Remarks at President Obama’s College Affordability Plan Public Forum

November 8th, 2013
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Audrey Dow
Senior Advisor

November 7, 2013 | Written by: Audrey Dow, Community Affairs Director, Campaign for College Opportunity

Good morning Under Secretary Kanter and Deputy Secretary Studley:

My name is Audrey Dow and I am the Community Affairs Director for the Campaign for College Opportunity, a California based policy and advocacy organization committed to ensuring more students can access a college education and as importantly, complete a college education.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this morning.

We applaud the President and this Administration for making college opportunity and affordability a key issue for reform. Barriers to college access and success stifle the country’s economic growth while widening the gap between the rich and poor.

Our collective future depends on the increased mobility for low income and underrepresented students, especially Latinos who make up a growing proportion of our own state’s population. Just yesterday, we released a report, “The State of Latinos in Higher Education in California.” In that report we highlight the good news which is that seven out of 10 Latino high school graduates in the U.S. enrolled in college in 2012. In California 83% of Latino parents hope their children earn at least a bachelor’s degree and 92% of Latinos believe that a college education is very important. Again, that’s the good news. The bad news is that in California, Latinos are less likely to enroll in a four year university, attend a selective college, enroll in college full time, and perhaps most disturbing, less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree. With every one in two children under the age of 18 in California being Latino, we must improve completion rates if our state if our country is to remain economically vibrant.


Today, we offer a few suggestions for the three ambitious objectives of the President’s plan:

1. Too often we only focus on holding students accountable. If students don’t do what is expected and get failing grades, they don’t pass courses and they don’t reach their college goals. Colleges should also live up to our collective expectations. Colleges must be committed to student learning and improving student success. We support transparency and agree that a college’s performance is important to measure. Students and families deserve access to good information about college completion, time to completion, the quality of their degree/certificate, and the real cost of their education. A rating system should also be sure to include indicators that reward colleges for improving student outcomes, and for serving and awarding degrees and certificates to underrepresented students, including those who are low income and/or students of color.

Any rating system, however, must come with significant outreach to students and their families to ensure they know how to use the forthcoming scorecards and interpret “scores.” The Department of Education must also be diligent in its review of the ratings to ensure students, particularly first generation, low income college students who are most likely to attend colleges in their local communities, are not left without options for college because clusters of local colleges are performing poorly and therefore, federal financial aid is limited. The goal should always be to simplify aid for students and any linking of Pell Grants to the ratings system could be confusing and cumbersome and that must be a consideration.

2. There are few things more heartbreaking than a capable student who should go to college, but decides he or she simply can’t afford it. This is against our core values as Americans. So efforts to control the rising cost of college and student debt are necessary. Greater information and access for students to all their eligible college aid through the state and federal government must be expanded. And, greater awareness about access to federal student loans with low interest rates and income based repayment options for those loans has to be a top priority. Participation and applications for repayment options must be simplified and when possible, be opt-out instead of opt in. As the cliché goes, students don’t do optional – so why not make opting into these programs the default?

But along with more access and information to aid, there must also be a focus on keeping the cost of college attainable. The roller coaster ride of tuition and fee increases our students have been riding over the past five years must be stopped.

3. We look forward to the robust discussions around innovation and the opportunities presented via technology to address challenges of capacity, student supports, and reduced time to degree. We urge the thoughtful review of scaling the delivery of education services via technology. We ask that equity be kept at the forefront of this discussion as many communities continue to struggle with issues of the digital divide and perhaps more importantly, it is critical that those students who need the most intervention and supports to be successful have the high touch, hands on instruction and personal relationships to be successful.

4. Finally, we applaud the President’s support for Performance Based Funding and his commitment to encourage states to utilize the dollars they invest in higher education to prioritize student success. A funding formula that rewards and incentivizes both access and success will benefit our students.

We thank you for allowing us to be a part of this dialogue and look forward to working with the Administration to ensure opportunity and success for all of our students and the nation’s future.

About the Author:

Audrey Dow is the Community Affairs Associate for The Campaign for College Opportunity.
Click here to read her complete bio.