One of my favorite phrases when teaching educational policy is “the devil is in the details” (I once wrote an article that used that phrase as the title – it’s chapter 2 of this report). Politicians and policymakers will often issue grand policy proposals that address issues from an altitude of 35,000 feet, and until the details of the new policy are fleshed out it is difficult to determine what the impact will be at ground level.
This is very much the case with President Obama’s announcement last week of a new set of proposals to address the issue of the rising price of college and how Americans pay for it. As I described in my post last week, the president articulated a series of proposals that are very broad in scope and for the most part will require Congressional action in order to implement them. Thus, it is difficult at this point to determine with any degree of certainty what impact the proposals will have on colleges, universities, and students, but I will do my best to analyze them from the information the White House has provided.
This week President Obama outlined a new series of proposals to help Americans deal with the rising price of college. Addressing college costs has been a priority of the president’s from early on in his first term, but this is probably the most comprehensive set of proposals that have been released at one time. He described them on a two-day, two-state bus tour of college campuses.
There is a lot packaged in the president’s proposals, and in the next couple of blog posts I will provide analysis of some of the key pieces. The proposals fall under three main topics:
Provide incentives for both higher education institutions and students to link financial aid to performance;
Encourage innovation on the part of colleges and universities to come up with new pathways toward less expensive degrees and provide better information to students and parents; and
Make loan debt more manageable for those who borrowed to pay for college.
Last month I described my testimony at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on getting better information about college. One of the topics mentioned by a few of the House committee members was the issue of the return on the investment in college as measured by what students are earning today. There has been much interest in getting better data about what graduates of different colleges earn when they enter the labor markets, so that prospective students can get an idea of what the return on their investment in postsecondary education will be.
While measuring the return on investment (ROI) of attending different colleges sounds like a good idea, in reality it is a complex and challenging task. To calculate an ROI, one has to have accurate data on both the value of the investment as well as the value of the return, or the earnings that the investor receives from her investment. While we have lots of data on the cost of attending different colleges, including some data on net prices (as I described in my testimony), we have very little accurate, reliable, and comprehensive data on what the graduates of different colleges earn.
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.