Issues in Higher Education

October 26, 2018 – Volume 28, Issue 38
Should universities focus more on job training? By Alan Greenblatt


Students advocate for free public college (Cover: Getty Images/Anadolu Agency/Cem Ozdel)  
Students advocate for free public college during a November 2015 demonstration at Hunter College in New York City. As tuition and student debt have risen over the past decade, a partisan divide about higher education has widened. Many liberals favor increased access to college, and many conservatives want universities to focus more on job training and demonstrate more openness to conservative ideas on campus. (Cover: Getty Images/Anadolu Agency/Cem Ozdel)

Cuts in state higher-education funding have led public colleges and universities to sharply raise tuition and fees, which in turn has helped push student debt to more than $1.5 trillion and put college out of reach for millions. As costs have risen, higher education has increasingly become an ideological battleground, with liberals charging that government is not doing enough to help young people attain a degree and conservatives arguing that colleges should do more to provide students with practical job skills. Against that backdrop are bitter disagreements over free-speech rights on campus and disputes over college admission standards. The outcome of some of the controversies hinges on the ballot box, with some liberal politicians calling for “free” taxpayer-funded tuition and conservatives demanding that schools focus more on skills-based training. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is easing rules on for-profit colleges, stirring new concerns that students could be hurt if such schools fail to deliver a quality education.

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Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is pushing for a complete overhaul of his state's public colleges and universities. For too long, he contends, they have been offering majors — such as French, which he repeatedly has derided — that do little to prepare graduates for the needs of the marketplace.

“All the people in the world that want to study French literature can do so, they are just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayer,” Bevin said during his first State of the Commonwealth address in 2016.

This year Bevin cut the state's funding for higher education by 6.25 percent, capping off 35 percent in inflation-adjusted cutbacks since 2008.1 The reductions were prompted in part by the state's overall budget situation, but Bevin made clear his desire to force colleges and universities to shift their priorities — both in the majors they offer and what he sees as their liberal political teachings.

“The purpose of public education and of public dollars going into education isn't to humor people that are liberal,” he said. “It is to ensure that people who need to hire people to do work actually have the skills necessary.”2

Similar concerns among other politicians have led to a moment of change for higher education. Many conservative politicians, like Bevin, are cutting state support for universities, which they say need to revamp their curricula to include more skills-based courses to better prepare students for available jobs. Many policymakers also would like to see more students taking job-training programs at two-year institutions.

Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin attends a rally (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)  
Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin attends a rally with President Trump in Richmond, Ky., on Oct. 13. Bevin cut the state's funding for higher education by 6.5 percent this year, capping off 35 percent in inflation-adjusted cutbacks since 2008. He wants Kentucky's public universities to focus more on teaching work-related skills. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The situation is complicated by a widening partisan split over higher education's priorities: Conservatives complain students are being indoctrinated with liberal bias, while liberals worry most about rising tuition costs that leave graduates deep in debt. Higher education faces other challenges as well, such as declining international student enrollment, Trump administration efforts to loosen regulations on for-profit schools that offer career training and renewed debates over affirmative action in university admissions.

For decades, higher education has been viewed as the major pathway to middle-class incomes, and students have been encouraged to seek a post-high school education. But policymakers are more skeptical today, seeking ways to make higher education focus more on “outcomes” — what happens to graduates after they leave school and enter the workforce.

“People are looking at what's coming out the other side, which is a large number of people who … have degrees that aren't helping them in the labor market,” says Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute in New York.

Defenders of the humanities and other nonvocational fields say such studies teach students softer skills, such as how to communicate and collaborate, which will have longer shelf lives than programs that train them for specific jobs that are available right now. “Employers and CEOs are looking for critical reasoning, collaboration, character, creativity …, the kinds of things that come out of a true liberal arts education,” says Rolf Wegenke, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents private schools in that state.

Some governors have been promoting the idea of apprenticeship programs that combine coursework with work experience and training, an approach that traditionally has been part of the mission of community colleges. But today policymakers are ardently pursuing closer cooperation between higher education institutions and employers.

“Ten years ago, it was a novel idea for university presidents to ask governors how their universities can fit into overall state strategic pictures,” says Bennett Boggs, who tracks higher education issues for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Now, it's a given.”

A major driver of such debates — and the partisan divide — has been the rising cost of higher education. Some Republicans support cuts in funding, while many Democrats tend to seek more financial support — perhaps even making tuition free, at least for the first two years.

Average tuition at four-year public universities has shot up 37 percent over the past decade, although the rate of increase has begun to slow. Undergraduate tuition, room and board averaged $21,400 at a state university in 2017–18 — and $48,380 at private colleges.3

The partisan divide on higher education is reflected in public opinion surveys. A July Pew Research Center poll found that 73 percent of Republicans believe higher education is going in the wrong direction, compared with 52 percent of Democrats. A Gallup poll released this month found that only 39 percent of Republicans expressed confidence in higher education, down 17 points since 2015 — and far lower than the 62 percent among Democrats.4

The Pew poll reveals a clear split between Democrats and Republicans on why they are concerned about higher education. Democrats overwhelmingly worry about tuition costs, while more than three-quarters of Republicans, who share such worries, also complain that professors bring liberal political views into the classroom or shelter students from conservative speakers.5

The bar graph shows the percentage of U.S. adults who say higher education is going in the right or wrong direction. “No response” results are not shown. The line graph shows the percentage of U.S. adults, overall and by political party, who say they view higher education negatively due to reasons listed below.  

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Nearly three-quarters of Republicans think higher education is going in the wrong direction, while 52 percent of Democrats feel that way, and those groups differ on the reasons. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe that institutions are too concerned about shielding students from offensive viewpoints, that professors are pushing their political views in the classroom and that students are not receiving necessary workplace skills. Democrats overwhelmingly are concerned about high tuition costs.

Source: Anna Brown, “Most Americans say higher ed is heading in wrong direction, but partisans disagree on why,” Pew Research Center, July 26, 2018,

Data for the graphic are as follows:

Group Percentage of U.S. Adults Who Say Higher Education Is Going in the Wrong Direction Percentage of U.S. Adults Who Say Higher Education Is Going in the Right Direction
All adults 61% 38%
Republican or leans Republican 73% 26%
Democrat or leans Democratic 52% 46%

Reason for Viewing Higher Education Negatively Percentage Who Are Democrats or lean Democratic Percentage Who Are Republicans or lean Republican Percentage of All Adults
Tuition costs are too high 92% 77% 84%
Students are not getting the necessary workplace skills 56% 73% 65%
There is too much concern about protecting students from views they might find offensive 31% 75% 54%
Professors bring their political and social views into the classroom 17% 79% 50%

Conservative media and free-speech advocates have decried protests in recent years, including some that turned violent, against conservative speakers on some college campuses. The University of California, Berkeley, for example, canceled an appearance last year by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who denounces women and minorities, after protests against him turned violent, causing $100,000 worth of property damage.6 A few weeks later, student protesters at Middlebury College in Vermont shut down an appearance by conservative scholar Charles Murray, who has written about race and intelligence. Allison Stanger, a professor of international politics and economics who was trying to moderate the discussion, was injured by protesters as she left the venue.7

“When speakers need police escorts on and off college campuses, an alarm bell should be going off that something has gone seriously awry,” writes Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.8

Liberal speakers have been shut down on some campuses as well, and some professors have been fired. But incidents such as those at Berkeley and Middlebury have been isolated, said Sanford J. Ungar, director of the Free Speech Project at Georgetown University. Most, he wrote, “seem to involve the same few speakers: Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro, Charles Murray and Ann Coulter,” people who “seem to invite, and delight in, disruption.”9

Still, some Republicans such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have complained that campuses have turned into liberal indoctrination centers. “Republicans are certainly homed in on the political aspects of colleges and universities,” says Carroll Doherty, director of political research at Pew. “There's been this big shift that has been rather striking.”

Brian C. Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, a private liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minn., wrote recently that Republicans today distrust higher education institutions “not because we are abandoning our mission,” which he said includes promoting the importance of internationalism and multiculturalism, “but because we are doing our best to carry it out.” That mission has not changed in recent years, he wrote, but today it runs “counter to a political agenda that has become increasingly nationalistic and resistant to the notion that diversity is an American strength.”10

Conservatives’ disapproval of campus politics and student outcomes have helped justify cuts to higher education budgets. The partisan divide gives politicians “brownie points for starving higher ed,” says Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Washington, which advocates for more than 400 colleges, universities and higher education systems.

At the same time, some educators say college administrators have not done a very good job of explaining the value they bring to people's lives. Studies consistently show that the more education people have, the more they are likely to earn. College graduates enjoy a substantial lifetime “wage premium” — about $900,000 for men and $630,000 for women — over those with only a high school diploma.11

Nevertheless, state support for higher education has been declining for years, shifting more of the cost onto students. State aid to colleges and universities, which has not rebounded from deep cuts during and after the 2007–09 recession, is still $7 billion lower, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than in 2008. Only four states are spending more on higher education than a decade ago.12

The rise in costs, in turn, has propelled total student debt to a record $1.5 trillion, more than twice what consumers owe on credit cards. The average baccalaureate recipient at a public or private college in 2017 faced $28,500 in debt. The federal government provides 89 percent of student loans.13

The bar graph shows the average debt per borrower obtaining bachelor's degree, from 2001 to 2002 and from 2016 to 2017 (and percent of graduates with debt).  

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The average debt incurred by borrowers earning degrees at four- year public and nonprofit private institutions increased by about 24 percent between the 2001 to 2002 and 2016 to 2017 academic years.

