Scholars Encourage Reforms to the Higher Education Act

National Association of Scholars

New York, NY, January 12, 2021—The National Association of Scholars (NAS) has published Freedom to Learn: Amending the Higher Education Act, a policy guidance document that provides a guideline of 40 detailed suggestions for legislative reforms. These policies, if enacted by Congress, would encourage reform of America’s costly, politicized, and dysfunctional system of higher education.

“America’s colleges and universities should hold their students to rigorous standards, protect intellectual freedom, enrich and endow Western civilization to a new generation, prepare cultured and virtuous citizens, train students for practical vocations, strive to lower tuition, and prioritize teaching and scholarship over administration,” said NAS president Peter W. Wood. “Higher education often fails at these goals, and our federal government is an essential accomplice of this failing system. We, as Americans, cannot reform higher education without reforming federal incentives.”

Freedom to Learn primarily addresses the shortcomings of the Higher Education Act (HEA), which first passed Congress in 1965 and was last reauthorized in 2008. The HEA sets the conditions universities must meet to receive federal student loans and grants. By 2020, nearly half of America’s higher education income was buoyed by federal dollars. Should the Department of Education sever the flow of taxpayer funds, colleges would likely face swift bankruptcy.

NAS’s recommendations intend to make America’s colleges and universities more financially independent, efficient, and responsive to the public. Freedom to Learn’s recommendations include:

  • Require colleges and universities to reduce administrative overhead and redirect institutional resources to lowering tuition.
  • Allow bankruptcy to discharge student loans and require colleges and universities to accept responsibility for 50% of loans defaulted on by their students.
  • Redirect half of student aid disbursements from the federal government to states.
  • Eliminate federal financial aid for remedial coursework.
  • Require colleges and universities to strengthen protections for due process, free speech, intellectual freedom, and intellectual diversity.
  • Require colleges and universities to sunset their diversity bureaucracies.
  • Limit foreign, but especially Chinese, influence by barring funding to colleges and universities that host a Confucius Institute, employ professors or researchers who receive funds from the Thousand Talents Program or similar initiative, possess a branch campus in China or receive undisclosed funds from the Chinese government or Chinese citizens.
  • Require colleges and universities to disclose transparently the effects of racial and gender preference policies such as affirmative action, diversity, equity, and inclusion on student admissions, faculty hiring, and administrative staffing.
  • Prohibit accrediting agencies from including political criteria in their standards.

These recommendations recognize that colleges and universities are not islands to themselves. They are part of the larger American social order and have public responsibilities. This is especially true if they receive public funding or enjoy tax-exempt status.

Peter Wood added: “We encourage all Americans to push for a bipartisan legislative coalition to enact the reforms necessary to get our colleges and universities back on track to fulfilling their educational missions.”

NAS is a network of scholars and citizens united by a commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in American higher education. Membership in NAS is open to all who share a commitment to these broad principles. NAS publishes a journal and has state and regional affiliates. Visit NAS at


For more information about this issue, contact Chance Layton at [email protected] or at 917-551-6770.

Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash

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