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U.S. Education Commission Stresses Need-Based College Assistance

U.S. Education Commission Stresses Need-Based College Assistance

By Harry Waldman

The U.S. commission charged with charting the future of American higher education has approved a list of final recommendations, calling on the government to provide more aid based on financial need. It also advises colleges to be more accountable for what their students learn. It recommends that the federal government consolidate 20 financial aid programs and ensure that Pell Grants, which are the main aid program for low-income students, cover at least 70% of in-state tuition costs. At present, the grants covered less than half the costs.

The panel was composed of 19-members, who represent industry, government, for-profit and traditional colleges. Unanimous recommendations would carry weight with Congress, the White House, and state governments.

After weeks of negotiations and numerous drafts, chairman Charles Miller, in ealry August, brought all but one commission member on board. The holdout was David Ward of the American Council on Education.

Ward said he supported most of the commission's objectives but was opposed to the "one size fits all" prescriptions. Still, Ward noted that several current and past college presidents on the commission signed on to the report at a meeting in Washington. Colleges should "realize," he said, "if they don't do it to themselves, somebody will do it for them."

The commission called for student achievement tests to help "measure the relative effectiveness of different colleges and universities." The report also recommends simplifying the the college application process for federal aid and directing it more toward financial need. Other commission members, while voting in favor, said the plan falls short in other areas. Richard Vedder, a professor of economics at Ohio University, said the proposal fails to mention objectives other than vocational skills, the need to promote "intellectual diversity" in classrooms, and problems surrounding the "hedonistic culture" on campuses.

Commission member Robert Zemsky, chairman of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said the report is not likely to have the impact of "A Nation at Risk," the 1983 report from the Reagan administration-appointed commission that warned of widespread mediocrity in US education.

The commission's report is slated to be delivered to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings next month.

News Date: 
Friday, August 18, 2006