Higher Education Policy in Boston and D.C.
On March 27, the Schneider Associates public affairs group held its first Government Relations Leadership Series breakfast. The focus was higher education, and leadership from two dozen institutions came together to hear from Rep. Paul Mark, Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, and federal policy experts from Cornerstone Government Affairs.
The many takeaways from the event included:
Congress is Unlikely to Regulate Online Learning This Year
Online education and MOOCs present issues that members in Congress would rather avoid. In fact, despite recent coverage in national outlets, MOOCs remain largely unknown in the halls of Congress. When the Higher Education Opportunity Act is reauthorized this year, there are unlikely to be any changes in the status quo on these fronts. Congress will probably punt the issue to 2014, which offers institutions a window of opportunity to shape the opinions of members now.
Firsthand Experience and Constituent Anecdotes Form Congressional Opinion
The main players in Congress on higher education often make decisions based on their own experiences and those of the constituents that happen to grab their attention. In an institution where the average member is older than sixty-two, relying on firsthand experience can lead to a lack of understanding of current issues. Powerful representatives reference working through college that cost $7,000 per-year and graduating debt free in the 1960s, without understanding how the model has changed.
Moreover, members latch onto stories they observe or hear from constituents and draw generalizations when forming their opinions. Institutions need to proactively share stories of success and struggle to penetrate the narrative taking hold in Washington.
Constituent Demographics and Geography Inform Mass. Spending Priorities
On Beacon Hill, transportation and education are the main topics at issue in the governor’s budget proposal. Elected officials in districts far from Boston are more likely to push for dollars in education, as transportation issues affect their constituents far less. Speaker DeLeo and other powerful city legislators prioritize transportation, and will likely continue to make that the top priority.
Pivotal Response from Mass. Legislature Coming Soon
Members of the Mass. state legislature have reviewed the governor’s budget and currently await the response proposal by the Ways and Means Committee, expected on April 10. The governor’s budget likely represents the ceiling of what will ultimately be passed, but the degree to which those numbers will be reined in remains to be seen. Much will depend on that initial response by Ways and Means.
Online Education Can Play a Role in Mass. Higher Ed.
Other states have begun to use online education to ease the burden on public institutions trying to close the degree gap, and to offer free courses that can draw students in. Regarding the disparate ways online education is being used in other states, Rep. Mark reflected on his own experience, and indicated openness to allowing online education to play an expanded role in Massachusetts. As Massachusetts addresses many of these issues, online education and MOOCs may have a role to play.
Tags: Boston College, budget, college, cornerstone government affairs, deval patrick, education policy, government relations, higher education, higher education act, legislative breakfast series, massachusetts budget, massachusetts community colleges, Northeastern University, paul mark, policy, umass, washington d.c.