Source: “Average Cumulative Debt Levels in 2017 Dollars: Bachelor's Degree Recipients at Four-Year Institutions, 2001–02 to 2016–17,” The College Board, October 2018,

Data for the graphic are as follows:

School Year Percentage of Graduates with Debt Average Debt per Borrower
2001 to 2002 56% $23,000
2006 to 2007 58% $25,000
2011 to 2012 60% $27,800
2016 to 2017 59% $28,500

Worries about paying back that debt have led many of today's students to focus their studies more on job preparation than on broader liberal arts. “When you ask students why they are going to college, the number one, two and three reasons are getting a job and having a stable career,” says Amy Laitinen, director of higher education policy at New America, a liberal-leaning think tank in Washington.

But Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, pushes back against the idea that the value of higher education is purely vocational. “That's dangerous,” he says. “Individuals who complete a four-year degree should have both depth and breadth,” learning social and cognitive skills that he says will serve them well over the course of their lives, particularly when automation is threatening many rote jobs.

As cash-strapped university administrators face pressure to graduate students faster and with easily marketable skills, they also are dealing with demographic changes in their student bodies. Fewer “traditional” students — those who enroll straight out of high school and live in dorms — are enrolling today. One in five is at least 30, and half are financially independent from their parents, according to numbers culled from the National Center for Education Statistics by Alexandria Walton Radford, who heads up postsecondary education research at RTI International, a think tank in North Carolina.14

In addition, total enrollment has plateaued. At the start of this school year, 19.9 million students were expected to enroll in U.S. colleges and universities — down from the peak of 21 million in 2010.15 Moreover, after years of rapid growth in the number of foreign students, colleges are seeing fewer enrollments by international students, who had become an important revenue source for public colleges because they pay higher tuition and fees than in-state students.

As educators and policymakers debate the proper purpose and mission for colleges and universities today, here are some of the questions they are asking:

Are partisan divisions having a negative effect on higher education?

During his campaign against Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill this year, Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley criticized many of her positions, including her views on the value of higher education. Taxpayers, who support higher education through state and federal grants and student loan programs, are getting a bad deal, he said.

“Sen. McCaskill has voted time and again to hand out millions and millions of your hard-earned money to these four-year colleges and institutions that … have taken billions of dollars in tax subsidies — your money — and they've taken billions more in middle-class debt — your money — and they're increasingly doing what? Giving students worthless degrees and indoctrinating them in far-left thinking,” Hawley said at a rally in May. “It's time to put a stop to that.”16

Conservatives today complain that right-leaning speakers increasingly are being shouted down when they try to speak on campus and that universities are becoming “indoctrination camps” for leftists.

At last year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) meeting, Secretary DeVos said colleges and universities are indoctrinating students toward positions on the left, telling them “what to do, what to say and, more ominously, what to think.”17

Far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos (AFP/Getty Images/Josh Edelson)  
Far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos appears at the University of California, Berkeley in September 2017, seven months after an earlier speaking engagement there was canceled due to violent protests. Free-speech advocates complain that canceling speakers shuts down discourse, but some critics say certain speakers seem to delight in provoking disruption. (AFP/Getty Images/Josh Edelson)

Conservative media frequently echo such complaints, and, as the Pew and Gallup polls indicate, those concerns are reflected in public opinion about higher education.

College and university administrators push back on the idea that their campuses tilt left. One study published this year by higher education professors at Ohio State and other universities found that college students come to appreciate liberal and conservative ideas by essentially the same amount, thanks to exposure to a wealth of ideas on campus.

“The data show us that the most growth in appreciation happened among people who were initially least appreciative of either liberals or conservatives,” according to the study authors. “In simple terms, first-year students who begin college really disliking liberals or conservatives have their attitudes soften in college.”18

Nonetheless, administrators recognize that the growing partisan divide surrounding their institutions poses a threat. “There's no question that conservative politicians often see this as a wedge issue,” says Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, an association in Washington that represents colleges and universities. “Therefore, it is a problem that colleges and universities have to be acutely aware of.”

In the states, conservative lawmakers often threaten to cut higher education funding when they hear about courses or presentations on topics that they dislike, such as “toxic masculinity” or “the problem of whiteness.”19

“My problem many times is not so much that a liberal point of view is presented,” says Republican Wisconsin state Rep. Dave Murphy. “I just want to see some conservative opinion, also.”

Professors and higher education officials contend such concerns are overblown, that the disruptions caused by controversial speakers have not bled into the classroom. About three-dozen prominent universities, including Columbia, Princeton and the University of Missouri, have adopted a set of free-speech principles outlined by the University of Chicago.20

Liberals, meanwhile, express concern that donations from wealthy conservative donors run the risk of skewing university research, while conservatives counter that universities have long received sizable donations from left-leaning foundations.

Sometimes such concerns have motivated, at least partially, funding for higher education. Universities in Nebraska and Missouri saw funding cut after highly publicized incidents involving race and confrontations with conservatives. A series of race-related protests since 2015 at the University of Missouri led to the resignation of that system's president. “The 2015 chaos on campus led to this really quick descent of trust,” says Missouri state Sen. Caleb Rowden, a Republican whose district includes the main campus at Columbia. “Advocating for them in those moments was not easy.”

Nevertheless, threats to cut funding in response to such incidents often prove hollow. “Republicans still see the economic benefits of college,” Pew's Doherty says.

At the national level, Republicans and Democrats differ on some aspects of higher education policy, such as regulation of for-profit colleges. But there are still many areas of agreement. Governors from both parties, for instance, are promoting workforce development, sometimes borrowing ideas from each other.

Bipartisan support also exists in Congress for overturning a ban on the Department of Education collecting student-level data to facilitate tracking of employment and graduation outcomes of college students. And a Senate bill to allow prison inmates to use Pell grants to help pay for instruction has bipartisan support.

In addition, higher education officials say that most people appreciate their local colleges and universities. “When it comes to the institutions in their states or districts, they hold those in higher regard” than federal and state lawmakers, says Hurley, of the Michigan Association of State Universities.

But others worry that the sheen may be coming off of higher education as it becomes riven by partisanship. “There has been increasing skepticism about the value of higher education,” says Wegenke, of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. “It's perception issues that result when people don't understand “what higher ed does or can do.”

Should universities focus more on job training?

Many politicians echo Gov. Bevin's complaints that colleges are producing too many unemployable philosophy and psychology majors at a time when employers cannot find workers with necessary technical skills.

In his attack on Sen. McCaskill last May, for instance, Missouri Attorney General Hawley claimed she votes to fund institutions that “take your money and then churn out [students with] increasingly worthless degrees with skills that nobody can use.”21

“The pendulum swung too far to the point where there was not enough practical knowledge,” says Bob Behning, a Republican who chairs the Indiana House Education Committee. “There is a movement in this country to see how we can better align our post-secondary education to the jobs that are available.”

Policymakers in both parties are seeking strategies to help students prepare for today's workforce — not just young people right out of high school but also adults, including veterans. And, clearly, students want degrees or certificates that will increase their earning potential. A Harris poll found this year that two-thirds of 14- to 23-year-olds say financial security is their top reason to go to college.22

Among students and lawmakers, the primary purpose of higher education — and the reason it is worth such large investments of money — is to prepare individuals to fill increasingly complex and lucrative occupations. Since the end of the 2007-09 recession, 12 million workers with college degrees have entered the workforce, while there are 4 million fewer workers with only a high school diploma or less.23

But while most jobs require education or training beyond high school, they don't all require four-year degrees. “In our state, two out of three high school students go on to four-year colleges,” says Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly. “How many jobs require those degrees? One out of three. Literally 50 percent of the people are taking on debt for a degree they don't need to get for the job.”

In a move designed to prompt campuses to change their offerings, Vos supported funding cuts and the abolition of tenure in the University of Wisconsin system. In March, the university's Stevens Point campus announced it would eliminate 13 humanities and social science majors and expand job-oriented programs such as marketing, graphic design and fire science.24

It has become almost a cliche that critics of higher education say the nation needs fewer humanities majors and more welders. In one widely noted example, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said during the 2015 GOP presidential debate, “Welders make more money than philosophers, we need more welders and less philosophers.”25

“We probably did overemphasize higher education over the trades over the past 15 to 20 years,” says David Longanecker, interim president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, an organization in Colorado that facilitates policymaking in 15 states. “There is a major thrust in state policy in making sure higher education is contributing to the workforce needs of the states.”

But educators note that many of their offerings — especially in community colleges — already are designed to prepare people for work. “Americans don't understand what community colleges do,” says Antoinette Flores, associate director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington. “Half of what they do is vocational training — [preparing people for] fixing cars, cutting hair, things people need every day.”

At the university level, Longanecker points out, many degrees — such as business, science and engineering — are vocational in nature even though they are not typically labeled as such. University officials also say humanities majors prepare students for employment. Philosophy majors, for instance, have good backgrounds for going into law, and many English majors go on to become teachers.

“The desire to be able to attach a job title to every major and to make the program as short as possible is one of the most problematic things we see in the ways people are talking about higher ed,” says Nassirian, of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

In addition, says Robert Shireman, who served as deputy undersecretary of education under Democratic President Barack Obama, 20 years from now many of today's students will be in jobs that do not currently exist. “Short-term training that teaches you to be able to install air conditioning or put up solar panels means that when there's a shift in the solar industry, you're out of a job and you've got to get new training to get another job,” he says.

Indeed, says Hurley, of the Michigan Association of State Universities, and other educators, students with a well-rounded education are more likely to weather the economic changes that will accompany automation and other new technologies.

Defenders of the idea that a university's mission is to pursue truth, not just offer job training, note that some research that might seem abstract can pay off in major ways. A classic example is the work of George Boole, a 19th-century British philosopher and mathematician, whose research led to so-called Boolean algebra — the idea that the numbers 1 and 0 could stand for true and false. This became an essential underpinning of digital electronics, even though Google and Apple clearly were not on Boole's mind when he was writing back in the 1840s.

