Archived Information

Financing Postsecondary Education: The Federal Role - October 1995

Message From Richard W. Riley,
U.S. Secretary of Education

The United States is a strong world leader in higher education and provides families and communities with a better quality of life and more economic opportunities through extensive access to high quality postsecondary education. A major responsibility of the federal government through the U.S. Department of Education is to provide financial aid to help students attend postsecondary education. Approximately two-thirds of all student financial aid comes from the federal government.

Public officials and education leaders have a special obligation to explore the most effective and least costly ways to deliver better educational opportunities to our students and citizens. Because of the importance of education today, we must be good stewards of taxpayers' investments in education.

To explore the best ways for the federal government to help students and families finance postsecondary education, the U.S. Department of Education along with Senator Nancy Kassebaum and a host committee convened a unique national conference on October 8 and 9, 1995 in Charleston, South Carolina. This conference marked the 30th anniversary of the Higher Education Act and presented an unusual opportunity for discussion of bold new ideas that may steer the course of higher education policy in the future. Participants at the conference represented a broad spectrum of interests, geographic regions, political views, and perspectives, and engaged in lively discussion of pressing issues.

At this time when people are questioning whether there is a federal role in education, the conference participants, representing a wide variety of perspectives and political views, all agreed that there is an important federal role in financing postsecondary education. Every participant acknowledged that the financing of postsecondary education should be a shared responsibility of students, families, the federal government, states, and institutions. Although participants disagreed as to how student aid programs should be structured, there was general agreement that the U.S. Department of Education must assist students through well-structured and well-managed programs. As we approach time for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, we should give careful consideration to the issues raised at this conference and to other thoughts and ideas relating to the structure of federal student financial aid programs.

In preparation for the conference, the U.S. Department of Education commissioned nine papers designed to spark discussion during the conference. These papers included several opinion papers and papers on the history and economic aspects of student aid policy, demographic and economic trends, and accountability. I found these papers to be extremely helpful in defining the issues and raising interesting -- and often provocative -- ideas to think about as we move to improve student financial aid and prepare for the next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The following is a brief summary of conference discussions, the nine papers that were written for the conference, and a list of conference participants. My hope is that these materials will generate more thought among local, state, and national leaders, parents, business leaders, and the higher education community on these issues as we attempt to improve financial aid for college and will promote further dialogue and consensus building on these topics before the next reauthorization.


[Financing Postsecondary Education: The Federal Role] [Table of Contents] [Summary of the National Conference]