Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Christopher P. Loss: Keep LBJ’s ‘Door to Education’ Open

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week, former Miller Center National Fellow and assistant professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University Christopher P. Loss makes the case for keeping the door to education open. The Higher Education Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, is up for reauthorization this year. When he signed the bill, LBJ remarked:

The president's signature upon this legislation passed by this Congress will swing open a new door for the young people of America. For them, and for this entire land of ours, it is the most important door that will ever open — the door to education.

The landmark $3 billion act provided aid for land grant urban extension programs; assistance for construction projects; created the Teachers Corps; lent support to historically black colleges; and provided student assistance in the form of work study, loans and grants that revolutionized college-going in the U.S.

According Loss, this year, for the first time in recent memory there exists genuine concern that the door the act opened is starting to shut:

The "cost crisis" in higher education, now more than four decades in the making, has finally come home to roost.

Loss argues that various plans to “reform” higher education aid by tying aid to cost, value and quality — that is, to outcomes and accountability rather than access and opportunity — will not only hurt poor students but the entire higher education system. Instead, Loss proposes:

[W]e should mine the past for approaches that we know will keep "the door to education" open. The Pell Grant should be expanded and restored to its full purchasing power. To pay for it, regressive education tax credits favoring high earners should be abandoned and along with it financial aid to for-profit education providers, where the dropout, debt and default rates are highest and always have been. Colleges should be required to provide applicants with easy access to real pricing information to help with the choice process. And the income-based loan repayment program should be streamlined and a national service program created to put college graduates to work. After all, we don’t just need doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists; we also need teachers, artists, historians, and community organizers.

Read the entire article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.