Presented by the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., before the Congressional Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training
January 28, 2014
Chairwoman Foxx, Ranking Member Hinojosa, and distinguished members of this Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to appear before you today. In respect for our limited time, you will find more detail and additional suggestions for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in my written testimony.
With 25,000 students, DePaul University is the largest private university in the Midwest. We serve a broad swath of society, but we direct our financial aid toward undergraduates who are from first-generation families, low-income qualifying for the Pell grant, or students of color from underrepresented groups. They are 53 percent of this year’s freshman class and they graduate in impressive numbers.
To serve them well, we keep our class sizes small and we are constantly trying new approaches. We recently shifted our remedial coursework to the summer before college and made it free-of-charge so that students could make the most of their financial aid eligibility and better stay on track to degree. We implemented a mentoring program for men of color to build on our existing first-year mentoring program for students of color. We completely redesigned several gateway course sequences -- those math-heavy courses like inorganic chemistry, the pre-calculus sequence, and intro accounting where students who fail may be at risk of dropping out of college. We added supplemental instruction, and we have substantially upgraded advising services and academic planning resources across the university. We have become the top private transfer institution in the nation to enable students to spend less on their first two years of collegiate education. We are also among the top ten providers of professional internships for our students, all in service of helping them succeed not only in college, but in life after college.
Our focus on educational opportunity also finds expression in our TRIO programs.
We host two TRIO programs at DePaul - Student Support Services and McNair Scholars – and we supplement them extensively with our own funds.
These programs work:
• Our latest graduation rate for Student Support Services students was over 80 percent, ten percentage points above the institutional average.
• 80 percent of our McNair students are going on to graduate school within three years and to some of the finest graduate schools in the country.
TRIO programs have an outsize effect, and we know firsthand their value. That said, we also believe TRIO could be improved in the next reauthorization cycle.
First, we ask that the TRIO eligibility regulations be simplified. Rather than making every university in the country independently review the net taxable income for each TRIO student (and/or their families of origin), TRIO eligibility should simply follow Pell eligibility. If a student has already been certified as sufficiently poor to be eligible for Pell funding, it would greatly simplify the administration of these programs if that designation similarly made them TRIO eligible. That would allow us to apply the TRIO funds to student support rather than cause us to assign lengthy staff hours toward needless administrative work.
Second, while TRIO program regulations technically permit collaboration between TRIO programs and other educational opportunity programs on our campuses, it is our experience—at least with respect to Student Support Services—that the regulation prohibiting commingling of funds discourages institutions from any significant collaboration. Moreover, extensive reporting requirements deter institutions from creating programs that would serve larger numbers of students. There is simply so much paperwork in the reporting requirements that universities have created stand-alone programs that serve small, discrete numbers of students and that can be more easily reported according to the requirements. I would suggest that a clearer message encouraging and rewarding creative approaches to program collaboration within institutional settings would go some way to building capacity.
Third, there appears to be little incentive for TRIO programs to collaborate or coordinate activities across institutions. There are over fifty TRIO programs in Chicago’s city schools, community agencies and colleges. I have no doubt that they are doing good work as individual programs. Working together, the Chicago universities could partner more easily with the many high school Upward Bound and Talent Search programs, offering students real pathway programs that ease their transition to college. Just as importantly, we could together create ways to assess the collective impact of TRIO in Chicago. For now, however, individual institutions create primarily institution-based programs. That’s a shame.
All that said, TRIO works beautifully at DePaul. I pray that it will remain at the heart of our shared commitment to ensure that every student who has the desire and ability to go to college should have the opportunity to do so.