A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

U.S. Department of Education Strategic Plan, 1998-2002 - September 1997

Goal 3. Ensure access to postsecondary education and lifelong learning.

Postsecondary Education

Postsecondary education has been America's traditional gateway to the professions, more challenging jobs, and higher wages. American postsecondary education has become world-class, and foreign nations have sent thousands of their future leaders here for training. Business, government, and the field of education itself have eagerly sought postsecondary graduates, including graduates from two-year technical programs. Given current trends, at least two years of postsecondary education will be increasingly necessary in the next century to gain higher earnings and improved job opportunities.

Although American higher education is the envy of the world, almost 40% of our own high school graduates do not immediately attend postsecondary education. Moreover, postsecondary enrollment and completion rates are significantly lower for blacks and Hispanics and for students from lower- and middle-income families than for whites and those from higher-income families. Although enrollment rates have been rising in recent years, postsecondary education remains an elusive option for too many American high school graduates.

To help ensure access to postsecondary education, we need to continue to make progress in three key areas, ensuring that:

  1. All students leave high school with the academic background and preparation to pursue postsecondary education. Movement toward achievement of Goals 1 and 2 will go a long way toward making this a reality. We also need to help motivate students to continue their education beyond high school by providing them with earlier and better information about what the benefits of postsecondary education are, what admission requirements are, how much college costs, and how they can get financial aid to help pay postsecondary costs.

  2. All students motivated and academically ready to attend postsecondary education have the financial resources and support services needed to do so.

  3. The student aid delivery system is efficient, financially sound, and customer-responsive.

Lifelong Learning

While overcoming barriers to postsecondary enrollment and completion for young people is critical to our nation, it is equally essential to encourage lifelong learning, whether it be graduate school or adult basic education, advanced technical training or training in job entry skills. This includes many for whom lifelong learning opportunities are of special importance, such as persons with disabilities, adults lacking basic skills, and those whose job skills need upgrading or who require retraining because of labor market changes.

Persons with disabilities are at least twice as likely as people without disabilities to be unemployed. Their low employment rate is estimated to cost society in excess of $2 billion annually. At the end of 1994, 19.5% of the working-age population--30.7 million people--had a disability, and 14.5 million of these were considered to have a severe limitation.

Adults who haven't graduated from high school or postsecondary programs are also at a serious disadvantage when competing for jobs and maintaining their independence from government support. The National Adult Literacy Survey of 1992 showed that at least 21% of adults age 16 and older lacked basic reading and math skills needed for well-paying jobs or entry into higher education.

To address these problems, the Department is giving priority to improving the quality of its rehabilitation and adult education programs, including identifying best practices and updating performance data systems to provide feedback for program improvement. It also is supporting work with other federal agencies to coordinate programs and improve employment outcomes for adults with disabilities and adults who need basic skills education, especially those on welfare.

Use of Evaluations and Assessments in Developing Goal 3

In developing our goals, objectives, and strategies in Goal 3, the Department relied on a number of evaluations, research studies, and management analyses. Specifically,

Objectives, Indicators, and Strategies

Objective 3.1: Secondary school students get the information and support they need to prepare successfully for postsecondary education.

Performance Indicators:

  1. Postsecondary education enrollment rates will increase each year for all students while the enrollment gap between low- and high-income and minority and non-minority high school graduates will decrease each year.
  2. Increasing percentages of students from age 12 through high school and their parents will have an accurate assessment of the cost of attending college and the aid available for college by 2002.
  3. The percentage of students from age 12 through high school who are aware of the academic requirements for college or postsecondary vocational enrollment will increase annually.
  4. By October 2001 there will be a single point of contact that allows students to get information on federal student aid, apply for aid, and have their eligibility for aid determined within four days of electronic application, cutting in half the current processing time. (Requires approval of electronic signature.)

Research has shown that to help students attend and complete college, motivating them and their families to anticipate and plan for college early and providing students with needed non-financial support are at least as important as ensuring financial assistance. This is particularly true for low-income students. A recent study showed that, overall, less than half of eighth-graders from families in the bottom third of the income distribution are attending a postsecondary institution within two years of graduating from high school (44%). However, 88% of low-income students who take a rigorous high school program go on to college.

Core Strategies:

Objective 3.2: Postsecondary students receive the financial aid and support services they need to enroll in and complete their educational program.

Performance Indicators:

  1. Unmet need (the percentage of a student's total cost of education that is not met by student and family contribution and all sources of financial aid)--a measure of opportunity or access to postsecondary education--will show decreases over time, especially for low-income students.
  2. The percentage of borrowers with student loan debt repayments exceeding 10% of their income will remain stable or decline over time.
  3. Graduation rates for all students in four-year and two-year colleges will improve, while the gap in completion rates between low- and high-income and minority and non-minority students will decrease.
  4. Participants receiving support services through the TRIO programs will enroll in and complete postsecondary programs at rates higher than comparable non-participants.

Education increasingly determines who will prosper in our economy and who will not. Most of today's good jobs require more skills and training than a high school diploma can provide. Proof of the critical importance of postsecondary education is the large and growing economic return to education. Fifteen years ago a worker with a college degree made 38% more, on average, than a worker with a high school diploma. Today, that difference is 73%.

