The Federal Government and Higher Education: Who, What, and Why?

15 Oct

With the 2012 Presidential Election just weeks away now, the topic of the federal government and how it may or may not change after the election results are in is all anyone can talk about when it comes to politics.  As I am learning more and more about the higher education system in America and how it is regulated, I have noticed the clashing opinions on whether or not the government should be involved in higher education and education as whole. Overall, Democrats tend to support more involvement by the federal government in education while republicans support less government involvement.  In a survey performed from August 5 to August 8, 2010, 1,013 Americans ages 18 or older were asked if they believed the government should be more involved, less involved, or their involvement should remain the same in education.  Of those 1,013 people, 43% wanted more involvement, 35% wanted less involvement, and 20% wanted the level of involvement to remain the same.  Due to the rising amount of student loan debt and increasingly limited accessibility of college for many families, it is my opinion that the federal government should be more involved in the functioning of higher education systems.  I must state though that just because I support this position I do not define myself as a Democrat.

So you’re probably wondering, what exactly does the federal government do for higher education?  The job of the federal government is to provide FUNDING and SUPPORT for higher education.  The federal government invests in higher education for two reasons; responsibility and federal interest. The federal government sees it as their responsibility to invest in higher education to ensure equal access and to encourage continued research at universities across the country.  It is also in the interest of the government to be involved in higher education since the research and graduates that result from higher education institutions are beneficial to the United States’ economy and job market.  These investments into higher education are given through funding, regulation of federally funded activities, and mandates to the states and institutions to pursue areas of federal interest. For example, each year the government has provided $15 billion to research universities to encourage further exploration. While it may not be obvious when simply looking at college campuses, the government plays a crucial role in the functioning of higher education in America and without the government’s support, the system could fall apart.  The next President, whether it be Romney or Obama, should keep this in mind as he decides on student loan reforms, financial aid regulations, and level of government involvement in higher education after he is sworn into office.

For more on the relationship between the federal government and higher education, check out this book by an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Higher Education from Vanderbilt.

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2 Responses to “The Federal Government and Higher Education: Who, What, and Why?”

  1. befuddlesme October 22, 2012 at 4:06 am #

    If you believe the federal government should be more involved in higher education which is typically a democratic belief then do you support the democratic candidate’s position on higher education as well? Does the federal government being more involved mainly include more funding? What else does the involvement of the government include?

    • mixedupmind October 23, 2012 at 2:25 am #

      At this point in time, yes I do support the democratic candidate’s position on higher education. However, I am rather new to the chaotic world of politics and have not officially declared myself as a democrat. To answer your second and third questions, federal involvement in higher education largely involves more funding but also more regulation. Greater funding for higher education, if President Obama (the democratic candidate) is re-elected, will come in the form of Pell Grants. Pell Grants were created in the 1970’s and are loans to college students provided by the government that do not have to be repaid. Students have to meet certain qualifications to be eligible for these grants. President Obama’s plan involves a $17 billion increase in Pell Grant funding. The federal government will also be involved in higher education by regulating tuition costs. The government can do this by forcing colleges to contain their costs to prevent tuition from increasing.

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