Education News

Two decades later, the Higher Ed Act needs an update, say NEA members

DeWayne Sheaffer, president of NEA’s National Council of Higher Education and counselor at Long Beach City College. Photo credit: Jati Lindsay.

By Mary Ellen Flannery

For Enrique Farrera, an academic advisor from Clackamas Community College in Oregon, the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is about affordability and access—and that’s what he told Oregon legislators in their Capitol Hill offices last week.

On Thursday, members of the NEA Board of Directors flanked Capitol Hill, making personal pleas to state lawmakers on behalf of the College Affordability Act, as well as a school modernization bill and other legislation. Inside the offices of four U.S. Representatives, Farrera made the case for legislation that he believes will pay dividends in Oregon’s communities for decades to come. “This is what higher education is about—it’s not about the immediate pay-off, it’s about investing in your communities and the people who live and work in those communities.”

In calling on Congress to pass the College Affordability Act (H.R. 4674), educators are asking for a long-overdue, comprehensive reauthorization of the 1965 landmark Higher Education Act (HEA), last reauthorized in 2008. At the time of its original passage, the law promised to “swing open a new door for the young people of America…the most important door that will ever open—the door to education,” said President Lyndon Johnson, as he signed it into law.

That original promise—to provide a gateway to the American Dream through access to higher education—still holds true, educators say. However, because “it hasn’t been reauthorized in so long,” says National Council of Higher Education President DeWayne Sheaffer, the 12-year-old law doesn’t fully reflect current conditions on U.S. campuses, including the need for more, diverse educators and the rising cost of higher education.

The House bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and passed by the House education committee in October, would do several things, including:

  • Lower the cost of college for students and families by increasing and extending Pell Grants for low-income students, and creating “America’s College Promise,” a federal-state partnership that would provide federal funds to states that invest in public colleges and make community college tuition-free.
  • Help educators with student loan debt by protecting and improving the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Importantly, the bill expands eligibility to contingent, or adjunct faculty of institutions of higher education.
  • Protect taxpayers and students by maintaining Obama-era rules around for-profit colleges, including protections that help defrauded students, and closing loopholes that make it easier for for-profit colleges to prey on veterans.
  • Make campuses safer by blocking Betsy DeVos’ Title IX rules, which would enable rapists to confront and question their victims, and requiring campuses to keep better records of hazing and harassment acts.
  • Improve teacher preparation by reauthorizing the Teacher Quality Partnership Grant program, strengthening teacher-prep programs with residency-based models and grow-your-own programs, and providing grants to increase the diversity of the educator profession.

NEA strongly supports the bill: “Fifty-four years later, the College Affordability Act will bring our nation much closer to fulfilling HEA’s promise,” wrote NEA Director of Government Relations Marc Egan, in October.

[To urge your Senator or Representative to support the College Affordability Act, visit the NEA Action Center.]

Enrique Farrera, academic advisor from Clackamas Community College in Oregon.

In his lobbying efforts, Farrera makes sure Oregon’s senators and representatives understand how these measures will affect residents of their districts. “When I lobby for NEA, I study up, do my homework, and get myself familiarized with the legislation. I want to relate the bill to their districts, so that I can say, ‘this will support the community college in your district,’ or ‘this will help families and educators in your district.’”

For Farrera, the professional growth opportunities embedded in the College Affordability Act are critical, as is the bill’s expansion of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to contingent and adjunct faculty. “Furthermore, it will help reduce the cost of tuition, helping colleges and universities expand access to marginalized communities,” he says.

Last week, Oregon lawmakers told him “they deeply appreciate the work of NEA members and the value of community colleges and four-year universities,” he says. For his part, he told them that they’d be seeing him again soon. “I always tell them, ‘I’ll see you at your next event, or your town-hall meeting,’ so, they know I’m an active constituent.”

7 responses to “Two decades later, the Higher Ed Act needs an update, say NEA members

  1. Wow and I thought my response was a bit too verbose. I couldn’t agree more with T.Z. He hits the nail on its head and should be considered to replace ‘Ding-Bat’ DeVos as Secretary of Education.

  2. I am now retired after spending 42 years teaching. In my initial higher education I was able to attend a SUNY college and pay my way by working summers. There is no way that students can do this today. The costs of a college education have far exceeded any wage increases!
    I myself have found that I could send 4 of my children though college by sending them to excellent private schools with college grants rather than sending them to State schools at the same cost. And no, they didn’t go into education but received starting salaries above my salary when I retired.
    With our current attack on Public Education it is a wonder that we can still get quality educators to teach in our Public schools!

