A Time for Change: Obama’s Proposal to Improve Education in the United States

By Jon Bottari, M.Ed. – Colorado Technical University Adjunct Faculty

CTU Higher Education Blogs - Obama's Education PlanOf the top 40 developed countries in the world, where would you rank the United States in terms of most educated?

Like most proud Americans, you may rank the U.S. in the top one or two. For those who have begun to lose faith in the educational system, you may still safely rank the U.S. in the top 10. Those guesses would be wrong. According to a recent study conducted by the education firm, Pearson, the U.S. is ranked 17th in the world. There is some irony in the fact that U.S.-based Pearson found these startling results.

Those familiar with the landscape of education know the decentralized model of education used by the U.S. offers autonomy and academic freedom. Yet, this creates many layers of debate and disagreement with little positive, forward movement to fix issues. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to fall in the world rankings with one side arguing for less federal governance on statewide education issues and the other pushing for more federal oversight since federal dollars are involved.

On Thursday, August 22, President Barack Obama proposed changes that would not only allow the federal government to be involved, but also gives the government a say in how those federal dollars are allocated.

To develop the proposal, the President and his office considered the opinions of several education experts , including Margaret Spellings and the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO). They also studied countries using innovation to improve their respective country’s education systems.

Three primary areas were addressed by the President:

Pay for Performance

The President proposes a new approach to the financial aid process, which includes:

  • Tie financial aid to a college rating system that is proposed to be implemented in 2015
  • Fund colleges based on performance metrics, such as graduates, innovation and access
  • Hold students and colleges accountable for progress toward earning a degree before funds are released

This can have a drastic impact on students and educational institutions alike. While the idea of accountability for institutions is not a new concept, the onus also being placed on students is ground breaking. The notion that students are held accountable for making progress toward degree completion is a motivator that can ensure students remain engaged in their education. This change can dramatically affect a student’s ability to complete his or her degree if funding is lost due to lack of educational progress.

As a student, would keeping your funding available motivate you to spend more time on your studies?

Promoting Innovation and Competition

Innovation is common in all aspects of business and companies are recognized for it through their success. Education often balks at innovative practices, such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) or flexible cohort offerings. Here are the three proposed areas of change that could alter this perspective:

  • Challenge colleges to offer students a wider range of affordable, high-quality options, such as the use of technology or focusing on learning objectives not seat time.
  • Provide students with clear and transparent information on college performance to empower them to make the best decision on their chosen program or institution
  • Inspire innovation by removing unnecessary regulations

These actions would raise the bar for institutions of higher learning to balance the idea that quality will not suffer when learning options are expanded. The challenge is for universities to maintain their core mission – to provide a quality education to students – while implementing new technologies. Of course, many universities are limited by undue regulations that restrict their ability to offer innovative learning options. According to The Spellings Reports, there are 200 federal guidelines institutions must follow in order to operate. This is cumbersome, wasting time, effort and resources that can be spent on innovation.

Ensuring that Student Debt Remains Affordable

With student loan debt in the trillions and debates on interest rates still under discussion in Washington, D.C., the idea that students should be able to afford the cost of an education, during and after graduation, is certainly a cause for concern. Here is how the administration proposes to make changes:

  • Ensure borrowers can afford federal student loan debt by allowing them to cap his or her payments at 10 percent of his or her monthly income.
  • Reach out to struggling borrowers to ensure they are aware of flexible options available to help repay their debt.

Ultimately, the President and his cabinet must be recognized for their research. It’s  clear that his proposal is the result of researching the success demonstrated in other countries. Elements of it mirror one that has succeeded in Australia.

For now, everything proposed is still under discussion but given the President’s suggested timeline, these discussions will likely lead to some decisions soon. These decisions, for better or worse, can impact the way in which institutions of higher learning operate in the United States.

If nothing else, the U.S. must agree that change needs to happen. But are these the right ones?

Let’s talk about it. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

CTU FAs an adjunct professor of general education at Colorado Technical University, Jon Bottari, M.Ed., helps prepare new students for academic and career success. He earned his Master of Education degree with a specialization in Leadership of Educational Organizations from American Intercontinental University and serves as CTU’s Director of University Operations. See why he’s in.

Image Credit: Flickr/US Embassy