The Corner

Education

The Higher Education Act Can and Should Be Improved

Passing the Higher Education Act in 1965 was a great national blunder — as was just about everything that came out of LBJ’s “Great Society.” The federal government has no useful (or constitutional) role in higher education, but it seems that we are stuck with federal meddling for a long time to come. Thus, we ought to look for ways of using federal authority to make higher education less bad.

That’s my topic in this Martin Center piece.

It’s a riff on some splendid work by the National Association of Scholars, namely their “Freedom to Learn Amendments.”

In brief: The law should make colleges and universities protect the First Amendment rights of students (if the schools want to keep getting federal student aid money) and stop violating due process of law when students are accused of sexual assault; the law should use mandatory accreditation only to weed out schools that are unsound financially and leave quality accreditation optional; the law should compel colleges to reveal amounts they pay in fees and honoraria to outside speakers (thus making it clear that many of them are using money to support leftist speakers and causes); the law should compel schools to bear some of the risk when they admit students who use federal loans for their education; and the law should require colleges and universities to use a minimum percentage of their endowment earnings to lower the costs of attending.

Only the last of those suggestions is troubling, since it will do scant good while further inserting federal bureaucrats into decisions that school officials themselves are entitled to make.

Since it now appears that the DeVos team at the Education Department lacks anyone with fire in the belly for higher-education reform, it falls to Congress to rewrite the Higher Education Act in ways that will lead to better policy. That’s not a bad thing, though, since Congress is supposed to make law, not the bureaucracy.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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