Congressional Quarterly Today (CFED)
By: Lauren Smith
March 15, 2012
Senate bill would create online college readiness tracking program
A bipartisan pair of senators introduced a bill Thursday aimed at helping low-income students pursue higher education by providing grants to set up online tracking systems for college preparation that would be linked to college savings accounts.
Delaware Democrat Chris Coons is introducing the bill with Florida Republican Marco Rubio, but it is uncertain whether the measure will draw the public support of other Republicans. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., plans to offer a companion bill in the House next week, according to a news release from Coons' office.
Coons has talked to Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, about the bill, though not in great detail. The language is likely to be attached to other legislation as an amendment, worked into a broader education measure down the road or implemented by the Education Department on its own, according to his staff.
The bill would be paid for using existing funds from the Education Department, Coons said, at no cost to taxpayers. It would authorize the department to award three-year competitive grants to schools, nonprofits and other organizations with experience in educational savings to create personal online tracking programs for low-income students to monitor their readiness for higher education. The online profiles would be linked to a college savings account.
"Lower-income students who frequently move or change schools can often get lost in the system," according to a news release detailing the bill. "No matter what disruptions students experience in their life, their [account] would travel with them."
The program, inspired by the social networking site Facebook, would track students' academic and behavioral information, including grades and course selections, progress reports, and attendance and disciplinary records. It would allow counselors, teachers, coaches and others to update student information and monitor progress.
"All students, including those from low-income and non-traditional backgrounds, should be afforded the opportunity to attend a higher education institution and should have access to meaningful counseling about which options best suit their individual needs," said Alex Conant, spokesman for Rubio. The bill, Conant said, is "a significant step in providing low-income students with the resources and support they need to succeed at a higher education institution of their choosing."
The web account would also provide financial literacy education, help students prepare for college enrollment, and identify skills and career interests.
"A lack of basic knowledge about how to afford and apply to college has proven to be a barrier for too many students," the news release said. A study released in June by the Brookings Institution found that among the highest-income Americans, 79 percent go to college and 53 percent graduate, while 34 percent of the lowest-income Americans go to college and 11 percent graduate.
The bill is endorsed by several education and low-income advocacy groups, including the KIPP Foundation, the "I Have a Dream" Foundation, and the Corporation for Enterprise Development.