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Now Is the Time to Play Offense in Higher Ed Policy

By Chuck Knepfle

I began writing this post while watching Uruguay and Portugal put their collective football talents to bear in the men’s World Cup. For those that do not follow international soccer, Cristiano Ronaldo, a forward for both the Portuguese national team as well as the professional Real Madrid club, is one of the best soccer players in the world. With over 500 goals in his professional and international careers, he is one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time, but unfortunately for the Portuguese faithful, he came one short of being able to propel them into the quarter finals.

But I digress – kind of. What in the world do the World Cup and Ronaldo have to do with the Forward50 initiative? I found the common idea to be forward. I’ve worked in higher education for 26 years and have had a variety of positions in administration. One common trait we all seem to have, which seems to be especially true for those of us in financial aid, is that we are often called to react to something that just happened. To play defense. We’re asked to support a bill that has recently been released on the House floor, or maybe send a report of unmet need to the President’s Office in response to enrollment concerns. Unfortunately, change in the financial aid regulations is usually reactionary and often comes about through budget bills, not meaningful, thoughtful policy discussions. My goal as a member of the Forward50 has been the same as Ronaldo’s was when he took the pitch against Uruguay: to play offense.

My fellow Foward50 blog posters have done a great job of talking about what we accomplished in our initial meeting and subsequent follow-ups. Using the overall themes of access, accountability, affordability, and transparency, all of us have been assigned to one of four subgroups and are exploring specific, actionable recommendations centered on our theme.

I’m on the transparency subgroup, and our efforts have been focused on reducing schools’ reporting burdens, making sure information, data, and metrics are making their way to students and parents, and streamlining the federal collection of data. We are discussing how to get the right information to the right people at the right time, and trying to determine better data collection methods for the Department of Education. What I especially like about our efforts is that they are designed to help everyone in the process: schools, students, parents, and the government. While we are still early in our work, I’m starting to see policy recommendations emerging that truly are win-win-win-win.  There is no reason why the federal government cannot produce more detailed and informative metrics and reduce what institutions need to produce. We believe that much of the data schools are being asked to report already exists somewhere in the Department of Education, the IRS, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or one of the other many federal agencies. 

One of the more exciting moments for me since I started working with the Forward50 happened just last week when Inside Higher Ed posted an article about the College Transparency Act, a bill that would require various governmental agencies to coordinate their collection efforts on higher education data. While the bill has been around for a while, the news surrounded an influential Republican senator expressing his support for what has been largely considered a Democratic initiative. It was an exciting (and largely unexpected) positive move that parallels the work of our committee.

There is a saying in sports that defense wins championships, and while that’s true, you cannot win without at least one score. Since the inception of financial aid programs with the passing of the Higher Education Act in 1965, we have made a lot of progress playing mostly defense, but we have also lost some ground. NASFAA’s Forward50 initiative puts offense back into the game.

Catch up on any past Forward50 blog entries you may have missed.