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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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After years of tinkering and partisan bickering, there are now opportunities for meaningful higher education reform. Congress should not let those opportunities slip away over the next two years.

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The existing higher education system is not narrowing gaps between high- and low-income families; rather, it is widening them.

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Vocational offerings like career and technical education or apprenticeships are treated as an option of last resort for struggling students, not a critical on-ramp to a successful and productive life. Rethinking the balance our education system strikes between education and training would help grow our economy without sacrificing the things that have made American education great.

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Higher ed reformers need to be cognizant of the strengths and weaknesses of the institutions they rely on to accomplish their goals.

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The ratings system must make sure colleges are not rewarded for the students that they enroll, but for the education that they provide. Also, it is much easier for colleges to change the students that they enroll than it is to change the quality of education that they provide.

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Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren, and Richard Blumenthal discuss student loans in a  Generation Progress video chat on June 3, 2014, .

Democrats face an uphill battle in their quest to hold the Senate in November. In their effort to get an edge, they’ve targeted one group in particular: college-educated voters with student-loan debt. Democratic plans to help student-loan borrowers have been a key talking point on the campaign trail this year, and sit at the center of the party’s “Fair Shot” agenda.

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As long as we continue to define “the best colleges” as those that enroll the best students–as opposed to those that teach their students the most or deliver the best return on investment–rankings competition will do little to expand educational opportunity.

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Is it “dangerous” to break up the college cartel?

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There’s a growing movement afoot to hold colleges responsible for a portion of loans their students default on. On its face, this sounds like a good idea. But how would it work in practice?

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Paul Ryan’s 73-page blueprint for expanding opportunity is chock full of ideas for higher education and job training reform. And rightfully so: opportunities for high school grads have shriveled up, but the cost of postsecondary education is crushing American families. The standard federal solution—upping student aid to temporarily bring prices down—is failing.

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