AccessLex Institute is a nonprofit organization that is driven to improve access, increase affordability, and ensure the value of legal education for current and prospective students. In partnership with nearly 200 nonprofit and state-affiliated ABA-approved member law schools, we work to promote these ideals through advocacy, grantmaking, research and student-focused initiatives.
As Congress undergoes the process of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA), we urge each chamber to embrace the principles described below in the crafting of this foundational legislation that will impact millions of students and families for years to come.
Specifically, AccessLex Institute urges Members to develop a bipartisan framework that improves access to advanced education, particularly for historically underrepresented minorities and economically disadvantaged students, increases affordability for all students, and maintains the incentive for advanced degree holders to enter into, and persist in, public service professions.
Access and Affordability Must be Maintained in HEA
Fundamental to the American ethos is equality of opportunity. However, this ideal is often frustrated for many Americans by circumstances outside of their control, limiting or even blocking access to the tool of advancement. Fortunately, the federal government, through its various HEA programs, steps in to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education. Indeed, providing access to higher education is the core purpose of the HEA, and the policies contained within should be more than aspirational—they should actively and purposefully advance access broadly.
AccessLex Institute supports policies that encourage and support students, especially those from underrepresented groups or lower socioeconomic status, to attend graduate and professional school. We oppose policies that would make graduate and professional education more expensive or more complex. For example, while we welcome policies that seek to simplify various student loan programs, simplification must not lead to a reduction in aid for those who need it most. Similarly, proposals that reduce barriers to loan repayment should be applauded, but ideas that leave students paying more or for longer periods should be rejected.
Policies Must Prioritize America’s Diverse Workforce
Law students, and graduate and professional students more broadly, are and will continue to be a significant part of America’s world-leading thought and economic engine. And because America’s educational and economic prosperity is directly linked to its citizens’ ability to lead research, drive innovation, and become entrepreneurs, producing well-educated graduate and professional students allows America to remain competitive in the global market. Public policy should reflect these premises, and lawmakers should continually look for ways to encourage and promote advanced education.
Equally important to America’s success is having in place a system that supports graduates who commit to careers in public service. Be they law enforcement, teachers, prosecutors, nurses, or first responders, those who serve the public are vital, yet are often paid well below their private sector counterparts. Policies that do not account for the critical role our public servants play in our current and future economic success should be revised and reevaluated.
AccessLex Institute supports policies that allow students contemplating or already enrolled in graduate study to make educational and professional choices based on their passions and best interests instead of compensation, and as a result, become more active, productive members of society.
High-Quality Information Must Be Expanded to Assess Value
Students and lawmakers alike analyze the value of higher education by determining whether the benefits of a program outweigh the various costs associated with enrolling. But without readily-available, high-quality data this analysis too often occurs after program completion, when it is too late to utilize the information when making life-impacting education investment decisions.
Congress, while not overburdening institutions, should ensure that schools and agencies are transparent and provide consumers, especially graduate and professional students, with the best, most accurate data so that students can make informed decisions. If consumers possess high-quality information up front, and are offered timely guidance throughout, they can make better value judgments earlier, thereby saving all invested parties time and money.
AccessLex Institute supports policies that would better allow students, families and other stakeholders to make timely and ongoing value judgements about educational outcomes. For example, providing greater flexibility to institutions to provide more robust and frequent financial aid counseling or making federal program-level data publicly available would allow students, institutions and lawmakers to better assess whether programs are or would continue to provide benefits to students.
The guiding principles outlined in this document establish the parameters for HEA proposals that we could support. Adhering to these principles while crafting a new HEA will require diligence and active support from policymakers, federal agencies and the administration, but it can be done. AccessLex Institute is excited to make that goal a reality by partnering with all who are committed to making the promise of graduate and professional education accessible, affordable and valuable to all.