And being purely pragmatic about preparing students for certain jobs could do them a disservice, experts say. Research conducted by Mitchell Colver, an academic and instructional services official at Utah State University, shows that students perform better in school when their experience is not solely about career competence but also is about civic, social and cultural knowledge.

“Students actually do better when they believe that college is more than just a job training program,” Colver says.

Are four-year degrees worth the cost?

There is a broad consensus that most students should receive training or education beyond high school, given the increasingly technical nature of many jobs.

Most new jobs require some form of post-secondary education, says Behning, the Indiana state representative, but “we're starting to realize … that not all students need a four-year degree.”

In Colorado, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has created a high school apprenticeship program modeled after a Swiss practice. High school students combine three days per week in the classroom with two days of work at a company. Some are working in the skilled trades, such as welding or plumbing, but many are working at banks, insurance companies or tech companies such as Microsoft.

“We're moving away from believing everything [requires] a college degree,” Hickenlooper says.

The line graph shows the average costs for tuition, fees and room and board at four-year public colleges, total and after aid, from 1998 to 2019. 2019 costs are projected.  

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After years of steady increases, tuition, fees and room-and-board costs for full-time students at four-year public universities are projected to decrease 0.2 percent in the 2018-19 academic year, to $14,880, after factoring in aid, such as grants, scholarships and loans.

Source: “Average Net Price over Time for Full-Time Students at Public Four-Year Institutions,” The College Board, October 2018,

Data for the graphic are as follows:

Academic Year Total Tuition, Fees and Room and Board Cost After Aid
1998–1999 $12,000 $8,850
1999–2000 $12,210 $8,900
2000–2001 $12,310 $8,880
2001–2002 $12,820 $9,170
2002–2003 $13,530 $9,650
2003–2004 $14,430 $10,350
2004–2005 $15,140 $10,950
2005–2006 $15,630 $11,430
2006–2007 $15,900 $11,630
2007–2008 $16,410 $11,990
2008–2009 $16,460 $11,490
2009–2010 $17,830 $11,660
2010–2011 $18,700 $12,110
2011–2012 $19,140 $13,070
2012–2013 $19,600 $13,560
2013–2014 $19,830 $13,630
2014–2015 $20,020 $13,740
2015–2016 $20,660 $14,330
2016–2017 $21,100 $14,790
2017–2018 $21,400 $14,910
2018–2019 $21,370 $14,880

Other states are studying Hickenlooper's program. “There are a lot of jobs that can be filled that absolutely don't need a college degree,” says Murphy, the Wisconsin legislator. “We need to get students into the employment pipeline more quickly. We're working hard to cue down time to degrees, so they can get to work.”

Higher education in Wisconsin, as elsewhere, has been undergoing some major shifts. Some four-year campuses are merging with community colleges. But supporters of a traditional college education note that not all the new options work out. Last year, two of the biggest companies in the field of coding academies — “boot camps” that teach people software programming in six months or less — went out of business.26

“There are definitely shorter-term programs that have benefits in the market,” says Laitinen of New America, but not all of them are quality programs. “Just saying it's a program in STEM” — the common acronym for science, technology, engineering and math — “or health, and that there's a demand for it, doesn't mean students won't come out with a crappy certificate and be unable to find a job.”

For many students, a quality training certificate or an associate (A.A.) degree is a good idea, Laitinen says, but the “safer bet” is still a four-year degree, noting the sizable gap in wages and lifetime earnings between college and high school graduates.27

“A four-year degree is still immensely valuable,” says Ryan Nunn, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank in Washington. “All the best numbers we have show that four-year degrees give a wage premium. It's leveled off, but it's still at a high level.”

Likewise, “students with a B.A. degree tend to earn more than those with an A.A. degree or certificates,” says Mamie Voight, vice president of policy research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

But Julie Margetta Morgan, a fellow at the liberal Roosevelt Institute in New York, warns that much of the difference is the result of salaries shrinking for high school graduates, not raises for college graduates. “Stagnant wages combined with rising debt means the amount of the wage premium [college graduates] are able to enjoy in terms of increased consumption is shrinking,” she says.

However, on average, students who take on debt to earn a four-year degree are still coming out ahead financially, says Cass, of the Manhattan Institute. “People who go through and complete a four-year degree may have debt, but they can handle it well,” Cass says. “When we talk about a student debt crisis, we're really talking about the people who start a course and don't complete it.” That is, those who take on debt to start school, but don't get the benefit of higher earnings from taking a degree.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher education at Temple University, says having more students take four years of college benefits not only the students but society as a whole.

“It's quite clear from the history of this country that the more education we've been able to provide to people, the more they've been able to do and innovate and create,” Goldrick-Rab says. “Four years of college could do for the 21st century what high school did for the 20th.”

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Classical vs. Practical

The debate over the right balance in higher education between utilitarian training and personal enrichment and pure research has been ongoing throughout American history.

“Some founders believed that universities should foster curiosity-driven research aimed at solving the most fundamental problems of nature and science, without concern for an immediate, practical payoff in terms of meeting the needs of industry and the public,” said Jonathan R. Cole, a former Columbia University provost, in his history The Great American University. “Others favored an emphasis on the production of applied knowledge.”28

Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush (who, respectively, helped found the University of Pennsylvania and Dickinson College) saw little use in a classical education rooted in the study of Latin and Greek, believing such languages were of no use to farmers, mechanics and merchants.29 Thomas Jefferson, who founded the University of Virginia, disagreed, as did his predecessor in the White House, John Adams. “Classics, in spite of our friend Rush, I must think indispensable,” Adams wrote to Jefferson after Rush's death.30

The founding documents of early U.S. colleges such as Harvard, Yale and William & Mary all speak of training ministers as central to their missions.31 Higher education was a pursuit for gentlemen and the well-to-do. There were only a small number of colleges in the country — just 25 by 1800 — and their enrollments generally numbered under 200 students.32 But developments in the 19th century led to expansions in the numbers of campuses and students.

The Morrill Act of 1862, also known as the Land-Grant College Act, provided federal land to states to use to establish or expand colleges offering instruction in practical fields such as agricultural, engineering, mechanical arts and mining (fields needed to aid in the nation's westward expansion). Land grants led to the founding or expansion of dozens of colleges such as Kansas State, Michigan State, Rutgers and the University of Wisconsin. In 1887, Congress passed the Hatch Act, which offered federal support for agricultural research at experiment stations affiliated with colleges and universities, which helped spread academic discoveries and put them to practical use.33

Toward the end of the 19th century, several institutes were established based on the research-centered German model. Johns Hopkins, which opened in 1876 in Baltimore, was the first American university to emphasize graduate training and research.34 Others soon followed — often, like Johns Hopkins, funded by wealthy donors — including Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, the University of Chicago and Stanford. Meanwhile, states were establishing so-called normal schools, begun as adjuncts to high schools and intended to train teachers. Many normal schools evolved into regional universities.

By the early 20th century, the standard model for most American universities was pretty well set, with two years of general education followed by two years of majoring in a more specialized field.35 Higher education was no longer a glorified finishing school for the wealthy. As industries became nationwide entities and grew more complex, the need for an educated professional and managerial class grew as well. Intelligence and aptitude tests became key markers as the country increasingly became a meritocracy. Colleges also sought to expand their popular appeal through extracurricular activities, such as football.

Government Support Grows

Between 1900 and 1930, the nation's population rose 75 percent, but college enrollment quadrupled.36 By 1930, the United States, which had three times the population of the United Kingdom, had 20 times the number of college students.37 Higher education's growth was further fueled by investments from the federal government.

After World War II, such support increased enrollment directly. In 1944, Congress passed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, better known as the GI Bill of Rights. Among other things, the GI Bill provided money for college tuition for veterans. It was a way of thanking veterans for their service while keeping them from flooding the job market.

College enrollment rose from 1.6 million, including just 88,000 veterans, in 1945, the last year of the war, to 2.3 million in 1947, including more than 1 million veterans.38

The federal government also contributed to the growth of universities by funding research. During World War II, a new independent agency known as the National Defense Research Committee mobilized and coordinated the efforts of thousands of scientists and engineers toward the war effort.39 Their number included hundreds of exiled German scientists — including up to 25 percent of German physicists.40

To continue the collaboration between university scientists and the government after the war, Congress created the National Science Foundation. Federal funding for scientific research remained robust, thanks to the Cold War, particularly after the Soviet Union launched the satellite Sputnik in 1957. Scientists could count on funding, while the federal government did not have to create its own research infrastructure.

“Overall, federal funding during the Cold War for research of all types grew in constant dollars from $13 billion in 1953 to $104 billion in 1990, an increase of 700 percent,” wrote David F. Labaree, an education professor at Stanford.41

Students show their support for Harvard University's (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Adam Glanzman)  
Students show their support for Harvard University's admission process during a demonstration in Cambridge, Mass., on Oct. 14, the day before a federal trial began in Boston in a case involving claims that the Ivy League school discriminates against Asian-American applicants. (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Adam Glanzman)

Since the bulk of federal research funding went to defense projects, universities became targets for student protests during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and '70s. “Although students began by mounting ideological protests against the war, they later turned the protests against the universities themselves, in part because the universities were perceived as a weak link in the chain of institutions responsible for the war and a plethora of social injustices,” Cole wrote.42

Students might not be able to shut down the Pentagon, but they could shut down their own campuses. Despite the tumult, Congress increased its investments in higher education during the 1960s. In 1966, Congress extended the GI Bill to cover all veterans, including those who served in peacetime.43

Congress also took steps to ensure access to higher education to all students, regardless of income. The Higher Education Act of 1965 created three types of basic aid that remain more or less intact. One was the Educational Opportunity Grant, later known as Pell grants, which provide aid to needy students. In addition, the federal government created a loan program that allowed students to borrow from private lenders, at least initially, with those loans guaranteed by the federal government. The act also created other student loan and grant programs, including funding for work-study programs.44

The political atmosphere of the time informed how the programs were structured, says Goldrick-Rab, the Temple professor. “When this financial aid system was being built in the 1960s, part of the reason why Pell grants went to students and not institutions is that colleges were seen as these liberal places where the protests were going on,” she says.

