Wednesday September 27, 2006
Speaking at the National Press Club yesterday, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings unveiled a five-part Action Plan for America’s Higher Education System. The action plan represents a significant attempt to change the way students receive aid for secondary schooling and approach their college search. The speech, while offering some immediate action on student aid, was more descriptive than prescriptive; long on the need for greater post-secondary accountability and access, but short on remedies for America’s ailing post-secondary education system
Spellings’ recommendations, based on a recent report by the department’s Higher Education Commission, comes in the wake of a recently published report that found 40 states receiving Fs in college and university affordability, even as more jobs require a college degree.
Spellings spoke about the need to ease the difficulties talented poor and minority students’ face when pursuing post-secondary education. She called for the scrapping of our nation’s current federal aid system for college. The most common federal program for such aid is FAFSA, which is one of 17 federal programs for college aid. Such a system must be stream-lined and its budget increased, according to Spellings, to ensure that more students have access to a college education.
Spellings also pledged to simplify the FAFSA form and get offers of federal aid to students before the spring of their senior year of high school.
Colleges and universities were also called on to provide data on student performance and learning. Currently, our nation’s accreditation system for universities and colleges emphasizes factors such as the number of books, libraries, percent of faculty with a doctorate, and SAT scores of the freshman class, and not actual student learning. Spellings urged our nation’s universities and colleges to make the transformation from prestige-based to performance-based rankings. She noted that no current ranking system directly measures student learning or performance.
Spellings hopes such data will become the basis for a publicly available, national database on post-secondary education. Students then would be able to investigate what schools best fit their academic and financial needs. This proposal seeks to build off current state-wide systems and encourage institutional support by offering matching federal funds for schools that publish performance data.