desks school stock classroom

Advocate file photo of school desks.

This summer, millions of newly graduated high school seniors are anxiously awaiting the next chapter of their lives when they enter higher education institutions across the country. College acceptances and graduations have become a pillar of the American dream, with a college degree ensuring a stable career and a well-paying job. Unfortunately, we have reached a point where this is no longer true at all post-secondary schools.

Marketing by colleges sometimes provide false hope that the gateway to financial security is through their institution. Yet, many of these federally funded institutions fail on basic metrics of success — graduation rates, post-college earnings, and ability to pay off student debt.

Why are failing institutions still receiving money from taxpayers? Simply put, there is a lack of accountability in our higher education system. There are no policy guardrails that encourage or compel these institutions to focus on graduation rates, postgraduate earnings, and employment. Combined with the lack of transparency, this has contributed to the issue that failing institutions continue to receive federal dollars, while the students are left behind.

This year, Congress has the opportunity to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. There are no thresholds tied to metrics like graduation rates and other factors that prevent bad actors from receiving accreditation and taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers should know where their money is going. The Higher Education Act would provide oversight and would ensure universities meet certain levels of success to receive federal funding. A recent study shows that nearly 9 in 10 voters believe that institutions can do more to promote the success of their students. The same study reveals a clear solution: strong federal guardrails for higher education.

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In Louisiana, an average first-time, full-time student attending a four-year institution has an average completion rate of 49%. Meanwhile, 80% of schools in Louisiana do not have half or more of their first-time, full-time students graduating within six years. Even more, 52% of Louisiana’s students earn less than $25,000 a year, six years after enrollment. Not only is this trend unacceptable, it is unsustainable.

Without effective oversight, these institutions and bad actors can keep receiving federal money without producing any deliverables. The lapse of accountability is hurting middle- and low-income families the most. Eighty-five percent of schools in Louisiana fail to graduate half or more Pell Grant recipient students within six years.

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If we really want to prioritize student success and ensure that our taxpayer dollars are used effectively, we need to support these reforms during the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. I ask U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy, John Kennedy and our House members to focus on this issue and ensure the American dream of higher education is living up to those expectations.

Rachel Howard

chair, Louisiana College Republicans