News Releases

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered remarks at a HELP Committee hearing on Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Exploring Barriers and Opportunities within Innovation. In her remarks, Murray expressed interest in innovative ways to help break down the significant barriers students face in higher education, including completing their degrees or credentials and finding affordable options. However, Murray noted that accountability is needed to protect consumers and ensure innovative higher education programs are effective.

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s remarks:

 

“In the years ahead, our country will need a highly educated workforce to compete in the 21st century global economy, and most jobs will require education or training beyond a high school diploma. But today, there are significant barriers – from the high cost of college to the crushing burden of student debt – that students face. In addition, the traditional model of higher education doesn’t always work for students who need to hold down a job or care for a child, while trying to advance their education. And because of these barriers, too many students – particularly students from low-income backgrounds and non-traditional students – end up dropping out of college and not completing their degrees.”

 

“I am certainly interested in innovative ways that would help us solve these challenges so that more students from all walks of life have strong, clear pathways into and through higher education. And I’m open to a conversation about how federal rules and funding can best incentivize innovation that has proven results.”

 

“…I know several of my Republican colleagues are interested in shaking up the current higher education system, the sooner the better. But I believe we should tread carefully.  We need to make changes – but we need to make sure those changes move us in the right direction – and protect students and their interests. Through research and demonstration projects, we should make sure these new ideas are making a positive difference in students’ lives. Simply opening access to federal student aid, without accountability, for any company or institution that offers an alternative to traditional higher education would fail to protect consumers.”

 

“Recently, we’ve seen some institutions lure in students – and their federal student aid – with misleading and outright false information about their job placement prospects. We can’t let that happen with these alternative models for higher education.  It would be too risky for students who could acquire mountains of student debt without the ability to repay it and without a widely recognized credential or degree.  And without strong accountability measures, allowing companies and institutions to accept federal student aid would be irresponsible to taxpayers. So, if these new models were to receive federal student aid, I am especially interested in making sure they are accountable to their students and to federal taxpayers.”

 

“Throughout our discussion today, and as we continue our work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, I will continue to be focused on how to best reduce the crushing burden of student debt, make college more affordable, and ensure more students from all walks of life get the chance to further their education. Achieving those goals is an economic imperative, and it will pay off for generations to come.”

 

Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks:

 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 

“We had a very successful week last week on our bipartisan bill on K through 12 education. That bill showed that we can break through the gridlock and work together.  I’m looking forward to continuing that progress as we move to a Conference to finalize the bill that President Obama can sign into law.

 

“And I hope that we will be able to continue that bipartisan spirit in our work on higher education. To me, this is an important piece of our work to grow the economy from the middle out, not the top down.

 

“In the years ahead, our country will need a highly educated workforce to compete in the 21st century global economy, and most jobs will require education or training beyond a high school diploma. But today, there are significant barriers – from the high cost of college to the crushing burden of student debt – that students face.

 

“In addition, the traditional model of higher education doesn’t always work for students who need to hold down a job or care for a child, while trying to advance their education. 

 

“And because of these barriers, too many students – particularly students from low-income backgrounds and non-traditional students – end up dropping out of college and not completing their degrees.

 

“So I am certainly interested in innovative ways that would help us solve these challenges so that more students from all walks of life have strong, clear pathways into and through higher education. And I’m open to a conversation about how federal rules and funding can best incentivize innovation that has proven results.

 

“Over the last several years, some colleges have developed programs for students to gain knowledge and skills at their own pace. These ‘competency-based’ programs focus on student learning, rather than how many credit hours a student has completed. They hold a great deal of promise. The Department of Education is running some experimental sites on new ways of measuring student learning as we speak, and I look forward to seeing their results.

 

“We’ve also seen some companies and providers begin to provide education and training outside of accredited colleges and universities. Now, some argue that these new providers of higher education should have access to federal student aid from Title Four.  But, from my perspective, the best test of innovation is in its outcomes.

 

“In other words, before an innovative model of higher education ever becomes eligible for federal student aid, we should be sure that it leads to good results for students, and that it will help us break down the barriers I just mentioned.

 

“Today, I’d like to hear more from our witnesses on how we can test innovations to make sure they will lead to good student outcomes. I’d also be interested in if the research from these innovative programs shows they actually expand opportunities for students from low-income backgrounds and non-traditional students.

 

“Finally, I know several of my Republican colleagues are interested in shaking up the current higher education system, the sooner the better. But I believe we should tread carefully.  We need to make changes – but we need to make sure those changes move us in the right direction – and protect students and their interests.

 

“Through research and demonstration projects, we should make sure these new ideas are making a positive difference in students’ lives. Simply opening access to federal student aid, without accountability, for any company or institution that offers an alternative to traditional higher education would fail to protect consumers. And Congress has already given tools to the Department of Education to test new ideas to see if they work, through what we call experimental sites.

 

“Recently, we’ve seen some institutions lure in students – and their federal student aid – with misleading and outright false information about their job placement prospects. We can’t let that happen with these alternative models for higher education.  It would be too risky for students who could acquire mountains of student debt without the ability to repay it and without a widely recognized credential or degree. 

 

“And without strong accountability measures, allowing companies and institutions to accept federal student aid would be irresponsible to taxpayers. So, if these new models were to receive federal student aid, I am especially interested in making sure they are accountable to their students and to federal taxpayers.

 

“Throughout our discussion today, and as we continue our work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, I will continue to be focused on how to best reduce the crushing burden of student debt, make college more affordable, and ensure more students from all walks of life get the chance to further their education.

 

“Achieving those goals is an economic imperative, and it will pay off for generations to come.

 

“Again, I’d like to thank our witnesses for being here today. And I look forward to their testimony.”