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Heinrich Introduces Legislation To Help Students Complete College

Sep 15, 2021

Commentary: U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced the College Completion Fund Act, landmark legislation to promote college completion in a thoughtful, innovative, and comprehensive way, and address longstanding inequities in college access and success.

Senator Heinrich unveiled the legislation last week during a virtual briefing hosted by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), in partnership with TICAS and Results for America, and with support from UnidosUS and Third Way—organizations all dedicated to the success of today’s students and are calling for a once-in-a-generation investment in the College Completion Fund (CCF).

“We’ve focused for so long on how we can get students into college, but we need to focus just as much on how to help students get through college. Completion is the key to unlocking the long-term career success that is the promise of higher education,” said Heinrich. “The College Completion Fund Act would establish a first-of-its-kind federal fund to invest in evidence-based student support services that have proven to help students from diverse backgrounds complete their degrees.” 

The College Completion Fund Act would authorize $62 billion to be distributed by the U.S. Department of Education over the next 10 years to invest in evidence-based strategies to help college students stay engaged in their education and complete their degrees. Funds will be allocated to states based on a formula using Census tract poverty data to ensure the funding reaches the under-resourced schools with students in the most need of support.

In order to receive these funds, states will need to develop strategic plans to increase graduation and completion rates for all students enrolled in their public colleges and universities. These plans will need to particularly focus on strategies to support students from low-income backgrounds and historically underrepresented communities, first-generation college enrollees, parenting students, students with disabilities, and student veterans.

Colleges and universities will be able to use these funds for a variety of evidence-based and promising practices that support student retention, completion, and success, including:

  • Comprehensive academic support services such as faculty, career coaching, and peer counseling
  • Collection of real-time data on student progress
  • Incentives to keep students on track in their education
  • Direct student support such as mental health services, child care, transportation, emergency financial assistance, food and housing assistance, career coaching, and work-based learning opportunities
  • Reforms to developmental education, including utilizing career pathways and improving transfer student success

A broad coalition of educators and community advocates is calling on leaders in the House and Senate to make sure that the final version of the Build Back Better Plan that Congress passes later this year includes Senator Heinrich’s College Completion Fund Act. Supporters of Senator Heinrich’s legislation include the Institute of Higher Education Policy, Third Way, the Education Trust, America Forward, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the New America Higher Education Program, Results for America, The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), and the University of New Mexico.

“The benefits of higher education are nothing short of transformational for individuals, families, communities, and our country as a whole – but only if students make it over the completion finish line. Even before the pandemic, at least 36 million people had some college, but no degree, and the rates of completion reveal major inequities along racial and socioeconomic lines. The College Completion Fund Act would make a once-in-a-generation investment in the human, financial, and technological capacity needed to leverage the diversity of our nation’s talent and realize the economic – and non-economic – benefits of higher education. This bill’s level of investment is proportionate to the magnitude of the challenge at hand and the payoff it could provide by building a more just and equitable shared future,” said Mamie Voight, Interim President of IHEP. 

“College completion—not enrollment alone—is what sets students on a path toward stable lives and careers, and we have a robust evidence base that shows what works in helping them persist through graduation. Unfortunately, the federal government has for too long been agnostic as to whether a taxpayer-funded college actually gets its students across the finish line—resulting in a situation where nearly half of those who start higher education never complete it. Third Way is pleased to support the College Completion Fund Act, which follows through on President Biden’s stated commitment to a landmark $62 billion investment in scaling proven practices that will support students from coast to coast in earning a college degree,” said Lanae Erickson, Senior Vice President for Social Policy & Politics at Third Way.

“We thank Senator Heinrich for his critical leadership in introducing the College Completion Fund Act. A federal college completion fund would dramatically shift federal higher education strategy to not just focus on getting more students into college, but also ensuring many more finish college with a degree in hand. Scaling innovative programs that provide students the support they need to graduate would produce immense benefits not just for students and their families, but our nation and economy as well. We call on Congress to take up and pass this important legislation and advance a college completion fund in its next spending bills,” said Peter McPherson, President of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

“The University of New Mexico is eager to support forward-thinking federal policy initiatives that will help college students fulfill their dreams of earning a valuable higher education degree. We recognize that college completion and degree attainment are very important to promoting upward mobility for New Mexico’s underserved populations, many of whom are first-generation college seekers. This proposed legislation appropriately focuses on some critical factors that would otherwise imperil college success and degree attainment,” said Garnett S. Stokes, UNM President.

Read the full bill text by clicking here.