Cornell political scientist argues that Congress is to blame for crushing America’s higher-ed dream

higher-education-AmericanIn perhaps one of the most eloquent discussions on the problems facing higher education today, Suzanne Mettler, professor of American Institutions at the Department of Government at Cornell, argued that the polarization of Congress is quickly killing the American Dream-and why.

Mettler, author of the book, Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream, lead a discussion on how the demise of the promise of higher education is, fundamentally, a political failure.

“I was fascinated from my previous book about the G.I. Bill and its influence on providing access to college for typically below median income people and wanted to know why that access hasn’t changed since the 1970s,” said Mettler.

According to the Mettler, only 1 in 10 low-income students earns a bachelor’s degree by age 24, compared to 3 in 4 for wealthier students.

What’s also shocking, noted Mettler, is the fact that the gains in low-income students obtaining degrees from four-year colleges are unimpressive: not only have over 10 countries surpassed the U.S. in providing traditional college education to all students, but today’s below median income groups are still no more likely to get a four-year degree than they were in the 1970s—a startling fact made even more striking because now, more than 30 years ago, it’s critical for students to have a postsecondary degree to compete in the economy.

“Government, since the inception of higher education, has always been involved,” explained Mettler. “The difference from then to now is in what I like to call the ‘Policy Scape,’ and Congress’ inability to maintain it.”

Mettler’s explanation goes like this: There are ‘landmark’ policies in higher education that have been around for decades. But just like any policy, higher-ed policy requires maintenance in the form of monitoring, evaluation, amendment, and assessment of design and administration.

Up until the late 1980s and early 1990s, Congress was adept at maintaining the higher-ed policy landscape…but not anymore.

(Next page: The reason why Congress isn’t doing its job)


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