RN and Robert Finch Washington Technical InstitutePresident Nixon and Secretary of H.E.W Robert Finch visit Washington Technical Institute in Cleveland, Ohio.

By Chris Barber

By the time Richard Nixon became President, America’s higher education system began to suffer under its own weight. A growing identity crisis brought on by the universities’ ambition to become ‘multiversities’ of research, teaching and contractual work for businesses and government, prompted a concerted effort by the Nixon administration to reform and innovate the existing institution. It was Lyndon Johnson who instigated an era of higher educational awareness with his sweeping legislation—it was Richard Nixon who tried to forge its purpose.

The uncanny parallel between the rapidly growing size and cost of the federal government and in the universities were a result of taking on far too much than what could be conceivably managed. Because of this, the reformation of America’s higher education institution, like the goal of restructuring the executive branch, was high on President Nixon’s domestic policy agenda.

44 years ago, on March 19, 1970, President Nixon advised Congress on his administration’s proposals to address the issue of an unsustainable higher education institution.

Below, see an administrative fact sheet outlining the President’s proposals:

While recognizing the many achievements of higher academia–increased enrollment in colleges among young Americans — President Nixon critiqued post-secondary schools’ irrelevant curriculums, the imbalance between teaching and research, and the inequity of ill-directed federal funding.

For universities to become credible again, as acclaimed Professor Stephen J. Tonsor of the University of Michigan suggested in a piece concerning the alienation and relevance of higher education, “universities must regain a sense of modesty and a selectivity in the formulation of their objectives.”

For President Nixon, as much as it was the responsibility of higher education institutions to recognize their errors, Federal, state, and local governments also had to share the burden of responsibility. He proposed to realign higher education through four pieces of legislation:

1. The creation of a new financial institution enabling banks and colleges to expand the supply and availability of federal guaranteed student loans.

2. Restructuring the Federal student subsidy program.

3. The establishment of a National Foundation for Higher Education.

4. The creation of a Career Education Program in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

The new financial institution, under the moniker of The National Student Loan Association, would function as a private financial intermediary institution, and would raise its own capital from sale of stock to foundations, educational organizations and other financial institutions. The desired effect would be the increase of student loan liquidity, thus allowing lenders to increase the total amount of funds available to students.

To combat the inequity of the federal loan system, Nixon proposed increasing the federal student aid programs under H.E.W. by 10% while simultaneously shifting aid to largenumbers of low income students attending college. It would make every student from a family below the $10,000 income level–nearly 40% of all students enrolled in 1970–eligible for Federal aid.

The National Foundation for Higher Education would serve the purpose of assisting higher education institutions in restoring educational purpose, essentially educating young men and women in a way that makes them capable participants in a highly technical society, “sophisticated and creative members of our common culture and active and concerned citizens.” This foundation would address, through funding, the rediscovery of educational excellence.

The creation of a career education program within the Department of H.E.W. would authorize formula grants to be given to states to cover part of the cost of beginning new programs of education in critical career skills in community colleges, technical institutes, and other post-secondary institutions. In line with President Nixon’s policy of revenue sharing, State agencies would determine which institutions and programs would receive these funds.

It took over two years for Congress to act on President Nixon’s proposals. In June of 1972, he signed the Education Amendments of 1972, which contained only two of the provisions the President asked for two years earlier in addition to the more well-known Title IX provisions. Though a step forward in the right direction, it was not what President Nixon had entirely hoped for.

Though not fully realized during his Presidency, many of the principles and ideas of RN’s vision for a more equitable higher education institution were adopted in part during future administrations. The Student Loan Reform Act of 1993 and the implementation of FAFSA, for example, espouse principles that President Nixon once introduced. The goal to revitalize the system of higher education still remains relevant. As tuition continues its unabated rise, it would appear that now, more than ever, we must heed President Nixon’s words, that the time has once again come “for a renewed national commitment to post-secondary education and especially to its reform and revitalization.”