Almost everyone in higher education is now worried. There are new pressures for accountability, new online competition and now the sequester. It also seems at last, as if the great tuition ramp is finally about to level off: we’ve brushed off concern from legislators for years, but with the economy still in neutral, parents are increasingly making college decisions based on net price. Look for smaller tuition increases and eventually even some tuition reductions. You might also recall that the baby boom is over and the number of high school applicants is declining in most states.
Still not worried? Republicans and Democrats can agree on almost nothing these days. Actually, they probably agree on absolutely nothing, except for one thing: higher education.
Yes, President Obama and Sen Mark Rubio agree on something: Washington gives out $175 billion a year on student grants, loans and tax breaks and both of them want to use that leverage to create more accountable and more affordable system. (WSJ Feb 20 Obama, Rubio Put Higher Education on Notice).
Many parents and students already use College Navigator, and now the White House has already introduced a new College Score Card. It has flaws, but external calls for accountability and transparency will only intensify.
Luckily for us, higher education legislation is not the most important issues in Washington right now. At some point, however, perhaps before the midterm elections, both parties will want to find to find something they can get done and something that everyone in the country agrees upon. It is easy to assume that all of those ethical violations of for-profit schools did not tarnish the image of traditional not-for-profit colleges, but remember–all of thew were accredited. “Every bad thing you read about happened in an accredited institution,” says Kevin Carey, director of education policy at the nonpartisan New America Foundation. Oh dear…
We will resist and it will not be futile. (No Jedi mind melds please.) We are a diverse and unwieldy system and we can still claim to be the best in the world. But in the end, there will be some new accreditation systems and new metrics for us to track. It would be very unlikely that higher education can really get out in front of this issue. Radical innovation is in the DNA of most institutions, but with the coming disruption, it is the nimble who will mutate into something that can survive in the new climate.