Opening Statement of Senator Lamar Alexander Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families Chairman Hearing on year-round colleges
Last August, Dr. Stephen Trachtenberg, president of George Washington University, suggested in a Washington Post article that colleges and universities need a year-round calendar.
He argued that year-round classes would reduce competition for housing and classes, create more income for the university and lower tuition for students. "We could actually increase our enrollment at George Washington University by at least a thousand students, yet have fewer students on campus at any one time," he wrote.
Our purpose today is to hear from Dr. Trachtenberg, and others, about the year- round college calendar and explore what the federal government should do, if anything, to encourage it or at least not impede it.
Specifically, we hope to explore, among other subjects:
1. Whether students should be able to use their Pell grants for 12 months of study instead of nine;
2. Whether students should be able to use their full allocation of student loans to finish college in three years instead of four;
3. Whether some students who enter higher education for job training but not necessarily for a degree should be able to use Pell grants - or instead some other sort of federal grant or loan;
4. What effect year-round calendars would have on work-study programs;
5. Whether students should be allowed to use grants and loans during a fifth or sixth year of college, or whether those funds should be reserved for students moving through their courses more rapidly?
Summer break for work, reflection and fun has been as much a part of the college and university tradition as the cap and gown at graduation. Some of our four-year universities, such as Dartmouth - from whom we will hear today - have year-round calendars, but most do not. At the same time, the fastest growing segment of higher education - public community colleges and for-profit institutions - often operate on a "24/7 calendar." In Sen. Enzi's hearing on workforce skills last week, witnesses agreed that even at many four-year institutions, the concept of semester is disappearing.
Colleges are changing their traditional schedules because their customers are not traditional. The average age of the undergraduate student today is 26. Many have jobs. Many are married. Many more are women. The cry often heard at college commencements these days is, "Way to go, mom!" Many enroll to learn skills but not necessarily to earn a degree. Only 36 percent of students who begin their college career at a four-year institution receive their bachelor's degree within four years.
There is much talk these days about job loss. We may not know how to stop job loss, but we know exactly how to create good new jobs. According to the National Academy of Sciences, half of America's new jobs since World War II have been created by science and technology, much of that at our great research universities. Americans have the skills necessary to do those jobs largely because we send more students on to higher education than in any other country. The surest plan for good new jobs in America, then, is increased support for two programs we already have: first, for scientific research and, second, for federal grants and loans that today follow 60 percent of students to the college of their choice.
Higher education is America's secret weapon for job growth. This hearing is to make sure we are using our secret weapon most efficiently, so that it operates with the highest possible quality and with greatest access for the largest possible number of qualified students.
When we conclude this hearing, we will consider whether additional action is warranted. Dr. Trachtenberg has suggested a demonstration project to encourage and study the effect of year-round college calendars. I want to consider a commission that would gather accurate information about today's college calendar among the more than 6,500 higher education institutions in America, consider what the impact would be of a year-round calendar and then recommend to what extent and how the federal government should encourage such a calendar. A dozen years ago, as Education Secretary, I helped to create a similar study of year-round schedules for elementary and secondary schools, and it turned out to be very useful.