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Berita Nasional - Internasional

A New and Improved Education Law

The Higher Education Act hasn't had a major update in nearly a decade – and it shows. The nation's signature higher education law was last renewed before the peak of the last housing and financial crisis, before the e-commerce revolution bankrupted retail juggernauts Blockbuster Video, Radio Shack and Circuit City, and even before Facebook introduced the "like" button.

First written in 1965, when most students attended four-year colleges or trade schools after high school, the law no longer reflects the needs of today's students. Thirty-eight percent are older than 25, 58 percent work while attending college and 26 percent are parents. Today's students are more likely to attend multiple institutions, change careers and acquire skills and knowledge outside the confines of traditional higher education.

To succeed in today's economy, students need a system where their education matches the skills employers require; programs are flexible and support student success; and all types of learning are recognized. Federal policy is not the only solution, but it should no longer be a barrier.

It's high time for a bipartisan, comprehensive reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Members of Congress working toward this goal must answer two critical questions: Who are today's students, and how can federal policy better serve them? Here are five key priorities for a new Higher Education Act to accomplish that goal.

Count all forms of higher learning. One in four Americans currently have a nondegree credential or certificate. New online and competency-based providers are working with millions of students and beginning to show promising results connecting them to new credentials in growing industries. Military service members and adult and part-time learners are looking to seamlessly transfer existing skills and knowledge to college credit and the workplace.

With this reality in mind, new legislation should encourage postsecondary pathways that recognize all learning – from college credit, job training and occupational licensure to high-quality digital credentials and online courses. A revamped law can help students use loans and grants at high-quality skills providers, including apprenticeships and employer-based training and allow for the use of prior learning assessments and competency-based education to help get students with some credit across the finish line.

Improve data and transparency. Now more than ever, students expect high-quality educational, financial and career outcomes in exchange for the price of college. Today's students want to have confidence that their institutions will deliver the outcomes they promise. The next rewrite must provide clearer and more accessible data on the return on investment students can expect from their education. In addition to helping consumers, more complete and accurate data would also ensure institutions and policymakers can make better informed decisions about how to use limited resources to improve student success.

Modernize the role of accreditation in quality assurance. Higher education quality assurance relies on third-party validators of quality – accreditors – as a stamp of approval required to receive federal financial aid. For students – and quite frankly, plenty of others with a stake in higher education – this process is a black box: opaque, complex, impenetrable. We trust this system to deliver a check on the quality of institutions, much like we presume that Food and Drug Administration approval guarantees that new prescription drugs are safe for families.

But the law asks the wrong things of accreditors, requiring them to focus on compliance and bureaucracy rather than what counts: educational quality and student outcomes. As a result, the system rewards mediocrity, sets a low bar for quality and makes innovation and experimentation extremely difficult. Even innovative providers that do show strong results lack a clear pathway to earning the same recognition as their established counterparts.

The next Higher Education Act should create a process for certifying the quality of existing institutions and newcomers alike, and recalibrate the accreditation process to measure student outcomes, instead of institutional inputs.

Make sure institutions have skin in the game. Currently, students – and the taxpayers who underwrite more than $150 billion in financial aid – assume most of the risk when institutions fail to deliver strong outcomes. The reality is that students are more likely to leave school with debt than a degree, and 31 million adults hold some college credit without a credential. Policymakers have an obligation to ensure students use federal aid at responsible programs with a track record of results, and institutions should have skin in the game for the outcomes students experience after graduation.

Finally, unclog the regulatory and bureaucratic clutter. Students and institutions today grapple with a slew of outdated regulations – on issues ranging from computer hardware disposal to mandatory vaccination to bans on illegal file sharing – tangentially related to student success. Federal bureaucracy complicates everything from accessing aid and filing paperwork to getting basic information on different academic programs.

Regulations and programs need to be reevaluated through the prism of student success. A good start would be simplifying the cumbersome process of applying for federal financial aid and creating a more agile and responsive approach toward serving students and borrowers.

The evidence is clear: It's time for a rebuild. Now it's incumbent on Congress to work in a bipartisan fashion to redesign outdated policies for a new generation. Today's students face a different reality than students of the past. They deserve an updated Higher Education Act that puts their needs back at the center.


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