By Bill Hansen, USA Funds President and CEO
Earlier this week, I had the honor of joining Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in announcing the award of a $1 million grant from USA Funds® to the state to help Utah high school students prepare for rewarding careers in the state’s fast-growing life sciences industry. At about the same time, the Illinois Board of Higher Education was meeting in Chicago to announce USA Funds’ support to four regions of the state to better align higher education outcomes with the needs of local employers.
Last week, USA Funds awarded $1 million to Complete College America to enhance student advising so that college students follow a more purposeful path through education to realize their aspirations following graduation. Earlier this month, USA Funds announced a $400,000 award to the National College Access Network, to enhance the great work that the nation’s college access and success organizations already are doing to assist disadvantaged students in enrolling in college. This project will add to their services an important component on career success.
These are recent examples of USA Funds’ new direction in support of what we call Completion With a Purpose®, to enhance postsecondary education completion rates while also helping graduates more successfully launch into rewarding careers. This new direction builds upon and complements our historic work in support of postsecondary education access and success.
Many of you know that USA Funds got its start 56 years ago as a nonprofit organization that helped students and families who could not otherwise afford college pay a portion of their college expenses on credit. Using deposits that colleges and universities, foundations and membership associations placed with us, we guaranteed payment to private lenders in the event students failed to repay their college loans. We took this pioneering paying-for-college model nationwide.
When the federal government entered the guaranteed student loan program five years later through the Higher Education Act of 1965, we participated in a highly successful public-private partnership that contributed significantly to opening the doors to college to millions of students.
In fact, USA Funds supported a total of more than $250 billion in funding to help more than 22 million students and parents pay for college. USA Funds also helped tens of millions of former students who were struggling with their student loan debt to resolve their payment problems. And in our federally mandated role as a protector of taxpayer interests in the student loan program, we returned billions of dollars to the federal Treasury.
Six years ago, Congress enacted and the president signed into law legislation that dramatically changed the federal student loan program by giving the U.S. Department of Education principal responsibility for all federal student loans. Ever since, USA Funds has been moving in a new direction to address the challenges that confront students today.
A sample of USA Funds work to date in support of Completion With a Purpose includes the following items:
- Helping more than 15,000 at-risk youth and disconnected young adults gain work experience or enroll in postsecondary programs.
- Supporting programs that permit military veterans and Native American students to affordably enhance their education levels and career readiness.
- Engaging with national higher education associations and 70 individual colleges and universities to promote innovative higher education practices, including adaptive learning, enhanced first-year student experiences, and improvements in academic success for students of all backgrounds.
- Partnering with forward-looking state and local government leaders in states such as Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Virginia to support initiatives that better connect higher education to state and local workforce needs.
- Launching with Gallup the nation’s first daily survey on critical higher education issues. Research based on these surveys will benefit students, parents, educators, employers and policymakers.
- Supporting the launch of new online resources that help prospective students and parents make better college choices by considering the employment, earnings and overall satisfaction levels of graduates of specific postsecondary programs. Policymakers and education leaders also will benefit from information developed through this college value initiative.
- To close the nation’s skills gap, seeding in seven local communities, with plans to expand to 40, a new model for enhancing the engagement of employers in the higher education process.
- Helping colleges and universities that primarily serve minority students to strengthen the application of data to improve college completion rates and the career-readiness of their students.
- Hosting with the National Urban League a national summit of leaders from government, industry and education to explore steps to improve high education results for minority students.
- During the past 12 months, through our Student Connections℠ division, counseling and helping more than 200,000 struggling student loan borrowers resolve their payment problems.
- Investing in organizations, such as nonprofit Education at Work, which helps students earn wages and tuition assistance to reduce their student loan debt, while gaining valuable work experience, and Roadtrip Nation, which offers students from middle school through college, as well as working adults, engaging tools for exploring and pursuing career options.
I invite you to review more details of our work, on our website. And look for additional announcements of USA Funds’ support of similar initiatives in the near future.
I believe that these efforts are timely, worthwhile and relevant to the cause of helping students enhance the lifelong return they derive from their investment in postsecondary education. They provide solid evidence that our governing board of trustees and staff of 150 employees at USA Funds are fully committed to and aggressively advancing our mission as a public charity in support of postsecondary education preparedness, access and success.