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Warner, Portman introduce bill to increase college access for low-income students

congressU.S. Senators Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced bipartisan legislation, the Go To High School, Go To College Act, which will increase college access for low-income students by allowing them to earn college credits in high school through the Pell Grant program.

By providing students the opportunity to simultaneously pursue a high school diploma while earning college credits tuition-free up to an associate’s degree, this bill will maximize the efficiency of federal student aid and improve outcomes for students. U.S. Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11) and Chris Gibson (R-NY-19) introduced an identical version of this bipartisan legislation in the House.

“Nobody needs to be told just how hard it is for low-income students to afford a college education, and those who complete college courses before they finish high school are more likely to graduate from college than their peers who do not,” said Sen. Warner. “Broadening access to the Pell Grant program so that students are able to earn meaningful credits for college while they are still in high school will increase college completion rates, reduce the time and cost of earning a degree, and give more lower-income students a fair shot at a college education.”

“Too many low-income students face obstacles when deciding whether to pursue a college education,” Sen. Portman stated. “Our legislation will allow these students to get a head start on college courses in high school, therefore improving their chances of completing a college degree. It also provides more flexibility within the Pell Grant program, allowing more students to graduate from college. I’m pleased to introduce this legislation and look forward to continuing my work to increase access to and affordability of college.”

“Early colleges reimagine what the education of adolescents ought to be,” said Leon Botstein, President of Bard College. “Early college cuts the wasted time in high school and offers a challenging college curriculum for college credits within the high school years. The data proves that students from diverse backgrounds are ready to start college at an earlier age; doing so dramatically increases their likelihood of their completing associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. To date, there has been no funding stream to sustain early colleges even though they create dramatic efficiencies and savings in the provision of higher education. This bill provides a path forward. We are grateful to Senators Portman and Warner and Representatives Fudge and Gibson for identifying an innovative way to better invest public higher education funds through early college to increase college completion rates and thereby ensure a brighter future for our country’s youth.”

“Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy’s early college partnership with Bard College, along with similar programs across the nation, are showing just what our high school-age students can accomplish,” said Anne Williams-Isom, CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone . “By identifying a sustainable funding mechanism for early colleges, the Go To High School, Go To College Act of 2015 will allow students across the country the opportunity to get the jump-start on college they need to successfully complete their degrees. This bill is an important step toward improving college access, affordability and completion, especially for the students most in need.”

“Based on years of experience working with teenagers who successfully build academic momentum in high school by completing college courses, Middle College National Consortium supports the use of Pell Grants for eligible students in early college high schools,” said Cecilia Cunningham, Executive Director, Middle College National Consortium. “Specifically, MCNC supports the Go To High School, Go To College Act of 2015.”

“Jobs for the Future would like to express its strong support for the Go To High School, Go To College Act introduced today by Senators Rob Portman and Mark Warner in the Senate, and Representatives Marcia Fudge and Chris Gibson in the House. This bipartisan legislation recognizes the great potential of early college high schools for propelling students from underserved backgrounds to high school graduation, postsecondary credentials, and college degrees. Early college schools combine high school and college in rigorous, yet supportive environments that embrace acceleration over remediation,” said Joel Vargas, Jobs for the Future Vice President, School and Learning Designs.

“Over the past decade, early colleges have produced dramatic results with early college students outperforming their peers nationwide. This bill would allow for the award of federal Pell Grants to eligible students who are enrolled in early college high schools, with the requirement that students complete and receive transferable credit for the equivalent of at least one full semester of postsecondary education at an accredited institution as part of the program. We applaud Senators Portman and Warner, and Representatives Fudge and Gibson, and look forward to working with them on this important legislation.”

More than 300 early college high schools across the country have improved college readiness and college completion rates of low-income students who have traditionally been underrepresented in postsecondary education. These schools provide students the opportunity to simultaneously pursue a high school diploma while earning college credits up to an associate’s degree, tuition-free. A 2013 American Institutes for Research evaluation of early college high schools found significant increases in college enrollment and completion among early college students. Specifically, the study found that 81 percent of early college students enrolled in college, compared with 72 percent of comparison students.  During the evaluation period, 25 percent of early college students earned an associate’s degree, as compared with only 5 percent of comparison students.

Expanding access to early college high schools will increase college completion rates and ultimately reduce the time and cost of earning a college degree. Growth of early colleges has been stifled by rising tuition costs that are unaffordable for students and too great to be assumed by sponsoring high school and college partners. The federal government should allow greater flexibility within the need-based Pell Grant program to increase opportunities for students to earn college credits and degrees.

Read a one-page summary of the Go To High School, Go To College Act here.

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