Young, Cassidy propose improved student success rates in higher education

U.S. Sens. Todd Young (R-IN) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) on Monday introduced a bipartisan bill that would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to create an innovation zone initiative aimed at enhancing student success at the college and university level.

Sen. Young on April 29 sponsored the Innovation Zone Act, S. 1221, with original cosponsors Sens. Cassidy and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) to require the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to rename experimental sites as “innovation zones” to better reflect the program’s mission of encouraging higher education institutions to experiment with strategies that increase student success, according to the lawmakers.

“These experiments have the ability to promote innovation and access within our higher education system, but first we must have a way to measure what works and what does not,” Sen. Young said. “Our bill will improve data collection and accountability and ultimately better serve our students.”

If enacted, S. 1221 would authorize the Department of Education secretary to establish an innovation zone initiative consisting of voluntary experiments under which the secretary and institutions of higher education could test the effectiveness of statutory and regulatory flexibility toward increasing student success, according to text of the proposed bill.

The definition of student success would include a reduction in student loan debt; an increase in student retention and program completion at higher education institutions, especially for historically underrepresented students; a decrease in student time to program completion; closing gaps in enrollment and completion between underrepresented students and their peers; an increase in student employment outcomes upon graduation; and an increase in student safety, wellness or food and housing security, among others listed in the bill.

“To innovate we need the data to know what works and what doesn’t,” said Sen. Cassidy. “The Innovation Zone Act builds on the Department of Education’s initiative to provide what works.”

S. 1221 has the support of numerous groups, including New America, The Education Trust, the Knowledge Alliance, Salt Lake Community College, Bard College, Jobs for the Future, Indiana University, and the Institute for Higher Education Policy, among others.