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Center on Higher Education Reform

American higher education has long been considered the best in the world. But concerns about the cost and quality of a college education, lackluster completion rates, and ballooning student debt have raised questions about the sustainability of our traditional approach to postsecondary education. Can the policies and institutions that served us so well for most of the 20th century answer the demands of the 21st without fundamental reform?  To answer these questions, AEI’s Center on Higher Education Reform (CHER) conducts independent, data-driven research and policy analysis designed to inform policymaking and shape the reform conversation.

A set of core principles will guide CHER’s work

Options and Choice: Students need an array of postsecondary options to choose from and the information necessary to find one that fits their goals, academic needs, and budget.

Shared Responsibility: Just as students must be prepared for college-level work, colleges must be prepared to provide students a high-quality education.

Productivity and Sustainability: Funding and financial aid policies should provide incentives for institutions and students to spend public investments wisely.

Entrepreneurship and Innovation: To bend the cost curve and enhance performance, reformers must rethink regulatory policies that inhibit innovation and limit competition.


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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton holds a campaign town hall meeting in Claremont, New Hampshire August 11, 2015. Reuters

Hillary Clinton’s higher education plan is extensive and expensive. Set aside the fact that simply pumping more money into the system won’t solve quality problems and may well inflate college spending further, no matter how tight the new rules.

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College affordability will help define debate in the 2016 presidential election. Presidential candidates must respond to this issue so critical to economic opportunity and advancement in 21st-century America.

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Our current higher education system evaluates the quality of colleges almost entirely on “inputs.” Reforms are needed to change the incentives for existing colleges and challenge their credentialing monopoly.

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Conservative policymakers have been an important check on spending, but have largely failed to enunciate their own higher education agenda. An alternative vision should create space for new postsecondary options and ideas, not just address the amount of funding.

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While “it is never easy to pay for college, it’s just easier than most people think,” said Senator Lamar Alexander.

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Futurists think that traditional colleges are doomed. I think that many institutions can adapt to these new challenges, but only if they’re willing to question the structures and routines that too often go unquestioned.

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Given the limits of public budgets, we shouldn’t allow the current focus on banishing student debt through increased spending to overshadow established bipartisan ideas that might achieve similar goals but at little to no cost to taxpayers.

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A bipartisan coalition in the House of Representatives introduced a bill that would repeal the ban on a federal student unit record system, thus providing students and parents with vital information on earnings and loan repayment rates from institutions and individual programs.

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On Saturday, cultural critic Lee Siegel argued in the New York Times that student loans are in fact immoral, and that defaulting is the path to liberation. This is, quite possibly, the worst advice you could give, especially to low-income students.

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Sanders (I-VT) uses a bullhorn to speak to supporters gathered outside a town-hall campaign stop at New England College in Concord, New Hampshire May 27, 2015. Reuters

Instead of making public college free for all students, policymakers should look to foster more entrepreneurship in higher education while giving all institutions a real stake in their students’ success.

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