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Bipartisan Policy Center Unveils Blueprint for Higher Ed Reform

January 31, 2020 by Kate Michael
The campus of Georgetown University. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – A new report released by D.C.-based think tank,  Bipartisan Policy Center, hopes to create a “bipartisan blueprint” for higher education reform. 

Attaining a post-secondary degree is believed to be vital for success in today’s workforce, lauded for long-term financial gain, job stability, career satisfaction, and even social growth. But challenges like rising tuition, student debt, and lackluster institutional performance keep many Americans from making their college dream a reality.

The federal government’s role in higher education policy is piloted by the Higher Education Act (HEA), which was first passed in 1965, but has since been rewritten eight times. The current version of the HEA has not been updated since 2008 and is seen by many as inadequate to address the issues facing today’s students.

As it waits for Congress to take up reauthorization of the HEA, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) convened a Task Force directed to “produce a package of recommendations aimed at boosting access and affordability, strengthening institutional capacity and accountability, and improving data and information for students.” 

Two years in the making with a diverse team of 17 former lawmakers, college presidents, and strategists from across the educational system, the Bipartisan Policy Center Task Force this week released its report on Higher Education Financing and Student Outcomes: A New Course for Higher Education.

The 140-page report presents 45 recommendations including reforms to increase efficiencies and reduce unmet need, like increasing mandatory Pell funding by $9 billion per year, while also establishing a $5 billion federal-state partnership grant to improve outcomes among low- and middle-income students.

“Today’s student body is not traditional and requires a different set of supports,” said co-chair of BPC’s higher education finance task force and former Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.

A BPC survey revealed that less than a quarter of Americans believe that college is affordable.  Meanwhile, the Federal government allocates $150 billion in student loans and Pell grants.  

The task force was divided on the level of federal resources that should be directed to post-secondary education, opting to pursue a cost-neutral package using existing federal resources. Increases would be offset by other recommendations, like eliminating the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, and the student loan interest deduction.

The report also addresses the complex issue of Public Service Loan Forgiveness. It suggests applying new standards to Parent PLUS loans, to keep parents from taking on untenable debt on behalf of their children; and it calls for redefining the metrics used to disallow institutional eligibility for federal aid, hoping to remove the worst-performers with measures for program-level loan repayment, completion, earnings among graduates, and outcomes for low-income students.

In addition to recommendations that improve access, affordability, and accountability, the BPC report endorses reforms to institutional data that could guide students’ decision-making on college costs and financial aid. These changes prioritize transparency and comparability while reducing confusion, like requiring schools that accept federal aid to standardize financial aid offers.

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