In a move to strengthen its influence on higher education reform in the U.S., Washington think tank The American Enterprise Institute announced Thursday the launch of the Center on Higher Education Reform (CHER).
The center, which is led by AEI resident scholar Andrew P. Kelly, is expected to “conduct independent, data-driven research and analysis designed to inform policymaking and shape the higher education reform conversation,” according to AEI.
“AEI’s new Center on Higher Education Reform will lead the conversation about how we can make higher education work for all Americans, and to prepare American students to flourish in the decades to come,” AEI president Arthur Brooks said in a statement.
With concerns about the state of U.S. higher education growing nationally, AEI seeks to have CHER become a resource for key decision makers to help them address challenges of rapid increases in tuition, lackluster completion rates, swelling student debt and other issues that raise questions about higher education’s sustainability.
“The higher education reform debate is today where the K-12 education reform debate was 15 years ago,” said AEI director of education policy Frederick M. Hess.
Kelly, who joined AEI four years ago as a research assistant, described CHER as being similar to the research centers that routinely get established within college and university academic departments.
“[CHER] will be its own research center” within the AEI education policy group, he explained. The co-editor of three books and author of numerous articles, Kelly received his master’s degree in political science from the University of California at Berkeley and his bachelor’s degree in history from Dartmouth College.
“I will say that I think the establishment of CHER does reflect AEI’s sense that higher education is going to become an increasingly important issue in the coming years,” said Kelly. “It already is, and I think there’s a sense that the issues of college cost and lackluster completion rates, student debt aren’t going anywhere any time soon.”
He continued, “And so CHER stands to play a leadership role in this conversation about how to reform the system that’s just getting started and has been emerging over the past four years. I’m really thrilled to be at the head of the work,” said Kelly.
In addition to Kelly, the CHER team includes two other researchers. Recently joining AEI as CHER’s first research fellow is Dr. Awilda Rodriguez, an expert on college access, college match, and state policy. Kathryn C. Deane will be CHER’s research associate. Awilda Rodriquez will be brought on board to focus on college access and college match, explained Kelly.
The center “will be an augmentation of what we’re able to do—an increase in bandwidth, so to speak,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to ramping up our work on financial aid reform. I think that’s an incredibly pressing area.”
While the AEI is known as a right-of-center think tank with a number of research scholars and fellows who have worked in Republican presidential administrations, the center’s launch announcement drew praise on Twitter from higher education researchers whose think tank affiliations ranged from left to right on the ideological spectrum.
“I think you’re seeing people applauding Andrew in that he’s not an ideological, partisan person at all,” said Dr. Matthew Chingos, a Brown Center on Education Policy fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution think tank. “He’s interested in ideas and how to make higher education better.”