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Take a big room in Manhattan with more than 100 people, all of them fired up about education. Add some dramatic lighting and booming PA announcements, and you've got last week's New York Times Schools for Tomorrow conference. And everybody there, from university presidents to ed tech startups, was talking about how higher education is changing.

Here are some of the themes and ideas that stole the show.

1. Doing more for low-income, high-achieving students


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Choosing a college and applying for aid is complicated — so much so that many smart, low-income students don’t make it past the initial hurdles. But last week, the federal government streamlined and simplified the Fafsa(the Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which is the gatekeeper for all federal aid for college, including Pell grants and Stafford loans.

The new approach also opens the door to eventually eliminating the Fafsa altogether.

Under the current...

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The cost of college is rising, and those most in danger of missing out on the rewards of higher education and suffering the burden of student loan debt are people who do not finish their studies, experts told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday.

"The big problems with debt are students who don't complete their work, or students who find themselves simply unable to find a job," said Bob Kerrey, former U.S. senator and president of The New School, and currently...

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One of the most sweeping proposals in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address this year was his call to make community college free for millions of students.

The plan—in which the president proposed having the federal government cover 75% of the cost of tuition and states pay the rest—was aimed at increasing access to college in an era when most good jobs require some postsecondary education and many employers say they struggle to find workers with the...

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To understand the feeling of crisis that many see in higher education right now, it’s useful to start with some figures from 40 years ago. In 1974, the median American family earned just under $13,000 a year. A new home could be had for $36,000, an average new car for $4,400. Attending a four-year private college cost around $2,000 a year: affordable, with some scrimping, to even median earners. As for public university, it was a bargain at $510 a year. To put these figures in 2015...