U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) warned university leaders today that they need to reduce the cost of attending college or risk the same rejection by customers that the American automobile industry has suffered.
Alexander, a former U.S. secretary of education and president of the University of Tennessee, suggested offering a three-year baccalaureate course that would reduce the cost of attending college by one-fourth and the time it takes to graduate by as much as one-third. He also suggested working with states and local businesses to make community college tuition-free.
“Then,” Alexander said, “higher education leaders could in return ask Congress to cut in half the burdensome federal rules and regulations that accompany grants and loans, which add to the cost and subtract from the quality of higher education.”
Addressing the American Council on Education (ACE), Alexander stood next to a six-foot stack of regulations that he said the new Higher Education Act would double. “I am convinced,” he told the presidents and chancellors, “that the greatest threat to higher education is not underfunding, but overregulation.
“But to persuade members of Congress to listen to you about regulations, you are going to have to persuade them that you don't automatically raise tuition every time Congress increases the Pell Grant or student loans.”
He cited year-round use of facilities as a promising method for reducing costs and reducing tuition. Alexander was instrumental in getting language included in last year’s reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that allowed the Pell Grant to be available to students year-round.
Alexander said he is among those who believe that American higher education is the best in the world. “We not only have the best colleges,” he said. “We have almost all of them.”
But he reminded the audience of former American Motors president George Romney's warning to the American automobile industry: “There is nothing more vulnerable than entrenched success.”
Alexander continued, “The Detroit car companies kept building gas guzzlers in the 1980s when they should have been figuring out how to build smaller, lower-cost cars that were more fuel efficient. They didn’t and the foreign competition did, and you can see where things are now – today we are bailing them out.
“It will not be easy to produce a low-cost, high-quality three-year curriculum for a college degree but now is the time to try. Today’s economic crisis and tight budgets are the best time to innovate and change.”