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Bill to promote innovation in higher education

Staff report

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) recently introduced the Fund for Innovation and Success in Higher Education (FINISH) Act to spur innovation in the higher education system.

The bipartisan legislation supports the use of evidence-based innovation grants and the pay for success model to improve student outcomes.

“Currently higher education is falling short in serving our most vulnerable students,” Young said in a statement. “The FINISH Act helps to reform this broken system by using incentives to adopt innovative solutions with a track record of success. This bill works to ensure our students have the tools to finish a credential or degree pathway – not just start. It’s a win-win for our students and educators as well as our economy.”

The FINISH Act received widespread support from 122 local, state, and national organizations in a recent letter including Results for America, Knowledge Alliance, and Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP). In the letter, the organizations commended the senators for introducing the FINISH Act, “which would leverage the power of evidence and innovation to improve outcomes in higher education.” 

“We must work diligently to promote innovation and flexibility in colleges and universities,” Bennet said in a statement. “This legislation will ensure more students complete higher education and succeed in the 21st century economy by addressing some of our broken structures and creating an outcomes-based process for schools and students.”

According to Young, the legislation would:

n Authorize Innovation Grants: The legislation amends the Fund for the Improvement of Secondary Education (FIPSE) to allow grant recipients to use a portion of their funds for tiered evidence-based grants to support initiatives that increase access to higher education for high-need students, increase degree attainment, and improve efficiency in our higher education systems. Institutions of higher education would partner with intermediary organizations – a non-profit, school district, SEA, or consortium of groups – in order to qualify for early-phase grants, mid-phase grants, and expansion grants awarded to accomplish these goals.

n Encourage Open-Educational Resources: The bill also encourages institutions to make all forms of postsecondary instructional content widely available. Doing so would result in significant cost-savings for students and increased efficiency to institutions of higher education.

n Support Efficient and Innovative Uses of Taxpayer Funds Through Pay for Success Initiatives: The bill would allow the Secretary of Education to approve up to five Pay-for-Success (PFS) pilot initiatives each fiscal year, which would allow grant recipients to partner with outside organizations to achieve the goals of federally funded higher education grant programs. In order to receive federal grant dollars, grant recipients must show concrete achievement of measurable outcomes. Pay-for-Success projects would directly result in an increase in public value and social benefit. This approach does not require grant recipients to use a Pay-for-Success model; it merely allows grant recipients to utilize this approach.

n Establish Better Evaluation Authority: This bill provides additional evaluation authority by having the Director of the Institute of Education Sciences, on a biennial basis, develop an evaluation plan for these innovation initiatives.

“Every student learns differently, and to constrain them to a single cookie-cutter path of education is detrimental for their studies and our nation’s future. We need to innovate and diversify higher education as it becomes increasingly evident that the workforce of the future is dependent on a wide array of skills, knowledge, and experience,” Scott said in a statement. “I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the FINISH Act that will authorize innovation grants, encourage open-educational resources, and enforce greater accountability of tax-payer dollars in higher education.”