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Commission report leaves Higher Ed questions unanswered.

THE SECRETARY OF EDUCATION'S COMmission on the Future of Higher Education issued the final draft in August of recommendations to improve access and affordability in higher education. Six drafts of the report had been released in preceding weeks, with some versions eliminating or toning down controversial passages. An early proposal for a national standardized exit exam, for example, was ultimately replaced with a recommendation that schools measure student learning on their own.

The commission also recommended increasing the purchasing power of Pell Grants, raising them to cover 70 percent of public college tuition. Whether this proposal would ever be acted on in the current political climate is unclear. The Pell Grant, which in 1986 could be counted on to pay for as much as 98 percent of an average college tuition, now covers less than 25 percent of tuition, and hasn't been increased since 2001.

Although the report's authors argued against price controls, they acknowledged that a Pell increase addresses only part of the problem. The report urges higher ed leaders to find new ways to control costs, saying tuition should grow no faster than median family income: "Even with significant additional federal investment, there is little chance of restoring the Pell's purchasing power if tuition increases absorb most or all of the new money."

Eighteen of 19 commission members voted to accept the final draft. The lone holdout was American Council on Education President David Ward, who said he could not support the recommendations.

"There remain several issues of serious concern to me--particularly as I look ahead to the challenges of implementing the report's recommendations, with which I will inevitably be directly involved," he said in a statement. "For example, many of the problems cited in the report are the result of multiple factors but they are sometimes attributed entirely to the limitations of higher education. The recommendations as a whole also fail to recognize the diversity of missions within higher education and the need to be cautious about policies and standards based on a one-size-fits-all approach." Download the full report at www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/hiedfuture.
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Title Annotation:BEHIND the NEWS
Author:Goral, Tim
Publication:University Business
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Words:350
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