Higher Ed 2020 Summit at Century Foundation

Hello Everyone!

My name is Beata Coloyan, the Policy and Advocacy Director at the Institute. I wanted to share what I heard and learned at the Higher Ed 2020 Summit hosted by The Century Foundation in D.C. on September 26th. At the event, higher education experts, lawmakers, faculty, and advocates were brought together to discuss and debate the next big thing in college affordability.

From the beginning of the discussions, there was clear consensus among participants that education is supposed to be a great equalizer enabling people to pursue their dreams. However, high prices and student debt keep higher education out of reach for too many. As a result, there was agreement that any policy design should address this fundamental funding problem.

Mark Huelsman, from Demos, presented national polling results on degrees of support for common college-affordability policies. It was interesting to see that their findings were right on par with the statewide polling Hildreth Institute conducted in Massachusetts this past spring. Both polls found that there is an overwhelming support for zero debt education (see graphs below). In addition, the general public is already well-educated on the issue, does not need persuasion that we are in a crisis, and there is rare bipartisan agreement on this issue. As we continue our organizing work in Massachusetts, it is exciting to see that these trends extend nationally!

Finally, a recurrent theme discussed by many panelists was how to structure the right partnership structure between the federal and state governments so that it can best support an affordable higher education system. As many already know, states across the board have seen disinvestment in higher education. Here at the Hildreth Institute, we believe that there currently is no effective partnership. In fact, states disinvest in higher education knowing that resulting increases in tuitions can be covered by students and their parents due to easy access to federal loans. During discussions, almost all agreed that the solution lies in the establishment of a successful federal-state partnership, but many were wary of how regulated the funds need to be. All things considered, I agree with New Jersey’s secretary of higher education, Zakiya Smith Ellis’ read on this — there needs to be a clear give-take rate — what the states put into a program needs to be the same as what they get from the federal government. Only then, will there be a true incentive to join.

Overall, it was exciting to head to Washington and hear what other activists, experts, thought leaders and political players believe is the direction of higher education. While we may not all agree on the course to get there, we all know one thing — the student debt crisis is coming to a head and it is time to correct course for the sake of higher education in America.

Panelists Include:

  • Moderator: Robert Shireman, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation
  • Tiffany Jones, Director of Higher Education Policy, The Education Trust
  • James Kvaal, President, The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS)
  • Amy Li, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Northern Colorado
  • Julie Margetta Morgan, Senior Fellow, Roosevelt Institute
  • Moderator: Jen Mishory, Senior Fellow and Senior Policy Advisor, The Century Foundation
  • Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Co-Executive Director, Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality
  • Christian Haines, Senior Education Policy Counsel, Office of Representative Bobby Scott
  • Rachelle Sharpe, PhD, Deputy Executive Director, Washington Student Achievement Council and President, NASSGAPP
  • Secretary Zakiya Smith Ellis, Secretary of Higher Education, New Jersey
  • Mamie Voight, Vice President of Policy Research, Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP)
  • Reid Setzer, Government Affairs Director, Young Invincibles
  • Sara Goldrick-Rab, Professor of Higher Education Policy & Sociology, Temple University