National ‘Road Map’ to Higher Education Legislation Targets 10 Most Critical Issues to Impact the Next Decade
- Nonpartisan Guide Outlines Policy Issues, Options, & Tradeoffs Facing Congress
- Key Issues: Barriers to College Access & Success; Costs; Loans; Grants; Quality and Accountability; Policy Responses to Changing Demographics, Workforce, Technology
Washington, D.C., May 1, 2003—A new national "road map" to the nation’s most pressing higher education issues has been released and forwarded to Congress as it begins debates about the future of postsecondary education during the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). This unique, nonpartisan guide—the first and most extensive of its kind—evaluates 10 critical HEA policy issues now facing the 108th Congress and the President. It analyzes HEA programs, pinpoints options for change, and weighs the resulting tradeoffs of those options.
The new report, Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Issues and Options, was produced by the Institute for Higher Education Policy. The document is the product of 18+ months of analysis and discussion by a wide range of national higher education experts under the leadership of Institute Senior Associate Thomas Wolanin, editor of the report. Additional press briefings on reauthorization, HEA policy issues, and the guide will be conducted by the Institute; dates to be announced soon.
Six of the 10 core policy issues involve barriers to access and persistence. Between 2000 and 2015, the college-age population will increase by 2.6 million (16%), 80 percent of which will be minorities, and nearly half Hispanic. These populations, says the guide, historically suffer most from financial, academic, and cultural barriers, and "policy steps will need to be taken...if this country is to meet its future workforce needs."
Are there viable federal options for controlling college costs? How can the federal government overcome financial, cultural, and academic barriers to college access for so many? What reforms are needed for loan and grant programs to function as they were meant to? How can the HEA connect with the No Child Left Behind Act to deal with poor K-12 academic preparation? How will policy decisions enhance quality, address accountability, distance learning, etc.? These are some key questions the guide explores.
"How Congress responds to these critical policy issues," stated Wolanin, "will impact virtually all aspects of American society for the next decade or more." For each issue, the report offers various options and tradeoffs. Following are examples of the kind of analyses presented.
Need-based grant aid continues to fall short in breaking down financial barriers—especially since grant levels are not high enough. Pell Grant levels need to be increased, the guide makes clear, but with limited funds options may include “front loading” Pell Grants to reduce student reliance on loans in the early years and “target funding” to focus mainly on the lowest-income students. Changes also could be made under the LEAP program, giving incentives to states to provide grants.
Federal student loan programs have experienced dramatic growth in recent years, with $35.3 billion awarded through the Federal Family Education Loan and Direct Loan programs alone in 2001-02, plus several billion more in other programs. The guide takes a careful look at several key issues likely to be debated by Congress, including increasing loan limits, reducing interest rates charged to students, eliminating or reducing fees paid to lenders and guarantors, and other tradeoffs for the FFEL, Direct, and Perkins programs.
Analyzing social and cultural barriers, the guide weighs options and tradeoffs of changes to programs that address demographic and nonacademic concerns, including the TRIO, GEAR UP, HEP/CAMP, and direct institutional aid programs under Titles III and V. It also addresses questions about the intensity, focus, and duplication of different intervention programs.
College prices—a perennially high-profile and complex issue—may not be appropriate to address at the federal level, according to the report, since no HEA provisions directly control college costs or prices. But options to influence prices include providing incentives to states and institutions to reduce college costs or improve productivity, removing the price of attendance from consideration in determining student aid, and reviewing the role of Title IV programs (student aid) in relation to costs.
Tax policies that impact how much students pay for college are growing in importance. The guide explains the complex policy options and interactions between the recent federal HOPE Scholarship and other tax benefits for college savings and financial aid.
Accountability for higher education quality is likely to be a key concern in the reauthorization, says the report, which discusses the debates about accreditation, different standards for public, private non-profit, and for-profit schools, and other topics.
The guide also covers other key issues, including the options of replacing, augmenting, or continuing programs such as Title II (to increase the number of quality teachers), as well as state, partnership, and other grants. It breaks down the tradeoffs in issues of "capacity" -- including distance education and services for students with disabilities. In addition, the report tackles regulations and administrative "red tape," as well as programs that are designed to meet national needs through international programs and graduate education.