U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) said today that he opposed the Higher Education bill – the Higher Education Reauthorization and College Opportunity Act of 2008 (H.R. 4137) – because it imposed too many regulations on schools and undermines the autonomy that has made American education so successful.
“After four years of work, the Senate has spewed forth a well-intentioned contraption of unnecessary rules and regulations that waste time and money that ought to be spent on students and improving quality,” Alexander said. “It confirms my belief that the greatest threat to the quality of American higher education is not underfunding. It is overregulation. The current stack of federal rules for higher education institutions is nearly as tall as I am, and this bill more than doubles it, creating 24 new categories and 100 new reporting requirements.”
Alexander said that the American higher education system “is far from perfect but it is one thing in our country that works and works well. It is our secret weapon in maintaining our brainpower advantage so we can keep our higher standard of living and keep our jobs from going overseas. The United States not only has the best colleges and universities in the world. We have almost all of them. The rest of the world is busy trying to emulate the American system of higher education, which means creating more autonomy, more choices and competition. Yet here we are cluttering up our secret weapon with the same cumbersome bureaucratic nonsense that has stifled excellence in universities in other parts of the world.”
According to Alexander, the legislation meant to address rising tuition costs would actually increase tuition for most American families: “It is especially ironic that the very Members of Congress who are complaining the most about rising tuition costs fail to see that, at least for public institutions, the congressmen themselves are the cause of the rising costs. What Members of Congress seem to be missing is that the principal reason state support is down is because Congress gives states so many unfunded mandates that there is not much left for higher education.”
Alexander said that the best two steps to drive down college costs and to maintain academic excellence are:
1. To deregulate, not over regulate higher education.
2. To stop loading up state budgets with so many unfunded federal mandates.
Although there are measures in the bill that Alexander has worked to have included, like simplifying the federal student aid form and allowing year round Pell Grants for students making progress toward a degree, Alexander said he could not support a bill that “so undermines the excellence in higher education that comes from institutional autonomy.”