As I have written in the past, a lot of attention is currently being paid to the topic of student loan debt in the United States (a couple of representative posts can be found here and here). Earlier this year, President Obama proposed to make community college free for all students, motivated at least in part by concerns over the growing volume of student loan debt in the nation. With the 2016 presidential campaign starting to gear up, there are already indications that student loans will be an important topic of debate.
I recently received in my email inbox a request to sign a petition to “forgive all student loan debt” in the country. The email did not come from some fringe group that was an offshoot of the Occupy Movement that first started a few years ago, and included as one of its platforms the elimination of all student loan debt. The email came from the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teacher union in the country, representing over 1.6 million members. The AFT, in conjunction with other groups, is calling on President Obama and Congress to wipe out all of the existing $1.3 trillion in loan debt held by current and former college students in the nation.
Last week, I published an op-ed on the Education Week website telling the story of a difficult decision our family made about my daughter’s educational future.
Two years ago, it was my older daughter who participated in this spring ritual. And in another two years, my younger daughter would be scheduled to graduate from high school. But she will not, because she has decided to drop out of high school after only two years. And my wife and I support her decision.
The White House yesterday announced a new series of proposals to force colleges and universities to do a better job to prevent sexual assaults on campuses, and to do more to support the victims of assaults when they do occur. The proposals came from a high-level task force the president created in January (it contained three cabinet secretaries) to address an issue that has received intense scrutiny both on college campuses, as well as in the media, in the last year or so.
A key finding of the task force, as reported in The New York Times, is that, “one in five female college students has been assaulted, but that just 12 percent of such attacks are reported.” As a father with one daughter in college, and a second heading there in the future, these numbers are disturbing. It is clear that we in higher education need to heed the call for reform.
Earlier this week I testified at a hearing held by the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce. The hearing, titled “Keeping College Within Reach: Enhancing Transparency for Students, Families, and Taxpayers,” examined what type of information about colleges is available to students interested in enrolling in postsecondary education, and what can be done to improve the quality of the information.
This is one of a series of hearings being held in both the House and the Senate in preparation for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), the primary legislation that outlines the federal government’s role with respect to postsecondary education. The HEA was last reauthorized in 2008, and is due to be reauthorized again this year.
This week I gave a keynote address at the American Marketing Association Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. The meeting in New Orleans had approximately 1,000 attendees, most of whom were marketing and communications professionals in colleges and universities, the remainder largely representatives of firms that sell marketing services and products to higher education institutions. The organizers were encouraging attendees to tweet throughout the conference, and one of the sponsors was offering a prize to tweeters (though it wasn’t clear whether the prize was going to the most prolific tweeter, the most salient, or perhaps the luckiest).
My talk was the luncheon keynote, and the lunch was a Thanksgiving meal – just what every after-lunch speaker wants, a large dose of tryptophan delivered to the audience. I joked to the person introducing me that they might as well have put a football game on the large screens flanking the stage, that way everyone could have just gone to sleep. But undaunted, I embarked on my talk titled, “Higher Education Under Attack: Why Doesn’t Anybody Like Us and How Should We Respond?” While I have given a number of keynotes in the past, and I’m sure throughout some of the recent ones people were tweeting, this is the first time that there was active encouragement of tweeting.
The presidential election is less than a month away, and the candidates are gearing up for the final push. As most observers expected, the economy has dominated much of the political discourse. But other topics have crept into the campaigns, including education.
Last week’s first presidential debate focused on domestic policy issues, and moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS opened the session by stating that it would be divided into six segments, with, “three on the economy and one each on health care, the role of government, and governing,” according to Mr. Lehrer (you can read a transcript or watch a video of the debate if you missed it). Lehrer did ask one question about education: “Does the federal government have a responsibility to improve the quality of public education in America?”
Governor Romney’s response to this question was one of the few times where he said that his views were aligned with any policies of the Obama administration, stating that he agreed with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top program. President Obama, not surprisingly, also touted the Race to the Top program, as well as other initiatives his Department of Education and administration had put into place, including steps to try to control the growth in tuition prices across the country.