Five years ago this week, President George W. Bush signed into law legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, the major law governing federal student aid.
The 1,158-page bill, which was itself five years in the making, was expected to leave a lasting imprint on American higher education, holding colleges and states accountable for skyrocketing tuition and reining in abuses in the student-loan system. It was supposed to simplify the process of applying for federal student aid and help students make better borrowing and college-going decisions, courtesy of a shorter application form and a slew of new disclosures.
In some concrete ways, the 2008 reauthorization has achieved those goals. Applying for student aid is easier than it used to be, and consumers have access to more information about college costs and outcomes than ever before. States are being forced to justify cuts in higher-education spending, and institutions with “preferred-lender lists” are being asked to explain their choices.
But the bill has failed in its larger goals of making college more accountable and more affordable. Since 2008, tuition at four-year public colleges has increased significantly, as states have slashed their higher-education budgets. At the same time, public confidence in the nation’s colleges has declined, with lawmakers and families increasingly questioning the value of a college degree.<Read more.>