Durbin Introduces Bill to Boost College Enrollment for Low-Income Students

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) and Congressmen Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Vern Ehlers (R-MI) introduced bipartisan legislation today to help improve college access for low-income students. The Pathways to College Act would create a competitive grant program to help low-income school districts implement programs designed to increase the number of students who are entering and succeeding in college.


“When schools focus on college and provide the tools to get there, students make the connection between the work they are doing now and their future goals,” said Durbin. “Students in those schools are more likely enroll in college and more likely to be prepared for college when they arrive. Bright, hardworking students deserve the opportunity to go as far as their talents will take them. Our bill tries to ensure that lack of information never prevents a student from achieving his or her college dream.”


“For our country to be competitive in the global economy, it is vital that today’s students have all the tools they need to gain a college education,” Burr said. “The Pathways to College Act will help ensure that all of our students have access to the information and resources needed, including college counselors to help them with applying to college and making sense of the complex financial aid process, to make attending college a realizable goal. Quality access and preparation programs contribute to success at every level, and I am hopeful this bill will be another step in building a strong foundation for tomorrow’s workforce.”


“America’s leadership in the global economy has always depended on the achievements and abilities of each generation of students. Today American students need to know more than ever to stay ahead,” said Bishop, a member of the House Education and Labor Committee. “This legislation will enable more students to successfully achieve college degrees, so America can continue to be a world leader for generations to come.”


“A college degree is one of the single greatest assets a young person can obtain to set them on a successful career path,” said Ehlers, a former educator. “A college education gives students the skills they need for today’s jobs, and for the jobs of the future. Too many students are missing out on that opportunity, and this bill will help more students find success in higher education, and in their lives.”


Experts say that a lack of guidance and information about college has had a real effect on students in poor urban and rural schools. A report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research found that only 41 percent of students in Chicago Public Schools, who wanted to attend college, took the necessary steps to apply. The report also found that, of the students who attended college, only one-third enrolled in a school that matched their qualifications. Of the students who had the grades and test scores to attend a selective college, 29 percent went to a community college or skipped college entirely.


Last year, the Chicago Public Schools began to voluntarily implement many of the programs that this bill would require, and their efforts have proven successful. Half of the students who graduated from Chicago Public Schools in 2007 enrolled in college - an increase of 6.5 percent in four years. That increase in college enrollment was more than six times the rate of increase compared to the rest of the country. In addition, the number of African-American graduates going to college has decreased nationally by six percent over the last four years while the Chicago rate has increased by almost eight percent.


Today’s bill attempts to take these promising trends in Chicago and replicate them nationally by:


* Providing professional development to high school teachers and counselors in college advising; arranging meetings for each student with an advisor to discuss college planning; providing on-going college and financial aid information to all students and parents; assisting students with college and financial aid applications, and ensuring that each school develops a comprehensive plan of action to strengthen its college-going culture.


The bill would also allow for other activities including:


* Establishment of college planning classes; hiring staff; training student leaders; hosting college fairs or college tours; establishing partnerships with community and nonprofit organizations; and providing long-term follow up with graduates.


The bill is supported by the following national organizations: the American School Counselor Association, College Summit, the Council for Opportunity in Education, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, College Board, and ACT, Inc.