Higher Education Act Reforms Urged By President Obama


President Obama addressed Congress and the nation on Tuesday evening in his annual State of the Union address that covered a variety of topics including infrastructure improvement, Medicare reform, foreign policy, and clean energy initiatives. However Obama’s stance on education reform was particularly passionate as he advocated the modification of the Higher Education Act. However, his efforts to improve the education system will most likely be met by strong opposition within the GOP in Congress.

“Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid,” Obama urged Congress.

Obama shed light on the fact that America’s education system is sub-par relative to those of countries like Germany. In order to bring about effective change, the president was adamant about instituting more early education programs at the pre-school level, as well as programs that would provide more technical degrees in community colleges. In terms of the Higher Education Act, Obama stressed that change needs to be made in the costs of tuition so that more students can seek degrees past the high school level.

The HEA has had a long legislative history, and was originally signed into law in 1965 under one of the Johnson administration’s Great Society programs. The goal of the law was to provide economic aid to populations who could not afford to seek higher education. Grants were allotted to several colleges and universities to fund research programs in order to make a more skilled and competitive job market. The law has been reauthorized several times, most recently in 2008 with the Higher Education Opportunity Act. One of the major changes made was providing more educational opportunities for disabled people.

As for now, Obama wishes to make financial aid more accessible when students explore different colleges and universities. The Obama administration will institute a “college scorecard” program courtesy of the College Affordability and Transparency Center. Students and parents can use this government sponsored computer program that makes a valid comparison of different schools in terms of aid that may be made available to a prospective student.

The difficult task in this initiative will be winning over the notorious Republican opposition. The new reauthorization is expected to occur in 2014, but many anticipate that a decision will not be made in time. A major source of division on this legislation between the two parties is the college accreditation process. In short, the GOP is not in favor in adding increased requirements for accreditation, whereas the Democrats are. House Republicans advocated for major funding cuts on the legislation, which reaffirmed the partisan divide on education policy. Obama has high hopes to create a better-educated middle class and to further develop a strong workforce. However, he may need to appease the GOP if he wants to see these changes come to fruition.