Shifting the Cost

Over the past half-century, a college degree increasingly has become the primary ticket to the middle class. Workers with only high school educations have fallen further behind and are more likely than college graduates to be unemployed and live in poverty. In 2016, the median salary for Americans aged 22 to 27 with a college degree was $43,000, compared to $25,000 for those the same age with a high school diploma.45

Because of the wage premium, students and parents have been willing to sacrifice to afford higher education, even as tuition costs have consistently risen faster than inflation. In part, that is due to the labor-intensive nature of the work, with college professors providing highly skilled labor.

“No other country rewards a college degree as richly as the United States, and few other countries punish people so relentlessly for not having one,” The Atlantic reported recently. “It's a diabolical cycle…. Higher salaries make college degrees extremely valuable, which means Americans will pay a lot to get them. And so colleges can charge more.”46

Other factors have helped to drive up costs, including improved amenities such as more comfortable dorm rooms and expensive recreational facilities such as rock-climbing walls and luxurious football stadiums. More importantly, states have cut back on their support of public universities. By 2013, states provided 53 percent of the funding per full-time student, which was down from 76 percent in 1988. Over the same period, students’ share of college costs rose from 24 percent to 47 percent.47 The relative value of Pell grants, meanwhile, has shrunk. By 2014, they covered less than a third of the average cost at a four-year public college — down from 77 percent in 1975.48

With students bearing a growing share of college costs, their debt load has soared. Student debt surpassed $1 trillion in 2012 and topped $1.5 trillion earlier this year. A decade ago, it stood at $600 million.49

Even as more Americans are burdened with student debt, some politicians have complained that colleges are not properly preparing graduates for the modern workforce. The political shorthand is that college graduates are working at coffee shops or other underpaying jobs, even as employers complain they cannot find workers with the right skills to fill openings.

In addition, conservatives frequently complain that universities are indoctrinating students in leftist thought or “political correctness,” a vague term that in essence refers to avoiding statements that are in any way demeaning to marginalized groups. In 1987, for example, Allan Bloom, a philosopher at the University of Chicago, published an influential best-seller called The Closing of the American Mind, which argued students were ill-served by instruction steeped in moral relativism.50

Such complaints continue. In their new book, The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which promotes civil liberties on campus, and Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University argue that “‘trigger warnings’ and ‘micro-aggressions’ and the hounding of teachers for imaginary thought-crimes have multiplied and worsened.”51

But with statistics continuing to show a sizable wage premium for a college degree, politicians in recent years have been seeking ways to make college more affordable.

Expanding Access

Democratic President Bill Clinton, for example, pushed legislation in 1993 that gave college stipends to students who volunteered with AmeriCorps, envisioned as a domestic version of the Peace Corps.52 He also created a program to allow the federal government to provide some loans directly to students, rather than guaranteeing loans underwritten by private companies who acted as intermediaries.53

A tax bill enacted in 1997 created several tax breaks that made it easier for parents to save for college, including tax-free education savings accounts known as 529 plans.54 But Clinton also signed a bankruptcy law in 1998 that made it more difficult for students to wipe out their debt.55

Clinton's predecessor, Republican George H. W. Bush, had signed a law in 1992 drastically tightening accountability and oversight of the for-profit college sector due to a series of scandals and complaints.

During Clinton's eight years in office, more than 1,200 for-profits were sanctioned.56 But since the start of the 21st century, Wall Street investors have helped spur the growth of nationwide, for-profit college chains. During the administration of Republican George W. Bush, which was not aggressive about regulating for-profits, the market capitalization of the eight largest for-profits reached a combined $26 billion.57

But allegations of fraud and misleading practices in the for-profit sector re-emerged. Under Democrat Obama, the Education Department imposed more regulation on the sector, and state attorneys general sued several providers.

Obama set a goal of having the highest percentage of college graduates of any country by 2020. Toward that end, he instituted numerous policies designed to expand access to college, such as shifting all students who receive federal loans to the direct-lending program created by Clinton. He hoped to use the projected $12 billion in interest savings that would have gone to private lenders to increase federal support for community colleges, but Congress failed to provide much of that funding.58

Other politicians prioritized expanding access to community college. The Tennessee Promise, which has provided free in-state community college tuition and other assistance to 58,000 students since its creation in 2014, has been widely imitated by other states and some cities.59 In 2017, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, created a scholarship program that allows full-time students from families earning less than $125,000 a year to attend two- and four-year, in-state public institutions for free, provided that they live in New York for an equivalent number of years after graduation.60 The state began phasing in the program last year.

Government-funded, “free” college has become a policy goal shared by many Democrats. During the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton, the party's presidential nominee, called for two years of free college after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her chief rival in the primaries, called for four years of free college.

Trump rejected the idea of free tuition out of hand. During the campaign, however, Trump said it is unfortunate that students are “swimming” in debt. “That's probably one of the only things the government shouldn't make money off,” he said. “I think it's terrible that one of the only profit centers we have is student loans.”61

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Current Situation

Easing Regulations

The Trump administration is working to change the regulatory landscape around higher education, specifically by removing Obama-era regulations designed to prevent abuses by for-profit schools. In July, the Education Department announced it would open a period of public comment on the plan to lift or rewrite those rules.62 Critics say the plan will weaken needed protections, and the Trump administration's effort to prevent Obama's borrower-defense rule from taking effect ultimately ran out of time.

The administration also wants to ease compliance requirements for accreditation, which is necessary for a school to receive federal funds. In 2016, the Obama administration withdrew recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which had given its seal of approval to Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute, two major for-profit systems that closed down.63

The administration says current regulations risk hampering needed innovations. “We have seen some accreditors that want to be bold,” said Diane Auer Jones, deputy undersecretary of Education. “If we really want innovation to take place, we have to give accreditors a safe space to support that innovation.”64 But critics warn that changing accreditation standards will weaken oversight, undermining protections for students.

Democrats and some higher education officials say the administration is going too far in paring back regulations. The Education Department has wound down a special fraud unit that was exploring abuses at for-profit colleges, and many top positions at the Education department are now filled by former for-profit college executives.65

“The protections that were put in place for students were demonstrably necessary,” says Goldrick-Rab, the Temple professor. “We had students going into situations that could hurt them economically. Now, we're seeing those protections undone.”

Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Zach Gibson)  
Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a House subcommittee meeting in Washington in May 2017. DeVos is spearheading the administration's efforts to remove some accreditation requirements from for-profit colleges and to deregulate the industry. Critics say weakened government oversight would reduce protections for students. (Getty Images/Bloomberg/Zach Gibson)

The Education Department also announced last year that it would stop sharing information about student loans with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a federal agency that helps protect borrowers, including students. The Education Department called the bureau “overreaching and unaccountable.”66 In August, Seth Frotman resigned as the top student loan official at CFPB, charging that the administration was more interested in protecting the interests of financial companies than those of students.

“Under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting,” Frotman wrote in a resignation letter to Mick Mulvaney, the CFPB's acting head and director of the Office of Management and Budget. “Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”67

But Education Secretary DeVos insists that the administration's deregulatory approach is needed to modernize higher education so students will have more opportunities to find productive pathways toward careers.

“Government is not the best at finding new solutions to tough problems,” she said in 2017. “Government isn't the best at being flexible or adaptable to a constantly changing environment. And government certainly isn't the best at questioning the status quo.”68

Partisan Conflicts

Congress was due to update the Higher Education Act, which governs federal student assistance programs, in 2013. Congress often falls behind when it comes to such rewrite efforts, but the lack of bipartisan agreement means it will take at least until next year before the law is reauthorized.

The House Education Committee approved a rewrite of the law in 2017, along partisan lines.69 The bill, known as the PROSPER Act, would simplify federal financial aid applications and programs, consolidating them into one loan, one grant and one work-study program. The idea has bipartisan support, as does allowing that aid to support apprenticeships and other job-training programs. There is also broad support for an approach known as competency-based learning, which allows students to earn credits based on what they know as opposed to the completion of course hours.

However, there are many areas of disagreement about the bill. For instance, Democrats object to a provision that would eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives debt for students who work for 10 years in a public service career such as teaching or law enforcement. The bill also would eliminate grants for college students who pledge to teach in-demand subjects such as math and science in low-income schools. According to the Congressional Budget Office, students would lose access to $15 billion in federal aid over the next decade if the bill became law.70

College, student and veterans groups oppose the measure, and it does not have enough Republican support to move to a floor vote.71 Democrats are united in their opposition to it. In July, House Democrats unveiled a bill that would increase funding for grant and loan programs, including a proposal to make community college tuition free.72

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has held a series of hearings on higher education this year, but bipartisan negotiations have broken down.

Senate Democrats object, among other things, to a proposal by Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander, who chairs the committee, to eliminate the so-called 90/10 rule, which prevents for-profit colleges from receiving more than 90 percent of their funding from federal student aid. Republicans say the rule handicaps career-oriented colleges, by making them play by a different set of rules than nonprofit institutions.

In recent decades, the Supreme Court has curbed the use of affirmative action, or racial preferences in college admissions, but it ruled in 2016 that race could be used as one factor among others in considering applicants.73

Affirmative action programs are facing a renewed challenge in a case involving Harvard University. While most legal challenges in the past were based on the theory that members of a minority group have received undue advantages, the Harvard case, which went to trial in October at a federal court in Boston, involves members of a minority group — namely Asian-Americans — who say they have been penalized to benefit whites and other minorities.

