Free public education was a right that was fought for hundreds of years ago and is often taken for granted today. The government stepped in when America was in the midst of being formed and ensured that everyone was given the right to basic education. Since then, the federal government has been a part of how that education was funded and has been looked to as the gold standard, providing policies, frameworks, and guidelines as to how to run schools and institutions. This structural framework has spread beyond the United States and into other countries around the world.
Segueing education into required law through the federal government is only part of the process, though. Local and state governments have a critical say in which policies are carried out, how the schools are financed, and what goes on in the institutions themselves. The 10th Amendment in the Constitution reduced the level of federal involvement in education even further. But federal governments are expected to provide financial support, even though state and local levels make the final calls. The role of federal programs in educational change has shifted significantly, but it’s still there, particularly in higher education.
An Overview of the History of Mixing the Government with Higher Education
Higher education has always been seen with mixed views. The pendulum swings from the need for more educated citizens to the importance of blue-collar workers instead of college degrees. During the past two centuries, the role of the federal government in higher education has evolved.
Originally, to obtain a higher education, one must have had independent means. Schools were nonprofit, public, or proprietary, private institutions, mostly depending on the culture of the time and the demand of the local society. Public higher education has grown since its initiation back with the founding fathers of the country, beginning with Harvard, Yale, and similar institutions setting the tone of integrity and authority in education.
The higher education system was never intended to be federally funded. It was to be independent from the government, run by the institution itself and the state’s policies. But the federal government has been instrumental in establishing public colleges and funding research in universities all along.
Funding and Policing Higher Education and Reform
With the Higher Education Act of 1965, broad-based funding for students with the intent to give more individuals the ability to obtain a college degree was implemented by the federal government. Since then, more post-secondary institutions have been established to support the significantly increased number of students seeking a college education.
The reform in the entire higher education system because of this shift in federal programs has allowed more students to enroll in college than ever before. Federal grants and loans make it easier to get the funding necessary to boost one’s education and step out on better career paths. With over $160 billion in funding and growing annually, federal governments are easily the highest funders of higher education programs in the country.
The idea behind this is simple: The government understands that in order for the country to grow and continue to improve in societal reform and technology, as well as other industries, the citizens must be educated and able to compete with a global market. It’s in the nation’s best interest to encourage people to become educated in a way that leads them to take an active role in the country and be productive. Because of that, the federal government has initiated attempts to get students to enroll in higher education programs and increase their potential for success through high-quality education. Here, the lines between federal, state, and local institutional policies begin to blur, as federal involvement requires institutions to increase efficiency and quality goals.
Government support at all levels is required to ensure the quality of education obtained by students at post-secondary levels is optimized; otherwise, the federal programs used to fund future workers is wasted on inefficient, poor quality instruction, releasing untrained citizens into the world without the foundational knowledge that would make them successful.
Scholars know that a country where higher education is supported is one in which the benefits spread beyond the individual and the institution. Federal programs and government support are critical in a time when there is so much change on the horizon already.