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David Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, testifies as Camille Preus (right), commissioner of the Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development, looks on.
Photo: Ellie Ashford
A Senate hearing on efforts by states to make college more affordable highlighted several initiatives that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he hopes can be replicated more broadly.
These initiatives are likely to receive more attention next year, when Congress begins to work on reauthorizing the federal Higher Education Act.
At Thursday's hearing, Harkin expressed urgency in addressing the soaring cost of higher education. When it comes to increasing affordability, “states still have a primary role to play,” he said.
Harkin cited several areas where states can take the lead, such as setting performance goals, redesigning financial aid to target those most in need, establishing statewide articulation policies and promoting accelerated learning opportunities to get students through school faster.Shifting the burdenOne state that has taken the lead in reducing students’ cost burdens is Oregon, which has adopted a need-based financial aid program, known as the Shared Responsibility Model, said Camille Preus, commissioner of the Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development. The model establishes a four-step approach to affordability, with the assumption that “the student, as the primary beneficiary of the education, bears the first and most significant responsibility for paying for college,” Preus testified, with the other partners—family, federal government and state government—closing students’ “affordability gap.”
The defined student contribution is $5,700 a year for a community college and $8,700 for a four-year college or university. To cover that cost, a student could use whatever option works best, such as working, student loans, savings, private scholarships or work-study programs.
The family share is determined by a financial-need formula based on incomes and assets, family structure and attendance patterns. Families with the most resources are expected to cover the remaining costs, middle-income families pay some of the costs, while those with very low incomes contribute a small amount or nothing.
The same needs-based formula determines how much the federal government contributes, in the form of Pell grants or loans. The state offers Oregon Opportunity Grants when there is a remaining need not covered by the other partners.
Underlying this program is state legislation aimed at encouraging more access to higher education, Preus told the committee. The “40/40/20 goal” calls for 40 percent of adults to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, 40 percent to earn an associate degree or postsecondary credential, and 20 percent to earn a high school diploma.Performance-based systemsMuriel Howard, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, outlined four strategies states can undertake to make college more affordable:
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