Hillary Clinton’s just announced “New College Compact” sets forth a broad and ambitious agenda that includes much to consider for those of us in higher education. As the likely Democratic nominee, her proposal is sure to spur essential discussion and debate on these critical issues, especially with the clock ticking on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act prior to 2016.
Among the Compact’s bright spots is Clinton’s recognition that one of the major reasons for increases in tuition among public institutions since the Great Recession has been the across-the-board reduction of financial support by all 50 states. And, while her grant program to offset erosion in public support does allow a state to opt out, there is also a “stop loss” provision that prevents states from spending less than they now do on higher education.
Other aspects of the New College Compact, such as reducing the interest rate on student loans, expanding Americorps, and the expectation that aid recipients will engage in part-time work, are also likely to have broad appeal. The concept of “risk-sharing” – requiring institutions to pay back a percentage of Federal financial aid if there students default on their loans – has also found support among many higher education reformers.
Aside from concerns about the $350 Billion that will be needed to make the Compact a reality, there are other areas where disagreement should be expected. As the president of an online nonprofit institution, I can’t help but vigorously pushback on the Compact’s characterization of online learning, in particular the need to “restore its integrity.” The fact is, online learning is embedded into the American higher education experience because it works. Nearly three quarters of all accredited institutions have online programs and, thanks to the grassroots initiative Quality Matters, the effectiveness of such instruction has never been greater. While there may be some poor quality programs, the same could be said of traditional instruction as well.