A report from a panel of higher education experts, including college presidents and foundation leaders, has called for changes to simplify federal financial aid in a white paper released Thursday. The white paper, "The American Dream 2.0," published by HCM Strategists, a public policy consulting group, is part of a larger effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to recommend changes to financial aid to boost completion rates.
The group includes many familiar names -- among its members are Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, and Mitch Daniels, the former Indiana governor and new Purdue University president -- and many of its recommendations are familiar by now as well. In its final report, the group deplores college completion rates (about half of all first-time, full-time students do not graduate within six years), recommends that colleges pay more attention to the needs of nontraditional students, and says that the financial aid system should be easier to navigate and more transparent. The group calls for strengthening the bedrock Pell Grant Program for needy students, and streamlining multiple grants and tax credits. The report also says the federal government should encourage colleges to innovate and invest more heavily in research on financial aid's effectiveness.
The report also says that colleges should link aid "to the extent possible" to outcomes for students and graduates. Accompanying the report were polling data that suggested voters are supportive of higher education, but more aware of (and concerned about) student debt levels than they are about the college dropout rate.
Since several commission members are the leaders of organizations preparing reports of their own as part of the Gates initiative, HCM's effort could represent the closest the different groups will get to consensus on changes to financial aid. Several more organizations are expected to issue their white papers next week.