October 15, 2018

Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduce Bill to Promote Innovation in Higher Ed


WASHINGTON– U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), today announced that they have introduced the Innovation Zone Act (S.3596). The bipartisan legislation replaces the experimental sites initiative within the Higher Education Act to promote effective, evidence-based innovation in higher education and better prepare students for the workforce.

A lack of evaluation and transparent data collection has prevented Congress from using information from the experimental sites initiative to make real policy changes that can benefit students and lead them to successful career opportunities in the workforce.

These experiments are a vital part of understanding how to improve student success and reduce onerous regulation within the framework of higher education. Some of the most well-known experiments are Second Chance Pell, Competency Based Education, and Loan Counseling. Without the data from these experiments, it is difficult for Congress to make informed decisions when designing policies to enhance innovation and benefit students.

“The Innovation Zone Act will lead to more innovation within our higher education system and will result in greater access to educational opportunity for our students,” said Senator Young. “By making needed reforms to the experimental sites initiative, we can better understand the lessons learned from these experiments and use them to ensure students are prepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

“Ensuring that students have access to the tools and support that they need to reach their full potential is critical to their success and the success of our economy,” Senator Hassan said. “This bipartisan measure will allow more higher education institutions to have flexibility under federal law to pursue innovative pilot programs, while ensuring that they meet the needs of all students, especially those who have been historically underrepresented in the traditional higher education system.”

“I am grateful to join Senators Young, Hassan, and Kaine in promoting innovation in higher education,” said Senator Hatch.“This legislation will make much-needed reforms to the Department of Education’s experimental sites initiative while preserving the spirit of the program—letting schools focus on serving students. By providing institutions with greater flexibility to innovate, I am confident we will see better outcomes for students, more efficient uses of federal funding, and better data and evaluation of higher-education programs.”  

“In making reforms to better support students, it’s important to have data that outlines necessary changes,” said Senator Kaine. “This legislation will improve data collection from experimental sites to help us make more informed decisions that can empower students to thrive and close achievement gaps. It’s a great step forward in ensuring higher education policies are more innovative and responsive to the needs of today’s students and the jobs of the 21st century.”

The Innovation Zone Act, would rename experimental sites as “innovation zones” to better reflect the mission of the initiative. The bill would also require the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to establish a methodology for capturing data before an experiment begins, so colleges have clear direction in reporting data. It would also allow colleges the opportunity to submit suggestions for future experiments. This expands on legislation previously introduced by Senator Young by adding in additional guardrails to protect students.

The legislation will improve and reform the experimental sites initiative by:

  • Expressly stating that experiments must increase student success.
  • Providing an opportunity for the public, institutions of higher education and other stakeholders to submit suggestions for experiments, and the Secretary must base selection on sufficient interest.
  • Specifying the length of a given experiment before it begins.
  • Requiring the data collection methodology, rigorous evaluation methods, estimated cost, and answerable questions to be established before launching an experiment.
  • Requiring the Secretary to report on the status of experiments every two years that will be published on the Department’s website.
  • Requiring a review of existing experiments.
  • Renaming experimental site as an innovation zones to better reflect the purpose of the title.

The Innovation Zone Act is supported by New America, Education Trust, Knowledge Alliance, Results 4 America, Ivy Tech Community College, Salt Lake Community College, Bard College, Jobs for the Future, KnowledgeWorks, Middle College National Consortium, National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships, National Skills Coalition, Southern New Hampshire University. 

Click here to view the bill text.