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Higher Education Panel Takes

Higher Education Panel Takes
Second Stab at Education Report

A second draft report from a national blue-ribbon panel on higher education gives more attention to the needs of minority students along with more specifics about reforms to the nation’s financial aid system (see Diverse, July 27).

Weeks after releasing a first draft that disappointed many observers, the Commission on the Future of Higher Education presented a second draft that featured less rhetoric and more analysis of the problems facing college students. The new report describes challenges in improving access and achievement for minority students, a group that was rarely mentioned in the original document.

“Access and achievement gaps separating low-income and minority students not only persist but have become wider,” the second report says. It also notes that family income, financial aid access and the quality of the high school experience are the major predictors of success in college.

According to the report, only 23 of every 100 White ninth-graders will eventually earn a college degree. For Black and Hispanic students, the rate is less than half that figure. In addition, Black students earned just 9 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in 2004, and Hispanics earned only 6.8 percent of these degrees.

The commission is recommending the consolidation of financial aid programs in order to boost spending on Pell Grants. At a time when more policy-makers are promoting merit-based aid, the report suggests that government at all levels “give the highest priority” to need-based assistance “to provide equitable access to higher education to qualified students from underserved communities.”

Similar to its first report, the panel proposes replacing the bulky Free Application for Federal Student Aid with a simplified one-page form.
It also recommends that college tuition not exceed the growth in family income. This would not be a requirement but instead would be one of several performance benchmarks for colleges to help control costs.

The higher education community’s reaction to the latest report was generally more positive compared with the commission’s first report. “The good news is that there are improvements in both tone and content over the initial draft, released last month to the overwhelming concern of the higher education community,” says Dr. David Ward, president of the American Council on Education.

The final report is due to U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings in September.

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