Anthony Hennen writes for the Martin Center about the close ties of various groups pursuing higher education reform.

“Reform” is an appealing word, suggesting change intended for the better. It is frequently used in discussions of higher education. Critics, especially conservative ones, point out visible cracks in the Ivory Tower and demand that they be “reformed.” Politicians do the same. And deep-pocketed donors have their own ideas of what higher education should be, and many of those ideas get labeled as reform.

But there is a troubling dynamic accompanying much of this so-called reform: If the representatives of the status quo demand change that looks like more of the same, is it really reform?

Consider a new entrant into the world of higher education policy: a non-profit organization called Higher Learning Advocates. It is primarily supported by the Lumina Foundation, the largest private nonprofit donor focused on higher education. Higher Learning Advocates also receives funding from the other private behemoth in education policy, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—whose policy goals closely match those of Lumina.

As can be expected, Higher Learning Advocates’ policies are also aligned with Lumina’s. With its $1.4 billion endowment, Lumina’s “overarching goal is to increase the higher education attainment rate of the United States to 60 percent by 2025.” Grants issued by the foundation focus on advancing state and federal policy to increase degree attainment, create new models for student financial support and business and finance models, and increasing “student success” as the foundation defines it.