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?
Leaders recognize the need for change, but progress will require forward-looking, evidence-based reform ideas and a coherent policy agenda. After four years of building a reputation for rigorous, nonpartisan research and thought leadership on higher education issues, AEI is primed to take on a more significant leadership role in this emerging conversation with the launch of a new Center on Higher Education Reform (CHER).
Led by founding director and AEI resident scholar Andrew P. Kelly, the center will conduct independent, data-driven research and policy analysis designed to inform policymaking, shape the reform conversation, and push past the special-interest talking points, partisan sound bites, and naïve silver-bullet solutions that tend to dominate policy debates. CHER’s scholarship will ask timely, policy-relevant questions and use the latest data to uncover pressing problems, explore opportunities for reform, and identify barriers to change.
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.
In addition to continuing to contribute to AEI Education’s existing products, including research conferences, working groups, and the Education Outlook series, the center will begin publishing its signature product — an annual report on higher education policy — in spring 2014. This yearly report will feature original empirical research intended to inform contemporary policy debates with relevant and accessible content.
Director of the Center on Higher Education Reform
Andrew P. Kelly is a resident scholar in education policy studies at AEI. His research focuses on higher education policy, innovation, financial aid reform, and the politics of education policy. Previously, he was a research assistant at AEI, where his work focused on the preparation of school leaders, collective bargaining in public schools, and the politics of education. His research has appeared in the American Journal of Education, Teachers College Record, Educational Policy, and Policy Studies Journal, as well as popular outlets such as Forbes, The Atlantic, Education Week, Inside Higher Education, and The Weekly Standard. He is coeditor of “Getting to Graduation: The Completion Agenda in Higher Education” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), “Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit: Lessons from A Half-Century of Federal Efforts to Improve America's Schools” (Harvard Educational Publishing Group, 2012), and “Reinventing Higher Education: The Promise of Innovation” (Harvard Educational Publishing Group, 2011). In 2011, Kelly was named one of 16 "Next Generation Leaders" in education policy by the Policy Notebook blog on Education Week. Kelly received his master’s degree in political science from University of California at Berkeley and his bachelor’s degree in history from Dartmouth College.
Awilda Rodriguez is a research fellow at AEI. She recently completed her Ph.D. in higher education at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education. Most recently, she was part of a research team conducting a five-state study in collaboration with National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education on how state policies influence state performance in higher education. Awilda's research interests include access issues for traditionally underrepresented students in higher education, particularly college guidance and information. Before beginning her doctorate program at Penn, she worked as an analyst for the New York City Department of Education and in the education nonprofit sector. She has a master’s degree in education administration, planning, and social policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University.
Kathryn C. Deane is a research associate at AEI. Her research focuses on financial aid and admission practices in higher education, with a particular focus on liberal arts colleges. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a master’s degree in education policy. Before her studies at Penn, she worked for two years as an assistant dean of admission at Reed College. Deane graduated from Reed with a bachelor’s degree in economics.
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Clunky and poorly-timed government application processes can depress participation rates among the very people the programs are designed to help.
The current debate about higher education has reached an odd status quo: we’re questioning whether college is “worth it” at the same time that completing some form of postsecondary education is more important to economic success than ever before.
To fix higher education, conservatives must fight for root-and-branch reform by, for example, reinventing the student-loan program, offering new paths to accreditation, forcing higher-education institutions to disclose information on how their graduates fare in the labor market, and supporting occupational opportunities that provide the non-college-bound with real-world skills.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are clearly not the solution to higher education’s problems—far from it. Instead, they are one tool among many that, if properly deployed, could improve postsecondary education. Lost in this polarizing debate is a clear-eyed look at the role MOOCs are well-suited to play.
Lost in the polarizing debate about massive open online courses (MOOCs) is a clear assessment of how this new medium is actually affecting postsecondary education, if at all, and how it could be useful in the future. The reality is, MOOCs are a tool, not a solution. And like any tool, they are likely to be more useful for some jobs than for others.
Rationing federal credit through a more complex system involving individual loan underwriting that assesses the likelihood that a given borrower will be able to repay the debt, rather than through the flat borrowing caps that are in place today, could be a more effective way to protect consumers.