Romney calls for smaller federal role in education

Romney’s white paper says he also would seek to simplify and consolidate federal student aid programs. Governmental programs typically grow in complexity over time, and with the concern about access to higher education and its cost, a Romney administration might just have the opportunity to simplify federal student aid programs.

Similar to the transparency regarding the performance of K-12 schools, a Romney administration wants consumers of higher education to understand better what they are getting from a school. The white paper states that “better information about products and services helps consumers make more informed choices.” Obviously, the devil is in details regarding what information colleges will be required to release and how that information will be made available—but at the level of broad policy goal, more information is both desirable and useful.

A Romney administration would invite the private sector to be more involved in the financing and delivery of education, such as having the private sector be more involved in the student loan program, and not enacting regulations and removing old ones that have hindered some private-sector education providers.

In addition to all these particular proposals, one additional item that was not proposed should be noted. The education white paper does not propose any significant increases in education spending.

The size of our recent budget deficits and the anger expressed by many Republicans over increased education spending during the Bush administration preclude any discussion of significant increases in education. It’s not politically possible. Besides, as the white paper notes in several places, more spending does not directly lead to increased performance.

These policy proposals, even enacted to the total preference of a possible Romney administration, will not correct all the problems facing the education of U.S. residents. Moreover, the system is too big and the problem is so multifaceted and complex that education will never be “fixed.”

Romney is certainly not aiming for something as ambitious as President Bush’s NCLB. Even these modest proposals offered by Romney will need great prudence in design and implementation, and even well-intentioned programs can have unintended consequences.

Nevertheless, these proposals are worthy of serious consideration, and it seems, on balance, they can lead to an overall improvement in our educational system, thus enabling more engaged and productive citizens—and that’s a goal we all can agree upon.

Michael Coulter, Ph.D., is a professor of political science at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa.

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