Political Challenges for Higher Education

Political Challenges for Higher Education

Higher education remains one of the top domestic policy issues in the country just relatively behind other concerns like terrorism and economy. Politicians have for this reason been forced to respond to matters of higher education which seems to be at a crisis. The most significant way that politicians and government can promote access to higher education and ensure it of desirable quality is through funding.

One challenge to the higher education is that the funding from the state has stalled since the Great recession. This has brought about a change in tradition with the federal governments funding almost the same proportion to that received by the higher education sector. Since 1987 to around 2012, the federal governments did contribute 65% less compared to what the state directed towards higher education. Despite the growth in population experienced by the institutions and the rising costs of living, the state has not significantly increased its funding for higher education. Efforts of the federal governments to fill the void have not been satisfactory owing to the fact that they do not have the vast resources like the state (Mitchell and Palacios, 2014).

The mode of funding is another political challenge faced by higher education. Both the federal and state governments fund higher education but have policies and mechanisms that are not uniform creating a system which is difficult to manage the overlapping goal to ensure as many people as possible are able to have access to higher education. The federal funding is directed to specific students and researches while the funds from the state generally cater for the operations of the public institutions. On this basis, the funds work to promote various practices. Federal states that have high regards for science will be unfair for other fields such as arts since their funding will be directed to students and researches relating to science (Dougherty et al, 2016).

The recent policy proposals that seek to make both funding to be student oriented, threaten the operations of some institutions of higher learning. Some institutions have been able to effectively operate due to the predictable funds they receive from the state. Public institutions of higher learning have enjoyed this environment and often have faced little competition. When the mechanism for funding is altered to be student oriented, they may face competition which could probably lead to their demise. The economically disadvantaged students who are mostly associated with the public institutions will suffer more since these institutions will have less capacity to absorb them as more funds will be directed to the private universities which have the mechanisms of attracting many students as long as the benefit remains the same when one joins either (Kahu, 2013).

Recent policies tend to empower students in institutions of higher education as consumers. This in turn means that institutions will be evaluated based on the feedback of the students. When both federal and state governments rely upon such mechanisms for distributing funds t institutions, the truth may not be reflected. Various issues can have effect on the students’ feedback on the quality of services provided. When students for example do not like a given administration, they are likely to give negative feedback even if the quality of services in regards to academics. The practice will further create a simplified and relatively uniform way of operation in the institutions to ensure the students do not feel disadvantaged in a given aspect. This will probably do away with the diversity of these institutions that has been a feature associated with them (Kahu, 2013).

Politics plays a great role in the goal of increasing access to higher education. Availability of funds for the institutions and for the students is crucial for the success in this sector. Politics plays a great role on policies that touch on higher education and as a result has the potential of creating challenges on the same.


Mitchell, M., Palacios, V., & Leachman, M. (2014). States are still funding higher education below pre-recession levels. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Kahu, E. R. (2013). Framing student engagement in higher education. Studies in higher education, 38(5), 758-773.

Dougherty, K. J., Jones, S. M., Lahr, H., Natow, R. S., Pheatt, L., & Reddy, V. (2016). Performance funding for higher education. JHU Press.

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