It isn’t often that you have a federal policymaker, a higher education institution administrator and an accreditor on stage to talk candidly and openly about the intersection of postsecondary policy and practice. However, this month at the annual Whiteboard Advisors InsideOut Policy Forum, we heard from Amy Jones, a near two-decade policy advisor to the House Committee on Education and Labor; Tim Renick, a trailblazer in implementing and scaling student success efforts at Georgia State University; and Jamienne Studley, the leader of WASC, one of the most progressive accreditation agencies in the country. 

While critics and pundits may be quick to find places of disagreement between these three influencers, it was refreshing to hear that there were three issues on which they agreed: flexibility, innovative approaches to financing and data-driven practices.

Flexibility: not only do students need education providers to be flexible to meet their complex and diverse pathways, but the panel agreed that education providers also need flexibility when implementing policies that drive and promote student success. 

Innovative Approaches to Financing: whether simplification of the student aid application process, the integration of new financing tools such as Income Share Agreements or the use of micro-grants by institutions, the panel agreed that student finance has to be dynamic to meet the needs of today’s students.

Data-Driven Practices: while there was no discussion of the controversial student unit record ban, there was agreement that institutions, accreditors and students should have and use data to drive changes that improve student success. 

The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) still looms – and may get caught in partisan politics. However, it seems possible that a rewrite of the federal law could move more expeditiously if all stakeholders were as focused on students as the panelists were in this forum.