Improving college affordability and value is an important topic being discussed across the country, and the U.S. Department of Education recently held public forums around the country for citizens to provide feedback on the Obama Administration’s proposals to address college costs.
“We know this is not only important for the individual, but our competitiveness as a nation depends on having people who can compete, not any more with the people who are around them, but with people around the world,” said James H. Shelton III, acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. “And yet recognizing how important this is, what we’ve allowed ourselves to do is have a system that has become extraordinarily expensive.”
On Thursday, Nov. 21, the department’s final public forum took place at LSU, and a number of college administrators, faculty, staff, students and the general public from across the South attended to give their input on higher education trends and changes in America.
“They’ve come to LSU to talk with Louisiana parents, citizens, presidents and others about what the federal government can do to sustain the current financial structure that we have in place so that we don’t lose the funding that we have and our students don’t suffer five, 10, 15 years from now,” said LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander.
Including the forum at LSU, a total of four public meetings were held to coincide with the Department of Education’s Request for Information, or RFI, to ask experts to weigh in on methods for creating a college ratings system that would better inform students and encourage institutions to improve.
“The president has called us to create a system that will allow us not only to invest the individuals but to allow them to take those dollars in disproportionate ways to institutions that are going to serve them well and serve the public good well; that serve the public interest of access; that recognize the importance of affordability; and ultimately, of course, that produce great student outcomes,” Shelton said. “That is the work we are setting about, but we know that this frame work is something that we can’t enter into lightly.”
The open forums were designed to offer the opportunity for members of the public to provide feedback on the department’s proposals, as well as to hear the input of others. Forums took place Nov. 6 at The California State University-Dominguez Hills, Nov. 13 at George Mason University, Nov. 15 at Northern Iowa University and Nov. 21 at LSU.
“This is a challenge for our nation to develop a better system, not necessarily of rankings, but a better system of identifying which institutions are serving public missions, which institutions are serving the public good and which institutions are still committed to the things that public higher education was committed to for decades in the past before we all privatize and move away from these structures and move away from these commitments and missions,” Alexander said.
Alexander added that time is right to ask questions about value, affordability and keeping state’s engaged in funding higher education.
“The timing is right to have another higher education debate, one that we haven’t had since 1972, one that we need to have to ensure that 10 years from now there will be student aid in the system,” Alexander said. “So there is indeed an urgency in this topic. There’s urgency in developing solutions.”
The public forums build on the Department of Education’s outreach activities already underway. Since the president’s announcement in August of a new college affordability and value plan, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and department officials have participated in events across the country to hear suggestions and concerns. Officials have traveled to Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C., to speak with groups like the American Association of State Colleges and Universities; the Historically Black Colleges and University Presidents’ Board of Advisors; the American Council on Education; independent college groups in Massachusetts and California; and more.
“We cannot sustain the American promise, especially for those who have historically not benefited from it, if we don’t solve this problem,” Shelton said.
Alexander participated in the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, where he presided over a presidential forum on “Ratings, Quality and Educational Innovation: A Conversation with Martha Kanter.” Alexander also presented on “President Obama’s Proposal and Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act” at the 126th annual meeting of the Association of Public Land Grant Universities in Washington, D.C., Nov. 10-12.
“The urgency of tackling what we’re doing in higher education has never been more important,” Alexander said. “We now have the federal government very involved and concerned about this issue, as they should be.”
In addition to the hosting the forums, the Department of Education will continue to participate in outreach events like roundtable discussions, town hall conversations and meetings with key stakeholders.
In the coming weeks, the department will also formally ask data experts and researchers to weigh in on the college ratings system through an RFI. Early next year, the department will host a technical symposium where external experts can engage in further discussion and deliberate on these issues in greater depth. The department will then publish a summary of the recommendations that were developed as a result of the RFI and the symposium, as well as other resources identified by external experts participating in the symposium, on the department’s college affordability and completion website, www.ed.gov/college-affordability. The department will use the feedback it receives to inform the development of proposed college rating metrics, which it will share in the spring for public comment.
For those who were unable to attend the forums in person, their ideas may also be submitted online, by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail to the U.S. Department of Education headquarters in Washington, D.C. Transcripts from the open forums will be made available on the department’s college affordability and completion website, www.ed.gov/college-affordability, shortly after each event. More information on the president’s plan to improve college value and affordability is available on this site, as well as additional details on upcoming open forums, town hall meetings, and roundtable discussions across the country.