Students for Fair Admissions, the group that brought the case, contends that Harvard holds Asian-Americans to higher standards than members of other groups, artificially lowering their chances for admission. “Asian-Americans do better than white applicants on every single objective rating, outside of the subjective personal rating,” Adam Mortara, the attorney representing the group, said during his opening arguments on Oct. 15.74

Harvard says it does not pursue any sort of quota system, although it takes race into account as one factor when trying to achieve diverse classes.

“Harvard never considers an applicant's race in the negative. If it considers race, it's always considered in the positive,” William F. Lee, the attorney representing Harvard, said at the trial. “The fact that it considers race in a positive, doesn't mean it's negative in another case.”75

State Cuts

The state share of funds for public universities has been shrinking especially rapidly at prestigious flagship universities, such as the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan. For instance, in the 1980s state funding accounted for half the budget at the University of California, Berkeley. Now, it is below 15 percent.76

“In 2008, 65 percent of our university's funding came from the state,” says G. Pearson Cross, an associate dean at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “Now, it's 22 percent.”

With state aid falling, at least in relative terms, colleges and universities are relying more heavily on tuition, exacerbating the spike in student debt. “Student debt is a part of American higher ed in a way that it wasn't in the past,” says Longanecker, of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. But the average student's debt is “not out of range for most students.”

Hurley, the Michigan higher education association official, says that 40 percent of students in his state graduate without debt and 40 percent get grants and scholarships so they pay less than the official tuition schedule.

To better reflect real costs, several institutions, particularly private institutions, are looking for ways to cut both aid and the colleges’ “sticker” prices. Doing so keeps their internal bottom line consistent, while giving parents and students a more accurate sense of costs.77

Meanwhile, even as state aid shrinks, state and federal lawmakers are pushing for more data on how students fare after graduation. “There's no question that a lot of states are grappling with this,” says Indiana Rep. Behning.

Students at highest risk of defaulting on their loans are those who drop out. “They're like the people with high school degrees, in terms of career prospects, only they have this knapsack of debt that they're carrying around,” Goldrick-Rab says.

The vast majority of defaulters had received federal Pell grants — which means they came from low-income families — while 70 percent were part of the first generation in their families to attend college. Thirty percent of those who default are African-American, says Flores, at the Center for American Progress. Many schools today are trying to address the issue with retention and completion programs.

“A high-income student can afford 90 percent of colleges, but a low-income student can only afford five to 10 percent of colleges, even with all the assistance available,” says Voight, of the Institute for Higher Education Policy. “It's no wonder they're choosing shorter options and lower-cost options.”

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Continuing Pressures

The nature of government support for higher education may be about to change. But how it will change will likely depend on who prevails in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

If Democrats take control of Washington, they are likely to push for some sort of free college model, with tuition covered or subsidized by the federal government. “If the Democrats were to regain control, we might have free community college within 10 years,” says Goldrick-Rab.

If Republicans retain control, however, she predicts that there will be rapid growth among for-profit colleges, which will be less regulated than they are today, and Republicans will be less likely to boost funding for higher education than Democrats.

There may be additional fiscal constraints. States typically cut support for higher education during recessions. Historical patterns suggest that the country is overdue for a recession, although the next one may not be imminent. “States will retract again from their higher ed funding, whether it's three years from now or five years from now,” says Shireman, the former Obama Education official, who is now a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank in New York.

Meanwhile, students and borrowers may struggle to pay off existing college debt, even as the amount of student debt appears certain to grow. Much of the outstanding debt may not be repaid, creating credit problems for individuals and risk for taxpayers, since most student loans are guaranteed by the federal government.

“Honestly, I think in five years, the situation is going to be even more pressing,” says Nunn of Brookings. “There's a tremendous taxpayer exposure in the form of federal loans to college students.”

Significant defaults could lead to “significantly” tighter federal funding, Nassirian predicts. “That will probably mean we'll see much greater consolidation on the supply side of higher education,” he says. “It's just no longer affordable.”

Besides the potential loss of tuition dollars, smaller colleges, at least, are bound to come under additional pressure as politicians push for more students to go into quicker programs that prepare them for specific jobs. “That raises the question of what kind of job training should be counted as college education that we should pay for,” says Morgan, of the Roosevelt Institute.

With the last of the large Millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 1996) reaching adulthood, there will be fewer high school graduates looking to enter college in the future, and it appears that the number of students from abroad will decline as well. All of this will make life more difficult for colleges that depend largely on tuition for funding.

“Small colleges will go under,” says Goldrick-Rab. “Some publics will teeter.”

Meanwhile, the demand for entrance to the finest private and flagship public universities is expected to continue to be fierce, as the traditional, full-service model of education they embody becomes a scarcer commodity.

“It is still highly valued,” Longanecker says. “If you don't have to change, you don't change. Why would you? If you're very comfortable in your environment, which certainly the most elite universities are, you don't have an incentive to do things differently.”

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Should college tuition be free?


Mark Huelsman
Associate Director for Policy and Research, Demos. Written for CQ Researcher, October 2018

Major educational investments have provided some of our greatest points of national pride: the GI Bill, land grant colleges, free education through 12th grade and the proliferation of community colleges in the mid-20th century. These programs reflect a deeply held value, that regardless of where you start in life or your family's finances, you can realize your greatest aspirations.

Unfortunately, for several decades, we have backtracked on these values at the same time that some postsecondary education has become a universal goal. Now, the price to attend college continues to rise even as income for most workers remains flat. Most students can no longer work their way through school without also taking on loans, and student loan delinquencies and defaults remain unconscionably high despite having generous loan-repayment options. Even for those not behind on loan payments, debt prevents many families from building wealth and is particularly burdensome on families of color.

Recognizing this, some states and cities have begun to make college tuition-free. Early results on enrollment, applications for financial aid and even attainment of aid are encouraging, and states like Tennessee have expanded programs to include adult learners.

This is a step in the right direction for students, three-quarters of whom attend public colleges or universities. Cost can be the difference between attending or forgoing college, and eliminating the financial burden is a tried and tested way to get more students to go and finish.

Of course, the design of free college programs is important. Tuition is only one cost students face, and guaranteeing college affordability means also addressing fees, child care, living costs, transportation and books. We also must ensure that every potential student is eligible, not just 18-year-olds right out of high school. Programs should be as simple and easy to navigate as possible, without confusing requirements regarding majors, work hours or remaining in state after leaving school.

Free college is not a new idea. It existed not so long ago in several states. And debt-free college is certainly not new; it wasn't until the mid-1990s that most people had to borrow to finance a four-year degree. As the face of the American student is changing, meeting student needs requires big thinking and bold action. The movement toward free college is a necessary corrective after decades of unfulfilled promises.


Mary Clare Amselem
Policy Analyst, Heritage Foundation. Written for CQ Researcher, October 2018

“All Americans deserve a free college education!”

This rallying cry led droves of young Americans to back Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential bid. Sanders, I-Vt., was pushing his College for All Act, which would have made public colleges and universities tuition-free for families earning $125,000 per year or less.

But calls for free college are as impractical as they are beguiling. We cannot afford to transfer college costs from students to taxpayers. Moreover, the premise — that sending everyone to college is objectively good — is actually false.

Consider the cost factor. Since 1980, tuition at four-year private and public universities has more than doubled, and a growing body of evidence shows that increased federal intervention in higher education funding is driving these price hikes.

Over the last two decades, the federal government has more or less taken over higher education financing, originating and distributing roughly 89 percent of all student loans. Those guaranteed loans have permitted colleges and universities to raise tuition prices with full confidence that students will get the money from the U.S. taxpayers.

Transferring the entire cost of college to taxpayers undoubtedly will lead many young people — including those not particularly interested in learning or ill-prepared to succeed in college — to take advantage of this freebie. It also will embolden schools to jack their rates even higher. The result: a double whammy hitting taxpayers' wallets. It is estimated that Sanders' plan, for example, would cost roughly $47 billion per year.

Arguing that every high school graduate should go to college is an incredibly limited view of Americans' potential. The U.S. job market is as diverse as its people, and many jobs simply do not require a college degree. In fact, America already has too many people who are overcredentialed or wrongly credentialed for the job market. According to economist Richard Vedder, “The problem is not that employers are demanding more education, but rather that educators and public policy makers are producing more degrees.”

Rather than ship everyone off to college, it would be better to create different educational paths that lead to well-paying jobs. Many students would be better served having streamlined vocational options that train them for jobs that do not require college degrees but may be high-paying and extremely valuable for our economy.

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1940s–1960sThe federal government increases its funding for higher education.
1944Congress passes the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, better known as the GI Bill, which provides free college tuition to World War II veterans.
1950Congress creates the National Science Foundation, continuing a wartime scientific research partnership between government and universities.
1957The Soviet Union launches the Sputnik satellite, triggering an increase in funding for scientific research in the United States.
1965Congress passes the Higher Education Act, which creates grant and loan programs to expand access to college.
1970s–1990sCollege enrollment peaks, then plateaus, despite growing numbers of women enrolling.
1970Forty-five percent of young adults are attending college, triple the share in 1940.
1972Title IX of the Education Amendments prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at schools receiving federal funds.
1980Congress gives universities control of patents derived from government-sponsored research, an increasingly important source of revenue for higher education.
1992Scandals lead Congress to overhaul the Higher Education Act, drastically tightening accountability standards and oversight of the for-profit college sector. The law also creates Stafford student loans, which are unrestricted by need.
1993Congress creates a direct student loan program, allowing students to borrow from Washington rather than private lenders.
1997Congress’ creation of 529 college savings plans provides educational tax breaks for students and parents.
1998A change in consumer law makes it nearly impossible for students to have their loans forgiven through bankruptcy.
2000s–PresentMore of the burden of financing college shifts to students.
2004Humanities majors make up 8 percent of undergraduate degrees, down 56 percent over the past 40 years.
2008Congress reauthorizes the Higher Education Act, revamping student aid and loan programs and imposing extensive college cost disclosure and reporting requirements.
2012Student debt tops $1 trillion.
2013The state share of funding for full-time students drops to 53 percent, down from 76 percent in 1988.
2014Tennessee offers students free tuition to state community colleges.
2015International student enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities peaks at 718,710…. Wisconsin cuts state funding for its university system by $250 million and abolishes tenure.
2017New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo offers free public college tuition to students from families earning less than $125,000…. Eighteen states sue the Trump administration over delays in implementing protections for student borrowers.
2018Trump administration withdraws Obama-era guidelines that encourage colleges to consider race as a factor in admissions (July 3)…. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announces plans to repeal the 2014 “gainful employment” rule, which holds vocational schools accountable for student employment outcomes (Aug. 10)…. Seth Frotman, the top federal official overseeing the student loan market, resigns, claiming the administration is not doing enough to protect borrowers (Aug. 27). … The University of Pennsylvania becomes the first Ivy League school to offer online undergraduate degrees (Sept. 18)…. Case goes to trial in Boston charging that Harvard University discriminates against Asian-American students in its admissions process to benefit other minorities and whites (Oct. 15).

