MADISON – The federal government should expand financial aid for students in need, increase funding for improving teacher quality and bolster resources for online learning.
Those are the main recommendations the University of Wisconsin System submitted to Congress this week as lawmakers begin the process to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which provides federal funding for postsecondary education.
“Maintaining and strengthening access to college for students from all backgrounds, especially those who can least afford it, must remain our nation’s top priority for higher education,” said UW System President Katharine C. Lyall.
UW System officials also recommend that the federal government consider using the university’s process to measure accountability as a model for the future.
The recommendations were developed by a university task force comprised of members from nearly every UW System campus and its statewide institution, UW-Extension. UW officials also met with U.S. Reps. Thomas Petri, R-Fond du Lac, and Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, both members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Financial aid recommendations include increasing funding for the Pell Grant and work-study programs; raising the limit of the federal Stafford loan; and streamlining financial aid applications. One recommendation specific to the UW System calls for amending federal law to allow each two-year campus of the UW Colleges to receive funding through a government program known as TRIO.
The program provides federal funds to help minority, disadvantaged and first-generation students, many of whom start at the UW Colleges’ freshman-sophomore campuses before transferring to a four-year campus.
Current interpretation of federal law considers the UW Colleges one institutioneven though it has 13 campuses-because it has a single chancellor and centralized financial aid processing. This means the UW Colleges receives only one TRIO grant, and only 27 percent of eligible students get funding from the student support services portion of the program.
In an effort to enrich teacher quality, the UW System is urging Congress to require, not just recommend, partnerships among colleges, universities and K-12 schools to improve classroom instruction. The UW also requests continuing funding for these partnerships.
In reference to online learning, the university is asking the federal government to commit additional resources for the Wisconsin Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Lab. The Co-Lab, run by the UW System and the Wisconsin Technical College System in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense, is developing national online learning standards. Specifically, the UW System is asking the U.S. Department of Education to become a partner with the Wisconsin Co-Lab.
To better measure performance in higher education, the UW System also recommends drawing upon the university’s experience in measuring accountability and holding a congressional field hearing in Wisconsin focused on the topic.
The UW System in 1993 was one of the first public university systems in the nation to issue an annual accountability report. This year’s accountability report is available online at the Reports and Statistics page.
The UW System will also collaborate with the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Wisconsin Technical College System and the state Department of Public Instruction to forward to Congress additional recommendations from all of Wisconsin’s educational partners.