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Last modified: Thursday, July 26, 2007

IU education student has top idea for college access

Doctoral candidate honored by think tank's "25 Ideas" series

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 26, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Roosevelt Institution in Washington, D.C., is publishing an Indiana University School of Education graduate student's policy proposal aimed at targeting low-income families to create a "college-going culture" that would save the federal government billions of dollars.

Higher education policy studies doctoral student Nick Hillman's proposal is part of "The 25 Ideas for Improving Socioeconomic Diversity of Higher Education," a volume published by the Roosevelt Institution, which identifies itself as "the nation's first student think tank." Hillman presented his proposal at a conference earlier this month. The published "25 Ideas" work is available to legislators, lobbyists and other interest groups.

The Elkhart native said he was interested in addressing the issue of making higher education more easily available to low-income students as a social justice issue.

"Nothing should hold back an individual from pursuing his or her dreams," he said.

Hillman's proposal calls for creating college savings accounts for the 17 million low-income elementary school students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Each student would get $500 for every successful school grade and an additional $2,000 upon earning a high school diploma.

"So when it's all said and done, a student who participated in that program all 12 years would have $9,000 to pay for college," Hillman said.

He added that his plan would offer roughly the same amount of money as the federal Pell Grants program, which targets a similar group of students. But he said his program would save the federal government money by starting to deposit funding earlier, and it would allow families who might not consider college because of the cost to ponder the possibility.

"It builds a college-going culture," Hillman said. "On an annual budget cycle, it would cost the federal government billions of dollars less to run that kind of a program, because they're spreading the cost out over time, rather than -- like the Pell Grant -- throwing it in each year."

The non-profit Roosevelt Institution formed in November 2004 with the goal of bringing student ideas to the policy process. It regularly publishes policy research intended to reach lawmakers.

"These well-researched and innovative proposals shed new light on a critical debate for the nation," Kai Stinchcombe, executive director of the Roosevelt Institution, said about the new ideas addressing higher education diversity. "We, the 18 to 25 year olds, will bear the burden and pay the price for this education crisis. It is due time we had a say in how to solve it."

Hillman said he and Stinchcombe intend to bring the proposal before the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, a panel commissioned by Congress to review financial aid for higher education.

"That group is always looking for ideas," Hillman said, "and to hear ideas from students would actually be a real breath of fresh air for them, because they traditionally hear ideas from politicians or from lobbying groups, and so we're kind of throwing our name into that hat and throwing out some of our ideas that are equally valuable."

Over the last year, Hillman has worked at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities national headquarters in Washington, D.C., assisting with tracking state and federal higher education policy. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

A brief on Hillman's plan is available at the Roosevelt Institution Web site, at http://rooseveltinstitution.org/publications/25ideas/2007_highered/_file/_hillman_college_savings_accounts.pdf.

Media Outlets: the following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at http://education.indiana.edu/audio.html.

Hillman explains how the $500 a year savings account would provide college money by the time students graduate:

"Upon completion of high school, they could get...my plan would be to have an additional $2,000 contributed to that savings account. So when it's all said and done, a student who participated in that program all 12 years would have $9,000 to pay for college."

The proposal would be similar to the Pell Grant program, Hillman says, but it would be cheaper and allow families to consider college earlier:

"The Pell Grant award grants to similar student types, and it's about the same amount. The average award is something like $2,300. So it's still targeting the same types of students with about the same amount of money, but it spreads that cost out over time; it builds a college-going culture. It actually, on an annual budget cycle, it would cost the federal government billions of dollars less to run that kind of a program, because they're spreading the cost out over time rather than, like the Pell Grant, throwing it in each year, one year at a time."

Hillman says he and the Roosevelt Institution executive director plan to present the policy idea to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance:

"...a group commissioned by Congress to make recommendations on how to change the financial aid system for higher education. And so, that group is always looking for ideas, and to hear ideas from students would actually be a real breath of fresh air for them, because they traditionally hear ideas from politicians or from lobbying groups, and so we're kind of throwing our name into that hat and throwing out some of our ideas that are equally valuable."