Alexander Praises Spellings' Plan to Create Postsecondary Education Commission

Posted on September 19, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said today that U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is “on exactly the right track with her new commission to take a comprehensive look at postsecondary education in the United States today.” Spellings announced her plan during remarks today at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In remarks prepared for delivery on the Senate floor, Alexander, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development, said, “While the United States has been outsourcing jobs, we have been insourcing brainpower. Insourcing brainpower has been our secret weapon for job growth. It is the main reason we have five percent of the world’s population but one third of the money. Our unrivalled system of colleges and universities, together with our national research laboratories, have been our magnet for attracting the best minds in the world – who have in turn helped to provide half the new jobs produced by science and technology since World War II. “But this secret weapon for jobs growth is at risk if we do not take several urgently needed steps. Taking a comprehensive look at the federal role in higher education is a good first step. This should have happened years ago. My greatest regret as Secretary of Education was that I did not volunteer to be the point person for higher education in the federal government,” said Alexander, who served as Education Secretary for the first President Bush. “Almost every federal department or agency regulates some aspect of higher education. Last year the federal government spent $63 billion on all forms of postsecondary education. But there is no one federal official charged with an overview of higher education.” Alexander, who is also chairman of the Senate’s Energy Subcommittee, said that he and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) have asked the National Academy of Sciences to recommend “steps the nation should take over the next decade to keep our edge in science and technology while we are grappling with tough budget issues.” Alexander and Bingaman plan hearings on the National Academy’s report this fall. “Our work with the National Academy should nicely compliment the work of the Spellings Commission,” he said. Alexander, a former governor of Tennessee, was also president of the University of Tennessee. He said, “Our colleges and universities are at risk for several reasons: “State funding, the principal basis of support for higher education, grew only 6.8 percent during the last five years. State Medicaid costs are squeezing state budgets. If this trend continues, the result will be lower quality higher education and much higher student tuition. “Although over the last five years federal support for all postsecondary education has been generous, up 71.8 percent, that kind of increase is not likely to continue as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security costs put new pressures on the federal budget. “Tight visa rules and other national security restrictions make it harder for the more than half million foreign students and researchers who now come to our universities and laboratories. More important scientific conferences are being held overseas. “At the same time, many countries including India, China, Germany and Great Britain are reorganizing and improving funding for their universities and creating incentives to keep their most talented students and researchers home. They are asking themselves, why should we send our brightest minds overseas to help the Americans create a higher standard of living when they can do it right here at home?”