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First Up: The Next Four Years

Letter from John Walda, NACUBO president and chief executive officer

By John Walda

John WaldaAs the inauguration approaches, we in higher education look toward the challenges and promise of the new administration. Here in Washington, as in the rest of the country, the year 2012 was dominated by the hotly contested presidential election—the first one in which higher education was a prominent campaign issue. Republicans and Democrats alike focused on college affordability and student debt, as they voiced concerns of a public highly skeptical of the cost and value of college education.

At the state level, we saw ballot measures that will affect institutions in a variety of tangible ways: state revenues earmarked for higher education, undocumented students granted more affordable tuition rates, and state support provided for construction of campus facilities.

The concerns voiced by politicians reflect the attitudes of the American public toward higher education. While families see the value in higher education and are proud of our institutions, they are increasingly concerned about college cost, debt, time-to-degree and completion, and the ability to secure a job in one's field. Federal and state funding for higher education continue to be constrained. Thus, we are operating in one of the most challenging environments in the history of higher education.

Higher Education Track Record

President Obama won with a wide margin in the Electoral College. In the Senate, the Democrats once again retain a working majority, and Republicans have maintained a strong majority in the House. So, with a second term for the president and continuation of party control in Congress, what is the outlook for higher education in 2013 and beyond? The past may well be a prologue to what we see in the next four years. 

As our elected leaders seek solutions to fiscal problems and our citizens grapple with concerns over cost and value, it is our job to address these issues head-on.

During President Obama's first term, his administration focused its reform proposals on the goal of returning the United States to first-in-the-world status in terms of the number of individuals with a postsecondary degree or credential. Included in this goal were the issues of college affordability; academic quality and value; and access to college and completion for low-income and minority students. And, the U.S. Department of Education engaged the regulatory process to pursue an agenda of consumer and taxpayer protection.

The President's Agenda

President Obama is expected to continue to pursue these objectives in his second term, with new proposals likely to remain targeted on increasing graduation rates. As for the Department of Education, it has already indicated a potential focus on addressing areas of possible fraud in federal student aid programs. The Senate, for its part, is likely to continue investigations of fraud as well as misleading practices in for-profit higher education institutions.

Both the administration and Congress are likely to turn the spotlight on an overhaul of the current tax system, which will have major implications for student aid tax policy for programs such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, student loan interest deduction, and Section 127—the section of the tax code that allows employers to pay for employees' educational expenses. The charitable tax deduction and IRA rollover provisions are also both targeted for potential change.

NACUBO's Voice

With all this "business as usual" at a time when there is no business as usual, what is our strategy? As our elected leaders seek solutions to fiscal problems and our citizens grapple with concerns over cost and value, it is our job to address these issues head-on. We business officers are the ones who need to explain why college costs what it does; what we have done in our business practices to help keep college affordable; and how innovation can improve not only affordability, but outcomes as well.

As NACUBO looks forward to this restart in the legislative process, our association will do all that it can to constructively engage in this important dialogue.  

JOHN WALDA

NACUBO President and Chief Executive Officer