NAS Advocates for Higher Education Act Reform

National Association of Scholars

New York, NY (March 1, 2017) Today the National Association of Scholars (NAS) sent a joint letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and members of the House and Senate, urging them to amend the Higher Education Act. The letter, with more than 100 signatories, calls on Congress to adopt the “Freedom to Learn Amendments,” which include several dozen proposals aimed at restoring the integrity of America’s colleges and universities.

The Higher Education ACT (HEA) was passed in 1965 as part of President Johnson’s Great Society initiative.  It consolidated a range of post-WWII government programs and added others. Over the last half century it has been steadily enlarged, and currently authorizes programs that add up to more than $3.5 trillion in federal spending.

HEA as it stands entrenches the status quo in American higher education.  It fosters programs strongly favored by the political left.  It blockades promising forms of institutional innovation while at the same time undermining the traditional liberal arts.  It deploys student financial aid in a way that encourages inflation in tuition and profligate spending on the part of colleges.  These are not superficial parts of HEA but key components of the current legislation. The “Freedom to Learn Amendments” take aim at them. The amendments emphasize protecting students’ intellectual freedom and simplifying student loans, though the amendments touch on many other things too, including Title IX.   

The National Association of Scholars took the lead in drafting this letter, but we have benefited from the counsel of many others.  We consider this letter the first step in opening a much-needed discussion in Washington, D.C., about the future of American higher education.

“As much as our roads and bridges, our healthcare system, our borders, and our military, our system of higher education is need of fundamental repair,” said Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars.  “HEA has come up for reauthorization at a fateful moment.  Congress and the President are understandably focused on other matters, but the state of our colleges and universities cannot be ignored.”

Wood continued, “Amending HEA to restore freedom of expression on campus, freedom of association, due process, educational innovation, and fiscal discipline is essential.  And Congress must re-deploy federal financial aid so that it empowers students instead of merely driving up costs.  Perhaps the greatest threat to American educational excellence today is the mountain of debt that Title IV of the Higher Education Act has inadvertently put on the shoulders of the next generation. Congress now has the opportunity to fix that.”

The NAS today mailed the joint letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx; Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander; and members of these committees.

The letter attracted more than 100 signatories including Herb London, President, London Center for Policy Research; Stephen H. Balch, Director, Texas Tech Institute for the Study of Western Civilization; Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University; Harvey Mansfield, Professor of Government, Harvard University; Richard Vedder, Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus, Ohio University; Paul A. Rahe, Professor of History, Hillsdale College; James Piereson, President, William E. Simon Foundation; and Wilfred McClay, G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty, University of Oklahoma.

NAS invites additional signatories to add their names to the joint letter, now posted online.


About the National Association of Scholars: The National Association of Scholars works to foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America’s colleges and universities. To learn more about NAS, visit

Download the letter urging Congress to adopt the “Freedom to Learn Amendments”

Contact: Rachelle Peterson / Director of Research Projects / [email protected] / (917) 551-6770

Image: U.S. Capitol building by Gage Skidmore // CC BY-SA 2.0

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