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A Real Opportunity for Higher Education | Commentary

Congress and the administration have recently been talking a lot about access to and affordability of higher education. The administration has proposed an ambitious overhaul of our entire higher-education system, including the development of a college scorecard to ensure that students and their families have all of the information they need to make an informed decision about their postsecondary education.

The college scorecard will be hugely useful for families only if the data used to create it are readily available and accurate. Innovative technology companies have already developed this technology and have been collecting and analyzing student and institution data and can be an effective partner to policymakers in creating a scorecard and other higher-education policies that will help families with one of the biggest financial decisions they will make.

The Higher Education Act, the federal law that governs all higher education, was first enacted in 1965 to pave the way for millions of students to access higher education. Once a vehicle of access to higher education, the law is now more than 1,000 pages long and has most recently been a barrier to innovation. The Higher Education Act includes pages and pages of regulations added during the 2008 reauthorization that have never been enforced. If Congress continues down this path, the next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, due next year, will likely create hundreds of pages of more regulations that are never enforced and programs that are never funded.

Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act represents a real opportunity for Congress to address the issues of student access, affordability and retention. Congress should send a clearer signal that private sector partnerships with institutions of higher education can be part of the solution and not the problem.

The cost of attendance at all institutions of higher education has grown astronomically over the past 25 years, and some policymakers have questioned whether a college degree is even worth the investment. Policymakers have continually grappled with how to increase access and affordability since the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 2008. Some members of Congress are under increasing pressure to compel colleges and universities to reduce tuition costs and have encouraged colleges to aggressively seek alternative ways to manage expenses. Yet, many of the same policymakers have criticized partnerships and technologies that do just that. If we deny or discourage institutions from adopting innovations that reduce their costs, how can we expect tuition costs to fall?

The administration’s higher-education plan offers no specifics but expresses the importance of encouraging innovation by stripping away unnecessary regulations. Congress should work with the administration to begin reviewing existing regulations through the committee process to re-evaluate which ones are working as intended and which ones are not.

The impact of innovation in higher education is extraordinary and the possibilities are endless. At a time when we are seeing exciting new approaches in higher education, Congress should be working to promote progressive policies instead of creating additional barriers. Technology innovators stand ready to serve, but will Congress listen?

Miles Lasater is the co-founder and president of Higher One, a technology company that helps institutions of higher education allocate resources more efficiently to provide a higher quality of service and education to college students

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