Newflash: Higher education is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. For colleges and universities in the United States to remain competitive, a major overhaul is long overdue. But fear not, because that’s exactly what’s happening.
The time has come for a reauthorization of The Higher Education Act (HEA), and the Congressional debate is calling for significant adjustments in the way of finances and educational quality. Despite the heavy workload that will likely follow, dedicated committees in the Senate and House remain strong-willed in tackling each issue.
Perhaps Jamie Merisotis, CEO and president of the Lumina Foundation, says it best in his article for the Huffington Post, “[…] we must ensure all Americans have access and opportunities to obtain an education beyond high school, and that’s especially important for a growing college majority that is increasingly older, financially independent, and balancing higher education with work, parenting and other demands.”
An article from Education Dive defines four focus areas for the Congressional debate over the HEA reauthorization: Affordability & Financial Aid, Accountability, Accreditation and Sexual Assault & Campus Safety.
The Education Drive article goes into greater detail, but here are my thoughts on each area:
- Affordability & Financial Aid
It was less than five years ago that I was waving FAFSA forms in front of my parents in a desperate cry for help. A jargon-riddled form that demands seemingly evasive tax information seems more like a homework assignment than any kind of aid, and political leaders are smart to recognize that the lack of clarity and access to certain tax records holds back many eligible students. Eliminating room for error and simplifying financial aid programs is a good move.
As a prospective college student, getting the right information is vital in determining which school is most likely to bring you success. Admissions will improve by proving positive student outcomes and providing accurate, useful and transparent information to parents and prospective students as consumers. A must-have when selling an expensive investment like higher education. Job well done.
The question around accreditation is simple: how heavily should the government be involved? Tara Garcia Mathewson, the author of the article, says there are many “possible solutions,” all of which include either the elimination or addition of accrediting agencies. There is no silver bullet, but heeding the rising popularity of alternative or otherwise non-traditional higher education providers will be vital in crafting a well-balanced solution.
- Sexual Assault & Campus Safety
Senate: “According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, college campuses reported over 5,000 forcible sex offenses in 2013 – but a recent study shows that the actual number of offenses is estimated to be at least six times that number.” Considering the gravity of the issue, parents and prospective student have an obvious need for consistent, qualitative metrics to compare institutions. Initiatives in the HEA will certainly help, but schools would be wise to get a head start on taking control of campus safety if they haven’t already.
The operational side of higher education will definitely experience a shifted landscape as a result of these political changes; changes that could make or break certain institutions as they look to rebrand, better communicate and differentiate themselves from their competitors.