Senators to change, improve higher education legislation

The U.S. Senate began an initiative to update the Higher Education Opportunity Act on Thursday so universities such as Boston University can provide students with an affordable education.

BU spokesman Colin Riley said there are complex politics involved in the reformation of the act. He said BU’s biggest concern is that the changes to the act ensure higher education is available to all.

“We really care about those issues of access and affordability,” Riley said. “We want to make sure that it [higher education] is available to people from all backgrounds, and that BU is able to provide that education, and students are able to apply and afford it.”

Officials have begun a public discussion with student advocates and leaders on how college could be more affordable and valuable to inform Capitol Hill officials before they make changes to the act, according to a U.S. Department of Education blog post.

“Since students will benefit the most from these efforts … the department wants to hear feedback from [students and officials] … to hear their thoughts on how best to promote college affordability and value while ensuring access and success for disadvantaged students is encouraged, not discouraged,” the post stated.

In order to combat rising college costs, U.S. President Barack Obama created a new agenda in August to create a ratings system to rank colleges based on accessibility, affordability and outcomes that may also shape any changes made to the legislation.

“President Obama directed the U.S. Department of Education to develop a ratings system to better inform students and encourage institutions to improve,” the blog post stated“In the future, President Obama has proposed to use the rating system to steer taxpayer dollars toward high-performing colleges.”

Before these ratings are published on the College Scorecard for the 2015-16 academic year, Department of Education officials will use the feedback it receives from public comments, students, families and the higher education community, according to the blog post.

Jeray Thelwell, a College of Engineering junior, said he would have utilized the ranking system when he was applying for colleges if it was available at the time.

“I would have used it more when I was deciding what schools were in my price range, but also to figure out which ones were good for the major I was looking at,” Thelwell said.

Drew Salad, a School of Education junior, said since financial aid was such an important factor in his application process, a ranking system would have been helpful to him.

“Since I come from a family with only one working parent … financial aid is the only thing that is making it possible for me to come to BU right now,” Salad said. “It would have been nice to have something like that [a ranking system]. My high school had a service which had all the information about financial aid, but it wasn’t ranked.”

Salad said his high school used Naviance, a college planning service, that bases its knowledge base on what information university officials provide. He said the proposed ranking system would have more credibility than Naviance if it gathered its information from a third-party source.

“If a third party provides that information for the ranking system, then that might be more useful and more accurate than just a university saying a certain amount of money but not necessarily saying it in the context of what that is,” Salad said.

Catherine Lanyon, a SED freshman, said while applying for colleges, she used both Naviance and the help from college planners that lived in her town.

“Between Naviance and them [the college planners], I was able to figure stuff out while applying to colleges,” Lanyon said. “But, I think the ranking system would be kind of similar to it, as long as the information comes from a third party.”

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