  3. “If they can afford to pay for the tuition they should not get financial aid. This is subsidizing the Rich and Powerful.”
    Today the largest part of college expenses are the “fees” not the tuition. Why? Most if not all state colleges and universities fees stay at that institution ;however, the tuition goes to the state. Some where between the early 70’s and 80’s it was flipped. Tuition used to be the largest cost of higher education and fees were the least.

    Beyond that statement, I found the above essay enlightening and well founded. I see a need for restructuring how were distribute funds.

  4. I’ve been teaching science to MS & HS students for @15 years, I’ve been denied PSLF (Loan Forgiveness) every time I applied for it. It’s crazy to think that the students I’ve been teaching at Title I schools are going to be getting much less value for their diploma than years & years of debt. More and more employers year by year are steadily accepting employees for work (for positions that would typically require a college degree) without a college degree. More students are increasingly becoming acutely aware of how much of a ripoff (for life) the costs of college can be. Especially for those who do not have families who have endowed them with college savings plans or cannot qualify for one of many different types of scholarships and whose grades are good enough to pass but not great enough to do much with that. The big question unaddressed is what are we preparing the younger generations for?in this developing Tech Revolution where greater automation is prevailing in manufacturing and consumers are transitioning their spending from Brick & Mortar to online. Public & to some extent Higher Education is not addressing the viability of the stakeholder in the vastly competitive and fluctuating job market. Many are not poised to know why they are even going to college and for those students they’ll be prey to paying high debt for the next 20-30 years. Re-authorize the HEA, STOP PROFITING OFF THE YOUTH OF OUR NATION!!!

