A bipartisan bill that aims to offer federal funds for colleges and universities to design and demonstrate innovative ways for more students to enroll in college and graduate with a degree was introduced to the United States Capitol this week.
Congressman Ben McAdams (D-UT) and Congressman Ron Wright (R-TX) introduced The Fund for Innovation and Success in Higher Education (FINISH) Act as H.R. 4083 in the U.S. House and Senate bill – S. 1059 in the U.S. Senate.
"This measure builds on the movement to 'fund what works' in government by incentivizing the development of innovative programs tied to measurable results," McAdams stated in a press release. "In this case, we are encouraging higher education to think and to operate differently to bolster college graduation rates, which will benefit students, their families, employers and communities."
Wright added, "Federally funded institutions should constantly be adapting and evolving to serve the needs of all our students, including our high-need, low-income, first-generation students, and adult learners. This legislation ensures institutions are being held accountable and implementing programs with a proven record of success."
According to a press release from Wright's office, research shows that while the United States has made progress towards increasing access to college by low-income students, completion has lagged.
The release notes that graduation rates are particularly low at the nation's community colleges, which enroll a disproportionate percentage of low-income and nontraditional college students. Only 25 percent of full-time, first-time degree-seeking students at public two-year colleges earn degrees within three years.
According to Wright, the FINISH Act builds on the groundbreaking 2018 bill Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act, championed by Utah entrepreneur and philanthropist James Sorenson.
Sorenson worked with former Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and Indiana Representative — now Senator — Todd Young to get SIPPRA passed and signed into law. The U.S. Treasury Department oversees a $100 million pay-for-success fund established in SIPPRA.
Following the SIPPRA intent of funding "what works," the FINISH Act authorizes grants to colleges and universities to test innovative ways to improve graduation rates, notes Wright's press release. It also authorizes five Pay for Success pilot programs, which offer university, state and nonprofit partners flexibility to collaborate in search of successful ways to improve outcomes for students. The Department of Education only pays if an independent evaluation demonstrates that a pilot program achieves results.
Supporters of the legislation include the Knowledge Alliance, America Forward, New America, and Results for America.
"We commend Representatives McAdams and Wright for introducing bipartisan legislation that would leverage the power of evidence and data to improve outcomes in higher education," stated Michele Jolin, Results for America CEO and Co-Founder. "The FINISH Act would jumpstart innovation in higher education, provide much-needed resources to evaluate what works and support efforts to test and scale solutions that help more students succeed."