“I think the investment in higher education is arguably one of the most important investments an individual can make in their future well-being,” she said. “It’s one of the most important investments a family can make and that the nation can make. We’re in a global economy that has increasing talent pools around the world. If we expect to be competitive and have economic security it will be through intellectual capital. That means more higher education.
It’s a huge responsibility to keep higher education affordable. That responsibility falls to the members of ACE, but it also falls to state policymakers and national policymakers. Because the cost differences vary so widely among different kinds of institutions with different missions, and the graduate and undergraduate levels, getting a handle on what’s happened to those costs I think is an assignment that we collectively need to take up and explain in ways that we haven’t done before.”
You don’t hear as much talk as you used to about the United States having the world’s finest system of higher education. By a number of metrics, several other countries have caught up and in some cases passed the U.S. Where is the U.S. most vulnerable?
“I think we have seen a dramatic improvement in access to higher education in this country, and yet we have fallen from the first position to the 10th position around the world in the education level of our work force. Clearly one of the key areas that mandates improvement is our high school graduation rate. In many states the dropout rate has remained stubbornly high for reasons I think we understand in part but not in great detail. I have a confidence that if students were graduating from high school in record numbers and rates, that access to college would dramatically change the economic picture in our country.”
Why is education, particularly higher education, getting so little detailed attention in the presidential campaign?
“It hasn’t been a centerpiece of the campaign deliberations. But I think there is frequent reference to the importance of our economic security and our position globally and the role that higher education will play in all of that.
Higher education is among the largest, if not the largest, discretionary part of the federal budget. Our federal budget is not in good financial shape. We’re looking at a future where the cost of health care and of social security will take up an increasing share, so it’s very much in the interests of higher education for the new president and those who are the nominees to confront squarely the fiscal issues facing our country and to build in a bipartisan way plans to fix that.”
Some people think the higher education lobby in Washington is a little too powerful and has used its “old school” ties in Congress to fend off some reasonable attempts at more oversight and accountability, particularly on issues like college costs. How would you respond?
“I just don’t know enough to answer that question. I haven’t started yet. Obviously, building credibility and integrity in the relationships with members of Congress is a critical part of gaining their support. The responsibility of higher education is to provide objective and complete information to policymakers. Certainly building those credible relationships with members of Congress and the executive branch is going to be a key part of being successful.”
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