to increase postsecondary attainment, doing nothing comes at an increasingly higher cost to the country. Today's structure and delivery is based on enrollment, regardless of whether or not students complete."

The recommendation of tying financial aid to college outcomes is likely to be the report's most controversial. The White House tried to do something similar to regulate for-profit colleges, but the so-called gainful employment regulations were watered down after pressure by lobbyists and challenged in court.

Source: Huffington Post | Joy Resmovits
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