Don't look to Congress, HEA reauthorization to solve higher ed's quandaries, experts say
- A group of higher education leaders at the Ronald Reagan Institute Summit on Education held Thursday in Washington, D.C. concluded that as a whole, the industry is performing at a C- to C level. More specifically, Arizona State University President Michael Crow said, the industry is struggling to maintain that C-, citing "a failed academic culture that we’ve got to attack and address and modernize" adding "we’re not prepared to educate people over the course of a lifetime."
- Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) said, "I think certainly for traditional students, we are still the envy of the world ... but unfortunately, I think where we really have to focus our efforts — and the role here I think of the federal government is to make sure that everybody has an equal chance to succeed. We can’t guarantee equal results ... but we also have to have a keen interest and an obligation, I believe, to hold ourselves accountable for being sure that people can succeed in the system."
- Purdue University President and former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said overall, "there's a lot of work to do in delivering proven value" of the higher education enterprise. "We’ve been a blessed [industry] for a long time, in that the customer was impervious to cost, and in many cases associating greater price with higher quality, and that’s a great deal," he said. But time's up on that "great deal," he said, and higher education as a whole is failing to demonstrate the return on investment consumers are getting for the cost.
If higher ed leaders are looking to Congress to help solve any of these issues via the Higher Education Act, they're not likely to get that help this session. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) punted a question about the HEA timeline to Ranking Member Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), saying it would depend on whether she wanted to move forward with legislation. In a separate response, Murray said limiting the conversation to FAFSA simplification rather than expanding discussions to address issues of access, affordability, safety and climate would be a wasted effort.
"If, as a country, we’re going to look at our higher education system, it needs to be done comprehensively," she said, adding, "I would like to say to families today that we are addressing the issues that are barriers to their success." Murray added that the congressional calendar will be a hindrance to progress as well, saying, "We don’t have that much time left, and as you know, once it gets close to election time, everybody wants to wait until after elections to see who is in charge."
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