Today's Student

Updating federal policy could help address factors at the root of challenges faced by today’s students—such as finances, hours worked and family responsibilities—to help boost all students’ success.


Provide information and data that students and policymakers can use

Data gathered about students should represent the full spectrum of today’s students, not just first-time, full-time enrollees. Policymakers and students need actionable, useful information to make smart decisions about postsecondary education.

  • Students need clear information to make educational choices about programs and costs, including what the likelihood of success of other students who are like them.  The current data, centered on a small subset of students, do not allow for such projections.

  • Policymakers need to be able to assess institutional and programmatic success for the entire student population to make smart policy choices for today’s students.

Some ideas to get there:

Require institutions to report data on all students, not only first-time, full-time

Ensure that metrics and data are comparable across providers and states considering a significant percentage of today’s student’s transfer among institutions and across state lines

Streamline federal consumer reporting information to create a consumer-friendly go-to resource. Such a resource must take into account the informational needs of diverse student populations and allow for comparison across programs and institutions

Before enrolling, students should be informed about financial aid, their expected annual costs, and the expected total cost to earn a credential

Yesterday’s student aid system doesn’t serve today’s student

Financial aid should be redesigned with a focus on the needs of today’s students, especially those who are on their own financially and need to attend classes outside of the traditional two semester approach. Applying for aid should not be a barrier.

  • Self-supporting students struggle with the costs of housing, transportation and childcare, compounding woes about loan debt and making it less likely they will graduate. 

  • Today’s students are more likely to attend classes outside of the two-semester schedule.

Some ideas to get there:

Ensure that aid is flexible enough to meet unique needs that may arise throughout a student’s term, including being able to draw down student aid regardless of current award year limitations to account for “lumpy”, anticipated and unanticipated costs of textbooks, transportation, housing, and childcare

Student loans should be repayable in a reasonable period and at a reasonable rate

Additional aid should be available to students to incentivize year-round registration and to facilitate acceleration to a high-quality degree or credential

A simpler process for aid application, such as a common application, would give prospective students and families information about postsecondary benefits afforded to them

Encourage innovation to keep up with today’s student

Federal policies ought to be flexible so that colleges and universities can develop break-the-mold practices and programs for maximizing the success of today’s students. Rigid rules around financial aid and other issues stifle schools’ ability to innovate so that all students’ needs can be best met.

  • Today’s students are learning in a variety of places.  Federal policy can support pathways so that all of students’ learning, including from the workplace, can be counted toward a degree or credential.

  • Modes of educational delivery are changing to engage today’s students outside of the traditional classroom.

Some ideas to get there:

Recognize high quality learning wherever it’s obtained—experiment to allow for students to use financial aid funds at a variety of postsecondary education providers such as experience in the military, employer-provided training, etc.

Encourage postsecondary education providers, including institutions of higher education and non-institutional postsecondary providers, to collaborate with one another to develop the best path to a degree or credential for students

Expand experimentation around new modes of learning, including competency based education and prior learning assessment and allow student aid to cover the costs of these new modes of learning

Streamline and eliminate unnecessary regulatory barriers to institutional change and student success, allowing institutions to focus on student needs and student outcomes, including through risk-informed regulatory approaches