Higher Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Higher Education Initiative

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Now that President Obama has been reelected, and he has more time to sit back and read Higher Ed Watch, we are presenting our wish list for his second term. [And Mr. President, while you're at it, we're sure you'll enjoy our posts from last week highlighting your first term's biggest higher education hits and misses!]

Among other things, we (the authors of this post) would like to see the Obama administration do the following:

  • Develop long-term solutions for revamping the federal financial aid programs, rather than continuing to scramble to come up with stop-gap measures to shore up funding for these programs in the heat of high-stakes budget battles.
  • Finalize the financial aid shopping sheet and scorecard—and make them mandatory. Students and families need clear, consistent, useable information at key points in their decision-making process. Given that many institutions currently benefit from the lack of this information, voluntary adoption of these efforts will accomplish very little.
  • Push for a student unit record system. We have a clunky hodgepodge of unconnected data systems that overly burden institutions yet are incapable of answering basic questions like “how do Pell students fare in college and in the workforce.”  Given the seismic shifts in America’s use of and comfort with data since the unit record database wars of 6 years ago, it is time to revisit the idea of a system that will allow students, families, taxpayers, and policy makers to know how students fare as they proceed through the educational system and into the workforce.
  • Reform the back-end of the student loan program so that borrowers who are too financially distressed to repay their federal loans are not subject to the same harsh treatment as those who deliberately skip out on their loans. Those who simply don’t have the money to make their payments should not be left at the mercy of private collection companies who have the power to chase them to their graves.
  • Provide relief to struggling borrowers who were victims of the private student loan industry’s predatory lending practices. The administration should at the very least push Congress to allow private loans to be discharged in bankruptcy, like all other consumer debt.
  • Take oversight and enforcement responsibilities more seriously. Obama administration officials went to great lengths to strengthen the Education Department’s program integrity rules. But after rewriting the rules, they seemed timid about using their authority – even in clear-cut cases where for-profit higher education companies acknowledged that major abuses had occurred.
  • Fix the U.S. Department of Education’s student loan servicing system. The student loan companies that the Education Department has hired to administer direct loans are clearly having trouble helping borrowers who are struggling with their repayment responsibilities. Meanwhile, the introduction of dozens of non-profit student loan servicers into the direct loan program – as required by the 2010 student loan reform bill – has created many headaches and complications for borrowers.
  •  Promote experimentation and innovation. The administration should use the authority it has to create experiments with federal financial aid that could pay for innovative delivery of higher education. Such experiments would allow for controlled testing of federal policy changes, which would give policy makers the opportunity to test the unknowns and push the boundaries of what is possible without having to upend the entire federal aid system.

That's our wish list. How about yours? Please send us any higher education recommendations you may have for President Obama. We look forward to reading them.

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