New Policy Toolkit Aims to Shift Federal Higher Education Policy to Better Serve Adults, Parents and Workers

New Policy Toolkit Aims to Shift Federal Higher Education Policy to Better Serve Adults, Parents and Workers

Higher Learning Advocates releases policy recommendations retooling dated student aid and other federal policies to respond to the changing needs and educational pathways of today’s students

WASHINGTON, D.C. (JUNE 7, 2018) — Today, Higher Learning Advocates, a non-profit working to advance bipartisan solutions for today’s students by improving quality and outcomes, released a new policy toolkit aimed at modernizing federal student aid and other policies to better serve the emerging majority of today’s students.

The “Policy Toolkit: Today’s Students” calls for five federal policy reforms that enable adults, parents, and workers to continue their education while balancing work, family and financial responsibilities. The majority of federal student aid policies still focus on traditional students attending college first-time, full-time directly after high school, despite the fact that most college students today follow a different path. For example, 38% of today’s students are older than 25, 58% work while in college, 47% are financially independent, and nearly one in four are parents.

“Higher education used to represent the continuation of a linear path from high school and into the workforce, but today’s students follow more complex pathways to success. The 18- to 22-year-old student studying on a traditional college campus is no longer representative of the majority of today’s students, who are parents, working adults, online students, apprentices, veterans, and more,” said Emily Bouck, Policy & Advocacy Director of Higher Learning Advocates and author of the brief. “To equip students with the skills for workforce success and respond to the pressures of economic disruption, we need a system of higher learning that enables students of all ages and family circumstances to seamlessly continue, return to, and complete their education. These reforms can help accomplish that critical goal.”

The Higher Learning Advocates policy toolkit provides proposals to update federal policies to be more compatible with the needs of today’s students. To close the gap between today’s students and dated student aid policies, the new resource outlines reforms designed to eliminate financial and programmatic barriers that these students often face.

For example, an adult student returning to postsecondary education for a certificate or to learn a new trade may not be eligible to receive aid if they previously defaulted on federal student loans. The brief outlines an approach to reset a student’s financial and academic history for purposes of financial aid eligibility so returning adults can re-enroll to finish their degree or start a new program. The policy toolkit also calls for revamping federal student aid calculations, which do not adequately take into consideration a parent’s financial responsibilities as a head of household when measuring their ability to pay for college. The current aid formulas often award adults and parents less financial aid because of their income level and financial independence, despite the fact that they may be studying while caring for dependent children and working full-time.

For full details on Higher Learning Advocates’ policy proposals, view the “Policy Toolkit: Today’s Students” here.


Higher Learning Advocates is a non-profit advocacy organization working to shift federal policy from higher education to higher learning—education and training beyond high school that leads to a degree, credential, or employment. While more students are participating in higher education than ever before, there is a vast and growing disconnect between federal policy and the needs of today’s students, employers, and communities. We are working toward federal policies that create transparent pathways to success, incentivize innovation, protect students and taxpayers, and improve outcomes.

CONTACT: Ted Eismeier,