Economic efficiency and fairness require that we make at least two years of postsecondary education as universally available as a high school diploma is now. Unfortunately, the cost of college limits access for many low- and middle-income families. The average cost of attending a public college increased from 9% of the typical family's income in 1979 to 14% in 1994. The Administration has worked with Congress to enact tax relief and has succeeded in passing a comprehensive package of proposals--additional tax relief, increased grant aid and work-study assistance, and reduced borrowing costs--to help ensure that postsecondary education is affordable for all Americans.

Core Strategies:

Objective 3.3: Postsecondary student aid delivery and program management is efficient, financially sound, and customer-responsive.

Performance Indicators:

  1. Customer satisfaction ratings among students, parents, and postsecondary institutions participating in the student aid programs will increase to 90% by 2001.
  2. The annual number of students and families submitting or renewing their federal student aid applications electronically will continue to increase each year, almost doubling to 3 million by October 2001.
  3. The accuracy and integrity of data supplied by applicants, institutions, lenders, and guaranty agencies will show continuous yearly improvements.
  4. Evaluation of contracts for major OPE financial aid systems will indicate that the government and the taxpayer are receiving "better than fully successful" performance (including quality, cost control, and timeliness).
  5. There will be no material internal weaknesses identified in the student aid programs' portions of the Department-wide financial statement audit; and there will be no student aid program issues that prevent the Department from receiving an unqualified opinion on the financial statements.
  6. The percentage of postsecondary institutions found to be in substantial compliance with federal requirements will increase each year.
  7. The annual recovery rate on defaulted student loans will show continuous improvement.
  8. The cohort default rates--the percentage of borrowers leaving school who default within two years--for the Federal Family Education Loan and the Direct Loan Program will decline to a level of 10% or less by 2002.
  9. During 1998, the length of time to fully complete a loan consolidation application will average no more than 60-90 days; future surveys of borrowers will show that an increasing percentage of applicants for loan consolidation are highly satisfied with the timeliness and accuracy of the loan consolidation process.
  10. By September 1998, ED will have a complete system architecture developed for the delivery of federal student financial aid; implementing this design will improve customer service and increase control over federal costs.

In 1997-98, ED will provide almost $43 billion through its student financial assistance programs (including grants, loans, and work-study) to help students attend postsecondary institutions. Ensuring the effective and efficient delivery of these funds is one of the Department's highest priorities. In recent years, great strides have been made in improving the management of the student aid programs.

Although significant improvements have been made, a great deal still needs to be done before the management of the student aid programs is all that it should be. As noted in a number of reports by the General Accounting Office and the Inspector General, many management and operations problems still remain. Perhaps the most important of these are: (1) the various student aid systems are incompletely integrated, (2) financial data from aid programs are only partially consolidated at the student level, and (3) too many contractors use different operating systems. Correcting this situation will require the redesign and modernization of the federal financial aid system using the latest information engineering and computer system technology. In addition, The Department is also committed to strengthening our oversight of the student aid programs while reducing burden for high-performing institutions.

Core Strategies:

Objective 3.4: Adults can strengthen their skills and improve their earning power over their lifetime through lifelong learning.

Performance Indicators:

  1. The percentage of persons who are aware of and use the Lifetime Learning tax credit will increase annually.
  2. The percentage of persons who maintain competitive employment and earnings 24 months after completion of vocational rehabilitation will increase significantly by 2002.
  3. In vocational rehabilitation, the percentage of all persons who obtain competitive employment after receiving vocational rehabilitation services will increase each year.
  4. By 2002 the literacy skills of American adults will improve as shown by significantly fewer adults performing at the lowest proficiency level on national assessments.
  5. Increasing percentages of adults enrolled in beginning adult basic education programs and English as a second language programs will achieve proficiency in basic skills as measured by standardized tests.

The world of work continues to change rapidly. Many workers will need to upgrade their skills and some will need to be retrained for entirely new jobs. Providing educational opportunities to these adult workers will lengthen their productive years and will also benefit the economy by creating a more flexible and more highly trained workforce. The Lifetime Learning tax credit and other provisions of the balanced budget passed in August 1997 will help make lifelong learning a reality for many workers. In addition, the federal student aid programs provide a great deal of financial support for adults returning to school-in 1995-96, 18% of undergraduate recipients of Higher Education Act (Title IV) student aid were at least 30 years old.

For those adult Americans with disabilities, education must often be coupled with the provision of effective rehabilitation services if they are to succeed in competitive labor markets. The quality of rehabilitation programs is critical to ensuring that our nation's citizens with disabilities will be able to fully compete in the 21st century work world. The Department plans to increase the use of rehabilitation technology and will work to improve the efficiency of current rehabilitation programs.

National data have shown that too few adult education participants-particularly in adult basic education-stay in the program long enough to receive a substantial benefit. Moreover, the research on effective programs is very limited. The Department is sponsoring several research and evaluation projects in an effort to improve the effectiveness of adult education programs and to better integrate them with other training programs and the reformed welfare system.

Core Strategies:

New Help for Families to Pay for College

The balanced budget signed into law in August 1997 provides the largest investment in higher education since the G.I. Bill in 1945. The tax cuts and education spending provisions contained in this bill will help make the first two years of college universally available and they will give many more working Americans the financial means to go back to school if they want to choose a new career or upgrade their skills. When fully phased in, 12.9 million students are expected to benefit from these tax cuts--5.8 million under the HOPE Scholarship tax credit, and 7.1 million claiming the Lifetime Learning tax credit.

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