Panel Brings Together Experts to Provide Policy Recommendations for Increased Accountability in Higher Education

By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter

The Brookings Institution’s Center on Regulation and Markets on Tuesday presented several papers aimed at providing policy recommendations to improve regulation and accountability in higher education, with the authors of the six papers present to detail their work and engage in discussion.

The papers, some of which are yet to be published, covered a range of higher education-related topics, such as predicting college closures, measuring outcomes of GI Bill beneficiaries, assessing the success of postsecondary programs, and helping students make better choices on where they enroll and attend college.

The goal of the webinar Tuesday was to find ways to best use the empirical evidence detailed to protect the financial aid investments made and look for new ways to improve outcomes for students. 

“If an institution is systemically failing its students and if students who enrolled or graduated from a particular institution are failing to repay their loans at a certain rate — we see this as a problem — and the institution is failing to meet the objectives of loans being able to be repaid, a system of quality assurance could be developed,” said Dan Zibel, co-author of “Protection and the Unseen: How the U.S. Department of Education’s Undeveloped Authorities can Protect Students and Promote Equity in Higher Education.”

The paper from Zibel, chief counsel, vice president, and co-founder of Student Defense, and his co-author outlined some of the rarely or never used authorities that the Department of Education (ED) has at its disposal to ensure students obtain the education they paid for, which Zibel argues happens far too infrequently.

“If the goal of higher education is really about promoting equity and equality, we're seeing a system that, for far too many people and with far too much regularity, is actually exacerbating the problem, not solving it,” he said.

Another paper dove into the PLUS Loan program, outlining how changes made in 2011 to the program resulted in an increase in denial rates, which have had a disproportionate effect on black students and those who attend historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Rajeev Darolia, associate professor at the University of Kentucky’s Martin School of Public Policy, drew attention to the fact that both the Parent PLUS and Grad PLUS loan programs have seen significant growth in recent years, to the point where the program makes up roughly 25% of federal student loan disbursements annually.

However, with such an increase in utilization also comes increased scrutiny on outcomes and debt loads, Darolia noted, suggesting that the federal government should reroute credit access from parents to students since they are the beneficiaries of the education and should implement safeguards to protect against bad outcomes at schools where students don’t typically have good outcomes.

Robert Kelchen, a professor and researcher at Seton Hall University studying higher education and financial aid, in his paper used data to predict college closures, highlighting the issues that already existed in higher education before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, but pointing out that COVID-19 is almost sure to bring an increase in college closures.

“It’s fairly easy to identify schools at a higher risk of closure but hard to identify which ones will actually close,” he said, noting the risks associated with incorrectly identifying those schools, such as lawsuits.

Michael Kofoed, associate professor of economics at the U.S. Military Academy, shared data from his paper on who used the GI Bill post 9/11, noting that many enroll at for-profit colleges, where they graduate at lower rates compared to their counterparts at nonprofit institutions.

Mary Steffel, associate professor of marketing at Northeastern University, presented her team’s paper, titled “Informational Disclosure and College Choice," which focuses on providing the federal government with recommendations to make information disclosure policies regarding students’ college choice more prevalent and utilized.

Along with her co-authors, Steffel suggests ED make disclosure information widely accessible and available to students so they can make more informed decisions on where to pursue their college education.

Steffel and her co-authors recommend standardizing content so it is easily digestible and making information easy to find and navigate on a central site for students. Notably, they also recommend the implementation of a universal Net Price Calculator so students and families can compare the real costs associated with various institutions.

Lastly, Lesley Turner, associate professor of economics at Vanderbilt University, presented her paper detailing a potential framework for increased accountability in higher education, which included using net earnings, loan repayment rate, and a program- versus school‐level measurement as proposed metrics.

Links to all of the papers and slides from the presentation can be found here, as well as an audio recording of the event in its entirety.


Publication Date: 9/9/2020

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