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Short Features

Industry critics back regulations but schools say they are onerous.

Luis Rangel holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the San Antonio, Texas, campus of DeVry University, one of the nation's largest for-profit college systems. But he is not a satisfied customer.

Rangel, who accumulated $80,000 in student loan debt, claims DeVry misled him by advertising that 90 percent of its graduates found work in their chosen fields within six months of graduation. He is now the lead plaintiff in a Texas case brought by dozens of former DeVry students who say the university defrauded them.1 DeVry agreed to pay $100 million to settle an earlier fraud case with the Federal Trade Commission regarding the 90-percent claim. DeVry, which is in the process of being sold to a venture capital firm, has denied any wrongdoing.2

While most for-profit institutions offer career and technical training as promised, lawsuits and accusations of fraud involving some of the largest for-profit colleges have intensified in recent years. Numerous state attorneys general have sued, and sometimes shut down, institutions found to be defrauding students.

The number of for-profit colleges, which mainly offer technical education and job training, has grown rapidly in recent decades and has become a leading source of graduate degrees. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of for-profit schools jumped 36 percent and the number of students attending them almost quadrupled, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.3 Lawmakers in both parties generally view them as filling a gap in workforce training.

“They serve an important niche in postsecondary education,” says David Longanecker, interim president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, a 15-state consortium of policymakers

Massage therapy teacher Ashley Baldon (Getty Images/Los Angeles Times/Al Seib)  
Massage therapy teacher Ashley Baldon, right, hugs a student as for-profit Everest College in City of Industry, Calif., shuts down in April 2015, after its parent company, Corinthian Colleges, declared bankruptcy. Some students were left with debt and no degree. (Getty Images/Los Angeles Times/Al Seib)

Besides fraud scandals, the industry also has been plagued by insolvency. Some large providers, such as Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Solutions, went bankrupt during the Obama presidency, leaving thousands of students with debt but no degrees. In response to all the complaints about for-profit colleges, the Obama administration tightened accountability rules for the industry.

Shortly after coming into office in 2017, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that the Trump administration would delay implementing some of those rules in order to rewrite or eliminate them. Among other rules, the administration targeted the Obama administration's “gainful employment” and “borrower defense” rules. The gainful employment rule cuts off federal financial aid for students attending schools that fail to place adequate numbers of graduates in appropriate careers. The borrower defense rule calls for the federal government to forgive loans accrued by students who attended schools that engaged in deceptive practices or broke certain laws.

DeVos and conservative critics say the rules are too protective of student borrowers at the expense of the institutions and the taxpayers. For instance, they say, under the borrower defense rule, if a large number of borrowers can prove they were defrauded and stop paying their federally guaranteed student loans, taxpayers would have to pay off the loans. The Education department has about 90,000 pending claims in which students are seeking loan forgiveness alleging fraud, 98.6 percent of them involving for-profit colleges.4

Student groups and state attorneys general have sued the Education Department over its deregulation proposals, in some cases noting that DeVos placed several former for-profit executives in departmental roles.5 In September, a federal judge blocked the administration's effort to delay implementation of the borrower defense rule, calling DeVos' actions “arbitrary and capricious.”6 The rule, initially scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2017, became effective on Oct. 16. The department must now initiate the lengthy process to abolish or rewrite it.7

The for-profit sector argues that it sorely needs relief from the Obama-era regulations. “Unfortunately, the focus in the last eight years has been fighting for survival from an ideological administration that was opposed to our very existence,” Steve Gunderson, president of Career Education Colleges and Universities, a trade association that represents about 500 for-profit colleges, said at the end of President Barack Obama's term.8

Congressional Republicans support the effort to deregulate the industry. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has said that for-profits are more efficient than public and nonprofit colleges and sponsored legislation last year that mirrors some of DeVos' actions. “Nobody wants students to be defrauded,” she said, “but basically, the [Obama] administration put these colleges out of business pretty arbitrarily.”9

But critics of the practices of some for-profit colleges say the Obama administration was responding to well-documented complaints about the industry.

“The Obama administration rules would improve for-profits and might have shut down 10 percent of their programs,” says Robert Shireman, an Education Department official under Obama. “The for-profit industry, instead of seeing this as a helpful way to put up some guardrails, portrayed this as killing them, which was a complete and total lie.”

“There were some protections, but now they're stripping that away,” says Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher education policy at Temple University. “You're not going to have much recourse if you have a credential but employers say it's not a real credential.”

— Alan Greenblatt

[1] “Former Students Sue DeVry University for Fraud,” The College Post, July 28, 2018,

[2] “DeVry University Agrees to $100 Million Settlement with FTC,” Federal Trade Commission, Dec. 15, 2016, Also see Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, “DeVry agrees to $100 million settlement with the FTC,” The Washington Post, Dec. 15, 2016,

[3] Rajashri Chakrabarti, Michael Lovenheim and Kevin Morris, “The Changing Higher Education Landscape,” The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Sept. 6, 2016,

[4] Brittney Zeller, “For-profit college graduates seek forgiveness of student loans in federal court,” Jurist, Nov. 13, 2017,; Yan Cao and Tariq Habash, “College Complaints Unmasked,” The Century Foundation, Nov. 8, 2017,

[5] Adam Harris, “Emails From Trump Education Official Reveal Ties to For-Profit Colleges,” The Atlantic, July 27, 2018,

[6] Elissa Nadworny and Anya Kamenetz, “Student Borrowers and Advocates Win Court Case Against DeVos,” NPR, Sept. 13, 2018,

[7] Laura Meckler, “Court allows Obama-era student loan rules to take effect, delivering defeat to DeVos,” The Washington Post, Oct. 16, 2018,

[8] Collin Binkley, “With founder of Trump University in charge, for-profit colleges expect fortunes to improve,” The Associated Press, Nov. 29, 2016,

[9] Andrew Kreighbaum, “Foxx on Higher Ed,” Insider Higher Ed, Nov. 17, 2016,

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“We've put up an unwelcome sign at colleges and universities.”

When the academic year began this fall, the University of Kansas had to make $20 million in emergency budget cuts. The reason: Instead of doubling its foreign-student population last year to about 5,000, as administrators had hoped, international enrollments dropped 4 percent from the previous school year.10

University administrators were “expecting a really significant growth in the international student population,” said Chancellor Douglas Girod. “They took a lot [of] initiatives into that area to grow, and it hadn't worked out as robustly as everyone had hoped.”11

Partly to buttress declining state higher education budgets, many universities in the past decade have actively recruited international students, who normally pay full out-of-state tuition and, at some colleges, additional fees.

Girod noted that Kansas' 4 percent dip was smaller than the 7 percent decrease in foreign-student enrollments nationwide. After growing by more than two-thirds over the past decade to roughly 1 million, new enrollments by foreign students in the United States dropped for the first time in a decade during the 2016-17 school year — by 3.3 percent. And nationwide foreign enrollments may fall again this year, according to the Institute of International Education, a New York-based nonprofit group that promotes international study.12

Vietnamese high school students visit with a representative from Benedictine College of Kansas (AFP/Getty Images/Hoang Dinh Nam)  
Vietnamese high school students visit with a representative from Benedictine College of Kansas during an October 2016 college fair in Hanoi, Vietnam. To help replace declining state higher education funding, many universities have recruited international students, who usually pay full out-of-state tuition. New enrollments by foreign students in the United States grew to roughly 1 million over a decade before declining in the 2016–17 academic year. (AFP/Getty Images/Hoang Dinh Nam)

University officials say anti-immigrant policies and visa restrictions imposed by the Trump administration have made foreign students less likely to come to the United States.

“I'm afraid with the Trump administration that we may have sent a signal to the world that we're not particularly interested in foreign students anymore,” says Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, an association of colleges and universities. “We've put up an unwelcome sign at colleges and universities.”

Referring specifically to Chinese students, President Trump said at a private dinner in August that “almost every student that comes over to this country is a spy.” His comment echoed earlier administration warnings that foreign students may be engaging in espionage.13

The State Department issued 17 percent fewer student visas in 2017 than in 2016, and 40 percent fewer than during the peak year of 2015.14 As part of its crackdown on immigration, the administration also is making it more difficult for students to get visas that allow them to stay and work after graduation.

In addition, U.S. universities face increased competition from abroad. China is investing heavily in its own universities. The number of scientific articles written in China surpassed those from the United States this year, while China's research and development funding is expected to outpace that of the United States by year's end.15

Australia, Canada and Germany, meanwhile, are stepping up their recruitment of students from countries such as China, India and Saudi Arabia who might otherwise go to the United States. At the University of Illinois, which for years has been one of the largest hosts of foreign students, some students say their younger siblings are looking elsewhere.

“For those who are now applying, maybe they'll think of other countries outside the U.S. a lot more,” says Tiffany Su, a Chinese psychology major at Illinois. “A lot of my friends are applying to Australia, England and Canada.”

