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American Dream 2.0 Report Declares High College Failure Rate A National Crisis

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Facing a growing national crisis in which 46 percent of those who enter a U.S. college fail to graduate within six years, a first-of-its kind coalition of national leaders issued a call to action to make the financial aid system work better for students and the country.

The double jeopardy of declining college affordability and the unacceptably high number of students who enter college but do not complete is eroding the American Dream and weakening our nation's ability to compete. Today, only 37 percent of African Americans and 42 percent of Hispanic students graduate within 6 years.  Our financial aid system, created decades ago to help more students get through the front door, must now do more.

As part of an effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on how to make smarter financial aid investments to increase student success, The American Dream 2.0 is endorsed by college and foundation presidents, civil rights leaders, state policymakers, college access advocates, business leaders, and the foremost authorities on financial aid. They have come together to declare that the time is right for smarter financial aid investments that both expand access to postsecondary education and increase the number of graduates.  The American Dream 2.0 offers a comprehensive framework for how the hundreds of billions invested in the financial aid system can increase college access, affordability, and completion.

"Education is an economic issue," says Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and a coalition member. "We have to build a more equitable system of higher education to make us more competitive in the world economically."

At the same time that college tuition is rising faster than family income, state support is declining, which means that students pursuing the American Dream are left to take on even more debt. Since 2002, total annual borrowing has more than doubled, from roughly $56 billion to $113 billion in constant dollars. Burdened with large amounts of debt and no degree, many students default on their loans.

To begin addressing these problems, the coalition urges our nation's leaders to make fundamental changes to student aid while adhering to three very specific goals: 

  • Make the financial aid system simpler and more transparent.
  • Embrace innovations that serve all students especially nontraditional students.
  • Urge institutions, states, and students to share responsibility for producing more graduates without compromising on access and affordability.

"These recommendations are critical to reforming our nation's financial aid system and should work in tandem with state and institutional policies to ensure credential completion," said Virginia Secretary of Education and coalition member Laura Fornash.

Currently, the patchwork quilt of grant, loan, and tax benefits make applying for financial aid too complex. Research suggests that simplifying the needs analysis and application alone could significantly increase enrollment.

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