As frustrated as Americans are with the rising cost of higher education and the fear that a college degree is no longer enough to guarantee a middle class life, today’s families are even more afraid that without a college degree, their children won’t even be able to get a low-wage job. All Americans, but particularly the young, are desperate for affordable and effective post-secondary options that can help them gain the skills they’ll need to achieve economic independence.
The problem, according to Andrew Kelly, is that a generation of well-intentioned policies originally designed to expand opportunity and protect consumers have wound up encouraging enrollment at any college, no matter how lousy, and at any price, no matter how high, providing little incentive for colleges to rein in tuition or make sure their students are achieving their goals.
To fix higher education, conservatives must fight for root-and-branch reform by, for example, reinventing the student-loan program to give colleges and universities an incentive to remain affordable and making it easier to new higher-education institutions to compete with incumbents by offering new paths to accreditation. Forcing higher-education institutions to disclose information on how their graduates fare in the labor market and whether they can actually pay their loans would go a long way towards helping parents and students make smart decisions about how they spend their tuition dollars. By creating space for market-based financing instruments like Income Share Agreements, policymakers can help provide students with valuable market signals about which schools and which majors are most likely to pay off. And instead of just focusing on traditional four-year higher education, we must support occupational opportunities, like high-quality apprenticeship programs that provide the non-college-bound with real-world skills.
Andrew P. Kelly is the director of the Center on Higher Education Reform and a resident scholar in education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.