Baby Boomers and the End of Higher Education!

Dear Commons Community,

On the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Higher Education Act, Jeffrey Selingo has an article in The Washington Post examining the major issues that hinder many of today’s students from realizing their higher education aspirations.  He places the blame squarely on the baby boomer generation who have enacted higher education policies counter to the spirit and intent of the Higher Education Act.  Here is an excerpt:

“Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Higher Education Act, ushering in an era of massive federal support for college students through a flurry of new programs: tuition grants, guaranteed student loans, and work-study funds. The law allowed a much greater swath of Americans to earn a college degree regardless of their family income. During the following decades, enrollment at campuses across the country grew threefold, to some 20 million students.

But today, Johnson’s vision of the Higher Education Act as a great equalizer in the American economy is at risk. Indeed, the divide between the haves and have-nots in higher education is almost as great today as it was in the mid-1960s. In the past decade alone, the percentage of students from families at the highest income levels who received a bachelor’s degree has grown to 82 percent, while for those at the bottom it has fallen to just 8 percent.

Who is to blame for this growing divide? In large part, the same generation that mostly benefited from the original ideal of the law: the Baby Boomers.

When that generation went to college in the 1960s and 1970s, many of them paid little in tuition at nearly-free public institutions or received generous federal and state grants that paid for most of their bachelor’s degree. But during the past two decades, as members of that same generation came to power — in Washington, in state legislatures, or as college presidents and trustees — they presided over the decay of the basic building blocks of the Higher Education Act as they drastically increased tuition and pulled back on financial aid.”

Selingo goes on to mention three major shifts in higher education policy:

  1. States getting out of the public higher education business.
  2. Financial aid is now an enrollment tool, not a public policy to help people afford college.
  3. Student aid increasingly means loans, not grants.

Selingo presents sad but honest commentary about higher education policy in this country.  It is clear that we, the baby boomers, have not done right by our children and grandchildren in this regard.



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