    [1.] It is my belief that we need a U.S. Constitutional Amendment making free public education beginning with pre-school and continuing through a four year college degree or a trade certificate, a U.S. Constitutional right and not an option.
    The need for absolutely free public education for every U.S. Citizen in a family earning less than $150,000.00 is a very clear, clean and ethical solution to the problem of the gross inequality in the U.S.A. in regards to the quality of education and the economic opportunity.
    It would also address the issue of “White Privilege” and Institutional Systematic Discrimination of the rich and powerful white race against all poor, middle-class, minorities and women.
    The elite private institutions will survive without funding from the public sector or the federal and state governments. I absolutely do not support in any way, shape or form the use of public tax-payer money to fund or support any and all private educational systems. I do not want grants, vouchers or the transfer of buildings, equipment or materials to a private educational system.
    At the other end of the educational spectrum are the Diploma mills of online and private diploma mills that will in all probability fail and deserve to do so. But that would not be, by all evidence, a loss to the educational system, and in all probability would be a net gain.
    I disagree and strongly oppose providing grants for a student to attend a private institution. This only removes money that should be used to improve the public educational system. Attending a private school while there is a public school available is a choice a person has the right to make, however; they do not have a right to expect the tax-payers to finance their free choice.
    Social progress almost never is a straight forward, linear process. Most times society struggles to recognize the moral questions that in retrospect should have been evident and obvious to all. Then in a historical moment, it sometimes crystalizes and a movement slowly begins to correct the problem once the moral issue is made clear to all. [examples; such as slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, marriage equality; each of these moral issues and challenges rose in the national conscience before they became the subject of a fight for justice.] [Which some are yet to be won?]
    We as a society are beginning to understand that the failure to provide a good free public education to all U. S. Citizens is contributing to the gross economic inequality in the U.S.A.
    I believe that we as a society are seeing the results of the deterioration of the U. S. Educational system upon all of the sectors of the economy.
    We are falling behind the other countries in the world in math and science, education and government. That means we are losing our advantage and competiveness and dominance in technology, medicine, aerospace, drugs, electronic systems, programming, software and robotics.
    This is causing our G.D.P. to lose its momentum, it means that corporations, institutions, companies and for profit organizations are not growing profits based on improved productivity and quality, it is being done by increasing profit margins and cutting labor. The new young financial Turks do not realize that when they cut labor they are eliminating potential consumers and rather than increased demand they are actually reducing it.
    This means that our executives are not being as well educated and are not making good decisions to achieve bottom-line profit. They have never learned that all sections of a company’s cost of production must be included in decision making. [The facilities, equipment, employees, training & development, benefits, materials, moral, health, safety and community responsibilities all must be balanced to determine R.O.I.]
    The elected and appointed men and women in all levels of government are no longer getting the education and training in ethics, morality, and law to help them perform their duties and responsibilities to protect and serve all of the u.s. citizens equally and honestly
    I believe that the light is about to turn on and the moment of absolute clarity will demand that as a society we must ask ourselves; how can we deny a free higher education to every young U. S. Citizen in the U.S.A. just because they or their parents cannot afford to pay for it?
    This is destroying the U.S. economy and we either fix it immediately or the U.S.A. will not remain a free society.
    I believe that this is a violation of the United States of America’s Constitution that clearly states that all are created equal and have equal rights to an equal opportunity.
    The numbers clearly show that barriers to higher education are an economic burden for both the students and society. They also indicate that the solution – free higher education for all those who benefit from it – is a practical goal. It is also the most economical goal, with the greatest return on investment.
    But, in the end, the fundamental argument to all of the U.S. Citizens is not economics; it is the moral argument of what is just and fair.
    What are the costs of the educational crisis and of the college cost crisis?
    [1.] The decrease in the U.S. living standard.
    [2.] The slow elimination of the middle-class.
    [3.] The increase in the homeless.
    [4.] The increase in crime.
    [5.] The increase in mental health problems.
    [6.] The increase in the incarceration rates and the costs of incarceration.
    [7.] Increased burden on the federal income tax and state income tax payers.
    [8.] Equal opportunity has almost been totally destroyed in the U.S.A… social mobility is at or near the lowest point in modern history. A nation prides itself on the “only in America” myth has fallen far behind other countries in this, the primary measurement of an equal-opportunity society.
    [9.] Inequality in the accumulation of wealth is at the greatest level in the history of the United States of America. It will only get worse because of the greed of the American Citizens and because of the greed and corruption of those politicians who fail to serve all equally in the U. S. Congress. The United States Supreme Court has dealt a killing blow to equality with the decision they made in the citizens united versus the F.E.C. to allow corporations, institutions, companies and organization the right to unlimited contributions to political parties and candidates.
    In the midst of this class ossification, higher education remains a potential powerful tool for potential social mobility.
    Education is in danger of becoming an inherited White Privilege. The greatest predictor of a child’s like hood of graduating college lies in the answer to the question; did his or her parents gradate high school? The O.E.C.D. found that “the odds that a young person in the U.S. will be in higher education if his or her parents do not have an upper secondary educations are just 29% — one of the lowest levels among O.E.C.D. countries (emphasis mine).” (Source: education at a glance — O.E.C.D. indicators 2012.)
    That is not a “land of opportunity.” This kind of economic aristocracy is fundamentally un-America. And it is getting worse.
    This is a country in which the rich and powerful have all the advantages and the poor and middle-class are destined to be slaves to the corporations, institutions, companies and organizations that employ them. I assure you that it will only become worse.
    Presently in the United States of America Capitalism is destroying the country and the outlook for the working people or those who are seeking employment are looking destitute.
    I will list 11 factors:
    [1] The 2010 census revealed that a record-setting one in fifteen Americans now lives in deep poverty. That is an income of less than $11,157 for a family of four. That is less than half of what the government establishes as the poverty income.
    [2] The total number of American Citizens living in official poverty reached a historic high of 46.2 million people. That is over 15% of the total U.S. population.
    [3] In 2011, one in six American Citizens or 50 million or more than the entire population of Texas had no health insurance. 14.5% of all American households were defined as food deficient. That is to say they could not feed the family members properly.
    [4] In 2011 one in three American Citizens lived at or below the official poverty levels. Sadly the largest percentage of those in this category, were minorities.
    [5] Four out of every ten black citizens of working age were unemployed, at some point during 2008 and 2009.
    [6] In thirty five of America’s largest cities during the first half of 2010, the official jobless rate among blacks ranged from 30 to 35%. This is actually worse than it was during the first depression.
    [7] The actual combined unemployment rate for blacks and Latino workers in 2010 was 25%.
    [8] The black poverty rate rose to 26% and was double that of the white poverty rate.
    [9] The difference between the median wealth of white and black households rose to 15 to 1. The median black household’s net worth was only 7% of the median white household’s.
    [10] By 2010, more than half the homes bought by Black Americans in 2006 had been foreclosed on. In my mind this is why the bail-out was not provided to the people who had mortgages in trouble versus directly to the financial institutions. If the money had been paid to the mortgage companies direct on behalf of those facing or in foreclosure the money would have saved the people their homes and made the financial institutions solvent.
    [11] In 2010, an astonishing half of the u.s. children and 90% of Black U.S. Children had depended on food stamps at some point of their lives.
    The cost of higher education is hitting the lower-income Americans the hardest. As a recent analysis (from Hechinger report, in collaboration with education writer’s association and the Dallas morning news) showed, “America’s colleges and universities are quietly shifting the burden of their big tuition increases onto the low-income students, while many higher-income families are seeing their college costs rise more slowly, or even fall.”
    That is discrimination and unfair and does not treat the students equally.
    More student aid is being directed to wealthier students, further exacerbating the educational inequality problem.
    If they can afford to pay for the tuition they should not get financial aid. This is subsidizing the Rich and Powerful.
    And we certainly don’t have an overabundance of graduates. In fact…young Americans aren’t as educated as the young citizens of many other developed countries. The O.E.C.D. also found that “the U.S. ranks 14th in the world in the percentage of 25-34 year-olds with higher education (42%).” When all adults of working age are considered, the U.S. is still one of the highest-educated countries in the world. But when this age group is considered, we are falling behind.
    That is discrimination and unfair and does not treat the students equally.
    Everyone should want to change these statistics. Is that practical? The answer may surprise some people.

