The thorny politics of higher education reform

Stefanie Botelho's picture
Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Last week I wrote about the “college conundrum” and the opportunity it presents for conservatives. The basic argument: college is simultaneously more expensive, less valuable, and more important than ever before. What families need is a more robust set of postsecondary options to choose from, meaning we should focus reform energy on the supply-side of higher education. Lowering barriers to entry and leveling the playing field can free entrepreneurs to build offerings that better suit students’ needs.

That shouldn’t be too hard, right? After all, the K-12 reform movement has made serious inroads on reforms like charter schooling, digital learning, and the like, thanks in large part to support from Republican policymakers at the state and federal level. Won’t the effort to change higher ed play out the same way?

Not exactly. The politics of higher education policy are actually less hospitable to reform than those in K-12. Some argue that partisan polarization is to blame, which is typically code for “the Democrats want to change things but Republicans won’t let them.”

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