Transforming the Higher Education Act for the 21st Century

National Organizations Outline Student-Centered Principles for HEA Reauthorization

A group of organizations today announced a set of seven shared principles for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA). The law, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is one of the primary sources of funding for expanding learning and economic opportunities for all Americans. 

The principles reflect the input of 12 national organizations from across the business and workforce development communities, including: The Aspen Institute’s Skills for America’s Future; Business Roundtable; CAEL; Center for Law and Social Policy; Committee for Economic Development; HR Policy Association; Jobs for the Future; National Association of System Heads; National Governors Association; National Skills Coalition; New America Foundation; and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

In the 50 years since Congress first passed HEA, the U.S. economy and society have experienced major changes – from technological transformations like the Internet to increased educational requirements for jobs across the economy. The seven guiding principles seek to increase the quality, affordability and relevance of educational opportunities supported by HEA reauthorization: 

  1. Outcomes are what matter. Student outcomes need to play a stronger role in our quality assurance system and in the rules determining access to public federal higher education funds.
  2. Federal financial aid policies need to be more flexible. The federal student aid programs authorized under Title IV of HEA do too little to support students who are older, returning to school, or seeking specific skills and credentials for work.
  3. Higher education needs to do more to connect learning and work. HEA reauthorization should encourage institutions to expand experiential learning opportunities by supporting the use of college work-study and other innovative strategies for fostering stronger linkages between work-based and classroom learning.
  4. Accreditation processes need to be more transparent and rigorous. Our quality assurance system is fragmented, duplicative, and overly focused on institutional inputs and processes rather than program quality and student outcomes.
  5. Quality assurance processes should focus more on programs and credentials. Improved competency and credential validation processes that include employers would go a long way to improve transparency around skill attainment and to ensure that credentials are used for making employment-related decisions.
  6. Higher education is not an island; HEA shouldn’t be either. The reauthorization of HEA creates opportunities to better align the law, particularly the rules surrounding access to the federal student aid programs, with other federal education and training programs.
  7. Policy should encourage innovation and experimentation. HEA should provide safe spaces for experimentation with new outcome-based quality assurance processes, alternative currency for awarding financial aid, and rigorous evaluation of new approaches. 

In sharing these guiding principles with policymakers, the 12 supporting organizations signal their commitment to work with Congress to renew the promise of HEA and expand the scope and impact of the nation’s postsecondary education system. 

Click here to read the principles.

ATTACHMENT:

transforming-the-higher-education-act-for-the-21st-century

Author:

Mary Alice McCarthy is the director of the Center on Education and Skills with the Education Policy program at New America. Her work examines the intersection between higher education, workforce development, and job training policies