Faced with growing questions about how the public benefits from government support for higher education, President Obama in his new budget proposal suggests significant federal policy shifts to improve college affordability, access, and graduation rates, says Catharine Hill, a higher education economist and president of Vassar College, for the Washington Post. These are certainly key goals for our country, and I hope that Obama’s ideas and those that others are recommending spark a debate that brings meaningful results. Right now, I think our nation needs a better understanding of what has guided our current federal and state higher ed policies, so we can be clearer about what to improve and how. Our government supports higher education because policy makers believe that the private market will not adequately supply these services. Private market failure is a standard reason for government involvement in any sector. The rationale for such support of higher education includes societal benefits and issues of fairness and equity…

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