CQ Today - Bill Swindell, CQ Staff
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, one of the most influential voices in Congress on education issues, said Tuesday that colleges and universities should not be burdened by federal regulation designed to cap tuition increases.
Alexander's remarks to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities annual meeting came in response to calls by some lawmakers for steps to force colleges to hold down tuition increases.
The issue will be a major focus of debate when legislators attempt later this year to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (PL 105-244), the primary law regulating federal aid to postsecondary students and schools. Alexander serves on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will be responsible for the reauthorization legislation.
Higher education groups uniformly oppose legislation designed to curb tuition increases. They argue that schools are already capping enrollment, eliminating some counseling and library services, and scaling back on elective courses to hold down costs.
But the issue of tuition increases resonates among lawmakers, who often hear from constituents upset by the climbing costs of higher education. Senate Democrats have proposed to prohibit states from receiving new federal higher education funding if they cut their own spending on public institutions by more than 10 percent. House Republicans backed off legislation last year that would have excluded colleges from some federal aid programs if they increased tuition by more than a certain level above inflation.
"The idea of price controls, for example, from Washington for colleges and universities is a bad idea," Alexander said. "It's a bad idea because what's made our system of higher education superior is autonomy and choice."
Alexander, who served as secretary of Education under former President George Bush, sympathizes with college presidents because he once was president of the University of Tennessee. He said that colleges don't need "some national school board in Washington, D.C."
Alexander noted that lawmakers have felt frustrated because even as funding for Pell Grants for low-income students has increased 26 percent over the last four years, college tuitions also have risen. President Bush has said his fiscal 2006 budget request, due Feb. 7, will include a $100 annual increase in the maximum Pell Grant award over the next five years. The Pell Grant maximum currently is at $4,050.
He told university officials that they should explain to their local lawmakers that colleges have spent a large amount of their funding on aiding low-income students who would not be able to afford to attend otherwise.
"That's not very well understood here," Alexander said.
Source: CQ Today
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