4 Ways That Politics Impacted Higher Education in 2015

Politics impacts education in various ways, and they are not always apparent. Here are the ways that politics impacted higher education in 2015.

Accreditation at the center of reauthorization of the higher education act. A Senate white paper detailed issues with the process that many higher education institutions go through to achieve accreditation. In the paper, the question on how to improve accreditation for post-secondary schools was addressed, but it was done to question if schools are properly preparing their students for the workforce.

As mentioned in the paper, a study produced by two professors from the University of Virginia and New York University showed that just 36 percent of students demonstrated “any significant improvement in learning over the course of their four years in college.” It also showed that many college students lacked basic literacy skills, critical thinking ability, and could discern “if their car has enough gasoline to get to the next gas station.”

What may be worse is that colleges are graduating students who are not ready for the workforce. Many business leaders surveyed said that “new workforce entrants with a four-year college degree are ‘deficient’ in writing, a basic skill.”

So it seems that the report was really asking if the accreditation process needs to change since some students aren’t being properly educated and trained. Some of the information included in the white paper was critical and warranted, but it is tough to discern a student’s ability to learn based solely off test scores and surveys.

On the other hand, there should be some way to judge colleges and universities on how well their students are retaining information once they graduate. For that reason, properly judging and questioning the accreditation process is just and deserves proper scrutiny if our future workforce is in jeopardy due to the lack of academic institutional control.

Democrats want changes to Pell grants. With the cost of college rising and cuts being made to higher education in many states, some Democratic politicians are pushing for changes to how students may pay for college.

According to thehill.com, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) proposed to allow students to use Pell Grants for three semesters instead of two. She also wanted to “increase the Pell Grant maximum for the 2014-2015 school year from $5,730 to $9,139.”

By way of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), spending on Pell Grants from 2006 to 2011 rose by 158 percent. The data also shows that the increase in spending was due to an uptick in the number of participants in the program. But as of late, Congress has created a bottleneck of sorts around Pell Grants. Restrictions have been put in place, so many students do not have access to receive them.

Another proposal put forth by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) had the aim of providing “two years of maximum Pell Grants to qualifying middle-school students who maintain good grades through high school, to help them pay for a college or university.” According to Stabenow, her bill would encourage middle school students to go after a college degree if they have some form of guaranteed funding starting in the 8th grade.

These ideas were surely meant to secure needed funding for students who would otherwise struggle to pay for college. But they were also a way for Democrats to show their strength on higher education compared to their Republican counterparts.

Both proposals from Stabenow and Hirono will have to be pushed through a Republican-controlled Congress, one that already placed constraints around Pell Grants

so that the program isn’t so economically stressed.
Still, students need new and innovative ways to pay for college. They also need help from the government due to the rising cost of college. Increasing the max Pell

Grant amount and extending the offer to middle school students seem to be good incentives to keep students interested in attending college and tamping costs down.

House bill tackle sexual violence on college campuses. A bipartisan bill introduced by Representatives Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, and Patrick Meehan, a Republican from Pennsylvania, aimed “to toughen federal oversight of how colleges respond to campus sexual violence.”

According to The Washington Post, the legislation “would require colleges to survey their students on sexual violence every two years, increase the maximum penalty (to $100,000, from $35,000) for each violation of a campus-safety law known as the Clery Act…” In essence, colleges and universities would be heavily fined for failing to properly protect students who claim that their civil rights were violated by sexual assault.

An increase in fines would certainly help, and is a good starting point, but the heart of the bill lies with its language, mandating that the public know more about colleges that are under investigation by the federal government because of sexual violence on campus.

The bill, with almost 30 co-sponsors, was introduced in the right environment. It certainly seems that America has no appetite for sexual violence against young adults, specifically young women.

Because the bill must make its way through a House filled with conservatives, it may be too early to tell if it will pass or not. Even so, this bill is needed. Far too many young women feel uneasy and unsafe at school, a place that is supposed to be reserved for learning and safety. Protecting our students should be a top priority for administrators and this country’s lawmakers. Hopefully we will see positive moment on H.R. 2680 as it makes its way through Congress.

Wisconsin makes sizable cuts to higher education budget. Yet another state may be in the process of cutting funding to higher education. Wisconsin lawmakers grappled with the idea of slashing upwards of $150 million from higher education this year.
According to insidehighered.com, the Wisconsin Legislature may put into a place a mandatory tuition freeze and “a 13 percent reduction in the higher education budget.”

The article stated just how dire the situation may be for the University of Wisconsin system. With no tuition increases, little leftover revenue due to tax cuts, and funding contractions that totaled $300 million, the university’s chancellor Rebecca Blank said that there may be 430 layoffs. “I particularly regret the impact these cuts will have on our employees and their families.”

Delving deeper into the problem that these cuts will have on jobs, insidehighered.com detailed that the University of Wisconsin system would offer “early retirement of more than 1,000 employees…and leave more than 90 vacant positions open.”

Regarding Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the legislature’s decision to cut higher education funding so severely, this was certainly an undue injustice to students attending schools within the University of Wisconsin system.

As mentioned earlier, the system hasn’t been allowed to approve tuition increases because that decision sits with state lawmakers. With employment reductions and cuts totaling $300 million, the quality of education that students will receive will greatly reduce if these cuts are allowed to stand.

Can you think of additional ways that politics impacted higher education in 2015?

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