2021 & HLA: Identifying and solving practical problems for today’s students

Higher Learning Advocates
Higher Learning Advocates
6 min readDec 16, 2021


The COVID-19 pandemic taught us many lessons about what types of support services students need to succeed in higher education. And as the pandemic persists, HLA is listening to the challenges students face, elevating their voices, and learning from the student experience to advance practical policy solutions. This year, we provided policymakers with long-term solutions that will aid students now and long after the pandemic is over.

Leading the way in identifying and solving practical problems for today’s students

Today’s students work tirelessly to succeed. But, we cannot expect students to succeed if their nearest bus stop is five miles from campus or they have no choice but to attend online classes from their car using parking lot wifi. We worked closely with our partners, lawmakers, and the Administration to deliver practical policy solutions that better serve today’s students by meeting their unmet needs and ensuring students are supported both inside and outside of the classroom.

PATH to College Act: Higher Learning Advocates took action to eliminate transportation disparities, particularly among community college students. This action led to the introduction of bipartisan legislation in Congress that, when passed, will allocate funding to improve students’ access to public transportation near college campuses.

Affordable Connectivity Program: The past year and a half highlighted just how critical broadband access is for today’s students to succeed in higher education. We advocated for the inclusion of $14 billion to further expand broadband access to low-income households, including Pell Grant recipients, in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Affordable Connectivity Program, formerly the Emergency Broadband Benefit, will continue to receive critical funding under this law, allowing eligible households to receive financial assistance in the form of a $30 per month subsidy. HLA worked closely with lawmakers and the FCC to ensure students receiving a Pell Grant remain eligible and are informed of the benefit.

Supporting Students’ Mental Health: Mental health is just as important as physical health for today’s students. Further, we raised awareness of mental health challenges today’s students face. HLA’s efforts led the Department to issue guidance clarifying that mental health supports and services fall under the category of student support services and therefore can be funded with the institutional portion of HEERF.

Today’s Students Spotlights

Today’s students wear many hats. This year we particularly focused on student populations that are far too often overlooked and underserved in higher education. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges of student parents and working students are even more urgent, and now more than ever, today’s students need federal policy that reflects the lives they live.

Supporting Adult Students: Thirty-seven percent of today’s students are older than 25, and 31 million adults have some college but no degree. However, higher education is still overwhelmingly designed around a younger student. And, once a student stops out of school, going back to college is easier said than done because too often returning adults face a system that doesn’t work for them.

HLA proposed tangible policy recommendations that, when enacted, will bring students back into higher education and across the finish line. In particular, removing barriers to financial aid, like former academic records, can ensure that returning students are able to afford higher education at this critical time.

National Student Parent Month: One in four undergraduate students are working toward a degree to better their own lives as well as the lives of their children. The advocacy efforts of HLA and 29 of our partners led to unprecedented national attention for today’s parenting students. In September, we celebrated the first-annual National Student Parent Month, designated by a resolution introduced by Senator Duckworth (D-IL) and Senator Moran (R-KS) and passed through the Senate.

Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC): Additionally, we were pleased to see the American Families Plan propose making permanent the temporary Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) expansion that was included in the American Rescue Plan. HLA has tirelessly advocated for making this change permanent as it would greatly benefit today’s parenting students.

Working with the Biden Administration

Today’s students have a seat at the table. In addition to working with lawmakers in the halls of Congress to impact policy, we worked with the Administration by providing technical assistance for guidance, implementation, and priority setting on how institutions of higher education could best support today’s students with remaining Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund money. As the pandemic continues to impact students, HEERF money can be used to help address basic needs such as food insecurity, access to mental and physical health care, emergency aid, and broadband access. We were thrilled that Secretary Cardona’s keynote speech at the recent Federal Student Aid Training conference included these recommendations as he pushed for equitable recovery for today’s students.

Higher Learning Advocates also submitted public comments and testified at the hearings for the 2021 and upcoming negotiated rulemaking processes. In our comments and testimony, we made recommendations on how to strengthen the Gainful Employment rule and asked ED to consider a negotiated rulemaking process on a reset for Student Academic Progress (SAP) requirements. We were able to share recent publications we published this year on both our GE recommendations as well as why a SAP reset is imperative for returning adult students.

Finally, HLA submitted comments to the Department asking for the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) to use its oversight authority to ensure programs that remain online maintain a high quality of education and satisfy appropriate distance education requirements. You can learn about other recommendations we have in our Ensuring Quality of Online Education Programs.

Collaborating with partners

Today’s students have a growing team of advocates. We continue to work alongside our partners in the field to advocate for postsecondary policies that support the success of today’s students, and especially appreciate the 151 partners who joined us in sending letters on the issues of transportation, federal aid, mental health, child care, and a National Student Parent Month Resolution.

Today’s Students Coalition: The Today’s Students Coalition has seen significant growth over the past year, welcoming eight new members for a total of 34 advocacy, membership, and student organizations. This year, we were eager to share our thoughts with the incoming administration and identify urgently needed student supports, including access to mental health services, food, and housing. Higher Learning Advocates is thankful to lead a group of tenacious advocates, and we look forward to another year of supporting equity in education, pushing for a permanent emergency aid solution, and engaging students in federal policy.

Innovative and practical policy recommendations

As we celebrate the progress we’ve made, we acknowledge there is a long way to go in fixing our nation’s broken system of education that leaves entire student populations behind. In 2022 we will continue our work toward a world in which today’s students have an opportunity to access high-quality learning and succeed. We will support change that will increase equity, quality, and accountability in our nation’s system of higher learning. We will advocate for bipartisan policies that support students’ needs inside and outside of the classroom. And, we will propose ideas to widen the path for today’s students by better connecting work and learning. You can read our Policy Toolkit 3.0 to learn more about some of the issues we will be tackling in the new year and our proposed policy solutions.

We thank you for supporting HLA, joining us in our efforts to support today’s students, and look forward to the change that will come in the new year.



Higher Learning Advocates
Higher Learning Advocates

New voice advancing policy changes that increase postsecondary access and success. Driving conversations on #TodayStudents #Outcomes #Quality #Policy.