But other students say the quality of education in the United States is better than at universities abroad. “It's better than most universities we have in China,” says Evan Zhao, an architecture major at Illinois. “We have, like, five good universities, and millions of people want to get in.”

Higher education experts predict that large institutions such as Illinois, Purdue and the University of Southern California will continue to attract foreign students. Foreign-student enrollment is declining now, however, mostly at smaller schools.

University officials continue to stress the benefits of recruiting foreign students, such as adding to campus diversity and helping to build ties between the schools and the students' home countries. Many colleges also stepped up foreign recruitment in recent years to boost their incomes.

But the number of foreign students and the dollars they contribute to the bottom line appear to have plateaued, says Julie Margetta Morgan, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a liberal think tank in New York.

“It does seem like, whether or not this administration had an effect on it, the reliance on international students as a strategy to offset costs had to end sooner or later,” she says.

— Alan Greenblatt

[10] Lara Korte, Nicole Asbury and Conner Mitchell, “KU gambled heavily on international enrollment for Central District construction,” The University Daily Kansan, Sept. 10, 2018,

[11] Ibid.

[12] Melissa Korn, “New Enrollments by Foreign Students at U.S. Campuses on the Decline,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 13, 2017,; Stephanie Saul, “As Flow of Foreign Students Wane, U.S. Universities Feel the Sting,” The New York Times, Jan. 2, 2018,

[13] Annie Karni, “Trump rants behind closed doors with CEOs,” Politico, Aug. 8, 2018,

[14] Laura Meckler and Melissa Korn, “Visas Issued to Foreign Students Fall, Partly Due to Trump Immigration Policy,” The Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2018,

[15] Ben Guarino, Emily Rauhala and William Wan, “China increasingly challenges American dominance of science,” The Washington Post, June 3, 2018,

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Bastedo, Michael N., Philip G. Altbach and Patricia J. Gumport , American Higher Education in the 21st Century: Social, Political and Economic Challenges , 4th ed., John Hopkins University Press, 2016. A collection of scholarly essays examines the history of U.S. higher education and its challenges.

Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt , The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure , Penguin Press, 2018. Attorney Lukianoff and psychologist Haidt warn that today's students have been too sheltered by their parents and by universities that also seek to protect them from challenging ideas.

Mac Donald, Heather , The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture , St. Martin's Press, 2018. A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute contends that academia is crowding out conservative voices and treats oppression of racial, gender and sexual identities as paramount topics in ways that undermine merit-based standards.

McMillan Cottom, Tressie , Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy , New Press, 2017. A Virginia Commonwealth University sociologist writes that while for-profit institutions accommodate working students' schedules, they prey on the view that post-secondary credentials are essential while too often providing an inferior education.


Ferriss, Lucy , “The Privilege of Language,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 14, 2018, Majoring in a foreign language can open doors that lead to more opportunities than training for one particular job description, argues a Trinity College writer-in-residence.

Green, Erica L. , “DeVos to Eliminate Rules Aimed at Abuses by For-Profit Colleges,” The New York Times, July 26, 2018, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been working to curtail or cancel Obama-era regulations meant to provide students with safeguards when dealing with for-profit schools.

Maldonado, Camilo , “Price Of College Increasing Almost 8 Times Faster Than Wages,” Forbes, July 24, 2018, The average cost for a four-year degree now tops $100,000, double the price 30 years ago after being adjusted for inflation. Real median wages over the same period have increased less than 10 percent.

Meckler, Laura, and Melissa Korn , “Visas Issued to Foreign Students Fall, Partly Due to Trump Immigration Policy,” The Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2018, The number of visas issued to international students fell 40 percent from 2015 to 2017.

Quinton, Sophie , “As Students Head to Campus, Colleges Fear International Student Decline,” Stateline, Aug. 27, 2018, Public colleges and universities have relied on international students as a revenue source, but the number of incoming students from other countries is declining.

Ripley, Amanda , “Why Is College in America So Expensive?” The Atlantic, Sept. 11, 2018, The cost of educating college students in America is nearly double that in other developed nations.

Rosenberg, Brian , “Most Republicans Still Aren't Crazy About Higher Education. And That's OK,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 12, 2018, In an op-ed, the president of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., argues that Republican antipathy toward higher education is based not on failures by colleges but rather on growing disdain for values such as internationalism and multiculturalism that are part of higher education's mission.

Reports and Studies

“Beyond Tuition,” Center for American Progress, June 20, 2018, A liberal think tank argues that the federal government should offer students greater financial support and that higher education institutions must do better at helping students, including disabled and low-income students, transition to college.

Chou, Tiffany, Adam Looney and Tara Watson , “A Risk Sharing Proposal for Student Loans,” The Hamilton Project, April 26, 2017, Economists argue that institutions with poor student-loan performance should be required to reimburse the federal government for a share of unpaid loans, with the recovered funds used to support low-income students.

Mitchell, Michael , et al., “Unkept Promises: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Access and Equity,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Oct. 4, 2018, For the 2017–18 academic year, state funding for public colleges and universities was more than $7 billion lower than a decade earlier, after adjusting for inflation, according to a liberal think tank in Washington.

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The Next Step

College Affordability

Chappell, Bill , “Rice University Says Middle-Class and Low-Income Students Won't Have To Pay Tuition,” NPR, Sept. 18, 2018, Starting in 2019, Rice University will provide full scholarships to undergrads whose families' annual incomes are below $130,000.

Hess, Abigail , “One of the oldest colleges in the US just cut tuition by 33% — here's why,” CNBC, Sept. 20, 2018, St. John's College, a private liberal arts institution with campuses in Annapolis, Md., and Santa Fe, N.M., is planning to cut tuition in 2019 from $52,000 to $35,000 by raising $300 million in philanthropic donations.

Stancill, Jane , “UNC's new scholarship program aims to help NC's middle class families afford college,” The [Raleigh] News & Observer, Oct. 12, 2018, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has created a $20 million scholarship fund to cover tuition and fees for students from families with average incomes of $75,000 a year or less.

Free Speech on Campus

Flaherty, Colleen , “‘Rigorous Inquiry and Respectful Debate,’” Inside Higher Ed, Oct. 5, 2018, Colgate University's recently published free speech policy emphasizes the need for empathetic and respectful discussions of views and ideas.

Keilman, Joel , “Conservative activists accuse DePaul of censorship after university bars them from holding event on campus,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 11, 2018, DePaul University has come under fire from conservatives and civil liberties groups for its practice of canceling campus events featuring controversial speakers.

Keller, Megan , “Sessions: DOJ concerned about suppression of free speech on college campuses,” The Hill, Sept. 18, 2018, The Department of Justice has filed several “statements of interest” in cases involving free speech on campuses in California, Georgia and Michigan.

International Enrollment

Albright, Amanda , “Trump Immigration Crackdown Adds to Risks on U.S. College Bonds,” Bloomberg, Oct. 5, 2018, Declining enrollment by international students at U.S. universities, partly the result of the Trump administration's restrictions on student visas, could harm some colleges' credit ratings, according to an American financial services company.

Flaherty, Colleen , “New International Graduate Enrollments Fall Again,” Inside Higher Ed, Oct. 3, 2018, Experts say relatively few students have been affected by immigration policy changes, and falling international enrollment in the United States is more likely due to the current political climate.

Saul, Stephanie , “As Flow of Foreign Students Wanes, U.S. Universities Feel the Sting,” The New York Times, Jan. 2, 2018, Colleges across the country are cutting programs to compensate for the declining enrollments of foreign students, who generally pay higher tuition than in-state students.

State Support

Brownstein, Robert , “American Higher Education Hits a Dangerous Milestone,” The Atlantic, May 3, 2018, In a historic shift, public colleges and universities received the majority of their funding from tuition instead of tax dollars last year.

Turner, Cory , “If ‘Free College’ Sounds Too Good To Be True, That's Because It Often Is,” NPR, Sept. 12, 2018, Free college tuition programs differ significantly from state to state, with some programs providing less coverage than others, according to an analysis by an education nonprofit group.

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American Association of State Colleges and Universities
1307 New York Ave., N.W., 5th Floor, Washington, DC 20005
Promotes support for nearly 420 public colleges and university systems.

American Council on Education
One Dupont Circle, N.W., Washington, DC 20036
Lobbies on behalf of nearly 1,700 accredited colleges and universities.

Lumina Foundation
30 S. Meridian St., Suite 700, Indianapolis, IN 46204
Provides grants to support its goal of having 60 percent of Americans with postsecondary credentials by 2025.

Turning Point USA
Conservative grassroots organization that promotes free markets and limited government at chapters in hundreds of colleges and high schools.

Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education
3035 Center Green Drive, Suite 200, Boulder, CO 80301
Facilitates research and resource sharing among 15 Western states, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

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[1] Joe Sonka, “Bevin sees silver lining of higher education budget cuts,” Insider Louisville, June 2, 2018,

[2] Ryland Barton, “Bevin Calls For More Workforce Training, Derides French Majors Again,” WFPL, July 26, 2018,

[3] “Tuition and Fees and Room and Board over Time,” The College Board,

[4] Jeffrey M. Jones, “Confidence in Higher Education Down Since 2015,” Gallup, Oct. 9, 2018,

[5] Anna Brown, “Most Americans say higher ed is heading in wrong direction, but partisans disagree on why,” Pew Research Center, July 26, 2018,

[6] Michael Bodley, “At Berkeley Yiannopoulos protest, $100,000 in damage, 1 arrest,” San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 2, 2017,

[7] Allison Stanger, “Understanding the Angry Mob at Middlebury That Gave Me a Concussion,” The New York Times, March 13, 2017,

[8] Heather Mac Donald, The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture (2018), p. 15.

