Revising the HEA to Restore Educational Integrity

David Acevedo

CounterCurrent: Week of 1/17

We all know that American higher education is in desperate need of reform, but what’s the best way to bring it about? Do we wait for institutions to fix themselves? Do we impose government regulations to force change from without? Do we allow academia to crash and burn entirely, hoping that something better will rise from the ashes? All of the above?

At the National Association of Scholars, we believe that a hybrid approach between internal and external reform is necessary to bring lasting change to higher education. We continue to urge colleges and universities to eschew social justice “education,” to embrace the rich history of Western Civilization as they once did, to sever their ties with the Chinese Communist Party and other foreign governments, and to practice fiscal responsibility in the midst of a COVID-accelerated financial crisis, among many, many other reforms. 

But that’s not all we do. We also advocate for legislative changes that will help hold institutions accountable, regardless of whether the schools themselves choose to pursue lasting change or further decay. One key way to do this is to amend the Higher Education Act (HEA), a bill that was first enacted in 1965 and that details the requirements colleges and universities must meet in order to qualify for federal funding. Save for the roughly twenty schools that have remained financially independent, virtually every other institution in the country drinks deeply from the taxpayer well. Threaten the water supply and they suddenly start listening. Amending the HEA is one of the surest ways to reform higher education, one that does not rely on corrupt and misguided college presidents in order to be effective.

How exactly should we revise the HEA? In our new report, Freedom to Learn: Amending the Higher Education Act, we put forth 40 detailed suggestions for legislative reforms which, if enacted by Congress, would begin to ameliorate America's costly, politicized, and dysfunctional system of higher education. The report was written collaboratively by several NAS staff members and groups proposed reforms into the following categories: Finances, Rights, the American National Interest, Equality, and Regulatory Reform. Together, we believe that these changes would begin to reverse the decades-long rot threatening the very life of the academy itself. As we write in the report’s Introduction:

The National Association of Scholars believes that higher education should gather scholars and students to cultivate excellence and pursue the truth, transmit our heritage of Western civilization to a new generation, prepare cultured and virtuous citizens, and train students for vocational success. American colleges and universities should embody academic excellence and foster it in their students. Our institutions of higher education should strive to make their classes affordable, so as to make higher education accessible for any qualified student. …

The Higher Education Act can and should encourage colleges to live up to these ideals. Our policy guide, Freedom to Learn, shows how it can do so. Freedom to Learn sets forth policies by which Congress can promote intellectual freedom, academic rigor, equal opportunity, affordability—and limit foreign interference, politicization, and administrative bloat.

We encourage legislators of all ideological persuasions to work together and help save higher education from itself. Otherwise, we may witness the mass-extinction of America’s colleges and universities in the not-so-distant future. The academy is worth reforming and preserving, but more and more it seems that change must work from the outside in.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Joshua Hoehne, Public Domain

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