April 29, 2019

Senators Lead Bill to Create Innovation Zones in Higher Education and Improve Student Success

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Bill Cassidy, M.D.(R-La.) today introduced the Innovation Zone Act (IZ Act), which would reform the under-utilized and inefficient experimental sites initiative within the Higher Education Act.The IZ Act would rename experimental sites as “innovation zones” to better reflect the program’s mission of encouraging higher education institutions to experiment with strategies to increase student success. 

The experimental sites initiative is not a new concept, and was first introduced in the mid-1980s. However, a lack of evaluation and transparent data collection has prevented Congress from using information from the experimental sites to make real policy changes. These experiments are a vital part of understanding how to improve student success and reduce onerous regulation within the framework of higher education. 

The IZ Actwould require the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to establish a methodology for capturing data before an experiment begins, provide colleges with a clear direction for reporting data, and provide the higher education community an opportunity to submit suggestions for future experiments. 

“These experiments have the ability to promote innovation, increase value and broaden access within our higher education system, but first we must have a way to measure what works and what does not. Our bill will improve data collection and accountability, which will  increase uptake of best practices and ultimately better prepare Americans to meaningfully participate in a growing economy,” said Senator Young.  

“To innovate we need the data to know what works, and what doesn’t,” said Dr. Cassidy. “The Innovation Zone Act builds on the Department of Education’s initiative to provide what works.” 

“We must keep working to ensure that students have the support and tools they need to prepare for their futures, and this bill is integral to those efforts,” said Senator Hassan.“The bipartisan Innovation Zones Act provides higher education institutions more flexibility to pursue innovative pilot programs, while requiring a focus on successful student outcomes to ensure that the needs of all students are met, including underrepresented students who face additional barriers to success.”

“Innovation zones help colleges and universities better understand the evolving needs of their students,” said Senator Kaine.“This legislation would provide higher education institutions the opportunity to effectively measure data so they can improve student success at a time when many students face barriers to completing school.”

Supporters of the IZ Act include Ivy Tech Community College, New America, The Education Trust, Knowledge Alliance, Results for America, 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, Indiana University, and Institute for Higher Education Policy. 

Sue Ellspermann, IvyTech Community College President, said,“We support all efforts that will allow flexibility to increase student success. We also support being held accountable for the results of any such programs. The improvements brought from this legislation will give the necessary insight into understanding how to improve student success in higher education and result in Congress’ ability to enact efficient, evidence-based policy changes.”

Senators Young, Hassan, and Kaine introduced similar legislation last year with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Senator Young spoke about the legislation during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing. Watch the hearing here.  

Click here to view the fullbill text.