Higher Education

The Higher Education Act, or HEA, governs federal investments in making quality education at colleges and universities accessible and achievable across the nation. The law has been due for reauthorization since 2013 and was last updated a decade ago in 2008. This webpage presents areas of relevence in the law to the afterschool field, as well as opportunities and areas of concern in on-going discussions on reauthorization.

The major take-aways are:

  • After-school programs have a real role to play in preparing students for and working in coordination with Institutes of Higher Education (IHE)
  • A major opportunity exists in the areas of educator training where afterschool programs can be a training ground for a diverse educator workforce while supporting today's young people with near-peer mentors in programs.
  • Be alert to an on-going threat to federal work study programs. Currently the program requires campuses to set aside 7% of work study for community service activities (this includes afterschool programs). Current proposals (sometimes intentionally and sometimes unwittingly) have suggested paving over this important program. While we love to see innovation, we want to make sure it is not at the expense of well-serving programs that work!

Current Law:

Current Higher Education Law has many areas of interest to the afterschool field. We highlight 5 below.

  1. The purpose of federal education law in higher education: Initially authorized in 1965, the first purpose mentioned in the original law was strengthening the community service programs of colleges and universities to “assist… the people of the United State in the solution of community problems such as housing, poverty, recreation, employment, youth opportunities, transportation, health and land use.” (Emphasis added.)
  1. Opportunities for work-study: Many of us participated in work-study to help support our college educations. These experiences can benefit both the student and the community. In fact, the original 1965 law which adopted the work-study program set it up to allow students to “work in the public interest for a public or private non-profit organization.” Today, many university students get to share their knowledge and learn from their communities by performing work-study in afterschool and summer learning programs and other activities that align with their career goals.
  1. Teacher Training: The higher education law recognizes that colleges and universities are the training grounds for the educators of tomorrow and that providing quality teachers to underserved areas is essential for a strong educated democracy. The HEA law’s Title II focuses entirely on preparing educators from recruitment, through training, mentoring, and educator leadership. Afterschool and summer programs support this work in a variety of ways, but here are three particularly interesting points:
    1. Career Interest: First, afterschool and summer learning programs are often places where people first become interested in a career in education. Informal educators working in afterschool programs, museums, and as summer camp counselors often find their passion for a lifelong career. Moreover, these informal educators often are from the local community and reflect the diversity of the community in which they work.
    2. Career Mentoring: Undergraduate students who are training to be teachers can receive training in afterschool and summer settings. Programs like Breakthrough and California Teaching Fellows use these informal education spaces to provide training teachers with low-ratio student-to-teacher classrooms and exposure to students in diverse geographic and demographic settings. Breakthrough provides training teachers with an expert teacher mentor and small groups of 7-10 students identified for support over the summer. Training teachers can provide a lesson in the morning, receive feedback, and approach the afternoon with new skills to practice.
    3. On-going Training: Afterschool and summer learning programs often have the ability to innovate new and effective ways of teaching and relating to youth. Teachers can coordinate with afterschool and summer programs to train. They may observe and try lessons in hands-on and project based learning, receive training in areas like cultural competency, youth leadership, and youth development practices, or try a new technology like a maker-space.
  1. The Next Generation of College Going Students: It probably goes without saying that getting students to have a quality higher education experience first requires them getting to an institute of higher education. The path to college requires a roadmap—including supporting academic readiness, exposure to the idea of college and college campuses, career and financial aid counseling, and building social networks of support. Federal programs in HEA such as the TRIO programs like Upward Bound and GEAR UP do just this and allow community-based organizations to work with high-need students to support their path to and through their college careers. Additionally, a section of the law on supporting STEM fields provides grants to eligible partnerships to support the engagement of underrepresented minority and low-income youth grades K-12 in STEM through outreach and hands-on, experiential-based learning projects.
  1. Child Care: This might be the most straightforward connection. Higher education students with children need safe, engaging spaces for their children while they engage in their studies, advance their careers and develop more opportunities for themselves and their family. HEA legislation recognizes this need with a Child Care Access Means Parents in Schools which provides grants which can be used to offer “before and after school services to the extent necessary to enable low-income students enrolled at the institution of higher education to pursue postsecondary education.”

Current Legislative Policy Proposals:

As mentioned, these offer a combination of opportunity and concern, Read more below.

In October, 2019 the House Committee on Education and Labor introduced, marked up, and passed through committee on a 28-22 partisan vote, the CAA, College Affordability Act (H.R. 4674).

