Bennet, Young, Scott Reintroduce the FINISH Act to Promote Innovation in Higher Education

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) reintroduced the Fund for Innovation and Success in Higher Education (FINISH) Act to spur innovation in the higher education system. The bipartisan legislation supports the use of evidence-based innovation grants and the pay for outcomes model to benefit students.

“An effective higher education system is critical to the long-term success of our students and our economy. Too often, high-need students, such as first-generation students and students from low income backgrounds, are underserved and under supported by our colleges and universities. The FINISH Act will promote innovation, flexibility, and evaluation in higher education to help improve educational attainment and outcomes for all students,” said Bennet.

“Even before the pandemic, our higher education system was already falling short in serving our vulnerable students. In fact, every year, 1.2 million low-income or first-generation students enroll in college, but only a quarter of them will leave with a job related to their studies or enter graduate school. As our economy continues to struggle, we must be cognizant of student debt. It’s more important than ever to incentivize innovation through evidence-based solutions and set students up for success,” said Young. “The FINISH Act works to ensure our students have the tools to finish a credential or degree pathway – not just start – by using incentives to adopt innovative solutions.”

“Every student learns differently, and to constrain them to a single cookie-cutter path of education is detrimental for their studies and our nation’s future. We need to innovate and diversify higher education as it becomes increasingly evident that the workforce of the future is dependent on a wide array of skills, knowledge, and experience,” said Scott. “I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the FINISH Act that will authorize innovation grants, encourage open-educational resources, and enforce greater accountability of tax-payer dollars in higher education.”

The FINISH Act would authorize innovation grants, encourage open-educational resources, and establish better evaluation authority. The bill also works to support efficient and innovative uses of taxpayer funds through Pay-for-Outcomes initiatives.

The legislation would:

  • Authorize Innovation Grants: The legislation amends the Fund for the Improvement of Secondary Education (FIPSE) to allow grant recipients to use a portion of their funds for tiered evidence-based grants to support initiatives that increase access to higher education for high-need students, increase degree attainment, and improve efficiency in our higher education systems. Institutions of higher education would partner with intermediary organizations—a non-profit, school district, State Education Agency (SEA), or consortium of groups— in order to qualify for early-phase grants, mid-phase grants, and expansion grants awarded to accomplish these goals.
  • Encourage Open-Educational Resources: The bill also encourages institutions to make all forms of postsecondary instructional content widely available. Doing so would result in significant cost-savings for students and increased efficiency for institutions of higher education.
  • Support Efficient and Innovative Uses of Taxpayer Funds Through Pay-for-Outcomes Initiatives: The bill would allow the Secretary of Education to approve up to five Pay-for-Outcomes pilot initiatives each fiscal year, which would allow grant recipients to partner with outside organizations to achieve the goals of federally funded higher education grant programs. In order to receive federal grant dollars, grant recipients must show concrete achievement of measurable outcomes. Pay-for-Outcomes projects would directly result in an increase in public value and social benefit. This approach does not require grant recipients to use a Pay-for-Outcomes model; it merely allows grant recipients to utilize this approach. 
  • Establish Better Evaluation Authority: This bill provides additional evaluation authority by having the Director of the Institute of Education Sciences, on a biennial basis, develop an evaluation plan for these innovation initiatives.

Bennet first introduced this legislation in 2018. The FINISH Act received widespread support from 118 local, state, and national organizations in a recent letter including Results for America, Knowledge Alliance, and Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP). In the letter, the organizations commended the senators for introducing the FINISH Act, “which would leverage the power of evidence and innovation to improve outcomes in higher education.” The full letter is available HERE.

The bill text is available HERE.