[9] Sanford J. Ungar, “Campus speech protests don't only target conservatives, and when they do, it's often the same few conservatives, Georgetown Free Speech Tracker finds,” Medium, March 26, 2018,

[10] Brian Rosenberg, “Most Republicans Still Aren't Crazy About Higher Education. And That's OK,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 12, 2018,

[11] “Education and Lifetime Earnings,” Social Security Administration, November 2015,

[12] Michael Mitchell et al., “Unkept Promises: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Access and Equity,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Oct. 4, 2018,

[13] Jillian Berman, “Student debt just hit $1.5 trillion,” Market Watch, May 12, 2018,; “Average Cumulative Debt Levels in 2017 Dollars: Bachelor's Degree Recipients at Four-Year Institutions, 2001–02 to 2016–17,” The College Board, October 2018,

[14] Elissa Nadworny and Julie Depenbrock, “Today's College Students Aren't Who You Think They Are,” NPR, Sept. 4, 2018,

[15] “Back to School Statistics,” National Center for Education Statistics,

[16] Rudi Keller, “Hawley blames higher ed for leftist ideology,” Columbia Daily Tribune, May 10, 2018,

[17] Valerie Strauss, “DeVos: Colleges tell students ‘what to do, what to say and, more ominously, what to think,’” The Washington Post, Feb. 23, 2017,

[18] Matthew J. Mayhew, “Does college turn people into liberals?” The Conversation, Feb. 2, 2018,

[19] Avichai Scher, “#MeToo Is Making Colleges Teach Toxic Masculinity 101,” The Daily Beast, Sept. 27, 2018,; Damon Sajnani, “The Problem of Whiteness,” University of Wisconsin-Madison,

[20] Tom Lindsay, “35 Universities Adopt ‘The Chicago Statement’ On Free Speech — 1,606 To Go,” Medium, Feb. 28, 2018,

[21] Keller, op. cit.

[22] Jeffrey J. Selingo, “College students say they want a degree for a job. Are they getting what they want?” The Washington Post, Sept. 1, 2018,

[23] Steve Goldstein, “Nine out of 10 new jobs are going to those with a college degree,” MarketWatch, June 5, 2018,

[24] Mark Treinen and Alan Hovorka, “UW-Stevens Point plans to cut 13 majors, add or expand 16 programs,” Stevens Point Journal, March 5, 2018,

[25] Olivia Goldhill, “Marco Rubio admits he was wrong … about philosophy,” Quartz, March 30, 2018,

[26] Steve Lohr, “As Coding Boot Camps Close, the Field Faces a Reality Check,” The New York Times, Aug. 24, 2017,

[27] “Education and Lifetime Earnings,” op. cit.

[28] Jonathan R. Cole, The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence; Its Indispensable National Role; Why It Must Be Protected (2009), p. 13.

[29] Richard Gamble, “What the Founders Thought About the Value of a ‘Classical’ Education,” The Daily Signal, Oct. 21, 2016,

[30] John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Vol. 10 (1856) p. 105.

[31] Roger L. Geiger, “The Ten Generations of American Higher Education,” in Michael N. Bastedo, Philip G. Altbach and Patricia J. Gumport, American Higher Education in the 21st Century: Social, Political and Economic Challenges, 4th ed. (2016), p. 5.

[32] Cole, op. cit., p. 15.

[33] Ibid., p. 29.

[34] David F. Labaree, A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education (2017), p. 45.

[35] Geiger, op. cit., p. 19.

[36] Labaree, op. cit., p. 74.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Geiger, op. cit., p. 29.

[39] Robert Reinhold, “Dr. Vannevar Bush Is Dead at 84,” The New York Times, June 30, 1974,

[40] Cole, op. cit., p. 77.

[41] Labaree, op. cit., p. 149.

[42] Cole, op. cit., p. 148.

[43] Lyndon B. Johnson, “Remarks Upon Signing the ‘Cold War GI Bill’ (Veterans' Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966),” The American Presidency Project, March 3, 1966,

[44] Michael Mumper et al., “The Federal Government and Higher Education,” in Bastedo et al., op. cit., p. 218.

[45] “How does a college degree improve graduates’ employment and earnings potential?” Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities,

[46] Amanda Ripley, “Why Is College in America So Expensive?” The Atlantic, Sept. 11, 2018,

[47] Aims C. McGuinness Jr., “The States and Higher Education,” in Bastedo et al., op. cit., p. 261.

[48] Mumper et al., op. cit., p. 220.

[49] Berman, op. cit.

[50] Donald Lazere, “‘The Closing of the American Mind,’ 20 Years Later,” Inside Higher Ed, Sept. 18, 2007,

[51] “The real victims of campus activism are the students,” The Economist, Sept. 27, 2018,

[52] Kaitlin Mulhere, “AmeriCorps at 20,” Inside Higher Ed, Sept. 12, 2014,

[53] Sue Kirchhoff, “Student Loan Program May Break the Bank,” CQ News, Feb. 7, 1998,

[54] Alex Frew McMillan, “Financial planners like the flexibility 529 plans give people saving for college,” CNN Money, Jan. 25, 2001,

[55] John McMickle, “How the Clinton administration made it harder on student borrowers,” The Hill, June 16, 2016,

[56] Stephanie R. Cellini, Rajeev Darolia and Lesley J. Turner, “Where Do Students Go When For-Profit Colleges Lose Federal Aid?” National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Working Paper 22967, December 2016,

[57] David Whitman, “The GOP Reversal on For-Profit Colleges in the George W. Bush Era,” The Century Foundation, June 7, 2018,

[58] Alan Greenblatt, “For Community Colleges, A Hard Lesson In Politics,” NPR, March 29, 2010,

[59] Mike Krause, “Sometimes, Practical Policy Can Be Exceptional,” Inside Higher Ed, Sept. 25, 2018,

[60] “Mr. Cuomo's Free* College Plan,” The New York Times, April 14, 2017,

[61] Kevin Cirilli, “Trump: Why Is Federal Government Making Money on Student Loans?” The Hill, July 23, 2015,

[62] “Student Assistance General Provisions, Federal Perkins Loan Program, Federal Family Education Loan Program, and William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program,” U.S. Department of Education, Federal Register, July 31, 2018,

[63] Andrew Kreighbaum, “A Troubled Accreditor's Long-Term Outlook,” Inside Higher Ed, April 13, 2018,

[64] Andrew Kreighbaum, “DeVos to Announce New Push for Deregulation, Innovation,” Inside Higher Ed, July 30, 2018,

[65] Danielle Ivory, Erica L. Green and Steve Eder, “Education Department Unwinds Unit Investigating Fraud at For-Profit Colleges,” The New York Times, May 13, 2018,

[66] Letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Department of Education, Aug. 31, 2017,

[67] Cory Turner, “Student Loan Watchdog Quits, Says Trump Administration ‘Turned Its Back’ On Borrowers,” NPR, Aug. 27, 2018,

[68] Lauren Camera, “DeVos Wades into Debate Over How to Modernize Higher Education,” U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 14, 2017,

[69] Andrew Kreighbaum, “GOP Pushes Ahead on Higher Ed Act,” Inside Higher Ed, Dec. 13, 2017,

[70] Josh Mitchell, “Student Aid Would Fall by $15 Billion Under GOP Bill, CBO Says,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 6, 2018,

[71] Michael Stratford, “House leaders to count votes on GOP higher ed bill,” Politico, June 12, 2018,

[72] Delece Smith-Barrow, “With the new ‘Aim Higher Act,’ House Democrats want states to make community college free,” Hechinger Report, July 27, 2018,

[73] Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action Program at University of Texas,” The New York Times, June 23, 2016,

[74] Adam Harris, “What the Harvard Trial Is Really About,” The Atlantic, Oct. 15, 2018,

[75] Ibid.

[76] Daniel de Vise, “UC-Berkeley and other ‘public Ivies’ in fiscal peril,” The Washington Post, Dec. 26, 2011,

[77] “College Price Competition,” NPR, April 22, 1997,

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About the Author

Alan Greenblatt, author of this week's edition of CQ Researcher  

Alan Greenblatt, is a staff writer at Governing magazine. Previously he covered politics and government for NPR and CQ Weekly, where he won the National Press Club's Sandy Hume Award for political journalism. He graduated from San Francisco State University in 1986 and received a master's degree in English literature from the University of Virginia in 1988. His CQ Researcher reports include “Future of the GOP” and “Immigration Debate.”

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Document APA Citation
Greenblatt, A. (2018, October 26). Issues in higher education. CQ researcher, 28, 897-920. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre2018102600
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ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Colleges and Universities
Oct. 26, 2018  Issues in Higher Education
Nov. 20, 2015  Greek Life on Campus
May 08, 2015  Free Speech on Campus
May 01, 2015  Community Colleges
Jan. 02, 2015  College Rankings
Jan. 18, 2013  Future of Public Universities
Feb. 04, 2011  Crime on Campus
Jan. 07, 2011  Career Colleges
Dec. 12, 2003  Black Colleges
Apr. 21, 2000  Community Colleges
Feb. 16, 1996  Academic Politics
Jan. 05, 1990  What Should College Students Be Taught?
Jul. 27, 1984  Colleges in the 1980s
Jan. 23, 1981  Plight of America's Black Colleges
Apr. 11, 1980  College Admissions
Sep. 06, 1974  College Recruiting
Mar. 01, 1974  Academic Tenure
Sep. 14, 1966  Graduate School Crush
Affirmative Action
Civil Rights and Civil Liberty Issues
Civil Rights Movement
College Financing and Funding
Conservatism and Liberalism
Consumer Behavior
Cost of Education and School Funding
Data and Statistics
Diversity Issues
Education Policy
General Employment and Labor
Party Politics
Party Politics
Student Movements
Supreme Court History and Decisions
Undergraduate and Graduate Education
Unemployment and Employment Programs
Vocational and Adult Education
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