The act serves as a reauthorization bill for the Higher Education Act last passed in 2008 and due for reauthorization since 2013. Those who followed the introduction of the AIM Higher Act, a Democratic led comprehensive reauthorization bill, in the last Congress would note many similarities.

While there is little to dispute in the need for updated policy in the field of higher education, especially in areas of student loans and college costs, equity, quality and accountability, the over 1,000 page bill remains a work in progress.

And, for the afterschool field, the legislation, as was AIM Higher, remains a mixed bag.

Some general trends relevant to the afterschool field throughout the Bill:

  • The bill includes an increased focus throughout on special populations including homeless individuals, veterans, unaccompanied and foster care youth. Additional in certain areas it expands its focus in student support services on low-income and first generation college students.
  • The bill, named for College Affordability, of course makes that the major focus. Changes would include a more comprehensive system of financial education and support along a student’s continuum from K-12 to and through Higher Education. The bill travels upstream beginning with programs like TRIO (which serves students as early as age 11) offering financial and economic literacy counseling, and college and career counseling including on loans and the costs of college, and allowing programs like GEAR UP to offer scholarships to college., It also includes a its most substantial emphasis on changing loan programs and thinking through college value. Yet still includes other areas of supports such as providing for a mechanism to cover grants to students with emergency costs including some of the costs of child care or  health costs or transportation expenses, that, while often just a few hundred dollars, can be enough to deter them from completing their degrees

The good:

Title II: The proposed legislation has a large focus on educator recruitment and training under Title II, Teacher Quality Enhancement. The section includes increased attention in all areas of teacher and educator development to community engagement, emphasizing how important skills are in working with parents and the community. It also provides additional language around social and emotional learning, youth development, trauma informed care and culturally responsive teaching.

Specifically, Title II notes the benefits of afterschool partners in a number of areas including

  • Knowledge sharing: “Facilitate the sharing of knowledge, insight, and best practices in the community served by the school…including with youth serving providers (such as before- and after-school and summer programs)”
  • Development of well-rounded teachers: These teachers should have knowledge and experience in “collaborating with stakeholders such as special educators, related service providers, out-of-school-time providers and parents”
  • Recruitment of diverse staff and high need positions, including through Grow Your Own Programs: “recruit individuals, including members of racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in the teaching profession and individuals from other occupations (including informal education and youth development fields) as profession-ready teachers and other educators, with an emphasis on areas of State identified teacher shortage” and later in the section “after school and summer program staff”

The Concerning:

Title IV: Student Financial Aid programs includes the section on Federal Work Study (FWS). Since its foundation this section had a focus on helping students to have access to paid work while learning towards their degree, specifically with work on campus or serving the public good. The major focus of revision in this section is in the allocation formula, however a smaller component of the section (not regarding the needed changes to the formula) is the area of greatest impact for the afterschool field.

  • The proposed law would take away a long standing provision that universities commit a minimum of 7% of their work study funds to community service activities. Not only does data show that this provision provides over $180 million to the service sector through this federal and campus investment, but it helps universities meet the purpose of the law which includes to “encourage students receiving Federal student financial assistance to participate in community service activities that will benefit the Nation and engender in the students a sense of social responsibility and commitment to the community” (Page 57 of this Department of Education Guidebook is a good way to learn more).

The new proposed bill would replace the 7% set aside with a set aside for work-based learning. While work-based learning is itself a positive experience that when done well should help students on their pathway from education to career, there is no strong rationale for removing the community service set aside in order to emphasize work based learning. In fact, many service placements are themselves work based learning. Students find entry pathways into education, health, business, technology as well as the ability to take on increasing leadership roles, while providing benefits to their community through service.

Additionally, during the mark-up for the College Affordability Act, Ranking Member Foxx introduced a comprehensive amendment known as the HOPE (High Quality Opportunities in Post-Secondary Education) Act which (pp 313-320) undertakes an even more forthright attack on community service, taking the words out of the section completely. The amendment did not pass, but the Republicans may introduce it as a standalone substitute to the CAA, and the sentiment should be carefully followed.

The focus on work based learning simply does not have to come at the expense of service. Campus Compact, an organization of over 1,000 member universities with the goals of educating students for civic and social responsibility have raised their voice to sustain the community service set aside.

Next Steps:

We know afterschool programs have great experiences working with work-study students who provide program youth with role-models, and near peer mentors that help the youth themselves think about and begin to map out their own paths to higher education.

We hope as the conversation continues around Higher Education reauthorization, though the House and the Senate, that enough voices are raised to maintain this program and we will be one of them.