    Investing in education.
    Higher education is a very good investment. The United States has one of the highest “rates of return” on college degrees in the world. O.E.C.D. data shows that the “net present value” of a higher education – its estimated long-term value, minus total costs – is higher in the United States than it is anywhere else in the world except Portugal.
    Free higher education is an affordable dream. As Jeff Bryant of the education opportunity network points out in his “free public higher education” petition, free higher education is not an unaffordable fantasy. If public colleges and universities were to be made available to qualified students without charging tuition, the total cost would be an estimated $62.6 billion. And, as Richard Long notes, approximately $69 billion is spent each year on government aid to students.
    If all education was nationalized we could reduce the costs by making them be non-profit educational institutions.
    There is some overlap between the two figures. Some of that student aid goes to tuition for public colleges and universities. But much of it goes to private universities, at levels of quality that range from Ivy League Elite to fly-by-night predatory.
    Let’s not kid ourselves: doing this the right way would require increased government spending. It would also call for better coordination between state budgets and federal expenditures, which can be achieved in a number of ways. But it would be money well spent. Higher income for individuals equates to higher spending, and therefore to economic growth.
    Going forward, a system of free higher public education would eliminate the lion’s share of student indebtedness. Billions in new funds would return to general circulation each year. Graduates would earn higher incomes, unencumbered by debt. It would be a win-win.
    The moral imperative.
    Economically, free public higher education is an achievable goal. And one wonders why the deficit scolds, who profess such concern for young people, are in there trying to cut social security, seems so disinterested in helping them get an education, find jobs, or fulfill their destinies.
    But the fundamental argument in its favor is moral, not fiscal. That moral imperative becomes even stronger when we consider the massive injustice we have perpetrated by forcing graduates into an economy that has reached historically awful levels for new entrants into the job market. That alone is an abandonment of our national obligations – both to young people and to our future. Compounding that misery with record-high student debt is nothing short of disgraceful.
    But, while the economic arguments are impressive, it’s important not to base this debate on numbers alone. The 2012 platforms of both political parties argued that education initiatives must be geared toward teaching skills that will get graduates hired by America’s corporations. That’s certainly valuable for students who have chosen that as their educational goal.
    The American educational tradition has never been strictly utilitarian. Public institutions of higher learning shouldn’t exist merely to provide free employee training for the private sector.
    It makes sense to me to provide educations that prepare the individual to fill the private sector needs.
    Colleges and universities must also produce the musicians, writers, philosophers, scientists, and visionaries of tomorrow. We must stay true to the vision of educational philosophers like John Dewey, who recognized that the primary purpose of education at all levels is to produce fully realized citizens in a democratic society.
    The ability to participate fully in all aspects of democratic life has always been the American dream. Free higher education is essential to realizing that dream, and it’s an idea whose time has come.
    I would also create a federal law that would mandate that the same educational books were used in all schools for all subjects. I would mandate that all schools start and end on the same date. I would mandate that each and every school must be at the end of a set chapter in each educational book every end of a semester. This would make transferring to new schools if the family moves.
    I would like to mandate that each and every school system have a psychiatrist on duty or on call to address any student who shows any tendency of bulling or abuse.

  6. Make college more affordable & degrees faster by eliminating classes that are attached to degrees that have absolutely nothing to do with that degree. A 4yr degree should be done in 4yrs.

  7. Why spend lobbying efforts on this bill when HR 3472 (College for All Act) would cancel student debt and make college universally affordable? Continuing a means-tested program isn’t how we build a mass movement to transform accessibility to higher ed.

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