The Future of Higher Education in America

“The degree students truly can’t afford is the one they don’t complete, or that employers don’t value.”

More students are graduating college than ever before. But for too many students, the nation’s higher education system isn’t delivering what they need and deserve. Earlier today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined a new vision for higher education in America at a speech at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Duncan called for a higher ed system that will not only make college affordable, but also focuses on whether students are actually graduating in a timely way with a meaningful degree that sets them up for future success.

Duncan giving a speech at UMUBC

Secretary Duncan gave a speech outlining a vision for higher education in America.

Nearly half of today’s students who begin college do not graduate within six years. The consequences of taking on debt but never receiving a degree can be severe. Students who borrow for college but never graduate are three times more likely to default. In his speech today, Duncan said:

“There is a path to a higher education system that serves many more students much better. And continuing to make college more accessible and affordable – including more tuition-free and debt-free degrees – is part of that. But it’s only part.

“If we confine the discussion to cost and debt, we will have failed. Because we will have only found better ways to pay for a system that fails far too many of our students.”

Doing More to Focus on Outcomes

Over the past six and a half years, the Obama Administration has taken strong action to counteract the rising cost of higher education, expanding Pell Grants, and making student debt more manageable by expanding loan repayment options that cap payments based on income. The administration has also pursued executive actions and put forward policy proposals to address flaws in the higher education system and create incentives for all actors to focus on student outcomes.

“We must shift incentives at every level to focus on student success, not just access,” Duncan said during his speech.

When students win, everyone wins. But when they lose, every part of the system should share responsibility.

Today, only students, families and taxpayers lose when students don’t succeed– that makes no sense. Institutions must be held accountable when they get paid by students and taxpayers but fail to deliver a quality education. So should states and accreditors who are responsible to oversee them under the law.

By the same token, schools should be rewarded for doing the right thing – like taking on students who are struggling and helping them succeed.

Despite the Administration’s historic actions and the leadership of innovative institutions, much work remains to meet our goal of once again having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

The Administration will continue to act within its power to control college costs and help students graduate on time with a meaningful degree. We need Congress, states, colleges and universities, and accreditors to join in that effort.


  1. With an expansion of savings for higher education, and thus a growing pool of funds linked to the financing of higher education, one could imagine commercial managers of large portfolios of college-savings funds beginning to develop a tuition futures market. Such a market might include tradable fixed-price contracts for, say, a year of tuition at the University of Virginia, and even put and call options so that parents could lock in the costs of a complete college education well before they have saved the full amount.

  2. I agree with the previous poster. College faculty need to understand how to use the latest technology to enhance their teaching. There should be required training for all professors, helping them how to use the latest teaching methods to engage students.

  3. Many students are unsuccessful in college because they are unprepared when they leave high school. The “certified” teachers teaching them do not have the range of knowledge and experience necessary to prepare them.

    We need to allow teachers into the classroom without requiring State or Federal rules to teach. Any teacher with a degree and the necessary skills should be allowed to teach.

    State or federal support should be an option determined by the teacher or by administrators only when the teacher consistently fails to properly educate.

    We should not be in the business of driving away good teachers simply because they do not want to be encumbered with excessive state rules, district policies or non-functional theories of education.

    If a person is highly qualified to teach as determined by a myriad of measurements, not including Praxis, let them teach. Don’t burden them, discourage them or otherwise block them to achieving their dreams in their natural career.

  4. There is another category of students with crippling debt – 30+ students going back to school for 2nd, 3rd and 4th Master’s degrees, which in many cases do not give them the earnings potential to pay off the additional debt incurred. The graduate Stafford limit of $138,500 is far too high and there is no limit on graduate Plus loans, but because students can borrow largely for “room and board, transportation and other expenses” even when classes are at night, on weekends or online, they take advantage of this. Due to this and repayment plans like income based repayment (IBR) and pay as you earn (PAYE), there is no incentive for students or the school to make rational decisions regarding borrowing. When you suspect someone will have trouble repaying their loans, you can present a student’s estimated monthly repayment under a standard or extended plan and it tends to sink in, but when they counter with IBR and PAYE, you no longer have a strong argument.

  5. Capella University, like many other students they started me in a PHD program that cost over $100,000 they dropped the degree when I had completed all but the comps and dissertation that is 92 out of 120 hrs, the program was dropped I was given a short amount of time to complete it, I was sick and could compete in the time that they gave me. I learned that the program was not reconised by indiana ,that would allow me to take the state of Indiana’s exam for licensure.They would not allow me to do anything to recoup.Just like they have done with other students across the USA.I am acquainted with some. we cannot get capella to even talk sence with us , they just want more money in addition to what we’ve all paid and received nothing more than a transcript that say we have nothing but a piece of paper.
    Please if you can help us ,most of us were successful in all universities before we came to capella university, the way they treat students is criminal.Had that degree been legitimate I would have been able to make hundreds of thousands of dollare as it is, I have lost the money I would have made plus no other university accepts PHD credits, well maybe 20-25 hours , when you have 92 hours all you can do is start over, please if there is anything you can do, HELP US, so far no-one has cared enoungh to even try and help us, if I can provide you with all of the information call me at (317) 925-2354, Capella has stolen so much money from so many students who worked so hard to get those degrees.They have destroyed dreams and lives, and they keep on doing this no one can stop them.

  6. First, the cost of higher education has a rampant and vigorous price tag. Community colleges charging twice the tuition amount (Austin Community College) if you live out of district; from 1800 per semester to $4000 per semester. And, these kids live at home. The major universities have exacerbated their tuition cost because the wagon has not reins on the horses. And, they get endowments, federal and state funding + tuition + fees. And I will say, the professors are not “customer” friendly and I don’t want them just giving to students but demanding learning. They work autocratically when they are tenured. We should watch how they pass assessments like our public schools students must to graduate. And, college professors have no idea of teaching/learning pedagogy. Even those in the education department.

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