Higher Education Shake Up – Are We Ready for the President’s New Plan?

August 23, 2013 Digital Media Solutions

Higher education has been badly in need of an shake up for quite some time. But this is not news. We’ve been talking about the problems – prices soaring, growing loan defaults, retention rates down, placement rates disappointingly low. We could go on and on — for years now.

Take a look at this graphic, pulled from a dailyfinance.com article about the high cost of education, and you can see how out of control things have become. Maybe because higher education is considered a “choice,” unlike food, shelter or medical care, we didn’t worry about the rise in tuition cost until it could no longer be ignored.

Since 1978 College Tuition Has Increased 1120%

But certainly higher education – charged with not only producing the fine minds that drive so many industries in this country, but also incubating many of the scientific breakthroughs in those same fields – doesn’t need to be granted permission to innovate itself, Right? Unfortunately, wrong.

In 2011, the Education and Workforce group of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation posted “A Discussion of Obstacles to Innovation in Higher Education.” Here is an excerpt:

Currently, a number of obstacles prevent innovation from transforming higher education to the degree it has transformed other sectors of the economy. Nearly every federal agency is involved in regulating some aspect of higher education, creating onerous compliance burdens. The financing system at the state and federal levels provides few incentives for colleges to control costs or improve learning outcomes. And the antiquated accreditation system creates significant barriers to entry for new providers and imposes significant costs on existing ones.

So, now with President Obama asking schools to innovate – and potentially ensuring it with dollars for performance starting in 2015 — have the obstacles to innovation been removed? Quite possibly.

According to the Fact Sheet on the President’s Plan to Make College More Affordable: A Better Bargain for the Middle Class, innovation will be promoted via the following:

  • Challenge colleges to offer students a greater range of affordable, high-quality options than they do today
  • Give consumers clear, transparent information on college performance to help them make the decisions that work best for them
  • Encourage innovation by stripping away unnecessary regulations

In addition to a $260 million “First in the World” fund to help schools innovate, President Obama has also promised to issue regulatory waivers so schools can innovate without fear of losing their accreditation or Title IV funds. There are many more requirements for innovation to succeed, but look at the hurdles we’ve passed. We’ve recognized the need for innovation, developed innovative technologies, found funding for them, cleared regulatory challenges surrounding them, created incentives for quality and promised increased transparency to students. It appears everything is certainly falling into place.

So, is now the time? Are we truly on the precipice of a new future? I believe that we are. And as I tell many, though I have two sons closer to college than I like to admit, I am not worried about the cost of college. Because I know change is coming. There is no other option.

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