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Special Message to the Congress on Higher Education.

February 22, 1971

To the Congress of the United States:

Nearly a year ago, in my first special message on higher education, I asked the Congress to join me in expanding higher education opportunities across the nation. First, I proposed to reform and increase aid to students. Second, I proposed a National Foundation for Higher Education designed to reform and strengthen post secondary education.

Neither house of Congress acted on these proposals. Now the time for action is growing short. Existing legislative authority for the basic Federal higher education programs expires at the end of the current fiscal year.

1971 can be a year of national debate on the goals and potentials of our system of higher education. It can be a time of opportunity to discover new concepts of mission and purpose, which are responsive to the diverse needs of the people of our country. I therefore again urge the Congress to join with me in expanding opportunities in two major ways:

To help equalize individual opportunities for higher education, I am proposing the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 1971.

To broaden opportunities through renewal, reform and innovation in higher education, I am proposing a separate act establishing the National Foundation for Higher Education.


At the present time, a young person whose family earns more than $15,000 a year is almost five times more likely to attend college than a young person whose family earns less than $3,000.

At the present time, Federal student assistance programs do not always reach those who need them most.

At the present time, there are just not enough funds to go around to all deserving students. Needy students often do not have access to grants. Higher-income students are frequently unable to borrow for their education, even when loans are guaranteed by the Federal Government.

I repeat the commitment which I made in my message of last year: that no qualified student who wants to go to college should be barred by lack of money. The program which I am again submitting this year would benefit approximately one million more students than are currently receiving aid. It would assure that Federal funds go first, and in the largest amounts, to the neediest students, in order to place them on an equal footing with students from higher-income families. Abundant resources for loans would also be available to students from higher-income families. The budget I submitted in January provides funds for these reforms and stands behind the commitments of this administration. Failure to pass this program would not only deny these benefits to many students, but also would limit their opportunity to make major choices about their lives.

A major element of my higher education proposal to the last Congress is the creation of a National Student Loan Association. For too long, the volume of funds available to students for federally insured loans has been arbitrarily restricted by the lack of a secondary market in which lenders could sell paper in order to replenish their supply of loan capital.

Establishment of the National Student Loan Association would relieve this squeeze on liquidity by making available an additional $i billion for student loan funds. The Association would be authorized to buy student loans made by qualified lenders--universities as well as commercial lending institutions. This secondary market would enable universities and commercial lenders to make loans to students in far greater quantity than they have in the past.

It is important to be clear on what this reform would mean. It would mean that higher education would be open to all the people of this country as never before. It would mean that students still in high school would know that their efforts to qualify for college need not be compromised by doubts about whether they can afford college. It would mean that their choice of a college would be based on their educational goals rather than upon their family's financial circumstances.


If we are to make higher education financially accessible to all who are qualified, then our colleges must be prepared both for the diversity of their goals and the seriousness of their intent. While colleges and universities have made exceptional efforts to serve unprecedented numbers of students over the last decade, they must find additional ways to respond to a new set of challenges:

--All too often we have fallen prey to the myth that there is only one way to learn by sitting in class, reading books, and listening to teachers. Those who learn best in other ways are rejected by the system.

--While the diversity of individuals seeking higher education has expanded in nearly every social dimension-age, class, ethnic background-higher education institutions have become increasingly uniform and less diverse.

--Increasingly, many colleges, and particularly universities, have become large, complex institutions which have lost their way. The servants of many masters and the managers of many enterprises, they are less and less able to perform their essential tasks well.

--At the present time, thousands of individuals of all ages and circumstances are excluded from higher education for no other reason than that the system is designed primarily for 18-22 year olds who can afford to go away to college.

--At the present time, institutional and social barriers discourage students from having sustained experiences before or during their college years which would help them get more out of college and plan for their future lives.

The relationship between the Federal Government and the universities has contributed little to meeting these needs because it has not been a genuine partnership. In many cases the Federal Government has hired universities to do work which has borne little natural relationship to the central functions of the institution. Too often, the Federal Government has been part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Certain Federal agencies promote excellence, innovation, and reform in particular areas. The National Science Foundation has played a magnificent role in the public interest for science, and the National Institutes of Health have played a similar role for health.

The National Foundation for Higher Education would fulfill a new role in the Federal Government. It would have as its mandate a review of the overall needs of the American people for post-secondary education. It would have as its operating premises, the principles of selectivity and flexibility. Its constituency would include people as well as institutions--and not only the usual secondary student entering college, but also others--such as the person who wants to combine higher education with active work experience, or the one who has left school and wants to return.

The Foundation can do much to develop new approaches to higher education:

--New ways of "going to college." I am impressed with the need for new and innovative means of providing higher education to individuals of all ages and circumstances (Britain and Japan, for example, have already taken significant steps in the use of television for this purpose).

--New patterns of attending college. A theme of several recent reports is that students are isolated too long in school, and that breaking the educational "lockstep" would enable them to be better and more serious students (as were the GI's after World War II). If so, student bodies would reflect a greater mix of ages and experience, and colleges would be places for integrating rather than separating the generations.

--New approaches to diversify institutional missions. Colleges and universities increasingly have aspired to become complex and "well rounded" institutions providing a wide spectrum of general and specialized education. The Foundation could help institutions to strengthen their individuality and to focus on particular missions by encouraging and supporting excellence in specific areas--be it a field of research, professional training, minority education, or whatever.


Colleges and universities founded for black Americans are an indispensable national resource. Despite great handicaps they educate substantial numbers of black Americans, thereby helping to bring about a more rapid transition to an integrated society.

Black institutions are faced with an historic inadequacy of resources. To help these institutions compete for students and faculty with other colleges and universities, the combined help of government at all levels, other institutions of higher learning, and the private sector must be summoned.

This administration has taken a series of actions to assist these institutions:

--The proposed reform of student aid programs, with its concentration of funds on the neediest students, would significantly aid students at black institutions.

--The National Foundation for Higher Education will direct special efforts toward meeting the needs of black colleges.

--Additional funds for black colleges have been requested for fiscal year 1972 in programs administered by the U.S. Office of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Agriculture.


These are but some of the new approaches to higher education which need to be pursued. A theme common to all of them is a new kind of engagement between all the citizens of our society and our system of higher education. All of us can make a contribution to bringing about such an engagement by taking part in a thoughtful national discussion about our priorities for higher education. Students and faculties can make a contribution by reexamining their goals and the means they choose to achieve them. The Federal Government can do its part by supporting access to higher education for all of our people and by providing the resources needed to help develop new forms of higher education which would be responsive to all of their needs.


The White House

February 22, 1971

Note: On the same day, the White House released a fact sheet and the transcript of a news briefing on the President's proposals on higher education by Dr. Sidney P. Marland, Jr., Commissioner of Education, and Dr. Peter P. Muirhead, Executive Deputy Commissioner, Office of Education, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Richard Nixon, Special Message to the Congress on Higher Education. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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