Senator Coons’ bipartisan bill to help at-risk kids get to college included in Higher Education Act reauthorization

Innovative program would use Web-based accounts to help low-income students prepare and save for college

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WASHINGTON, DC – Legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to help low-income students afford and complete a college education has been included in the bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, introduced Wednesday by Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The Higher Education Affordability Act reauthorizes the federal government’s major student aid programs, the primary source of direct federal support to students pursuing postsecondary education. The Higher Education Act was last reauthorized in 2008 and the current authorization is set to expire in fall 2015.

The American Dream Accounts Act encourages partnerships among schools, colleges, non-profits and businesses to develop secure, Web-based student accounts that contain information about academic preparedness, financial literacy, and high-impact mentoring and would be tied to a college savings account. The bill would authorize the Department of Education to award three-year competitive grants to support these innovative and comprehensive partnerships.

“A college education sets students up for success and opens doors throughout their lives,” Senator Coons said. “Every American deserves the opportunity to get a college education, but too many students still lack the support and resources necessary to achieve this critical piece of the American dream. For low-income students, a college education is more critical than ever to break the cycle of poverty and reach the middle class. The American Dream Accounts Act would encourage innovative public-private partnerships that help low-income students begin preparing for college at an early age and overcome obstacles as they apply for school. I’m grateful to Chairman Harkin and the HELP Committee for recognizing the vast potential of this idea and including it in the Higher Education Act reauthorization.”

Early investment is the key to helping low-income students reach college. Sixty-eight percent of Delaware high school students graduate, and the rate drops dramatically in minority communities, with only 59 percent of Hispanic students and 59 percent of African American students earning a high school diploma. American Dream Accounts can help close that gap by giving students motivation and support early on.

By tying together academic preparation, financial literacy, and effective mentorship, the American Dream Accounts Act connects students, parents and teachers across silos, and takes a small but significant step toward helping more low-income students access, afford and complete a college education.

The American Dream Accounts Act would authorize the Department of Education to award three-year competitive grants to institutions and partnerships that:

· Create personal online accounts for low-income students that monitor higher education readiness and include a college savings account. These “American Dream Accounts” would stay with students from school to school and through college. Parents would grant vested stakeholders (which could include counselors, teachers, coaches, mentors, and others) access to the account to update student information, monitor progress, and provide college preparatory support.

· Support college readiness by securely monitoring students’ progress online. Academic and behavioral information, including grades and course selections, progress reports, and attendance and disciplinary records would be available for review in an ADA, which would also provide opportunities to gain financial literacy, prepare for college enrollment, and identify skills and career interests.

· Collect data about effective ways to assist low-income students in planning for college through a comprehensive monitoring and reporting system.

Senators Coons and Rubio first introduced the American Dream Accounts Act in March 2012. In addition to the Delaware PTA, Delaware State University, and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, the bill has also been endorsed by the National Parent Teacher Association, the “I Have a Dream” Foundation, Opportunity Nation, the Corporation for Enterprise Development, and First Focus Campaign for Children.

The proposed Higher Education Affordability Act is based on recommendations gathered during 10 hearings convened by the Senate HELP Committee over the past year. The HELP Committee has solicited feedback on the Chairman’s draft legislation and will begin reviewing comments from interested stakeholders following the August 29 submission deadline.