08.01.08

Burr Applauds Passage of the Higher Education Opportunity Act

Burr provisions included in bill will improve access and strengthen opportunities

U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) today applauded passage of The Higher Education Opportunity Act, which renews higher education programs and contains several provisions that he sponsored. Burr's provisions included an increase in support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), an increase in aid for military members and veterans, a simplified application process for federal financial assistance, improved teacher preparation, and improved access to information for States to evaluate the performance of their higher education programs.

"I am very excited that we will be able to expand access to higher education and improve higher education programs because of this bill," Burr said. "This bill will go a long way towards strengthening our system of higher education and ensuring that students can access and afford college. Most importantly, it will help our students graduate from college with the skills and knowledge they need to compete in the 21st century economy."

Recognizing the importance of increasing the number of African Americans with masters degrees, the bill included a Burr provision that creates a new masters degree program at HBCUs. Under this new program, Fayetteville State University, Elizabeth City State University, and Winston-Salem State University will each receive $3 million over the next six years to develop and improve masters degree programs in a number of subjects, including the sciences, information technology, engineering, mathematics, nursing, and allied health. Although HBCUs represent just three percent of all colleges and universities in the nation, HBCUs account for 21.6% of all baccalaureate degrees awarded to African Americans, 11.4% of all masters degrees, and 10.8% of all doctoral degrees.

Another Burr provision expedites a study on how to make it easier for students and their parents apply for federal financial aid programs. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) currently asks 127 questions contained on five pages and is longer than the Income Tax 1040EZ form, which contains 37 questions on a single page. This provision requires a study group of federal officials and representatives of higher education to submit recommendations for changes to Congress within the next year. In addition, the bill includes a Burr provision to create one coordinated website for military personnel, veterans, and their dependents to make them aware of all the various Federal and State financial assistance programs for which they are eligible.

Burr recognizes that the most important factor to student achievement is teacher quality. To this end, he included a provision that will require institutions that prepare students to be future teachers to set annual goals for increasing the number of teachers in shortage areas such as math, science, special education, and instruction of limited English proficient students. It also requires goals for more closely linking the instruction provided by colleges of education to prospective teachers with the needs new teachers face in the classroom.

In order to improve the quality of education at the post-secondary level, Burr introduced a provision to authorize grants for States to gather comprehensive data in order to evaluate the effectiveness of their institutions and develop better informed educational policies.