How Does Government Policy Influence Higher Education?

By Brandon Swenson January 8, 2020

Government policies affect everything from the gas we put in our cars to the safety of the food we eat. It’s true for higher education, too. Government policies have more of an impact on education than you might think.

As we head into presidential election season, it seems like every candidate has a plan to lower student loan debt and to make higher education more affordable. Understanding the role that government policy plays in higher education can help you understand the benefits available to you and the requirements that a university needs to meet.

So, how much influence does government policy really have on higher education? And what do you need to know about it? Let’s take a look:


The federal government does regulate certain parts of higher education. Institutions are required to “regularly collect and disseminate information on graduation rates, support of intercollegiate athletics and athletes, campus crime, and other areas that are deemed to be of public interest.” The government can require the collection of this data because it falls under the mandate to look out for the “national interest.” The government can also closely monitor any research that it funds at an institution of higher learning.

However, when it comes to regulating what universities teach, government policy doesn’t play a large role. Colleges, especially private universities, aren’t generally held to any education standards by the government. UA Grantham, like most universities, is accredited by private accreditation boards, not by the government. State-funded universities, however, may have to provide certain programs to meet their state charters.


While private universities don’t receive any kind of federal funding for overhead or day-to-day operations, they often benefit from federal financial aid assistance given to students. The single biggest contributor to student financial aid is the federal government. The federal government provides more than 75% of the financial aid in the United States. Government policy plays an important role in making those funds available to students in the following ways:

Pell Grants

For example, when Barack Obama was president, his administration expanded the Pell Grant program to provide more aid for students. Pell Grants are awards based on financial need that do not need to be paid back when students have finished their degree programs. Current efforts are under way in Congress to expand Pell Grants even further by allowing them to be used for short-term vocational training and not just a four-year degree.

Understanding the current proposals for the Pell Grant program can help you make wise decisions about your financial situation when choosing a program to continue your education.


The federal government also plays a role in helping to determine a student’s financial need through the administration of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. While the FAFSA is used to determine a student’s eligibility for federal aid programs, it is also used by many colleges and universities to help award the institution’s need-based scholarships.

While this is a long-standing federal initiative, the government does make changes to the process fairly regularly. The most recent change included moving up the date the application opens to Oct. 1 and adjusting the way tax information is collected. It’s important to stay up to date with any changes the Department of Education makes to the FAFSA process as it can affect your financial aid.

Federal Student Loans

More than 45 million Americans carried a total of $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in 2019. Student loan debt is the second highest consumer debt only behind mortgage debt. While the word debt can be dauting, it is important to know there are options available to help those looking to further their education.

Currently, student loan debt is a large topic of conversation on the presidential candidate circuit. Many presidential contenders have provided their input and stated various proposals regarding higher education. Politics aside, it’s important to be engaged with the ideas that are being explored so you can maximize your educational dollars and make informed choices about accepting federal student loans and the repayment requirements associated with them.

Military Benefits

Another form of federal government assistance available to students is military education and training benefits which provide education assistance for those who have served or are currently serving in the military. Students who take advantage of these benefits can have all or part of their degree or vocational training program paid for by the government.

At Grantham, we work with our military students through our Heroes program and our Veteran Support Team to make sure they have the support and resources they need to access their benefits and succeed in their education.

What Does All This Mean for You?

While the federal government has little direct influence on how universities are run, its indirect influence through financial aid and looking out for the “national interest” means that the federal government can have an impact on individual students. It’s important to stay informed about government policies and proposals that affect higher learning so you’re aware of any impact on your own education.

At UA Grantham, we work hard to provide you with a quality education that helps you meet your goals for the future. We work hand in hand with government programs that provide financial aid, from student loans to GI benefits. We want you to have the tools you need to succeed, and we partner with the available federal programs to ensure that you get them.

About the Author

Brandon Swenson
Brandon Swenson, communications manager, is on University of Arkansas Grantham’s editorial board. A veteran and college graduate himself, he understands the benefits and intricacies of government education programs, such as veteran education benefits. Brandon earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City toward the end of his nearly two-decade tour in the United States Marine Corps.
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