Higher education is the issue of our time

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Washington, DC, February 24, 2017 | By Susan A. Davis | comments


A nation’s potential is aligned closely with the strength of its education system. America’s success is a result of the quality and abundant opportunities in the area of higher education.

Education has always been a passion of mine. I got my start in public service because of education. In 1983, I ran for a seat on the San Diego Board of Education.

Serving for nine years, including as vice president and president, I saw firsthand the importance of the federal role in shaping how our children are educated.

When I came to Congress, I prioritized the House Committee on Education and the Workforce as one of the committee assignments I wanted to land.

When I was presented with the opportunity to become the ranking member of the Higher Education Subcommittee this year, I jumped at the chance. This means San Diego will have a key seat at the table when it comes to making higher education policy, such as the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The Higher Education Act was last reauthorized in 2008 and is in desperate need of another update. I hope to hear what you think needs to be done to make the law as effective as possible.

Here are some of my priorities:

College is out of reach for too many students, with access and affordability being two major factors. This is true for all students, but even more so for students of modest means and students of color.

According to U.S. News, the average tuition at private universities has jumped 179 percent since 1995. The average in-state tuition at public universities has jumped 226 percent in that same time.

As tuitions continue to rise, it is clear we are no longer making the investment in our people. Between 2008 and 2012, 44 of 50 states decreased their funding support for public colleges. That needs to change.

Making a degree more affordable will be a priority for me in any reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Protecting Pell grants is crucial for providing access for low income students. The Pell grant program needs to be protected and expanded.

While many for-profit schools provide a quality education, there are bad actors. We need to provide oversight to protect students against for-profit schools that are more concerned with earning a profit than with teaching a student.

Active duty personnel and veterans have been particularly vulnerable to rogue for-profits. Over a quarter of all Department of Education student aid funds, a third of all post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, and half of Department of Defense Tuition Assistance funds go to for-profit colleges.

Congress has a responsibility to guarantee these taxpayer funds are a worthwhile investment for our students.

We need to look at how we define higher education to include two-year degrees and teacher credential programs. We also need to align higher education with workforce needs.

As we help students realize their dreams and full potential, they must also feel safe on campus. Many California campuses have responded to my bill to establish resources for survivors of campus sexual assault. We need to expand that nationally to create a positive campus environment.

While I will be pushing these priorities, protecting the progress we have made from this new administration is likely to be a full-time job.

We are already seeing some of the progress being scaled back. The House of Representatives recently voted to undo vital protections that ensure higher education teacher preparation programs are at the top of their game.

It sounds like this could be just the beginning. President Donald Trump plans to appoint Liberty University president and creationist Jerry Falwell Jr. to head his higher education task force. His comments about rolling back Title IX protections, especially as it pertains to sexual assault, are particularly disturbing.

We need the best educated workforce to compete in today’s global economy. The future of America’s success depends on our commitment to a quality education and investing in our nation’s best resource — its people.It is important to remember that behind these safeguards there are students whose interests we must protect.

This editorial first appeared in San Diego Uptown News

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