It seems that higher education reform has found its voice. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor gave a speech earlier today at the American Enterprise Institute on the role of the federal government in creating economic opportunities for families, and he devoted a good amount of attention to the failings of our higher education system. He acknowledged that investing in higher education has becomes less worthwhile because our colleges do not prepare students for in-demand employment opportunities. To that end, Cantor pledged to make data on student outcomes accessible to students, promote for-profit schools, restructure the financial aid system so that it motivates students to graduate earlier, and provide taxpayers with information about the true costs of higher education.
Talk is cheap; political talk, even more so. However, Cantor’s speech reflects a growing awareness that current higher-education policy does not adequately promote economic opportunity in the way it once did. If he and the House Republicans are serious about his stated objectives, we might yet see federal higher-ed programs that do. Though he and his peers should expect major push back from the higher- education lobby, they would be wise to take on this fight. Not only will true higher-ed reform generate many economic opportunities for the lower and middle-class Americans who most need it, but tackling this issue will go a long way in convincing the American people that Republicans are indeed concerned with the fate of the less fortunate. With higher-ed, good policy is very good politics.