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Senator Hassan Joins Bipartisan Group of Senators to Introduce Bill to Promote Innovation in Higher Education

WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), along with Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Tim Kaine (D-VA), announced last week that they have introduced the Innovation Zone Act (S.3596). The bipartisan legislation gives higher education institutions additional flexibility to pursue innovative, evidence-based pilot programs to better serve students and prepare them for the workforce. The legislation also renames these pilot programs, which were previously called “experimental sites,” to be “innovation zones” to better reflect the mission of the initiative.

Some of the most well-known pilot programs that have resulted from this initiative are Competency-Based Education, Dual Enrollment, and Loan Counseling. This initiative also focuses on collecting data on the effectiveness of these programs so that Congress can make informed decisions when designing policies to enhance innovation and benefit students.

“Ensuring that students have access to the tools and support that they need to reach their full potential is critical to their success and the success of our economy,” Senator Hassan said. “This bipartisan measure will allow more higher education institutions to have flexibility under federal law to pursue innovative pilot programs, while ensuring that they meet the needs of all students, especially those who have been historically underrepresented in the traditional higher education system.”

“At SNHU, we have participated in experimental sites that have helped us to expand our competency-based education and dual-enrollment programs. This bill will allow us to continue to explore innovative ways to help our students succeed while also demonstrating the positive impact of these initiatives,” Paul LeBlanc, President of SNHU said. “We commend Senator Hassan for her leadership and commitment to supporting innovation in higher education, and students across New Hampshire.”

The bill would also require the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to establish a methodology for capturing data before an initiative begins, so colleges have clear direction in reporting data. It would also allow colleges the opportunity to submit suggestions for future innovation zones.

The legislation will improve and reform “innovation zones,” formerly known as “experimental sites,” by:

  • Expressly stating that innovation zones must increase student success.
  • Providing an opportunity for the public, institutions of higher education and other stakeholders to submit suggestions for innovation zones, and the Secretary must base selection on sufficient interest.
  • Specifying the length of a given initiative before it begins.
  • Requiring the data collection methodology, rigorous evaluation methods, estimated cost, and answerable questions to be established before launching an initiative.
  • Requiring the Secretary to report on the status of the initiative every two years that will be published on the Department’s website.
  • Requiring a review of existing initiatives.
  • Renaming experimental site as an innovation zones to better reflect the purpose of the title.

The Innovation Zone Act is supported by New America, Education Trust, Knowledge Alliance, Results 4 America, Ivy Tech Community College, 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.

Click here to view the bill text.